Illusions of Love + Part 6 (cont)

Zechs took a step back, appalled that Duo would think such a thing. Zechs believed the duel had been honorable and he had fairly won the right to continue in his relationship with Duo.

"I'm sorry if that's the impression you..."

"Fuck you, Zechs!" Duo shouted and then returned to his search.

Tears filled Duo's eyes as he continued his frantic hunt. The pain inside him was ripping him apart, and maybe that was why it was so important for him to find his trusty cap. He needed that cap... that one last link to his old self, the God of Death. He knew he had packed it when they had come from Boston just days ago, but he hadn't seen it since. One of the servants must have tucked it away not realizing its importance.

Zechs stared at Duo, watching his jerky, angry movements. Pain was rippling off the young man's tense, slender shoulders. Whatever wrong Zechs had committed it had cut Duo deeply.

"I was going to wait to discuss this with you later," Zechs began, anxious to re-connect with Duo. "I want to appoint you as my official liaison to the Sankian parliament. It would allow us to work together, but also give you a semblance of autonomy... " Zechs's words drifted off as Duo turned his eyes to him, eyes burning with a deep resentment.

"I don't want your charity," Duo said, turning back to stuffing clothes into his bag.

"It's hardly charity. You'd have an official position... your own staff."

Duo stood again and put his hands on his hips. "You don't get it, do you? I heard what you and Heero said... exchanging jibes of your sexual conquests of me. Well, that's bullshit, man! I don't need that crap and I certainly don't need you!"

Zechs shuddered. He was losing Duo.

"I'm sure you can understand that certain things are said in battle to provoke or intimidate an enemy."

"Hell, yeah, I know," Duo agreed, in a surprisingly cordial tone, but that tone didn't last. "I ain't gonna be that ball you volley back n' forth. Duo Maxwell is nobody's plaything! And it might interest you to know that I had already decided I was leaving before I found you fighting."

That was a lot to process, but Zechs could guess why Duo had decided to leave. "To be with Heero?"

As much as Duo wanted to punish Zechs, he didn't have the nerve to tell him, 'yes.' Besides, Heero was now a moot point... null and void.

"I'm not gonna be with anyone," Duo finally said, nearly convulsing with the words. He then took the beautiful watch Zechs had given him off his wrist and held it out in the palm of his hand. "I can't keep this," he said, nervously. This was the part he was dreading, the actual severing of this relationship, a relationship that had had many happy times.

"It's my gift to you," Zechs said, keeping his hands at his sides.

"No, it's too expensive..."

"Duo, I bought that expressly for you," Zechs said, feeling his heart pound hard at the sight of Duo holding that watch out to him. It had been something like a promise between them, though perhaps not as symbolic as a ring. "I want you to have it... always."

"Okay," Duo said, reluctantly. "Thanks. I've always liked it."

Duo put the watch back on and for a moment Zechs believed things would be fine. But the air was all wrong in the room, it hung heavy, crowding him even though the room was obscenely large for two people. He needed to act, to scramble his troops and come in from all sides if he was going to hang onto Duo, the boy with the look of flight in his eyes.

"I can see what you need is a little time to yourself," Zechs said, warmly. "There's a lovely summer retreat up in the mountains..."

Duo shook his head and dropped his gaze to the floor. He couldn't bear to see the pain creeping back into Zechs's eyes.

"This has been a rough few days," Duo said, his voice low, but steady. "Rough for you, me and Heero." At Heero's name, Duo looked up, making eye contact with Zechs.

"And how would you know it's been rough for Heero?" Zechs asked. It had bothered him all along to detect traces of what was surely going on behind his back, and as much as he didn't want to hear it from Duo, he had to ask.

"He told me that he wanted me back," Duo said, his eyes wide and round with the terrible position in which he had been placed.

"And what did you tell him?" Zechs asked with a swallow.

"I didn't tell him anything," Duo said, truthfully.

Zechs considered the answer for a long moment. It was not in Duo's nature to lie, so what was he saying? That he had not said 'yes' to Heero, but also that he had not said 'no.'

"Then, if you're not running off to be with Heero, what are you doing?" Zechs asked.

"I'm just leaving," Duo said with a little shrug. He could see the wheels turning in Zechs's mind and held up his hand to stop the flood of questions that was about to be released. "Look, this isn't easy for me. I like you Zechs, hell, maybe it's even more than like, but I can't do this," he said, throwing up his hands. "Hell, I can't even order out for pizza in this place."

