Author: tokageMusume
Pairing: Zechs x Duo
Rating: PG
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 of yaoi.

When 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 their butts?

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, too.

"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 eyes.

"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 down.

"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. C'mon!"

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 his co-conspirator's.

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. Much better!

"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 her skill."

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]