by Razorqueen

'Twas the Night

Duo flipped up the collar of his coat and ducked his head as he walked into the frigid wind. Damn! Why hadn't he paid any attention to the weather report? Must be 20 below with the wind chill, and here he was, no hat, no gloves, just the crummy old jacket he'd worn for years. Zechs was gonna kill him...

Except Zechs wouldn't know. He wouldn't be waiting at home for Duo, wouldn't be there to scold him--or warm him.

Duo kicked at a pile of snow, splattering it in angry gobbets across the sidewalk. Damn Relena. How could she call him away so close to Christmas? Duo shoved his hands deeper into his pockets, his fingers catching on the frayed lining. She did it on purpose. What could be so important that he had to go off to the colonies now? It was just another way to keep them apart. She wouldn't give Duo permission to go, and she wouldn't let Zechs stay. Yeah, yeah, he'd promised he'd be back, but it was Christmas Eve, and Duo was alone. Just like always.

But why should I expect anything else? Dopey me, thinking this Christmas would be different.

In the few months since he and Zechs had been together, Relena had managed to convince her brother to take an active role in the government. Duo encouraged him to accept her offer; he knew a life of inactivity was making his lover crazy. After living so many years at the center of events, he found it unbearably frustrating to have nothing productive to do. Much as Duo hated sharing him with anyone--and most especially with Relena--he knew Zechs needed to feel useful.

But it seemed to Duo that she sent him on diplomatic missions as often as possible. Zechs had hoped that his cooperation might encourage Relena to rescind her order restricting Duo to Earth, although so far, she showed no signs of changing her mind. Still, he could see that no matter what Zechs said, it pleased him to have at least a cordial relationship with his sister. He'd been old enough to remember what it meant to have a family and to miss it, unlike Duo, who could not miss what he had never known. And no matter how Zechs might deny it, Duo knew that his lover felt more at home in the palaces of Sanc than in his miserable apartment.

How long will it take before you figure out that a brat like me doesn't fit in with your life? Oh sure, I'd be a huge success at some big diplomatic reception, chatting with guys who think I'm a menace to society. 'Course, they're probably right, and that doesn't help, either.

As he turned the corner onto his street, a blast of arctic air sliced through his clothes, bringing him sharply back to reality. He paused in front of his building, glanced up at the dark window of his apartment. He could just see the outline of the unlit Christmas tree, deep green against charcoal shadows. Was it only two weeks ago that he'd come home to the scent of pine needles and the glow of Zechs' delighted smile?

"Zechs? What...what the hell..." Duo had stood in the doorway, stuttering like an idiot and staring at the tree, so tall and wide it scraped the ceiling and nearly filled the window. And in a pile next to it, boxes and boxes of lights, tinsel, glass ornaments that glittered like jewels.

"It's snowing. It seemed like a good night to decorate the tree." His prince took his hand and pulled him into the apartment, shutting the door behind them.

Zechs kissed him, tender and slow, but Duo felt the current of strength that always mastered him. Warm hands slid beneath his hair at the nape of his neck, under his shirt and up his back. Resting his head against Zechs' chest, he nearly purred as his prince unbraided his hair and combed the long strands with his fingers. He loved to see Duo's hair loose, and unbraiding it was often the first thing he did when Duo came home from work. With a sigh of pure contentment, Duo wrapped his arms around his lover's waist and snuggled against him.

"It's a good night for this, too." He pressed their bodies together, grinding his hips against Zechs' groin.

"Stop it, you insatiable little demon." Zechs gave Duo's ass a sharp smack, which was not the deterrent he'd apparently hoped for.

"Nope. You know you like it when I'm naughty instead of nice, 'cuz if I'm very bad, you'll have to spank me again." Duo flashed his best wicked grin.

"What, and have to listen to you carry on like a kitten who's had his tail stepped on?" Zechs tried to look severe, but Duo caught the answering smile that tugged at his prince's mouth. "What am I going to do with you?"

"You mean you haven't figured it out yet?" Duo rubbed against him again. "Here's a suggestion..."

"Duo." Zechs pushed him away a little. "The tree?"

"Oh, yeah. The tree."

Still holding his hand, Zechs drew him toward the tree and its pile of decorations. He knelt and reached a box of ornaments to Duo. Delicate snowflakes of crystal and silver winked at him from their package. He lifted the lid and touched one, hesitating as if he expected to have his hand slapped away.

God...the street kid doesn't get a Christmas like this. What's wrong with this picture?

"Baby?" Zechs stood, lifted Duo's chin with his finger, the amusement gone from his eyes. "What is it? If you're too tired..."

He shook his head, hiding beneath the heavy fall of his hair. "No, it isn't that." He swallowed against the ache in his throat, but his voice quivered, betraying him. "Zechs, y'know, no one ever...I mean, this is the first...I-I never had..."

His prince's strong arms enfolded him. "Little one. I didn't know." He felt warm lips brush the top of his head.

Feeling foolish, he hugged the box of ornaments to his chest while Zechs held him. "S'okay. It's just that I-I kind of thought Christmas trees and shit like that were for other people, not me. When I was a kid, I used to see them in store windows--wondered what it'd be like to have something that pretty where you could look at it all the time, touch it if you wanted to..."

"Funny. I thought the same thing the first time I saw you." Zechs cupped Duo's face in his hands and kissed him. "And now we've both had our question answered."

They'd finished decorating--eventually. For a week, the lights of their Christmas tree sparkled at him from the window when he came home from work. Then one evening, the window had been dark, as it was now. He'd raced up the stairs, certain something was wrong, to find a note from Zechs.

"Forgive me, little one. There's a delicate situation arising on the C-7 satellite, and Relena has asked me to mediate. I'm sorry I had to leave without seeing you. It's not an emergency yet, but the longer I delay, the greater the chance that a crisis will develop. I'll be home for Christmas, my darling, I promise. I'll miss you every moment." It was signed with a single flourished letter Z.