"Well, if it's pizza you want," Zechs said with a small smile.

Duo gave a little chuckle, the anger going out of him. It was just like when he had first met Zechs, he couldn't stay mad at him, or keep that level of hatred up long enough to kill the man. Maybe it was Zechs's charm that so disarmed Duo, or perhaps it was the sadness in his eyes, a sadness that ebbed and flowed through him, constant, but not always at the surface.

When Duo spoke again, his tone was much softer. "I know neither one of us wants to dissect what went wrong..."

"I can tell you what it was," Zechs interrupted.

Duo straightened, surprised. "You can?"

"It's been our problem from the very beginning."

The clue only confused Duo all the more. "You mean about being enemies?"

Zechs shook his head. "You're in love with Heero. You came to me in love with him and you're leaving me still in love with him."

Duo's gaze slipped away.

"Don't feel bad. You made it clear that you loved him, and I still seduced you," Zechs said, reaching out and gently taking hold of Duo's chin.

The boy looked back at him uneasily. "Heero doesn't matter anymore."

"He doesn't?" Zechs asked, skeptically.

Again, the beautiful blue orbs looked away, and Zechs felt his heart breaking. He had been a fool to fall for someone whose heart was already taken, but then how could he have resisted? Duo was a mischievous, captivating blend of manchild who had come into his life at a time when Zechs had thought he would never have another friend in the world. And as much as he yearned to make Duo stay, he would not. Heero had been right. Duo would never be happy in this gilded cage.

"If you are determined to go, would it be wrong of me to make one last request?" Zechs asked, boldly.

Duo looked at him with curiosity plain in his eyes. What did Zechs have in mind? "Go ahead."

Zechs melted at the hesitation. How was it possible that the boy standing before him was one and the same with the war creature, God of Death, who had plagued OZ for so many months?

"Would you allow me to kiss you once more?" he asked, gently, as his thumb caressed Duo's chin.

Slowly, Duo nodded, his eyes growing even more wide and round. He hadn't expected this.

Zechs grinned warmly and bent down, pressing his lips to Duo's. There was a slight tensing of Duo's body, but then, very soon, Duo relaxed and accepted the kiss for what it was... a sweet farewell.

In that moment, Zechs not only felt himself falling away, broken, but also the truth that he might have destroyed Duo's one chance for something beautiful. But that something had not been between him and Duo... it had been between Duo and Heero.

Suddenly, he pulled out of the kiss with a gasp, the clarity of what he had done spiking in his mind and in his heart.

Duo's eyes remained closed seconds longer, but when they opened he quickly saw that something was wrong. "What is it?" he asked, his pulse quickening. "You look... frightened."

A small smile curled at Zechs's lips. Perhaps he was afraid, but it was for Duo and not himself. Maybe, just maybe there was still time to put things right.

"If you'd like to finish packing, I have a phone call to make," Zechs said, very mysteriously.

Duo tilted his head, but didn't argue. He went back to his duffel bag, sadly not having found his cap, and threw a couple more items in before zipping it closed. Then he grabbed his brown leather bomber's jacket from the wardrobe and slipped it on. When he returned to the center of the room, Zechs was just hanging up the phone.

"I guess this is it," Duo said, holding his bag in front of him with both hands.

Zechs sighed. Damn, Duo could look so vulnerable at times. "Indeed. Please allow me to walk with you," Zechs said, opening the door for them.

Outside the palace, Zechs gestured to the surprise he had arranged.

"My bike!" Duo exclaimed with a bright smile. "When did this get here?"

"Only yesterday. I was going to surprise you with it this evening..."

Duo looked up at Zechs and frowned. "Zechs, I'm sorry..."

Zechs shook his head. "We agreed upon something when we began," he said in a nostalgic tone. "We agreed to be a comfort to one another, and we did that."

Now Duo was shaking his head. "Yeah, but..."

A long, white finger touched Duo's lips, silencing him. "Duo, you were my comfort and my friend when I had none. I regret nothing of what we shared."

"And I'm still your friend," Duo said, adamantly. He was hurting, but he wasn't about to let it show. He and Zechs needed a clean break, and so Duo smiled and added, "I'll always be your friend."

"Thank you," Zechs said, and then walked over to the motorcycle with Duo, watching him fasten his bag with bungee cords.

As Duo readied to mount the bike, Zechs spoke again, knowing this was his last chance. "There is something I must confess before you go."

