Author: pyrzm
see ch. 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer

Broken Warriors + Chapter 63
Masks

Leaning against the concourse wall, Duo kept an eye on the gate that led to the private jet gangways, watching for Wufei and Zechs. With his hat and shades on, and braid hidden down the back of his baggy sweatshirt, Duo was just another punk kid hanging out at the airport, watching the planes and shuttles through the big plate glass windows, rather than a famous, well-armed ex-terrorist here to meet an old bud and his new squeeze.

Security for 'his highness' in New Orleans was an issue. No one wanted a gaggle of security guards wandering around the house, attracting media attention, so Zechs and Wufei were flying in on their own, with the understanding that the others would be on alert during their visit.

Too many G-Boys in public together attracted too much attention, so Duo had come to meet them at the gate while Heero was off arranging for a rental car. No advance plans. No reservations to let anyone who might be watching know what the next move was. Duo and Trowa had come up with a nice little twist for protection at the show, too, back when Wufei had written to accept Kat's invite.

No more nasty-grams had arrived for Heero since the second one but everyone had that waiting-for-the-next-shoe-to-drop feeling. At Heero's insistence, nothing was going to be said to Wufei about the current situation until the day after tomorrow. Heero had been totally adamant that they let Wuffie and Zechs settle in, see the show that night, and celebrate Wu's eighteenth birthday the following day without all that shit overshadowing it. Duo suspected this was also Heero's way of feeling in control. He'd bounced back too quickly, in Duo and Quatre's estimations, from the shock of receiving the photos, and had been in full mission mode ever since, talking about the 'situation' almost as if it was centered on someone other than himself. He and Duo had made love again for the first time in almost a week, too, which was probably a good sign, even though Heero had insisted on doing most of the "doing." But he'd done lots of it. Duo had been enjoying that not-unpleasant "got lucky" soreness every time he sat down today. Good sex equaled good medicine, right?

Quatre still had his feelers out, but so far it just seemed like Heero was digging down and drawing on the inner strength that had gotten him through everything else in his life. Whatever the case, Duo was keeping in a sharp eye on him, and so was everyone else. Duo regretted the timing of Wu's visit. Who knew how messed up Wu might still be, and now all Duo wanted was to track the bastards down and go kick some ass. But first they'd have to find the fuckers. He shrugged deeper into his sweatshirt and kicked the heel of one jump boot restlessly at the wall behind him. Concentrate on the mission at hand for now, like Heero had said.

Wu and Zechs were traveling incognito and Duo almost missed them when they finally emerged from the jet way carrying a couple of duffels. Zechs had his hair up under a cap like Duo's and neither of them was dressed like he'd been expecting. When he did spot them coming his way, he wasn't immediately sure if he was more relieved or confused to see Wufei looking so--normal?

Well, maybe 'normal' wasn't quite the right word. In Duo's experience, Chang Wufei didn't normally or willingly wear jeans, or designer black cashmere sweaters or wrap-around shades that made him look like he'd just stepped out of some fancy menswear ad. Aside from the new threads, though, he looked a helluva lot more like his old self than he had the last few times Duo had seen him, on L-4 or that time on TV.

Kat was all tickled pink about this new relationship, but to Duo it seemed that falling for Zechs-and Duo was not ready to use the "L" word just yet, even if Wuffers was-- to Duo it had had seemed like something had been knocked out of Wufei. The drug revelation, the major fuck-over by Relena and Une, figuring out he was gay; it was a lot to take in, both for Wufei and the rest of them. The drugged out, weepy wreck he and Heero had hauled back to New Orleans had scared him a little, as had the contrite tone of that first email.

Uptight, pissed off, disapproving, 05 had always been one of Duo's Strong Ones, a guy who'd show up at a moment's notice looking and acting exactly the same as the last time he saw him. Duo had recognized the good, honorable guy under that prickly exterior a long time ago, and had depended on that comforting consistency of behavior a lot more than he liked to admit. The idea that at least some of that attitude had been a front, a self-deluding act to cover the fact that Wufei had been just as miserable and messed up and lonely as Duo made him feel bad in all sorts of new and interesting ways. Not to mention the fact that it had been Zechs, not any of the rest of them, who'd twigged and was now, for good or ill, apparently the one giving Wufei something he needed.