The window had been dark every night since.

Snow, hard and crystalline, blew into his eyes, making them water, and he dragged the back of his hand across them. Damn it, Zechs, I was starting to trust you. I was starting to believe that we had something different, that you'd actually stick around like you said you would. Not like...other people.

Be fair, a part of Duo's mind argued. He didn't want to go. But he had duties, responsibilities bigger and more binding than bed-promises.

Guess that's what you get for falling for a prince, Maxwell.

At least he left a note. And he promised he'd come back.

Numb from cold, he climbed the dark stairs, let himself into his apartment. No lights blinked on his answering machine, but he played back yesterday's message. Closing his eyes, he pictured his lover, blond hair falling into his face, his blue eyes heavy-lidded with desire. If he concentrated, he could convince himself he felt his prince's fingers whisper-soft against his cheek as the husky voice spoke from the machine.

"The talks are going well. I can't say when I'll be finished here, but soon, I think. Every minute I'm away from you seems like an eternity, and I ache to hold you. Keep warm, little one."

Despite the gnawing emptiness in his belly, Duo smiled a little at the end of the message. Zechs understood that in Duo's mind, warmth meant safety, security, all the things that his childhood had denied him. Zechs wasn't just telling him to button his coat, he was asking him to trust that he'd be coming back.

I want to believe in you, my prince. But it scares me. Oh God, it scares me.

He fixed his dinner, cleaned the kitchen, cleaned the entire tiny apartment, in fact. Finally, he'd exhausted himself enough so that he might actually sleep. In the bedroom, he shucked off his jeans and work shirt, pulled on a pair of flannel pajama bottoms. He didn't like sleeping nude unless he had a partner with him; it made him feel far too vulnerable. After a moment's hesitation, he unbraided his hair. Catching a glimpse of himself in the mirror, he lifted his heavy tresses, struck a pose as though he were modeling for Zechs. Smirking at his reflection, he ran his hand down his chest.

"Do you like, my prince?" he whispered, his hand sliding lower. He closed his eyes, swaying slightly as he imagined performing for Zechs, as he sometimes did, his mind picturing his prince's burning attention, how he watched until Duo almost wept with need and then summoned him with a crook of his finger. He slid his hand inside the waistband of his pants, making believe it was Zechs who stroked him, whose palm cupped his erection, who squeezed gently but with exquisite pressure.

Thinking of Zechs' hands on him made him so hard he hurt. But it wasn't just release that he craved. He needed his lover's strength, his commands, his control. His protection.

Too late for you, buddy-boy. You've gone and done it. Again. So much for all the brave words. You love him, whether you want to admit it or not.

With a sigh that caught in his throat, he took his hand out of his pants. He didn't want to jerk off. He wanted Zechs.

So why am I so afraid?

He sank down onto his bed and rolled up in the old comforter. Zechs wanted to buy him a new one, but he refused, saying he'd get one when he could afford it. He was too embarrassed to tell him the real reason he didn't want to part with the worn cover. It had been on the bed the first time they'd made love and every time they'd shared this bed since. On nights when Zechs couldn't be with him, he curled up in it, pretending it was his prince's arms that encircled him, closing his eyes and breathing in the faint scent of Zechs' cologne that clung to the cloth. Usually, he found the echoes of their lovemaking soothing enough to lull him to sleep.

Not tonight. Tonight, he felt only the cold, agonizing emptiness on Zechs' side of the bed and the unremitting ache between his thighs. After an hour, he sighed and got out of bed. Wrapping the comforter around him like a shawl, he padded into the living room. At first, he reached to turn on the television, but he didn't feel like disturbing the quiet. Instead, he plugged in the tree and sat on the floor, watching the lights twinkle against the black mirror of the window.

He hugged his knees, resting his chin on his arms. It's really pretty in the dark. Like stars, almost. Wish you were here, too, Zechs. It'd feel awfully nice to be able to put my head on your shoulder right now.

The floor beneath the tree was bare. He wished he had a present for his lover, but what could he possibly give to a prince? Zechs could have anything he wanted just by voicing the request. How could Duo compete with that?

He pulled the cover closer around his shoulders. Maybe it was stupid to hope Zechs would come home before Christmas. He'd probably forgotten all about what he said in his note. Or even if he hadn't, the talks had to come first.

Oh, hell. What's Christmas, anyway? It's just another night. Grow up and get over it.

Duo stretched out on the floor, lying on his back and looking up through the branches. The stillness, the softness of the lights, the cool, clean smell of pine calmed him at last, and he closed his eyes. Wrapping himself tightly in his comforter, he fell asleep.

+

Zechs checked his watch for what seemed like the hundredth time. Twenty till twelve. He still had time to keep his promise to be home before Christmas. If this damn cabby would just drive a little faster...

He checked his coat pocket for what seemed the hundredth time, too. Yes, the envelope was still there. What would Duo say when he found out Zechs was the new Ambassador to the Colonies? He tried to imagine his lover's reaction, but he couldn't. Which side would he see, his submissive angel or the tempestuous, reckless demon who sometimes still showed his face?

Finally, the cab pulled up in front of Duo's building. Zechs shoved twice the fare into the man's hand and climbed out of the back seat without waiting for the driver's help, dragging his suitcase and a shopping bag full of gifts. He looked up at the apartment on the fourth floor, saw the Christmas lights glowing there, gently blurred by the falling snow. Duo's place seemed dark otherwise.

Have you given up on me already?

At five minutes to midnight, Zechs unlocked the door of Duo's apartment. Quietly, he eased inside, set down his baggage, and started for the bedroom without even removing his coat. He was nearly to the door when a soft noise, like a sigh, made him glance toward the tree.

