Pairing: Zechs x Duo
Note: First part of a multi-part story about love and duty, inclination
and honour. Dedicated to bleedtoblue who is struggling to teach me how
to capture the spirit of romance as well as the er, sweatier, elements
Zechs Met Duo + Chapter One
While You're Making Other Plans...
Parties are supposed to be
fun. This was supposed to be a party. So... This equation didn't balance,
Duo Maxwell thought grumpily, spearing another cheese thingy from the
ornate silver canape tray.
He glanced around casually at the milling herds of suited and gowned gentility,
the broad marble floor, sparkling chandeliers, the discreetly screened
orchestra. Giant potted palms flanked floor to ceiling glass windows;
walls painted with scenes of Sanq's glorious history were interspersed
with intricately carved wooden panels made from native woods; fresh flowers
in their hundreds were cradled in giant alabaster urns every few feet.
It must have cost as much as Deathscythe! It intimidated Duo more than
most of his armed opponents ever had. He hated that he was intimidated,
would die rather than show it, but he knew himself to be out of his depth
here. This party was a glimpse into a world he could never have imagined.
He shook it off. Yeah, so what? Relena's idea of a little get together
and his didn't dovetail. No surprise there! He was one of the honored
guests in this mighty stone heap of a castle so ... so there. If a guest
of honour didn't belong somewhere, no one else did.
Anyway, the cheese thingys were pretty good and the wine was... hmm...
okay. He wasn't much of a wine drinker. Well, it was early yet. Maybe
as it got a little later, things would liven up a bit. Maybe he could
loosen the collar and chokechain tie on this suit. Or maybe as it got
a little later, he could even sneak out quietly without being overtly
rude to Her Serene Highness.
He hadn't seen Heero for awhile; Relena must be towing him around as usual.
Quatre and Trowa were visiting the palace's music room and Wufei was not
going to be here. Go figure. That didn't leave a lot of familiar faces.
Actually, some of the faces that were familiar were people Duo had been
shooting at not too long ago. Might or might not be all that entertaining
to mingle in certain corners. He'd promised himself no fights tonight,
no matter what.
He grabbed a tiny linen napkin, balanced his wineglass on his goody plate
and headed for one of the many small curtained alcoves that bordered the
ballroom. Some of them had fireplaces and big comfy chairs and best of
all, no one to look at him like a bug under glass. He'd had about enough
of people two feet taller than himself pumping his hand and slapping him
on the back and bellowing congratulations. Yes, yes, Earth was saved yet
again. What did this planet do before they had the Gundam boys to save
And what would they do after? Duo smirked a little to himself as he claimed
a huge wing-backed chair in a private firelit corner. He was so outta
here! His own salvage operation, with a little help from his friends,
of course. It would be sweet. He could blow things up and tear them apart
in perfect peace without worrying about killing anyone. One of the best
things about being a Gundam pilot was also the worst thing about it --
you got to blow stuff up but there were always people involved.
Ah, this was nice! He stashed his plate and glass on a tiny round side
table and hooked an overstuffed ottoman over with a toe. Feet up, cheery
fire crackling away, cheese thingys to nibble and a small wine buzz. Well,
this might not be so bad after all! He'd just rest here for a bit and
then head back out into the mainstream to do his duty.
He attacked the canapes with gusto and chased them with the wine. That
took all of five minutes. He stared down the length of his legs, between
his feet into the small fireplace. Spark, crackle. Crackle. Very nice.
He snapped his toes together with a click. Then apart. Then together.
Then apart. Then together. He sighed. Peace and privacy were overrated,
"Are you incapable of holding still even for a moment?" Growled a deep
voice from somewhere to his left.
Duo snapped his head forward to see around the chair wing and found himself
only a few feet away from a second chair he hadn't noticed. Whose occupant
was apparently the one snarling. "Pardon me? Are you talking to me?"
"There's no one else here..." A platinum head emerged from behind the
other chair wing. Zechs Merquise! Duo felt a small jolt of surprise. But,
of course he would be here. Family, after all. And, one of the current
saviours of Earth, even if everyone was on the quiet about it. The pale
brows were drawn together in his trademark scowl over annoyed ice blue
"Zechs Merquise! Sorry! I mean Milliard Peacecraft... I mean, sorry...
