Illusions of Love + Part 5 (cont)

+

Closing the door, Zechs smiled at the sight before him. Duo was sprawled on the bed, and though fully clothed it was obvious he was waiting for him.

"Another long day at the coffee shop?" Zechs asked with a wink.

Duo chuckled. He liked the idea of pretending they were in Boston again. In hindsight he could see just how perfect it had been. He and Zechs had created a world for themselves, each helping the other to forget his past. And maybe tonight's play would help Duo forget the present...

Leaning up on one elbow, Duo replied, "Yep, some joker wouldn't let me guess his drink."

Zechs stepped closer, slipping off the white, bolero jacket. "Very rude," he said as he reached the bed. "And what did you do?"

"I seduced him," Duo said with a snicker.

"Oh?" Zechs asked, raising an eyebrow. "I suppose that's one way of ensuring a good tip."

Zechs knelt on the bed and then lowered himself onto Duo, wrapping his arms about the smaller man and kissing him deeply. The warm press of bodies was electrifying. It had been a long day and they both needed this physical contact.

Ending the day with sex was a ritual the couple had adopted early on. No matter how tired Duo had been from working, or how late he had arrived home, they always had energy to indulge their attraction for one another. In those first tentative days of their relationship, it was the sex that truly bonded them and became the foundation from which their relationship was built. After all, the war was what they had in common, and in that past they had been enemies.

But lying in bed, Zechs and Duo found that despite all their differences they fit well together. They moved well together, kissing and touching each other in a pleasing rhythm. Most often, Zechs took the lead in their lovemaking. Tonight was no exception. He nuzzled Duo's neck and kissed a moist path to his Adam's apple, licking the very male bump. All the while, Zechs's hands moved over Duo's clothes, pulling the boy's shirt from his jeans and settling on another very male bulge.

Duo moaned as Zechs's hand rubbed and squeezed him. "Zechs," he said, caressing the man's back and buttocks.

Zechs lifted away from the Adam's apple to look into Duo's eyes, his long, platinum hair falling forward and brushing against Duo's face.

"Baby," he said in response, and leaned down to take the sweet lips again. As he devoured his mouth, he rubbed his erection into Duo's thigh, letting him know he wanted him.

The passion was building quickly, but when Zechs moved to unfasten Duo's jeans, Duo tensed.

I don't think I can, Duo thought, and then his hesitation melted away as the large hand dipped inside and grabbed his hardness. He moaned into Zechs's mouth, his hips arching up into that strong, warm grasp. But again that odd feeling came back, and though what Zechs was doing felt good, something was itching at the back of Duo's mind. Itching, then clawing and finally knocking at him to be heard. It was Heero. Memories of Heero and their own passionate lovemaking were coming back to him. How long had it been, since Duo had thought of Heero while making love to Zechs? Hadn't he put that particular ghost to rest? But it seemed his past was not done with him yet.

Zechs noticed the slowing of Duo's caress and sensed his distraction. He pulled out of the kiss, but kept his hand in motion on Duo's hardness. The boy's eyes met his, but it was as though Duo was far away.

"What is it?" Zechs asked.

"Hmm?" Duo asked vaguely. His body was still responding to Zechs's petting, which only clouded the thoughts swirling in his head all the more.

"Do you want me to stop?"

Duo's eyes focused with the question. "Oh," he said, in another non-answer.

Zechs's hand stopped and was slowly pulled from Duo's jeans. "Something's bothering you," Zechs said, studying Duo's face.

Duo looked up into Zechs's eyes, and then turned his face away. "I'm sorry," he said.

The older man's gaze narrowed. "About what?" he asked in confusion.

"I just... can't."

"Duo?" Zechs asked, taking Duo's face by the chin and turning it back to him. "Tell me what this is about."

Duo shuddered. He couldn't do that. He couldn't tell Zechs that he had been thinking of Heero, that he still had longings for Heero.

"Just not tonight... okay?" Duo asked, his eyes pleading with his lover.

Zechs took a long, deep breath. This had never happened before. Since that first night when he had taken Duo on that broken down old couch, Duo had been more than willing. Why the sudden change? Not so sudden, Zechs thought morosely. Everything had become more tentative since their arrival in Sank. But what part of being in his homeland was complicating things with Duo?

"Are you upset with me for not giving you a project or position at the palace?" Zechs asked, eager to break through the barrier that had been thrown up against him.

Duo shook his head. "Please don't," he said.