The dull need that had dragged at the back of his mind blossomed into full-blown desire as he knelt beside the slender young man. He could see very little of him, actually. Just the pale curve of his cheek through a swath of caramel hair and the soles of his bare feet, but that made no difference to the strength of his longing. Duo seemed so young and small, almost frail, wrapped as he was in that absurd cover. Zechs drew his finger along the bridge of the boy's kittenish nose, smiling as he gently pushed stray locks of hair out of the young man's face.

Why are you sleeping with your hair down? We'll never get the tangles out.

Sitting back, Zechs drank in the sight of his little one, who slept as deeply as a child. As always, when he had to leave Duo behind, he felt he'd left the other half of his soul. He'd had many partners before, but no where had he found anyone to love like this young man. He loved both the angel and the demon, the courage of the willing, cheerful face the boy presented to the rest of the world as well as the darkness hiding behind the bright fašade. He understood the nightmares that left Duo shaking, wide-eyed with silent terror, knew the guilt and confusion in that dear, generous heart. And he understood his fear of once again offering himself totally, only to be rejected, afraid that the very darkness he tried so hard to conceal made him ultimately unlovable.

So foolish--you're the most enchanting creature I've ever known. If only you believed that, you'd let me love you the way I want to.

Carefully, he pulled back Duo's cover, baring one pale shoulder, half his chest. He bent his head to the dark rosy bud of the young man's nipple and licked it delicately, gently teasing it to hardness with his tongue. Duo murmured in his sleep, stirring a little at the sensation, but did not wake. Zechs cautiously peeled back the other corner of the cover, tenderly kissing first the bare shoulder, then lightly tormenting the other nipple with his tongue and teeth until the sleeper whimpered, his back arching slightly.

Zechs reached between Duo's legs, rubbing him softly through the flannel of his pajamas. His touch firmed and quickened as he felt his lover's body harden under his ministrations. Just as he felt a tiny spot of dampness under his hand, Duo squirmed and moaned.

With a start, he woke. For a moment, he didn't seem to realize where he was or whose hands had aroused him, and he blindly took a swing at the blond man who knelt over him. But Zechs had been prepared and easily blocked the blow. Straddling the slender body beneath him, he pinned Duo's wrists to the floor, stopping another angry cry with his mouth. Slowly, he ran his tongue over his lover's lips, urged them apart. He felt as much as heard the young man's sobbing groan and lifted his head to see two sleepy violet eyes widen in shock.

"Zechs? Zechs!" Duo struggled to free his arms. "You're home!"

Zechs released one arm so that he could lay his finger across Duo's lips. "Shhhh. Lie still. I'm unwrapping my present."

Duo obeyed, his eyes glowing with unmistakable happiness, his smile unusually soft. Ah, little one, it was worth badgering those fools on C-7 and the shuttle pilot and the cabby and everyone else I harried and barked at, if only to see you look like this.

Zechs leaned down and kissed Duo again, this time on his belly, his tongue flicking into the dimple of his navel. The lithe young body bucked slightly beneath him, and he nipped at the taut flesh, then slid the fabric of Duo's pants just below his hips. He traced the hard ridge of the young man's pelvic bone, trailing his fingers lower until he tugged playfully at the brown curls that peeked out above the waistband.

Duo touched his fingertips to Zechs' hair. "You really are here, aren't you? I'm not dreaming?"

Zechs lifted his head. "No dream, little one." He slid his hand into Duo's pants, caressing his erection. "I'm here."

Duo closed his eyes and swallowed. Zechs thought he saw his chin quiver faintly, although it might only have been a trick of the twinkling Christmas lights. "Did you miss me, my darling?"

"D'you even have to ask?" Duo squirmed as Zechs pulled his pajamas down a bit farther, just far enough to reveal the swollen head of his cock. Zechs bent down, torturing him with his tongue until he moaned. "Ah, god, Zechs..."

Briefly, Zechs took the tip of him in his mouth, just long enough to savor the taste of Duo's maleness, subtly different from any other place on his body. After a last tantalizing lick, he lifted his head.

"Tell me what you missed the most."

"No..." Duo lifted his hips, encouraging his lover to take all of him into his mouth.

"Why not? Tell me." Zechs slid his mouth over his lover's cock, swirling his tongue over the warm, hard flesh, sucking gently.

"...think it's stupid...ahhh..."

Zechs stopped suddenly, his voice teasing. "No more until you tell me."

Duo propped himself up on his elbows, his chin stubborn, at odds with the vulnerability of his eyes and mouth. "Yeah, well, I missed you brushing my hair and rubbing my back, okay?" He continued, his voice defiant, as though he expected to be challenged. "And I missed sitting on your lap to watch TV, and you feeding me popcorn, and falling asleep with you, and...and..." Duo's eyes sparkled suspiciously. He turned his head away and muttered, "Aw, shit..."

Zechs stared, taken aback. It wasn't the answer he'd expected. He'd looked for Duo to grin and make a joke about sex. He'd never expected such an unguarded response.

It's the closest you've ever come to saying you love me.

An overwhelming wave of tenderness washed over him. To hear that much from Duo was an unlooked-for gift. For such a chatterbox, he generally said very little about his own needs or emotions. In fact, Zechs rather suspected that the intent of so much noise was to distract others from seeing beneath the charming surface.

Zechs smiled, lightly resting his hand on the smooth skin of Duo's hip. "Shall I rub your back, then?"

Duo looked sharply at him. For a moment, he said nothing, but then understanding--and gratitude--registered in his lovely eyes. He smiled and shook his head. "But you can rub something else, if you want."