That all jumped right up to the surface at the sight of Wufei striding along beside Zechs. He didn't look wrecked, or like some kid in love. Wufei looked like he was back in control, right down to the inscrutable expression, the anal-retentive hairstyle, and the unmistakable bulge of a gun under the left arm of his coat. It occurred to Duo that even the surprising, prettied-up Wufei he'd seen on the news had been armed. Nope, the smoked-up mess who'd played with himself in the tub (oh, yeah, it had been some fun pulling those details out of Heero) and cried in their arms and written polite thank-you notes was safely out of sight. He looked more like Zechs's licensed-to-kill bodyguard than his--Duo grimaced inwardly-- boyfriend.

And no, Duo didn't need Heero or Quatre or Batoosingh to point out to him that his reaction might be just a teensy-weensy little bit selfish. He figured that one out all by himself, thank you very much. That, and the fact that he seemed to be the only one who hadn't let go of the Libra incident yet.

It didn't help his confusion and general fucked-upedness when some other part of his brain sat up and took notice that Merquise looked like sex on legs today. OK, the man had looked real good in uniform back in the day, and in the suits and dress causal he'd worn during their Sanque visit, but none of that had triggered Duo's sensors like this ensemble.

Zechsy wore his faded jeans tight in all the right places, and that black biker jacket had been around. Bottom line: he looked like someone Duo would have cruised in the old days. Oh yeah! But alarm bells were going off, too. Duo knew a dominant top when he saw one, which meant that Wufei . . .

Duo bludgeoned that thought to pulp and filed the remains away in a mental file marked "Do Not Go There" in big red letters. Maybe Zechs just knew he looked good in beat up leather, right? Besides, at the moment the two were acting like they hardly knew each other.

Wufei spotted him and gave him a slight nod. Duo pushed away from the wall and fell in beside him, trying real damn hard not to stare at the two of them from the corner of his eye with that last thought struggling to break through again. Wuffers still had on that jade necklace; Duo suspected it had the same kind of significance to him that the Duo's Shiva's Eye did to him.

Zechs gave Duo a friendly look over the top of his own tinted glasses. "Good to see you again."

"You, too." No lie there. It was good to see him. Knowing him? Well, the Maxwell jury was still out on that, but for Wufei's sake, he'd make an effort. Wufei, however, was currently giving off no signals at all except impatience to get through the airport.

Heero was lounging in one of the plastic chairs in the Avis lounge. The blond wig really worked as cover. With those blue eyes, he carried it off. Jeans, black high-tops, faded green tee-shirt of Tro's that hung loose enough to hide the hard muscle there--

// My boyfriend's hotter n' yours, Wu-Man! //

// Well,
as hot, anyway. //

Duo stuck that in the Don't Go There file, too.

Heero got up and headed for the door without comment and the rest followed in silence. They looked about two men short of a street gang. In slightly better clothes, they could recast that old pre-colony movie Trowa liked so much, "Reservoir Dogs."

When they were safely on the highway back into the city again, Duo took off his sunglasses and turned around in his seat to give Wufei a grin. "Welcome back to the Crescent City, buddy. How was the flight?"

Wufei gave Duo his customary dirty look at the nickname. "No problems. We came down in a Zoroaster X-9. It handles well."

Yup, he looked pretty much like his old self again, but healthier. He wasn't exactly beaming and giggling, though, and there were none of the little tells Duo or Quatre might have given under the circumstances. He sat on his side of the car and Zechs stayed on his. No shared glances. No hand holding or bumping of knees. No climbing into each other's laps, either.

"An X-9?" Heero asked, eyes on the road and oblivious to this odd situation.

Heero and Zechs talked shuttles and bikes. Duo chimed in now and then to be polite, and surprised to find that he and Zechs had some similar tastes in road toys. Wufei didn't say much of anything. Not that he'd ever been a motor mouth, but Duo kept looking at that open space between him and Zechs, wondering if there's been an in flight spat or something.

