by Artemis

Illusions of Love + Part 5

The next morning, Zechs and Duo joined Relena and Noin for breakfast. The low-key gathering was much appreciated after the fanfare of the previous evening.

"Milliardo, we are scheduled to meet with the high ministers of parliament later this morning," Relena said, as she spread blackberry jam on her bread. "But first the workers are anxious for you to see the palace renovations."

"Thank you, that sounds fine," Zechs replied and then looked to Duo. "Are you interested in joining us? Or perhaps you'd like to spend a day exploring on your own?"

Duo wanted to be with Zechs, but he knew he and Relena had yet to spend any significant amount of time together. "Uh, yeah, I think I'll just poke around on my own... if that's okay?"

"Of course, but I would like us to take lunch together," Zechs said, reaching over and squeezing Duo's hand.

The boy smiled. "A lunch date sounds good!"

"Zechs," Noin interrupted. "I was hoping this afternoon you would want to review the operations of the palace."

"That's fine, Noin," Zechs said with a small smile.

Noin had spent most of their friendship trying to impress Zechs and it seemed that she did not intend on stopping now.

"I understand you've been talking to Lady Une about forming a worldwide security force," Zechs continued.

"Oh, yes," Noin said, pleased that Zechs would be interested in her work. "We've only just begun discussing it, but we think there's a need for a centralized security organization that would prevent the re-occurrence of military threats."

"Preventers, you say?" Zechs asked. "Is there a real threat out there?"

"There have been pockets of resistance," Relena said, and then looked up as one of the servants opened the door and announced her security advisor. "Come in, Heero!"

Heero walked up to the table and nodded. "I've got those numbers for you," he said to Noin and handed her a chart.

"Thank you," Noin said, looking over the document.

"Heero, we were just discussing the continued threat to peace," Relena said, looking doe-eyed at the boy.

Heero nodded, and in his businesslike demeanor immediately began to explain the situation. "We've received reports from around the Earthsphere that there are still factions of OZ operating and regrouping," he said, his eyes settling on Duo for a moment and then looking to Zechs.

"Then it's true," Duo spoke up, looking to Heero with wide eyes. "Relena has been threatened?"

"Hn," Heero said, bowing his head slightly. "The threat is real, but as yet there hasn't been significant movement by any of the identified groups."

Duo looked down at his plate. When Heero had rushed off to protect Relena all those months ago, Duo had secretly wondered if the princess was truly in danger or if Heero had merely used it as an excuse to end their relationship. At the time, emotions had been building between them, and Duo had suspected that things had gotten too intense for the other boy. Now it appeared Heero's motives had been duty bound. This new information did not change the past between them, but it did make Duo feel like a bit of a bum. All these months he had been sulking, recovering from their relationship and working odd jobs while Heero had been working to maintain the peace.

If he asked, I'd be embarrassed to say what I've been doing, Duo thought, keeping his eyes downcast.

Zechs's brow furrowed as he noticed the change in Duo's demeanor. He would have to ask him about it later, but he had a feeling it had something to do with Heero. "Then you have an intelligence network in place?" Zechs asked Heero.

"Yes," Heero answered, lifting his chin as he looked at the man. "It's limited, since we're working within the resources of only the Sank Kingdom, but if we can form a larger, independent organization to monitor hostile activity we'll have a better chance of maintaining the peace we won in the war."

"That would be the organization Noin and Une have conceptualized?" Zechs asked.

"Right," Heero said.

It was strange for Heero to be speaking with Zechs in this way. His instincts, his training told him to still view Zechs as an enemy, but the signals he was getting from everyone around him said just the opposite. Relena, Noin, and most of all Duo, were accepting of Zechs. He trusted their judgment, and he had to trust his own eyes and ears as well. Zechs was sincere in his commitment to peace.

"Perhaps we can discuss this later?" Zechs asked, as he placed his cloth napkin on the table, signaling the end of the meal. "We have a busy morning ahead of us," he added, looking to Relena.