I didn't think anyone was over here." He smiled. Disarmingly, he hoped.
He found the end of his braid had crept somehow into his hand. He'd been
snapping it like a tiny whip across his opposing palm. Oops. He stopped
the nervous fidget.
"Duo Maxwell. We finally meet. And why would the darling of the planet
be hiding in a dark corner at a party in his own honor?" Zechs didn't
exactly sneer but he didn't sound very enthused, either.
Duo scowled back from beneath his bangs. "Hey! Who're you calling darling?"
He followed up with a sunny smile. "And it's not in my honor. Everybody
knows this is Relena's bash for Yuy. What about you? If I'm a darling,
you're a darling."
In answer, Zechs snorted and flung himself back behind the chair wing
and out of sight.
Duo jumped up, shoved the big ottoman over towards Zechs' chair and followed
it. He plopped down and braced himself on his palms, crossed his long
legs at the ankles and prepared for a nice chat.
"So, I thought you'd be on your way to Mars by now. Change your mind or
just helping sis out with the party?"
Much better to sit and bug...er, chat with, Zechs than watch the fire
burn! For a moment, Zechs just stared at him. Duo could almost see the
wheels turning as Zechs decided how to deal with him. Aha! His lucky night!
Civility won. Just.
"I'm leaving in two weeks, as a matter of fact." Zechs reached to the
table next to him and picked up his small glass of something thick and
potent looking. Before he could take a sip, he stopped himself. "Would
you like a drink? This is quite good. It's old, expensive and rare and
someone's going to be very angry to find it gone missing tomorrow morning."
Duo's eyes widened. Zechs was a bit drunk, wasn't he? Not that you could
tell just from looking at him but jeez, he was being so... precise. That
was it. Duo knew Zechs had a reputation for brilliance; talking casually
to Duo Maxwell would probably not normally tax a brilliant Zechs. This
Zechs, however, seemed to be concentrating a bit hard on putting together
declarative sentences. And that bottle of whatever it was... It looked
interesting. Duo jumped up and back again with his empty wine glass.
"Sure! Hit me!"
Zechs gave him a considering look and uncorked the dusty container. The
stream of brownish liquid that pooled in the bottom of the glass bell
looked noxious and far from appetizing. Duo sniffed. Wow. But it smelled
like the essence of millions of flowers and bees and grass and...! Before
he could catch himself, he'd tipped up the glass and sipped. It was pure
liquid heaven. Angels were singing on his tongue. His eyes wanted to cross
this was so good! Duo raised his head and showed Zechs his amazement.
"This is insanely good! What is it?" Duo could feel his stomach warming
and the heat traveling outwards along his arms and legs. Damn! Now this
kind of wine he could stand!
"Private stock from a tiny estate on the border of Not There Anymore and
Didn't Used To Be There. AC 58 vintage. Something like 14 bottles in the
solar system, I believe. Well, thirteen now, hm?" The blond leaned over
and fished something up from under the table. "Twelve, if I make it to
this one. So you approve? You have good taste."
Zechs smiled crookedly and Duo grinned back, throwing his braid behind
him for the hundredth time. For some reason, it kept creeping into his
hands. "Well, I have been told before that all my taste is in my mouth
but I didn't think they meant that in a good way, ya know?"
His host laughed. Duo stopped for a moment in surprise. Zechs. Laughing.
Huh. How about that. He looked kind of good laughing. Duo decided to try
to make it happen again as soon as he could.
"Mind if I get more comfortable here? ..." Duo mimed pulling his shoes
off and Zechs spread one hand in a generous gesture of permission.
Once his shoes were off, Duo settled in cross-legged on his perch. He
tipped his head back to let more of the heavenly ichor trail down his
throat. When he finished, he saw Zechs leaning forward with the bottle
to give him a refill with an odd look.
"Thanks. What's the matter? Do I have something on my face?"
"Sorry. No, I was just wondering... Why were you over here all by yourself
hiding out? I'm famous for misanthropy but I would have thought you'd
be surrounded by friends. And admirers..." Zechs refilled his own glass
and leaned back.