The house was all lit up to welcome the guests. Trowa and Quatre met them in the garden court. The lights were on there, too, and cold beer and snacks had been set out on the table by the fountain. Trowa shook hands with them both. Kat hugged Wufei like it was the most natural thing in the world, then made him turn around so he could admire the new clothes. "Wow, Wufei, you look incredible!"

Wufei smiled as he retreated to a chair. "Better than last time you saw me, anyway?"

"Actually, last time we saw you, you were on the news," Trowa said, describing the clip of the charity event. "We didn't recognize you at first. Very stylish."

Unless Duo's eyes deceived him, Wufei blushed at that, and stole a glance at Zechs, who'd taken a seat across the table, Duo noted suspiciously. "Ah, well. I can't rely on dress uniforms anymore, and L-5 clothes just don't seem to suit me the way they used to. Zechs has been helping me develop a new wardrobe." He raised an eyebrow at Duo. "You should be happy at that, Maxwell. You always said I had all the fashion sense of a Gundam."

Duo cheerfully flipped him off. "Can't say I'll miss those Chinese pants, my friend."

Zechs chuckled over his beer. "He still has a few he wears for our morning practice."

"You're still training, then?" Heero asked Wufei.

"Of course!" Wufei looked mildly offended at the idea that he would have stopped. That was a good sign, with 05. He really was getting back to normal.

"Wufei has been sparring with me as part of my physical therapy, as well,
Zechs added, smiling over at 05. "He's also been teaching me Wu Yi martial arts and attempting to get me to meditate. I repay him with saber and chess lessons. He has the easier task, of course, already being an expert swordsman. I understand you have a gymnasium here that we could use?"

"Well, it's more of a big open room with some mats, but you're welcome to use it," Quatre told him.

"Would any of you care to join us?"

"Quatre and I don't spar anymore; can't risk any head injuries," Trowa replied. "If you do Tai Chi or yoga, we'd join you at that. Heero can give you a workout, though. He'd probably enjoy having someone besides Duo to beat up on for a change."

"I win almost as often as I lose!" Duo sputtered. The truth was, he'd spent more of his war days avoiding hand-to-hand fighting; no one could beat him on the target range, or out fly him. It was a probably a good thing for him that Heero hadn't recovered his full battle capability. He got knocked around enough as it was, but the Perfect Soldier insisted that his boyfriend be able to defend himself unarmed.

"Dinner's almost ready," Quatre told them. "Mari, has outdone herself tonight in your honor, but told me to tell you that it's only a 'light supper'. That's all Tro and I can manage on show nights, but we'll take you out afterwards if you're hungry again. Zechs, would you like to see the house while we wait? We can take your bags up on the way."

"Yes. Wufei says it's charming. Very Old World."

"Great. Tro and I will give you the tour."

Zechs looked over at Wufei.

"Go ahead," he said, giving his---what?-a nod. "I'll sit here and enjoy the garden."

"I'll keep him company for you," Duo offered, jumping at the chance to get Wufei alone for a minute. "Heero, you want to go check on how dinner's coming?"

Heero shot him a warning look, but took the hint.

Duo waited until the others were gone. "So, Wu-man . . . You two together, huh?" Hey, no one ever accused him of being subtle.

Wufei arched an eyebrow at him as he sipped his beer. "Yes. I assume you read my email?"

"Yeah. But, ah . . ." Duo picked at the label on his low alcohol beer. "You guys ok with each other?"

The eyebrow climbed a little higher. "Of course. Why do you ask?"

So the new Wufei wasn't real big on pillow talk. "I dunno. You just don't seem real cuddly together, that's all."

To his surprise, Wufei sighed. "I know. It's difficult, in public. I'm not like you and the others."

"But in private?"

Wufei's sudden, ferocious blush, coupled with that frown, sent a confusing message. "Really, Maxwell!"

"Sorry! I just, y'know, want to be sure everything's copasetic, that's all. I care, Wufei."

Wufei glared down at his beer. "I-appreciate your concern, but it's misplaced. Zechs and I are fine."

"Fine?"

"Yes. Fine."

Before Duo could dig any deeper behind that none answer, the others came back and they went in to dinner. Zechs presented Quatre and Trowa with a small antique oil painting and a bottle of expensive champagne as a housewarming, and gave Heero and Duo a bottle of their own for their help in Sanque.