"Please don't what?" Zechs persisted, needing to know.

"Please don't... make this any harder," Duo said as a tear slid down his cheek.

Zechs sighed heavily, his frustration undisguised. Something told him it was more than just Duo's place in Sank that was causing this problem. And Zechs would very soon have to deal with it... or him. Yes, Zechs feared that his old rivalry with Heero Yuy was about to come into play once again.

Not wanting to make Duo any more uncomfortable than he already was, and needing to take care of his own discomfort, Zechs got up slowly from the bed. He stared at Duo a moment, regretting that they could not resolve this now, and then turned and headed into the bathroom.

Duo rolled over onto his side and curled into a ball. He heard the click of the bathroom door and moments later the sound of the shower running. Zechs had been left unsatisfied for the first time since they'd gotten together.

"Sorry," Duo whispered into his pillow as he cried softly.

+

The morning sun warmed Duo's face and arms, stirring him from a deep sleep. His eyes blinked open as he stretched, and his thoughts quickly turned to the previous night. Wanting to apologize again, Duo rolled over to find that Zechs was already gone.

"Shit," he said, feeling the guilt stab at him yet again.

Then he noticed a piece of Royal stationery lying on Zechs's pillow. He picked it up and immediately recognized the elegant hand.

My dearest Duo, I know I have not had much time for you since coming home. Be assured that my affection for you is as strong as ever. Please join me for breakfast at nine o'clock so that we may begin the day together. Love, Zechs.

Duo sat up with the note in his hand and sighed. He couldn't seem to remember what had gone wrong last night. Why, after having made love every night for nearly two months, had he suddenly froze? But of course he knew the answer, and it struck him with a wince---Heero. With just one kiss, one sweetly, intimate kiss, Heero had shredded Duo's walls.

"What am I gonna do?"

When Zechs had wanted to come home, Duo accepted his place at Zechs's side even though it meant seeing Heero again. And damn Zechs for that. Damn him for having a sister and responsibilities and a nation calling him back to them.

Duo crumpled the note and slammed his fist into the mattress. "Damn you, Zechs!"

Hadn't things been just fine in Boston? Why did he have to go and throw a wrench into the wheel? Duo knew why... because fucking like rabbits never solved anything. Sure, it was great for a time, but sooner or later the past was going to catch up with the present and they'd have to face things. That's when Zechs became Milliardo again, and Duo was hauled off to Sank to support his decision. And it just so happened... to face his own past.

So maybe Heero was to blame? The bastard certainly deserved to be blamed for everything that had gone wrong in Duo's life for the past six months. Duo liked the idea of cataloging every headache, spilled drink, bad tip, undercooked steak, lost key, and certainly broken heart as caused by one, Heero Yuy. He even toyed with the idea of putting his list to paper, thinking that Wufei would call it, "cleansing."

But Duo was a smart boy, and despite all his anger toward Heero, and Zechs, he knew he had to at least take part of the blame for the circumstances of his life. It was time for Duo to start being honest with himself and everyone around him. And that was a heavy burden. That would involve making choices that at this point seemed impossible to make.

He got up from the bed, rather reluctantly, and padded into the bathroom. It was just eight o'clock, and he had plenty of time to make that breakfast date with Zechs. A shower would do the trick to jumpstart his day after the emotional aerobics of the previous one.

+

Duo made his way to breakfast wearing faded blue jeans, a black ribbed cotton tee and black ankle boots. He hadn't quite gotten down the "palace look," and he didn't much care. At least the staff seemed to be getting used to his presence in the marble halls.

He was rather looking forward to dining alone with Zechs. They had not shared a private meal since coming to Sank, and he thought they did some of their best talking over food. Well, Duo did anyway. Maybe he could get a list of Zechs's appointments for the day so he knew where to find him and when he might be free to take a stroll in the gardens. After last night, he really needed to spend time with Zechs and clear his head of these ridiculous thoughts of Heero. After all, Heero was his past, and Zechs was his future... right?

At the breakfast room, an uniformed servant opened the door for Duo. He didn't think he'd ever get used to that, having servants open doors for him. Zechs had been bred to enjoy or to tolerate such formalities and had transitioned easily from private to royal life. Duo would have to ask him about this and possibly request a lesson on palace protocol. Maybe if he understood why everyone did what they did it wouldn't seem so odd anymore.