Duo laughed softly. "Now, see, that's part of the Gundam boy press release
kit, isn't it? They've given us all our ten-second personalities and we're
stuck with them..." Zechs looked enquiring. Duo warmed to his subject.
The wine helped somewhat. "Well, I mean, they've got us all nailed in
twenty-five words or less, right? For quick reference... Yuy is the stoic
brave leader type, Quatre is the sweet, bubbly heiress, Barton's his faithful
avenging spirit guardian, Chang's crazy from the honor and justice heat...
and I'm the party doll...the jolly joker..." He shrugged. "Well, I don't
mind getting noisy with my friends now and then but this..." He swept
an arm toward the ballroom. "...this doesn't really qualify, does it?"
Zechs' smile grew commiserative. "I understand. I'm the Lightening Count,
after all. I have quite a press kit of my own to live with. Some of it's
even my own fault."
Duo's backside felt as warm and cozy as his stomach, he realized suddenly.
He jumped up, pushed the ottoman as close as he could get it to Zech's
booted feet. "Sorry. That fire's getting kind of hot." He settled back
in, inhaling the glass of AC 58 appreciatively.
Zechs stretched his own legs up to sit next to Duo on the ottoman and
sighed greatly."Ahh. That's better. Do you mind?"
Duo shook his head. The platinum blond pulled off his narrow black formal
tie and sighed again. "I can't tell you how many times I've lived through
evenings like this one. I'm just glad Yuy is here to distract my sister
or I'd be chatting with some dowager's hopeful daughter instead of...
" He paused to drain his own glass again. "...a real live Gundam pilot."
There! Almost another full tilt smile! The man was beautiful when he...Stop.
Right. Now. Maxwell.
"Ha! You should talk! You're a real live Gundam pilot, too. The only one
of 'em that even had a chance at nailing us without ganging up..." Duo
drained his own glass and held it out hopefully. Zechs did grin then and
refilled them both.
"You sound almost sorry not to have been...nailed." He set the empty bottle
"No. I'm glad to be here in one piece. I just got tired sometimes of being
the best thing going, ya know? A little competition is fun. Plus... "
His manic smile lost some of its wattage. "...nobody likes shooting fish
in a barrel. It sucks." He looked into his glass. "Anyway, that's bygones,
isn't it? Everybody loves everybody now and there's world peace and we'll
all live happily ever after."
When he looked up, he caught Zechs regarding him with an expression that
seemed to echo his own feelings. Glad to be alive? Yes. Tired of fighting?
Yes. Sick to death and tired of the whole world and its fickle, dishonest
crap? Double yes. "Yeah, you know exactly what I'm talking about."
Zechs picked up the second bottle, tilted his head enquiringly at his
guest and actually wiggled his eyebrows. Duo laughed delightedly.
"Hell, yes, more! This stuff is intense! Not that I'm drunk or anything
like that... I'm not that damned easy."
"Ah, yes, Gundam pilot! Chews nails! Takes beatings gladly! Tough, square
jawed hero! Always gets the girl!"
Duo almost inhaled the sip he was taking. He guffawed outright.
"And I thought you'd seen my press kit! Not your usual square-jawed hero
type. But, not as far off the mark as some of us, maybe." He waved his
glass around airily. "You have to admit, just being gay doesn't really
make the cut for strange or unusual in our squad!"
Zechs' eyes danced. He leaned forward to whisper confidentially.
"I've heard speculation that you have to be gay to be a good Gundam pilot...
I could never decide if they were serious or not. But, as far as I know,
it's probably true."
Duo sat back, put the back of one hand up against his mouth in dramatic
shock and disbelief. "No! Why, we can't have heavily armed perverts running
around destroying everything in sight, even with our blessing! Whatever
next! It'll be votes for AI and emancipation of the mining droids!!"
They laughed with sharp glee at each other. In the midst of that laughter,
the capricious lightening that turns acquaintance into friendship struck.
Fast as a neuron closes a circuit to make a decision, they saw one another
with the clarity and perfect understanding reserved for such rare moments.