Marie had indeed outdone herself. Sitting around the candlelit table, they dined on oyster bisque, green salad, crawfish etouffee, and poached pears. Unsatisfied with his interrogation so far, Duo kept an eye on Wufei as they ate. He didn't seem unhappy, but he wasn't 'glowing' as Kat had put it, either. He just looked like-well, like himself. Not so grumpy, just quiet. Zechs either didn't mind or didn't notice. Duo wasn't sure which. Small talk ebbed and flowed--more motor head stuff, voodoo in New Orleans, the house, the show, jazz theory. Zechs and Kat really hit it off over music. Turned out Zechs used to play the guitar and violin before the accident.

He held up his new left hand, encased in a thin leather glove. "The doctors claim I can play again if I'm willing to put in the practice and let them tinker with the circuits. It seems I'm their favorite guinea pig, since the cybernetic technology in this arm is still so new. And Wufei's been after me to try." He smiled warmly across at Wufei, and Duo finally caught a flicker of warmth in his friend's face.

"His progress at fencing and Wu-Yi has been remarkable," Wufei said proudly, as if Zechs was his student or something. "However, they don't require the fine motor coordination that playing an instrument would. Quatre, perhaps you could tempt him into giving it a try while we're here?"

That steered the conversation to music again, and Duo settled back and kept watching. Wufei watched Zechs as he chatted adagios and improvisations with Kat. Jesus, the man was like a statue, not giving away anything! Zechs, on the other hand, was Mr. Charm. Those blue eyes were killer when he smiled, and he smiled a lot, especially when talking to Quatre. He didn't forget about Heero and Tro, either. They were not the world's greatest conversationalists outside their own little circle, but Zechs started pumping Trowa about his creative process and suddenly 03 was telling him about the mechanics of the stage, using silverware and breadsticks as visual aides. Heero got into that, and before Duo knew it, the three of them were coming up with a new winch design. Turned out Zechs had gotten a degree in mechanical engineering at the OZ Academy, along with his officer training. Hot, charming, and brilliant. Duo sulked a little, watching Heero light up over the topic of cantilevered balance arms.

"I'm glad we've met again under better circumstances, Zechs," Trowa said over dessert.

"So am I," Zechs replied. "I admired you boys so much during the war, even in that last battle. Actually, especially then. You were all so brave, so driven. You knew what you stood for. And now look at you!" He shook his head, smiling. "You know, it occurs to me I never saw all five of you in the same place before, except on Libra, and then you were in suits. But I saw photos. You've all grown up so much."

Quatre dimpled up, looking about twelve. "You sound like one of my uncles!"

Zechs chuckled. "I suppose so. But you were still children back then, and now you're young men. Young men in love." He raised his wineglass to them. "Allow me to offer my belated congratulations."

"And to you and Wufei," Heero replied, raising his glass. "To love."

Duo goggled. Had Heero, his Heero, just proposed a toast?

"Wufei's been raving about your show," Zechs went on. "I can't wait to see it, but I hope my presence won't be disruptive."

"We've got that covered," Duo told him around a mouthful of dessert. "Whaddya say, guys? Can I give Wufei his birthday present now?"

"That's not necessary!" Wufei exclaimed, blushing for sure now. "Being here, and seeing the show again is--"

"Just wait. You'll see," Duo said, giving him a wink.

+

It was good to be back with the others in New Orleans like this, but excruciating as well. He was "with" Zechs, as they said, and everyone knew it. It made him feel naked, exposed, uncomfortable in a way that none of their other more public experiences had. These people knew him better than anyone, knew him as 05, a warrior and fellow soldier, not as someone's-boyfriend!

And just as he'd feared, the others seemed to expect him to sit on Zechs lap or paint his toenails or something, as if he'd suddenly turned into someone else-Quatre, perhaps. Duo was the most obvious about it. He'd been staring at them since they met in the airport.