As though he were opening a very fragile and expensive gift, Zechs slowly peeled away Duo's pajamas, pushing them to his knees, then sliding them off first one leg, then the other. Duo lay beneath him on the old cover, pale and slim, seeming almost insubstantial in the dim light. A few scars laced his smooth skin, remnants of the battles he still fought in his nightmares. One thin, white line ran from his hip to his inner thigh, and Zechs traced it with his tongue, his hands spreading the slender legs until he could see all of his little one. He touched his lips again to the tender places of Duo's inner thighs, to his stiffened shaft, but he took only a quick taste of sweet flesh before his yearning to possess the long-haired young man overcame him. He stood and offered his hands, pulling Duo to his feet.

"Come to bed, little one. It's too cold for you out here."

Zechs picked up the comforter and folded it over his arm, then took his lover's hand again and led him to the bedroom. Duo scrambled under the sheets, curling up for warmth as he watched the former prince undress.

"Missed this, too." He held out his arms and Zechs went to him.

"Merry Christmas, Duo Maxwell." Zechs pulled the covers over them, cuddling Duo close to him.

He felt a soft sigh against his skin. "Merry Christmas, Zechs Merquise." Duo's tongue lapped at his shoulder, making him shiver. "So, my prince..."

"Hmmm?" He rolled over onto his back and Duo laid his head on Zechs' chest, face turned away, fingers tracing the ridges of his abdominal muscles.

"What did you miss while you were gone?"

Zechs smiled and petted the brown head resting on him. "Let me think...I missed picking up your wet towels from the bedroom floor and drinking coffee with you in the morning. Having to listen to you hit snooze on your alarm clock half a dozen times, and buttoning your shirt for you, and waiting for you to come in the door in the evening." He stroked his hand down Duo's spine, ending at the small of his back, resting his hand on the round swell of Duo's buttock. "I missed everything about you. I always do. Being away from you is misery."

He felt Duo tremble, the muscles in his back suddenly tense.

"D'you mean that? Honest?"

"Of course I do." Zechs frowned, puzzled by the change in Duo's mood.

"How come?"

"Because I love you, you foolish little demon, that's why."

Duo pulled back. He sat up, glaring at Zechs, his eyes reflecting hurt and anger. "Not fair. Don't even kid about that. Just don't."

"Duo...I wouldn't say something like that in jest. I should think you'd know me well enough by now to realize that." Duo made a short, pained sound, as thought he were strangling, and turned away. Zechs caught his wrist and forced him to look back. "What do you imagine that I feel for you?"

Duo looked terrified, like he wanted to bolt. His violet eyes seemed huge under the cloud of his hair, and Zechs felt tremors shake the arm he grasped. "I don't know. I-I guess...well, I know you're hot for me, and...and..."

His voice faded away, and he ducked his head, biting his lip, shrinking back into the gossamer fortress of his mane.

"Is that all?" Zechs felt as though great talons buried themselves in his chest. "You think this is only about sex to me?"

"I told you, I don't know." Duo sounded miserable, and he refused to meet Zechs' eyes. "I know it's different with you than it's ever been before. The way you treat me, the way I feel...but I don't know. I don't know anything about love, Zechs. I thought I loved Heero, and he loved me. But he walked out on me without even saying good-bye--I just woke up one morning and he was gone--and I wanted to die, but I didn't. So I guess that wasn't it, after all. Maybe what we've got is love--but maybe it's not. How the hell should I know? I only know that when you're here, all I want to do is be close to you, and that my stomach hurts all the time when you're gone, and I-I'm so scared every time you leave that you'll never come back." His cheeks flamed, and he struggled uselessly in Zech's stronger grip.

"Baby ..." Why didn't you tell me that's how Heero left you? It explains so many things. Zechs pulled him close, and Duo hid his face in the crook of his arm. He pushed aside the tangled mass of hair and bent his head to kiss the back of the young man's neck, sucking gently at the flesh between his shoulder blades. Duo relaxed a little, and Zechs smiled.

"Mmmmm....feels nice, my prince."

He rubbed his cheek against Zechs' forearm, so much like a kitten that Zechs expected to feel tiny claws knit against his skin. He leaned over the lithe body in his arms as his lips climbed the ladder of Duo's spine. When he reached the middle of his back, the boy's body tensed suddenly.

"N-no, Zechs...not there, please..." He squirmed away from the tongue that traced the arabesque of scars on his shoulders, souvenirs of his time as an OZ prisoner. "Stop it."

"Why?" Zechs licked at the fine web of scar tissue. "I haven't tasted you in far too long."

Duo sat up, shoving him away. "I said cut it out!"

Zechs frowned as he ran his hands through his fine hair. "What's wrong, little one?"

Duo ignored him and scrambled out from under the covers, kicking viciously at the blankets that tangled his legs.

"Duo!" Tired and frustrated, Zechs reacted from long habit and barked his name like an order. "Come back here!"

"Fuck you!"

Half sobbing, Duo struggled to escape the twisted covers. Swearing incoherently, the frantic young man climbed off the bed and tripped as the old comforter snared him, bringing him to his knees.

Zechs slid out of bed and knelt at the boy's side, hands under his elbows, carefully lifting him to his feet, smoothing his hair out of his face. His momentary irritation vanished at the sight of Duo's confused and anxious face.

"Baby, what is all this about?" He spoke gently as he stroked his fingers along the line of Duo's jaw. "What is this anger? What are you running from?"

Duo refused to speak. Like a frightened young animal, he bolted, heading toward the living room. Zechs caught him, but he pulled away, losing his balance as he turned, sprawling face-down on the living room floor. Seeing his opportunity, he pinned Duo down, intending to insist on answers. Then he felt the slender body beneath him clench, as though Duo braced himself for something unpleasant.

Zechs thought of the bits and pieces his lover had let slip about his past relationships, about being taken without gentleness, of convincing himself that his partners knew no other ways to show their love. And how he felt so empty afterward, feeling not loved at all, but used and hollow.