A street rat and a prince had arrived at the same place at the same time
to share a singular point of view; this person is interesting! This is
a person they could talk to! Life could still surprise them. That in itself
was a surprise.
After that the conversation ranged from the stupidity of politicians to
the ridiculous cost of shuttle parts to the best way to get puke out of
a Gundam cockpit. They compared some of their more accessible scars; they
demonstrated memorable dogfights with their hands. They laughed and talked
and made further inroads into the AC 58. At different points in the long
talk, each thought to himself how remarkable it was to find someone who
saw things so sensibly, so correctly, so much the same way they did! The
evening was not a complete loss, after all.
Suddenly, a roll of drums and a loud fanfare from the orchestra startled
them. Zechs frowned. "That's the official fawning getting ready to start.
I imagine they'll be introducing the guests of honour..."
Duo sighed. "Yeah, and I promised myself I'd be on my best behaviour tonight.
I guess I better get out there and take my lumps." He set his glass down,
started wrestling his shoes back on. Best to get out there, grin, nod,
look modest. He had developed a trick of unfocusing his eyes that pushed
the gawking crowds to a safer distance.
He chuckled. "Well, at least old AC 58 will make it easier than usual!"
Shoes laced, he stood, sighed, stuck his hand out. Make nice. This had
been the one damned bright spot in his day so far. Actually, in a number
of days. "It was good meeting you. I'm guessing you're not going to be
one of the ones they torture out there. So, thanks for the hospitality.
And good luck on your trip."
Zechs looked at the outstretched hand for a minute before he took it.
"Don't you think you've done enough for them? You've done the real work;
you don't have to go out there now and let them congratulate themselves
publicly for letting you take all the risk."
He stood, still grasping Duo's hand. With the other hand, he captured
the AC 58 bottle. "Come on."
And Duo was being tugged through a curtain behind their chairs he'd thought
was a wall hanging. Behind the heavy curtain, a quiet hallway, obviously
reserved for servicing the ballroom. Zechs' long legs were moving them
down the passageway briskly. To where?
Duo dug in his heels and forced their headlong flight to a halt. He reclaimed
his hijacked hand.
"Wait a minute! Wait a minute! Where the hell are we going?"
Zechs turned back. He smiled the smile that Duo was beginning to like
best; wide eyed, a little toothy, just a little drunk.
"I know a place where we can watch them instead of them watching you.
Duo hesitated. He was a guest! He had to get out there and ...
"I'll take the heat from Relena, okay? You know they're not going to yell
at heroes, anyway, right?" Zechs offered. Then he grinned even wider.
Well, damn. When you look like that, er, put it like that... Okay, Maxwell,
once again, things aren't going exactly right but once again, it's not
your fault! And, jeez, a secret passageway and what sounded like a secret
spy hole in a palace no less! Who could resist?
"Okay, okay! You talked me into it." Duo's manic grin met and matched
Zechs set off again and Duo followed closely, running every third or fourth
step to keep up.
You could see everything, and hear just about perfectly, too!
They perched on small camp chairs in front of a small, carved wooden grille
set into the wall of a fourth floor linen storage room overlooking the
ballroom. There was a birds' eye view of the presentation circle and the
bejeweled crowd surrounding it. As they watched, Relena and various ministers
of this and that smiled, shook hands, laughed, mingled and milled.
While they waited for the ceremonies to begin, Duo looked around at the
neat shelves of linen and towels. It smelled good in the darkened pantry.
Amazing how much more comfortable a simple closet could be than that ballroom.
He loosened his tie, finally and opened the top buttons of his shirt.
"So, are there usually chairs in the linen closets? Some kind of palace
thing?" He reached for the AC 58 bottle while he watched Zechs watch the
crowd below. Too bad about the losing the glasses, but hey, you do what
you have to. The thick, mellow wine went down easier and easier with each
appreciative sip. Duo felt like he must be giving off just a tiny bit
of a glow; he was pleasantly, civilly, beautifully drunk. Not bad and
wrong drunk, he thought warmly. Nah. Perfect, warm and happy. Nice.
Zechs looked back and held his hand out for his turn with the bottle.
Duo pushed the camp chair out of the way to sit cross-legged on the floor
in front of the grille.