He wasn't ashamed to be in love, any more than he was ashamed of anything they did behind closed doors at night. Sure, he was still a bit backwards there, but that wasn't shame. He couldn't explain adequately what it was, but Zechs still claimed to find his shyness charming. He tried not to think about that too much outside the bedroom; who he was there and who he was in public remained separate entities. That's just how it had to be, for now. Zechs understood and loved him anyway, probably more than he deserved. Whatever the case, what they had worked just fine so far. But he'd have withstood torture more willingly than he could have answered Duo's worried question in the garden.

Well, mostly fine, aside from the massive guilt he felt, not being able to be more physically demonstrative with his lover in public. Not that he wasn't trying. He'd gone dancing, and that had been pleasant. Zechs instinctively knew how far he could go without making Wufei uncomfortable. They'd danced in the Le Fleur club, and been the toast of the night. Among those strangers, Wufei had been able to dance close and enjoy the touch of Zechs's hand on his arm or lower back as they stood at the bar with Joey. He just knew Zechs would have liked more from him, then and the night they went to the gallery, but he gave no sign of disappointment, but claimed that restraint made him all the more anxious to get Wufei into bed later. Wufei, for his part, did his best to make it up to him there. It helped that he hungered for his lover's touch, and when they were alone, that core of ice he seemed to carry around inside melted away, leaving him yielding and open to pleasure. They hadn't made love last night, but Wufei had slipped into bed naked anyway and Zechs's appreciation had been clear as he took him in his arms and held him all night long. If they hadn't had to get to the shuttle port so early, Wufei would have been very tempted to see what morning sex was like. They'd both woken up ready enough for it. As it was, he'd almost invited Zechs into the bathroom with him to share his shower, but a call had come in for Zechs and Wufei had lost his nerve. He hoped they gave him the same room he'd had before; it had a bath attached, and a large old fashioned tub.

Dinner went well, and his friends made every effort to be pleasant to Zechs. Well, most of them. Duo was still wary, and watching Wufei like he expected him to break. That only made Wufei more self conscious and that as always, only made him act stiff and quiet. In his discomfort, he'd taken a seat across the table from Zechs, and simply couldn't summon the nerve to put on the show of reaching across the table to touch his hand or anything of that sort. There was wine with supper and he let Trowa fill his glass twice. That and the beer should have taken off the edge, but didn't. By the end of the meal, he was exhausted from the stress and felt more like going to lie down in a quiet room than going out, much as he wanted to see the circus again. But the others were too excited about it and had gone to too much trouble to beg off.

He almost dropped his water glass when Duo said something about a birthday present. They'd never exchanged gifts! No one had ever said anything about gifts!

Duo returned with two small flat boxes wrapped up in red ribbon. "These are from all of us." He handed one to Wufei, and one to Zechs.

Inside, they found a pair of beautiful handcrafted masks, similar to the ones some of the cast wore in the show. They were the kind that covered only the upper part of the face. Wufei's was a stylized dragon, painted in metallic red, white and gold, with slanted golden eyeholes and flaring wings on either side of the face. Zechs's was a dangerous looking silvery wolf's face with a mane of curled leather tendrils.

"They're-they're beautiful!" Wufei exclaimed. "You made these, didn't you, Duo?" His reminded him of Shenlong, and he suspected that that was intentional.

"Yeah, but everyone was in on the designs," Duo said, grinning happily at Wufei's baffled expression.

"And they're quite practical, too. It's Masquerade Night at the Circus Della Notte," said Trowa. "Anyone who shows up in a mask gets their name in a drawing to win a Duo Maxwell original. You'll see it tonight."

"Neat ploy, huh?" grinned Quatre. "It was Heero's idea, so you two could attend without attracting attention. I'm guessing ninety percent of the crowd tonight will come in masks. You'll blend right in."

Zechs held his up to his face and gave Duo a wolfish grin. "I think this one was your idea."

Duo shrugged. "It suits you."

Wufei picked up on the sparring going on between those two, but was also distracted by the way his lover looked, blue eyes bright behind that silvery mask. He looked very wolfish, indeed, and in quite a beguiling way. He saw Duo's eyes widen a little at the sight, and grinned to himself, wondering if Maxwell had intended that? Somehow, he doubted it, but there was no question that the mask was beautiful, a masterpiece, and that Zechs looked damn sexy in it. Suddenly he found himself not feeling quite so tired, after all.

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