"Oh, yeah? What's that?" Duo asked, leaning against his bike comfortably. It felt so good to have his wheels back!

"It's about the duel."

"Not that stupid thing again," Duo said, rolling his eyes. "Are you trying to get me mad? 'Cause I'm gonna get mad if you keep talking about it."

"Heero lost the match," Zechs said, succinctly.

Duo stood up, surprised, but then schooled his features. "Well, that's too bad for Heero," he said, sarcastically.

Zechs ignored the flippant remark, knowing that Duo was suffering. "You are aware that the duel was about you, but what you don't know was the consequence for losing."

Duo gulped. That didn't sound good. "You didn't take him out back and hang him, did you?" he half-joked.

"Nothing so barbaric," Zechs replied in a regal tone. "I chose instead to banish Heero from the Sank Kingdom."

Duo blinked. "You banished him?"

"Yes, Heero is gone from this place, never to return."

A flash of panic skittered through Duo. "Where did he go?" It was the child in him speaking again, but the young man quickly regained control. "No, wait. Don't answer that."

Duo's sudden play at disinterest was not lost on Zechs. "Duo," Zechs said, touching the boy's shoulder. "You love Heero, and I know that he loves you. After all, he was fighting for you."

"He was fighting for a good fuck!" Duo exclaimed, angrily, shaking off Zechs's hand.

Zechs pulled back, but regrouped. "Heero was fighting for the person he loves."

Duo gave a derisive snort, crossing his arms defensively over his chest. "And how would you know so damn much about it?"

"Because a true soldier knows his enemy's weakness," Zechs said, his tone and mannerisms regressing to the Lightning Count. "Yes, he lost to me, but this fight was not like the others. Before he battled only to defeat me, this time he battled for you. He was desperate for you. And if I didn't know how much you love him, I wouldn't have told you this."

There was a softening in Duo's eyes, and then in a blink it was gone. "Any other confessions for me?"

"Perhaps you didn't fully hear the first one," Zechs said, smoothly.

"I got it," Duo snapped, turning to his bike and swinging a leg over as he seated himself. "You want me to chase after a guy who dumped me six months ago and has been yanking my chain for the last three days, pretending he's changed when in fact, all he was doing was trying to find a way back into my pants. Well, I've been there, done that. I'm closing up shop on the easy fuck department."

Zechs shook his head. "You can't really believe that?"

"Zechs, it's not your place to worry about it anymore... In fact, it was never your place to worry about it."

Duo put his helmet and leather gloves on, and ignited the engine. "Yep, still purrs like a kitten," he said with a grin, seeming to have forgotten their conversation already.

"You can still find him," Zechs said, over the engine's idle. "He took the mountain road. When the main highway forks left, bear right through the mountains. It's the shortest distance out of Sank, but the road can be quite unpredictable up there."

"You don't give up, do you?" Duo asked, looking at the blond man curiously.

"I hope it's you who doesn't give up," Zechs said.

Duo nodded slowly, gazing at Zechs for a long moment. He had so many regrets with Zechs, but there was no use in apologizing again. As Zechs had said, they had agreed to be a comfort to one another, and they had done that... quite well.

"I wish I had something profound to say right now," Duo said with a chuckle. "But even if I did, it's not my style."

Zechs smiled. This was their goodbye, but he would do everything he could to keep it from being sad.

"You definitely have your own style," Zechs said, lightly.

"Nah, my style was all you. You're one classy guy," Duo said with a wide smile.

Zechs looked away briefly, his eyes going out over the great expanse of lawn to the road beyond. This was where he was meant to be. Ruling Sank was his destiny...

Ice blue eyes turned back to Duo, shining with a mix of farewell and happy memories. "I think you're right. There are no words for this moment."

Duo's smile faded slightly at Zechs's sedate tone. "Yeah, no words, but there's no forgetting either," he said.

Zechs nodded, knowing there was certainly no way he would ever be able to forget Duo Maxwell.

"Friends," he said, holding out his elegant hand.

Duo looked at the extended hand and then into Zechs's eyes and smiled. "Yeah, friends always," he agreed and took the warm hand in his.

Their hands shook and then separated slowly, each young man's mind briefly flashing on the passion they had shared, and what it had all meant.

With no hard feelings to haunt either one, Duo put his bike into gear and smiled once more. "You're gonna make someone very happy someday," he said, and drove off without looking back.

"I had rather hoped that someone would be you..." Zechs said, but his words went unheard as Duo disappeared over the horizon.

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