My little one, do you truly think I'd do that to you?

Zechs scooped aside the boy's tousled hair and planted kiss after kiss along his spine. He rubbed the thin, rigid shoulders, worked slowly down his back and buttocks until the tension eased from Duo's muscles. He leaned close, his own hair falling across Duo's cheek, and whispered against the shell of his ear, "Foolish child, I love you."

Duo's only response was a small, hitching breath. The helplessness of the feeble noise intensified his arousal to a fierce, barbarous blaze, but he steadied himself, determined to offer patience and tenderness instead of the violence his little one clearly expected.

Zechs kissed him again, trailing from the valley between his shoulders to the small of his back. Duo lay panting, drawing quiet, sobbing breaths as he traced the marks with his fingers.

Duo's voice ached with despair. "Zechs, please don't..."

Zechs stroked his lover's long, snarled hair. "Baby, do you think I'd hurt you? Take something you didn't want to give, no matter how much I want you?"

Duo pushed himself up onto his elbows, made an abortive attempt to crawl away from Zechs, who refused to release him. "No...no." His voice shook with shame. "It's not you. It's me." He tried to chuckle, obviously trying to cover his anguish as he'd covered so many other pains, with a joke. "It's pretty good for a laugh, though, isn't it? You can tell all your friends you picked me up at a scratch and dent sale." Another hitching sob all but obscured his last words.

"This?" Zechs laid his hand on his little one's back, saddened by the way the boy shrank from his touch. "Do you really think this would matter to me?"

"But you're so perfect. I'm not good enough for you. I never was and now...now you can see it."

Zechs leaned down, brushed his fingers over Duo's face, his ear, combed them through his hair. "Silly infant. I've slept with you, bathed with you, dressed and undressed you, kissed every inch of your body. Did you think you'd hidden anything from me?"

"Y-you knew?"

"Dearest, I'm far more concerned about the scars you carry inside. I'd heal those pains if I could--if you'd allow me. As for this," he lightly stroked Duo's shoulders, "I would gladly take my own whip to those who hurt you. But it certainly makes you no less desirable to me. And you know as well as I that this isn't about a few marks on your pretty hide."

His voice roughened and he rolled off the slender body, then pulled Duo to him in a fierce embrace. "My little one, I love you. You would be beautiful to me if you had no nose and three eyes. You are more precious to me than anything--more than Relena, more than the colonies. More than my life. But you keep finding reasons to convince yourself I can't possibly care for you. Won't you let me love you? Please?"

"Zechs..." Duo hid his face against Zech's chest. "Oh god...oh god, please don't say it if it isn't true."

He felt the beat of Duo's heart against his own skin, hard and fast, as though he were running a race. Zechs cupped his hand over the back of the boy's head and said, "I've allowed you to be foolish long enough, but as I've warned you before, my patience has limits."

He lifted his lover into his arms and stood. Duo lay pliant and unresisting, but the violet eyes still looked bewildered, as though everything familiar had been taken away, replaced with signs and signals he didn't understand.

He laid Duo on the bed, relieved that this time, he made no move to try to escape. Encouraged, he lay next to him, stroking the long, slim arms and legs. The boy shivered, his body twitching as Zechs coaxed him to hardness again.

Zechs reached for the bottle of massage oil on the bedside table. He rolled the bottle in his hands, warming it.

"Sit up, darling."

Duo lifted himself to his elbows, then levered himself to his knees with the grace of a dancer. He leaned back slightly, his palms flat against the bed on either side of his hips, his stiff, slender cock quivering between his thighs.

Zechs took his hand. Slowly, he poured a puddle of oil into Duo's palm, then guided that palm to his cock.

Holding Duo's hand against his body, Zechs said, "Make me ready, love."

Duo began to caress him, spreading the oil over his penis and testicles. Zechs' body hardened further beneath his skilled hands, and the satisfied rumbling deep in his throat brought a pleased grin to the boy's face.

"Now turn around."

Duo did as he was told, going down on all fours. Zechs palmed his own body, slicking his hands with oil, then rubbed them across the round, little ass in front of him, his short nails grazing against Duo's skin. Zechs' fingers slid between the cleft of Duo's buttocks, spreading them. He traced the divide with his tongue, laving the boy's entrance with firm, probing licks. Duo's breath became audible, and Zechs caught his own name in the whispered torrent that fell from his lips.

Zechs replaced his tongue with his hand as the instrument of Duo's pleasure. He pushed one oiled fingertip against the boy's opening. Duo's back arched as he felt the barest hint of penetration. Zechs pressed harder into him, feeling his body give way, more than willing. He touched his love in the most intimate way possible, making him squirm at the small, undulating pressure within him. He knew Duo's body, and he knew that so trifling a touch would madden him instead of satisfying. Duo rolled his hips, trying to goad Zechs into applying the pressure and width he craved.

"More?" he pleaded, his voice delightfully docile.

"Ask politely, little one," Zechs teased gently.

"More, please....ohhh...." Zechs obliged him by adding another finger. It wasn't that Duo needed so much preparation. It often took only the briefest touch--and sometimes not even that--for his body to be open and ready. But he wanted Duo to know that he would take care with him, wanted to banish utterly the memories of other, less gentle couplings.

Duo spread his legs wider, his arms trembling, his head hanging limp as though weighted down by the mass of his hair. Zechs twisted his fingers in the puckered opening, spreading them slightly.

"Are you convinced yet?"

"Zechs...I-I..." The words he tried to say seemed to catch in his throat.

"Never mind." Zechs kept up the smooth movements inside Duo's body. "Words are nothing. Let me show you, yes?"

"Yes." Duo cried out as Zechs touched the center of his need. "Oh, yes, my prince."