Stepping into the room, Duo's light mood immediately faded. His quiet breakfast with Zechs was not to be. Sitting around the table were Relena, Noin and heaven help him--Heero.

He came to stand behind the empty chair next to Zechs.

Zechs frowned at the look of disappointment on Duo's face. "What is it?"

Duo leaned forward and in a soft voice explained, "I thought we were having breakfast... alone."

"That can be arranged, but generally I meet with my advisors over breakfast," Zechs replied just as softly. Obviously Duo didn't want the others to hear.

"Oh... I misunderstood," Duo said, taking his seat.

Zechs suddenly remembered the note he had left Duo. The boy must have misinterpreted his meaning. "This is my fault entirely," Zechs said, reaching over to take Duo's hand. "Let me make it up to you later."

Duo looked down at the hand holding his and then to the others around the table. All eyes were on them and their whispered conversation.

"It's okay... really," Duo said, giving a little grin. "You've got a country to run."

"I will make it up to you," Zechs reaffirmed, squeezing Duo's hand.

Duo nodded as he looked into Zechs's face, the man's eyes alight with sincerity. Zechs genuinely believed that he could do it all. Be the ruler of a country in the process of rebuilding itself after a tragic war, and fulfill all of his lover's needs.

He gently released Duo's hand and watched as Duo turned to enjoy his breakfast. He wanted to tell Duo that he was disappointed, too. He enjoyed Duo's company very much, but for the time being they would not have a lot of time alone. Perhaps the thing to do was to appoint Duo to some position where they could work together on a project? He would give that some thought, but right now Duo needed to be rescued from Relena's endless questioning.

"Since you've explored the palace grounds so thoroughly, perhaps I could arrange for you to see more of our homeland," Relena offered in a cheerful manner.

"I'm certain Duo is capable of arranging things for himself," Zechs said, hoping to deter her further prodding.

"Actually, I was hoping you would give me the tour," Duo said, looking to Zechs.

Zechs smiled. "That's a fine idea. I'll work that into my schedule for tomorrow," Zechs said, gently patting Duo's thigh under the table.

"Tomorrow?" Duo asked.

"Yes, I have meetings all day today, including the security check this morning with Lucrezia and Heero."

Duo nodded, and feeling everyone's eyes on them once again, shook off his second disappointment of the day. "Of course. Who has time for sightseeing, anyway?" he asked with a chuckle. "I've got a lot of history to catch up on."

Zechs nodded. "Yes, as you discovered last night in the Royal library there are hundreds of books on Sank's past."

"Oh, I'm sure Heero's pointed you in the right direction there," Relena said, smiling.

"Huh?" Duo asked, looking at the princess with mouth gaping in shock.

"Milliardo just said you were in the library last night," Relena added, as though that would make her statement more clear.

"Y-yes," Duo agreed, hesitantly.

"And so was Heero. Isn't that right, Heero? You spend every evening in the library," the princess nodded to her security advisor, and then went on without missing a beat. "I assume Heero would've shown you the most relevant histories. He's read nearly a hundred books since arriving in Sank."

Duo stared blankly at the princess, his heart hammering and his cheeks blushing. He didn't dare look over to see Zechs's reaction.

There was a long, silent pause as everyone's forks and knives came to rest on their plates. No one said a word as all eyes moved between Duo, Heero and Zechs.

For Heero, it seemed a battle was playing out before him. The opportunity was there to strike, take advantage of Zechs's vulnerability and the fact that everyone must be thinking that he and Duo had met secretly last night. But he would not strike now. In Antarctica, Zechs had wanted to settle their rivalry in an honorable way and had disabled one of Tallgeese's arms to compensate for Heero's own injured arm, leveling the field of battle. Heero would do the same now.

"I wasn't in the library last night," Heero said, barely glancing at Relena.

"But you told me you spend every evening..."

"Too predictable," Heero said, curtly.

Duo snapped his mouth shut. Was he crazy or was Heero covering for him?

"Yes," Zechs agreed, even though in his heart he believed otherwise. "Predictability can be dangerous for a soldier."

Duo heard the coolness in Zechs's tone. Relena's innocent accusation had been taken seriously, but Duo couldn't say a word. If he said no one was in the library with him last night he would be lying, and lying was not acceptable.

"Yeah, wouldn't want to be too predictable," Duo said, forcing a nervous chuckle.

Zechs looked at Duo and was about to add something, but just then a servant came in and handed the prince a note. Zechs read it quickly and then looked up at his companions.