"This used to be a security station when I was a kid. They're all over
the place, tucked into odd corners like this. During the war, I think
they forgot it was here. The ballroom hasn't been used in awhile..." He
tipped his head back for a sip from the dusty old bottle. "As you can
imagine." He looked rueful. "Not much to celebrate, hm?" He turned back
to the view outside the grille and Duo watched his finely drawn profile
as he spoke meditatively. "I think Relena chose this place for the party
for that reason. You can't do things like this during war. Peace and prosperity
and conspicuous consumption... they all go together. My sister may look
young and inexperienced, " He turned back. "but she's already a consummate
politician. She understands how to focus and control public opinion quite
well. She'll be a true terror someday when she has experience to match
Duo nodded. "We're all like that, though, aren't we? The war kids... Look
young but feel old." He looked down at the crowd. "There's Heero. And
Trowa... They look pretty good all dressed up, huh?"
Zechs leaned over to see better and a thick silver lock of his hair trailed
over Duo's nearest shoulder. Duo glanced down at it, gleaming as it lay
across his dark jacket and couldn't help himself. He reached two fingers
up and just... felt it. Just want to see... is it as soft as it looks?
Yup. As he was pulling his fingers back, he glanced back up at Zechs.
Oops. Busted. He felt himself pinking up, surprisingly.
"Sorry! Couldn't resist! You gotta admit, you don't see hair like yours
every day!" He grinned through the blush.
Zechs looked warmly back. He didn't move, didn't retreat, didn't take
back the silver tress. "I could say the same of you. We've got a couple
yards of the useless stuff between us, don't we?"
Once again, the oddly synchronous atmosphere of understanding enveloped
them. With the serene knowledge that what he was about to do would be
permissible, even welcomed, Duo wrapped two fingers around the silken
lock and tugged. Slowly, slowly he drew Zechs nearer until he could see
the beautiful ice blue eyes clearly even in the warm gloom of their hideout.
When the fire control solution was complete and they'd arrived at the
closest point of approach, Duo let his eyes drift closed and took the
shot. Their lips met.
For a long moment, there was just the usual sensory overload of any first
kiss. Duo could hear his own heartbeat roaring in his ears. Then, slowly,
as slowly and softly as Zechs was meeting his lips, he sorted out the
important sensations from the noise. Soft, warm lips, the taste of hundred
year old wine, the scent of a subtle, spicy cologne, the brush of silken
hair, the faint scratch of a day's blond beard. He felt himself wrapping
into a shyly welcoming embrace, felt himself begin to open his lips, to
explore this new territory...
A noisy fanfare from the ballroom broke the relative quiet and their embrace.
Duo pulled back. Below them, the hive of jeweled courtiers was stirring
up to some kind of fever pitch. He stared at Zechs wildly. What the hell
had he been thinking?! This was no time for this! He had a ticket off-world
in a week; his life was beckoning, finally, after all this time and he
was going to meet it. He couldn't do this! Not now and certainly not with
Her Serene Highness' brother!
As he jumped to his feet, Zechs reached for his hand and whispered. "Don't
run away! Don't! Please..."
Duo stepped away and dodged Zechs' outstretched hand. "I'm so sorry! I'm
sorry... I don't know... Look... I have to go. Thanks... thanks for everything.
I have to go now." And he did.
The pantry door opened, closed and Zechs was left sitting alone in the
near dark with the buzz of Duo's kiss on his lips and a surprised expression
on his face. As he recovered from the surprise, a slow smile curved his
lips. He laughed out loud, cradled the AC 58 bottle in one arm and rose
to abandon the listening post.
Zechs knew himself for three kinds of idiot and a headstrong fool when
pressured or annoyed. He suspected that he was probably not a good judge
of human nature, even when he was at his best; at least, he'd been told
this many times by people who should know. And he was well aware that
his heart ruled his head more often than was good for him. Here was another
perfect example, he'd have to admit.
Two hours, two bottles of wine and a single kiss later, he knew he'd found
the man he would either spend the rest of his life with or the rest of
his life pursuing. Either way.
[ch. 2] [back to Singles
l - z]