Heero nodded and watched the group disperse. Before Zechs left the room he went over to Duo and put his hand on his shoulder, looking at Heero briefly. He then bent to whisper something in his lover's ear. Duo's cheeks blushed, and Heero found himself swallowing hard at the image. There had been a time when his words had had the same effect.

Zechs seemed pleased as he left with Relena. Then Noin came forward and asked Heero questions about his calculations. As she talked, she slowly moved them toward the door, but all the while Heero kept a part of his attention on Duo. It was not like him to not give his full attention to his work, but he could not keep his gaze from returning to Duo.

Outside, Heero felt in a bit of a panic. He needed to speak with Duo again. He had to have some interaction with the other boy even if it was only harsh words. After Noin thanked him for his explanations, she walked off down the hall, and Heero immediately slipped back inside the breakfast room.

Duo was making a sandwich out of freshly baked bread and sliced cheese. Heero came closer, watching with ample fascination as Duo wrapped the sandwich in a napkin. He had forgotten how the other boy was always thinking ahead to his next meal. The memory made him grin. Maybe Duo had not changed all that much.

"A snack for later?" Heero asked as he came up to the table.

"I told you to get lost," Duo snapped, even as his eyes glanced up.

"I remember."

"Doesn't look that way," Duo said, getting up from his chair.

Heero watched appreciatively as Duo turned to leave and his braid swayed and brushed against his ass. Oh, he had forgotten what a simple delight it was to watch Duo and that braid move!

"I missed you," Heero said suddenly, the words tumbling out.

"What?!" Duo asked, spinning around, his eyes wide and suspicious.

"I know you probably don't believe me..."

"You're damn right I don't believe you!" Duo shouted. "You never once tried to contact me, and don't tell me you didn't know where I was with your damn intelligence operation circling the globe!"

It was true that Heero knew Duo had been living in the northeastern quadrant of America, but he had resisted the urge to pinpoint his whereabouts exactly. When they had parted, Heero had left Duo's life and that had included not spying on him.

"What do you want me to say?" Heero asked, sincerely flummoxed as to how to proceed. "How am I supposed to act around you?"

"Maybe it'd be best if you just kept your distance," Duo said, repeating his wish that Heero just stay away.

"I don't think I can," Heero said, taking a few steps toward him.

Duo's eyes widened. What was happening here? Was Heero still interested...? "Look, I'm with Zechs..."

"And why is that?" Heero asked, in an accusatory tone.

"He's not our enemy anymore," Duo said, unable to stop himself from responding to Heero's inquiry. "Zechs is special to me and he actually wants me in his life!"

"I wanted you in my life, too, if you recall," Heero said, trying to break through Duo's walls.

"No, I don't recall."

"You were too busy being angry at Relena to understand that she needed my help. I had to go, but that didn't mean I didn't want you."

Duo looked away. His heart hammering in his chest. What was Heero saying? That it all had been a misunderstanding? No, this could not be right. He remembered that last evening, he remembered how Heero had brushed him off...

He looked back into those dark eyes. "You said I didn't need you and you were right, I don't," Duo said and then pressed his lips together to stop them from trembling.

"Because of Zechs?"

Duo could not answer that. He could not bear this conversation any longer. He turned and headed for the door.

"Duo, wait!" Heero called out, but Duo did not stop.

+

Duo spent the rest of the day as far from the palace as possible. He was hiding again, but it couldn't be helped. He couldn't face Heero. The old feelings were still there, waiting to bubble up and take him over. He couldn't let that happen. He couldn't let himself destroy what he had worked so hard to build... a life with Zechs.

That evening he returned to his and Zechs's suite, hoping to find his lover there, but he was not. Duo went out onto the balcony and gazed up at the stars. Sank was so beautiful, but he wasn't enjoying it like he should, not with Heero's words haunting him. Heero had missed him, and had wanted him in his life.

"It can't be," Duo said, for the thousandth time that day.

A tear slid down his cheek. How many nights had he cried over the loss of Heero? How many months had it taken to forget him? And now Duo was back to square one, thrown back into the anguish that had threatened to tear him apart all those months ago. Duo needed to banish Heero once again... banish his words, the image of his eyes, and the sound of his voice.