As badly as Zechs wanted to take Duo, he couldn't resist teasing him a bit longer. It was a heady feeling, to be able to make his little one squeal with delight. Duo had told him few details, but Zechs guessed that most of his past experiences had been as the tool for another's pleasure, rarely for his own. He pressed into the tight opening again, enjoying the vision of the supple body of his lover so exposed and vulnerable. He slid his free hand over the hard muscles of the younger man's flank, under him to caress his taut belly. Dear God, he'd never seen anything so lovely as this, as Duo on his hands and knees, his hair a feral tangle, his body gleaming with the sweat of passion. His hips thrusting back against Zechs' hand. His voice cooing with satisfaction even as he growled with need. But it wasn't enough, not this time. He wasn't about to let Duo hide from his love.

Zechs slid his fingers out of Duo's body, ignoring the mewl of disappointment, instead circling the tiny waist with his hands and pulling him upright on his knees. Wordless, he turned the young man around to look at him. He caught his breath at the sight of the flushed face, violet eyes heavy with wanting, lips still swollen from rough kisses. It was a wanton face, as though Zechs had tapped into a well of sensuality deep in the boy's soul, and it made him want to ravish the hungry little body that knelt, only half-submissive, in front of him.

"Beloved," he whispered, almost afraid that this wild, fey creature would vanish at the sound of his voice. "Come to me."

Duo slid onto his lap, his slender legs spread across Zechs' thighs. Zechs lifted him, settling him over his cock, lowering him gently while he thrust upward with his hips. Duo's small, strong hands grasped handfuls of blond hair, and he closed his eyes, his pink tongue wetting his lips.

"Open your eyes, Duo." Zechs began to move inside the young man's body. "Look at me."

Dazed, violet eyes met his. Zechs slowly rocked his hips, keeping his gaze locked with Duo's. Steady and relentless, he pushed both of them closer to the edge of ecstasy. He wrapped his hand around the hot, hard flesh between them, the rhythm of his strokes matching the cadence of his hips. Duo's fingers dug into his shoulders, and his mouth opened in a silent cry of longing, but he did not close his eyes. Zechs dropped his forehead to rest against the boy's brow, feeling the feverish heat of passion radiate between them. With his free hand, he soothed the flushed cheek, rubbed his thumb across the gasping mouth.

His voice a velvet whisper, he said, "Look in my eyes, little one. Do you believe me now?"

Denying the urge to speed his thrusts, he waited. His world narrowed to a pair of wet amethyst eyes. He saw in them the moment Duo's soul surrendered, saw the shattering of old defenses and the quivering rawness of newborn truth.

Duo swallowed, his voice choked with unshed tears. "Yes. I-I can't...yes. Oh god, yes."

Zechs lifted his hips, giving rein to his urgency, driving their bodies together. Duo's eyes widened impossibly, glazing as his climax caught him. Even though his own body screamed for completion, Zechs held himself long enough to watch his little one come, but the sweet, helpless pleasure imprinted on those elfin features pushed him beyond his limits. He clutched at the slight body of his lover, feeling the last pulse of Duo's orgasm throb against his belly as he reached his own zenith. Hands buried in the boy's soft brown mane, he cried his beloved's name, filling him with his essence.

For a moment, the blinding light of release dazzled him, but as he recovered his awareness, he realized that Duo had not moved except to collapse against his chest, his arms still wrapped around Zechs' neck. He felt a warm wetness against his shoulder, and he pushed aside the heavy, disheveled mop of hair that concealed his love's face. Leaning down, he took the tears with his tongue.

"Baby?"

Duo shook his head. "Don't know why I'm being so dumb. But..."

"Hush." Zechs shifted so that he held the young man like an infant. In a gentle imitation of their lovemaking, he rocked Duo in his arms. "Go to sleep."

A soft smile curved Duo's mouth. "Why? You just got home. Tired of me already?"

"I want to watch you sleep. Humor me."

Duo closed his eyes and sank against Zechs' embrace. "How'd I get so fucking lucky?"

"Watch your language, little one. Santa might be listening. It's not morning yet." He kissed the tip of his lover's nose.

"Santa already brought me enough of a present tonight." Duo hugged him hard, almost child-like in his intensity.

Zechs covered Duo's pale, scarred shoulders with the old blanket. He'd had grand Christmases in his life, with so many gifts he'd forgotten half of what he'd opened by the time Christmas dinner was served. But nothing matched the joy of this one. Unwilling to relinquish a single moment of magic, he watched Duo's face through the last hours of darkness. No dreams of old sorrows disturbed his sleep, but now and then a faint smile drifted across his face, like a cloud across the moon. As the stars dimmed in the first light of Christmas morning, he cuddled the boy, once his enemy, now his greatest treasure.

+

Duo woke, his nose twitching. Bacon? And something sweet. He took another deep breath and sighed happily. And coffee.

He slid out of bed, following the smells of breakfast to the cramped kitchen. He crept quietly behind the tall, blond man at the stove and slid his arms around the narrow waist.

"Add this to the list of things I missed."

Zechs didn't turn, but Duo heard the smile in his voice. "Ah. I see. You only love me for my cooking."

"That and your body. I'll say this for you, my prince. You sure know how to keep a guy happy."

"Imp." Zechs pried his hands away. "Let me go, or I'll burn your breakfast."

Duo wandered into the living room, where Zechs had put Christmas carols on the stereo. Outside, snow clouds roiled, gray and threatening. The streets were nearly empty; even the sounds from the spaceport seemed distant and hushed.

He turned as Zechs carried a single plate to the table, where one place had been set.

"Aren't you eating?"

"Of course I'm eating."

"Oh." Duo shrugged. "I'll get my plate, then."

"Come here." Zechs sat down and held out his arms. "We'll share."

Duo grinned and slipped onto the tall man's lap. He wriggled his bottom, feeling the cool silk of Zechs' pants and the warmth of his body beneath. "This is even better than popcorn."