"My apologies, but I'll need to cut this breakfast short. I have some unexpected visitors."

"Of course, Zechs," Noin said. "I hope it's nothing serious."

"No, no, some well-wishers from one of the villages have arrived and I want to give them my full attention."

"Then we'll postpone our security meeting?" Noin proposed.

"Yes, but only an hour or so," Zechs said, setting his cloth napkin on the table and leaning over to kiss Duo on the cheek. "I'll have a look at my schedule for this afternoon. Maybe we can work something out."

Duo smiled, hesitantly. He was glad for the possibility of spending time with Zechs, but surprised at his pleasant tone.

After Zechs left with Relena close on his heels, it wasn't long before Noin and Heero got up to leave.

Heero leaned over the table and grabbed a croissant from the tray, making eye contact with Duo.

Duo's brow furrowed as he looked up into those blue, blue eyes. "What are you doing?"

"You can't keep all the croissants to yourself," Heero said, knowing very well that Duo was not referring to the breakfast leftover.

Duo's mouth opened to reply, but then snapped shut. That comment sounded remarkably like a joke. Had Heero developed a sense of humor? But the other boy turned and was headed out the door before Duo could gather his wits enough to ask.

Left to his own devices, Duo decided to make good on his promise to learn the history of the Sank Kingdom. Besides, the distraction would do him good. Within minutes he was in the library, closing the door behind him. Safely alone, he set his indecision aside once again.

It didn't take him long to make a selection from the shelves. He chose a red leather bound volume titled, in gold lettering, "The Peacecraft Dynasty." Leaning against the desk, he slowly turned the pages until he came to an image of the first Peacecraft monarch, Renalto Peacecraft, a man who had unified the nation over five hundred years ago. Though the man had auburn hair, his slender face and clear, blue eyes were remarkably like Zechs's.

Further along, Duo found a fold-out chart, showing the Royal family tree. The Peacecraft lineage had been enhanced by marriages with nobles and royalty from neighboring countries. This was truly a dynasty.

How can I possibly fit into this? Duo wondered. There would certainly never be a place on that family tree for him. He could not marry Zechs in the traditional sense, nor could he bear his children. So what I am doing here?

The realization brought tears to Duo's eyes. Zechs wasn't just playing at being a prince, he truly was, and one who would ascend to the throne of Sank. Duo's lover would one day become King Milliardo Peacecraft. People would refer to him as His Majesty and expect him to fulfill the myriad of duties associated with that position. Even if the people of Sank were open to the idea of their king having a male consort, Duo didn't have the faintest idea how to fit that role... or even if he wanted to. There was nothing equal about being a consort to a king, and if the past few days were any indication, that relationship would be strained by lack of privacy.

Duo knew then, that even if Heero hadn't been thrown into the mix, he and Zechs would have had their own difficulties to face. That in time, this crazy imbalance in their relationship would have affected them on a fundamental level.

He closed the book and set it down on the desk, lowering his head as his heart grew heavy. "King Milliardo," he said, softly.

A swoosh and a flash of movement brought Duo's head up. There, on the green marble floor, lay a cream-colored envelope. He rushed to the door and threw it open, poking his head into the hall, but no one was there. Whoever had slid that note under the door was damn fast.

Retreating back into the library, Duo picked up the envelope, turning it this way and that. It didn't have a name or any other identifying mark on the outside of it, but that wasn't going to stop him from opening it. He tore the envelope and pulled out a slip of paper. With a slight hesitation he unfolded the paper and felt his stomach flip when he saw the handwriting.

"Heero!"

Meet me in the garden. Under the ivy. Please. H.

"What is this, national note writing day?" Duo chuckled.

But his pounding heart belied the joke. Heero must have delivered it himself, and now Duo was faced with yet another indication of Heero's determination. If anyone knew how focused Heero could be on a project, it was Duo. When Heero had turned his focus on him, to their lovemaking those weeks in Arabia, Duo had thought he'd died and gone to heaven. It had been complete bliss. Well, almost. Duo had also been aware of Heero's professional boredom that no doubt became one of the reasons he had bolted so enthusiastically when Relena had called.

We can't go back to that, Duo thought as he held the note tight in his hand.

There was no question in Duo's mind that he would meet Heero in the garden. It was more than just curiosity in what Heero might say or do next. It was a deep need to see the other boy again. Duo tucked the note in his back pocket. The action giving him a tingle, a little flash of memory, and then he was out the door.

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