Damn, he thought. How can I? I still love him...

Just then Duo heard the door opening.

"Duo? Are you here?" Zechs asked as he set his attaché case down.

"Yeah, out here," Duo called back, poking his head through the balcony doors.

Zechs smiled at seeing his lover. "I'm sorry about today. I know I promised we'd meet for lunch..."

His apology ended as Duo came running into his arms.

"What is it, Baby? You okay?" he asked as he wrapped his arms around Duo.

"I'm okay now," Duo said, snuggling the taller man. He had needed this all day.

Zechs caressed Duo's braid. "I missed you, too, if that's what this is about."

"Yeah," Duo said with a sigh. Zechs felt so good in his arms.

They moved over to the bed and sat down, keeping their arms about each other as they kissed in greeting.

"Tell me about your day," Duo said, smiling as he pulled back.

"Are you sure you want to know? The ministers were all business and serious faces."

"Well, at least you had something to do today," Duo said, a bit snappish.

Zechs raised an eyebrow. "What's this? Are you upset with me for not meeting you as we had planned?"

Duo shook his head. It had been disappointing to get the message that Zechs would not be able to meet him for lunch, but it was more than that.

"I understand you have duties..."

"But?" Zechs prompted.

"Well, what am I supposed to do?"

"Baby, we've been here two days and you're already bored?" Zechs asked as he stroked Duo's arm.

"I'm not exactly bored, but I do want to feel useful," Duo said, sitting up straighter.

"But you are useful," Zechs said, smiling. "I can't tell you how wonderful it is knowing that you're here. I thought of almost nothing else today, but you!"

Duo felt himself wilt. If only he could say the same thing back to Zechs.

"Then it's okay if I don't have a purpose?" Duo asked.

"But you do have a purpose. I thought you understood. You're my companion, my love," Zechs said, now brushing Duo's bangs. "In time, perhaps you can take on some responsibilities, but for now, I want you to relax and enjoy yourself."

"But you're never around," Duo said, his frustration evident.

Zechs sighed. "I'm sorry, but I've got a lot of catching up to do. I hadn't realized just how welcome I would be on my return. Everyone is anxious for me to step back into my place here."

"As king?" Duo asked, his heart thumping.

"Yes, probably in time. But right now, I'm just trying to get up to speed on all that is happening in the kingdom. Can you understand that, Duo?"

The boy nodded.

"It's obvious we spoiled ourselves in Boston," Zechs said, smiling, remembering how it had just been the two of them. "I have some papers I need to go over and then I'll come to bed and we can pretend we're back in our apartment."

Duo smiled at that. "I'm being a pain...."

"No," Zechs said, shaking his head. "It warms me to know you've been missing me." Zechs leaned in and kissed his diminutive lover. "Just a couple of hours and I'm all yours."

Duo watched as Zechs got up, retrieved his briefcase and went into the adjacent room to look over the state documents. He suspected that this would be the new pattern of their life and frowned. He needed Zechs now more than ever if he was going to fend off the old feelings that were stirring inside him. And it was discouraging that Zechs didn't want him to have any responsibilities just yet. Was he really here just as Zechs's companion? That made him twitch. Duo had never been the kept boy type, but surely that hadn't been what Zechs had meant. That, coupled with learning how Heero had been working for peace, made Duo feel even more like a slug. All Duo had done was serve coffee and deliver books to the rich. What did that say about himself and his ambitions?

My only ambition has been to forget Heero, Duo thought morosely.

He needed to change that. He needed to become a player again on the world stage. So what could he do to prove to Zechs that he was ready to be more than just a companion?

Maybe if I learned something about Sank, that'd be a good place to start, Duo thought as he stood.

Though Zechs had told him stories of his childhood in Sank, and Duo knew of the kingdom's role during the war, he knew virtually nothing of its history. He remembered from his earlier wanderings that the palace had a beautiful library. Surely there would be plenty of history books there.

[cont]