Gravely, the older man fed Duo strips of bacon, bites of fluffy scrambled eggs and coffee cake, warm with the smells of apples and cinnamon. He gave his intense concentration to his task, carefully selecting the choicest bits of food or holding a mug of coffee to Duo's lips. Neither spoke as they finished breakfast, but from time to time, Zechs paused from feeding him to touch his body, to brush his fingers over Duo's nipples or glide his palm down his inner thigh. Duo felt as though he belonged completely to the man who held him, and he clung fiercely to the sensation.

"You're quiet this morning." Zechs fingered a snarled lock of chestnut hair that hung between them and shook his head. "What were you thinking of, sleeping with your hair down?"

Duo grinned, sheepish. He knew it was safe to tell Zechs what he was thinking or feeling, but it still embarrassed him. "I was pretending you were here."

Zechs' eyes widened and his mouth twisted slightly, like he'd felt a sudden, startling pain. Then the look cleared, and he tugged on the tangled lock. "I think we had a visitor last night."

"Huh?"

"Look under the tree."

He twisted in Zechs' lap, stared in disbelief at the packages that littered the floor under the Christmas tree. "Zechs..."

"Not me, love." Blond hair mingled with his own chestnut strands as a firm mouth claimed his. "Santa."

For a moment, a pair of strong arms wrapped him tightly. Then Zechs pushed him a little so that he slid off his knees. "Go on. Open them."

Duo knelt next to the gifts, running his fingers over the bright paper in awe. "For me? No shit?"

Zechs knelt beside him. He stroked Duo's hair, laughing gently. "Of course for you. Here. This one first."

Duo took the box. He shook it a few times, examined the taped seams. "What is it?"

Zechs elbowed him in mock annoyance. "Open it and find out."

"Hey, I'm new at this whole Christmas thing, you know?"

"I know." Zechs nuzzled gently at his ear. "So open it."

Duo hesitated. "Is it okay to rip the paper? I don't know any other way to get it off..."

In the voice that had made more than one OZ officer cringe, Zechs bellowed, "Tear the damn thing open already!"

Blushing slightly, Duo tore the wrapping paper off the box. "It's pretty. It seems such a shame, that's all."

"Look at you. Worrying about tearing wrapping paper." Zechs shook his head in obvious amusement and kissed his cheek. "Now open the lid."

Duo obeyed. His hands met folds of warm cloth, and he pulled out a new coat.

"Like it?" Zechs took it from him and draped it over his shoulders. "I'm tired of watching you shiver every time you go outside."

Duo rubbed his cheek against the lapel. "It's so soft."

"It's cashmere."

Alarmed, Duo shrugged off the coat. He put it back in the box with more than a little regret. It was so warm. "I can't take this. It's way too expensive."

"Darling, I'm going to spoil you, so you really must learn how to accept gifts gracefully." Zechs twined his fingers in Duo's.

He ducked his head, hoping Zechs would miss the quaver in his voice he couldn't quite control. "You're too good to me, you know that?"

"Impossible." Setting the coat aside, Zechs deposited another gift in Duo's hands. "This one next."

Duo opened more packages, books he'd browsed through longingly in the bookstore, music he sang to on the radio. A sweater that matched his eyes. He must have paid a lot of attention to the things I like. Is that part of loving someone, too?

He paused, looking at the growing pile of gifts. Never in his life had he gotten so many new things at once. It felt like too much. All that Zechs had given him, and what did he have to give in return?

"Duo?"

"Sorry. I was just thinking that there's so much I don't know about this love stuff." He rubbed his cheek against Zechs' shoulder. "At least about loving someone who loves me back."

His voice unusually tender, Zechs said, "I'm willing to teach you."

Duo pulled Zechs to him and kissed him. "And I was thinking about how I want to give you something, too."

"You already have." Zechs smiled into his eyes, his hand skimming down Duo's side to his waist.

"No, I...I..." Duo slid onto Zechs' lap, then settled between his knees. "I wanna do this, Zechs. Please?"

He dropped his mouth to Zechs' groin and kissed his cock through the silk of his pajamas. His prince's body responded, and Duo felt a faint apprehensive chill in spite of his desire.

Zechs seemed to sense his fear. "Beloved, you don't owe me anything."

Duo raised his head. "Don't you want me to?"

"Of course I do." The blond man sighed. "But I know you don't like it. What it makes you remember..."

"Zechs, that was with...the others. But this is you, and I want to. Honest. You've never made me do it. You've never even asked me. And that makes it different."

He laid his hand on Zechs' thigh. In all the months they'd been together, he'd never done anything like this, had always let Zechs be in charge. Not because Zechs demanded it, although it suited him, certainly, but because he liked it. Letting his prince have control made him feel wanted, not like he was having to push himself on someone, just to get some attention.

He still looked into those blue eyes for permission, but this was different. It was about giving instead of taking. About not being afraid, and about trusting enough to offer himself this way. He didn't have to; he knew that. He'd tried, once, early on, and he'd gone to pieces so small it took his prince all night to pick them up. Zechs had never even hinted that he wanted him to try again.

But this time, he wanted to. Really, really wanted to. Wanted so bad to taste his prince that it hurt not having him in his mouth this instant. He bent his head, carefully mouthing Zechs through the thin silk. He felt long fingers tangle in his hair. Taking a deep breath, he slipped his hands under the waistband of Zechs' pants, tugged them, pushed them off the long, heavy-muscled legs. A tiny flutter of panic flitted in his belly, but the intense hunger he felt looking at his prince batted it away. Closing his eyes, he took Zechs in his mouth.

"God, baby..." Zechs whispered, arching his back as Duo called on skills he'd once cursed having. Zechs' hands caressed his head, but he didn't push, didn't pressure. He let Duo decide how much, how far. No one had ever given him that choice before.

Duo glanced at his prince's face, startled by the complete abandon on his sculpted features. Zechs had so much control--he could make Duo come twice, thrice before taking his own pleasure. But now, he tipped his head back in unrestrained exhilaration, his hair a platinum puddle on the floor behind him, his face a study in hedonism.

Duo wanted all of him. He'd learned a dozen tricks for swallowing someone Zechs' size, but now, the only technique he seemed to need was his own desire. Like a voracious kit, he fed on his prince until he felt him teeter on the edge of bliss. A hundred old humiliations cast their shadows over him., and he froze. It was this moment he'd always dreaded most, and the one he'd never been allowed to escape. But the hands that held his head relaxed, and when he raised his eyes, he met his prince's loving gaze. He needed nothing else, and when Zechs threw back his head with a primitive, guttural cry, Duo took every drop, swallowing not from fear or force, but out of his own need to give as he'd been given to.

Duo lay with his cheek against Zechs' thigh, hesitantly toying with his prince's pale blond curls. Zechs' ragged breathing calmed, and he sighed, a sound of utter content. Duo wanted to tell his lover how he felt, how he'd never done that so willingly before, but that he'd do it a hundred times again for his prince, and count himself lucky.

But I won't have the chance to do it a hundred times. I know he's going to go away again. Even if he loves me. He can't help it. It's who he is, and if he were any different, I wouldn't love him half as much.

Duo bit his lip until it hurt. He believed that Zechs loved him, and that was the only reason he didn't wrap his arms around him and cry like child for his prince not to leave him again. He couldn't do that to him, tear him in pieces like that. Holding on to someone even if it hurt them, that wasn't love, was it? He could smile--a little, anyway--when he had to go. Time enough to hurt when he was alone.

"Little one?"

Zechs sat up, but Duo didn't move. He felt solid muscle ripple under his cheek as the taller man moved, then felt arms lifting him up. Zechs studied him, obviously looking for signs that Duo was all right, and just as obviously not finding what he searched for. He frowned, his fingers tracing the ridges of Duo's cheekbones.

"That was wonderful, my love, but I told you..."

"Oh no, Zechs! I thought it was wonderful, too."

"Then why the sad face?"

Duo grinned, ignoring the ache in his belly at the thought of Zechs going away. "Maybe your cooking didn't agree with me."

Zechs raised an eyebrow and Duo knew he saw through the evasion. "Perhaps if you'd finish opening your presents, you'll feel better."

"Oh!" Duo reached for the last box under the tree. He'd forgotten it--and just now, it didn't seem to matter to him. He'd rather have Zechs with him all the time than any present.

Still, he didn't want to dim Zechs' pleasure. Managing a smile, he tore the paper and ribbons off the final gift. Lifting the lid, at first, all he saw was black and white. "Zechs...what..."

A white pique bow tie. White shirt made of the same fabric. Black jacket with long tails, and slim black trousers. The most formal clothes possible--nothing he ever had occasion to wear, that was for sure.

Zechs caressed his cheek. "If you're going to be the partner of the Ambassador to the Colonies, you're going to need it. It's the only proper attire for diplomatic receptions."

"Ambassador?"

"Relena's Christmas present. She gave me the appointment before I left for C-7."

Ambassador? That meant he'd have a residence in space, where Duo couldn't follow him. "Con-congratulations, Zechs." He tried to look happy, but he knew his smile must look more like a painted grimace. "Y-you're gonna do a great job." He swallowed, but something was stuck in his throat. "When...when do you leave?"

"When do I leave?" Zechs put his hand under Duo's chin, his fingers rubbing lightly. "You mean when do we leave."

"Huh?"

Zechs stood and fetched his overcoat, still draped across the couch where he'd tossed it last night. He reached in the chest pocket, fished out a thick envelope, and handed it to Duo.

"One last present, my darling."

Thoroughly confused, Duo opened the envelope. Inside, he found a folder with an official seal on the front, rather like his old passport. He opened it, saw his name--and Relena's?

"Do you know that this is?"

Duo shook his head.

"It's a Letter of Transit. It supersedes the order that forbids you to travel offplanet. Relena signed it before I went. I wouldn't take the Ambassadorship any other way."

"I still don't..." Slowly, understanding dawned on him. "Does this mean...?" He hesitated, afraid to say it in case it wasn't true.

But Zechs was smiling broadly now. "Yes, darling. It means you're going with me." He pulled Duo into an embrace that almost drove the breath out of him. "I couldn't possibly leave you behind."

Duo wiggled out of the taller man's arms. "Going with you? To space?"

"Yes."

He tried to make sense of what Zechs had told him, but the pieces didn't seem to want to fall in place. "To live. Together."

"Yes."

"Oh."

"Oh? That's all you have to say? It's a Christmas miracle. Duo Maxwell is tongue-tied." Zechs kissed his nose, which never failed to annoy him.

Indignant, he pushed Zechs away. "I am not, Your Royal Highness Mr. Ambassador to the Colonies, sir!"

"Stop your squalling, imp, or I'll be forced to give you something to squall about." Zechs settled an arm over his shoulders, his fingers tracing the scars Duo had tried so hard to hide. "But I rather like it when you call me your prince. That's enough of a title for me."

Duo stood under his prince's arm, surrounded by the remnants of his first Christmas. He looked out the window, at the snow that fell heavily, blanketing the empty street with white. There was one more gift he could give this man, who'd given him more than he ever expected or deserved. He leaned against Zechs' broad chest, looking up into his handsome face.

"My prince?"

"Yes, little one?" The blond man looked down at him, his eyes brimming with tenderness.

Duo took a deep breath, his fears fading at the warmth in Zechs' clear blue gaze. "I-I love you."

This time, it was Zechs who had no reply. At least, not one that required words.

end

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