Author: tokageMusume

When Zechs Met Duo + Chapter Two
The Mechanics of Mechanics

The first thing Duo noticed was that his mouth was dead dry and wide open. Dammit. After the last time Oz had broken his nose, drinking any amount of alcohol would set off truly world class snoring. He must have sounded like a Harley winding up all night. Hopefully nobody heard.

And dammit! He was on the couch in his suite, still dressed; hadn't made it to the bedroom again. He wasn't used to having this many rooms to himself. He was more used to the front door of his quarters being within collapsing distance of a bed. Weird sort of downside to being a houseguest in a palace.

He sat up slowly to take stock. His head felt surprisingly good. Old AC 58 was a forgiving vintage. Great. A shower, some clean clothes and he'd be ready to... dammit! The memory of his shrinking violet routine with Zechs the night before played back for him in mortifying detail. Zechs must think he was an idiot. He sighed, cradling his head in his hands. Three dammits in one morning.

Just get moving, Maxwell. Shower, then run away and hide, okay? He headed for the big marble bathroom, taking his hair apart on the way. Standing at a mirror, finger combing out the last of the braid he snarled at his reflection. Idiot. Yes.

Why couldn't he get over these useless, backwards notions about sex and love?

Men were supposed to be all about the quick and easy sex, right? That was part of the beauty of being gay; pleasure and love separated into different bins for handy reference and everyone on the same page about it, right? He couldn't get his personal life right at all, apparently. First, he didn't get the guys-and-gals thing; then he didn't get the guys-and-guys-and-guys-and-guys thing... What else was lurking around out there just waiting for him to not get?

He grimaced at himself one last time and clambered into the big multi-nozzled shower.

As he washed his hair with some great smelling green goop he found, Duo thought about the first time someone had put a hand on his ass at a club. A friend had explained things patiently after the gawkers had been dispersed. Apparently, the club was there for that very reason; to make finding someone's hand on your ass more likely. He'd stayed out of clubs after that. He just couldn't fathom the idea of sex with a stranger.

And, no matter how great the evening had been, Zechs remained the very worst kind of stranger -- the kind whose name you actually knew. It was a little scary, how close he'd come to just forgetting who he was and what he was doing.

Merquise was special, for sure.

Charming, funny, and smart all gift-wrapped with sharp good looks, winter blue eyes and all that fine platinum hair. Hair that rippled like a burnished silver curtain in the firelight. Duo recalled the feel of it on his fingertips; and the feel of firm, warm lips on his own and the brief catch of strong fingers on his arms... oh, probably best not to think too much about all that.

He twisted the water a couple degrees cooler and rinsed his hair.

It wasn't just that he barely knew Zechs. It was that he wouldn't ever know him; they were six days away from being on different planets. Hell of a hurdle to making friends.

He stepped out of the shower and toweled vigorously. Well, enough mooning. Nothing had happened and nothing would. In a few days, he was off to pursue his fortune and that would be that. One evening and a little wine wasn't worth getting so pushed out of shape over. He was going to go down to breakfast and be a good guest and enjoy the company of his friends and forget all about AC 58 and the way Zechs' eyes danced when he smiled that crooked smile. Forget all about it. Yup.

+

Zechs heard the polite rapping at his door again. Go away, he thought. Please, go away. I am not ready to be awake. Rapping, rapping, rapping. Okay. Now he recognized that increasingly demanding little pattern.

"Come in, Relena."

She peered around the door at him, smiling.

"Are you decent?"

He sat up against the padded headboard of his bed and scrubbed at his face with both hands. Peered back at his sister's too chipper face.

"So I've been told. It's very early, isn't it? What can I do for you?"

Relena perched on the foot of the bed and arranged the long skirts of her robes around her legs.

"Well, for one thing, you can tell me if it was you that absconded with the Mereilles 58... there's a steward dancing from foot to foot in the breakfast room....And second, you can tell me that you remember your promise to help entertain our guests this week..." She folded her small hands in her lap and waited cheerfully.

"Yes. I took the AC 58. Two bottles. Drank 'em both. And that's why it's a bit early for company..." His memories of the evening gained colour and definition and he smiled. Duo Maxwell! Duo Maxwell; his future consort and present challenge. Friendly face, raucous laugh, sad eyes. And soft, sweet lips. His smile deepened.

"What are you smiling about? Two bottles of the rarest vintage in the solar system and you drank them by yourself?"

"I didn't say that. And before you ask, I was doing my duty with your guests as well as plundering the cellars. Duo Maxwell and I drank the wine and enjoyed it greatly. I think he had a good time, anyway. The AC 58's the reason he missed your presentations, by the way...." He yawned hugely and stretched. "Sorry."

His sister's smile became softer and more calculating.

"Oh? I wondered what happened to him." She found a pattern on her robe suddenly fascinating, smoothing one finger over it again and again. "Do you have plans with him today by any chance?"

Zechs narrowed his eyes. "Not as such. Why?"

"Well, I was thinking of taking Heero to see the memorial today. I was hoping that perhaps we could go by ourselves... Quatre and Trowa have already decided to visit the beach and that just leaves Duo..." She looked up finally, pleading. "Oh, please! Couldn't you find something interesting for the two of you just for a few hours? I'd be so grateful! There's always so many people around. This will be one of my only chances to talk to Heero in private. Please? Pretty please?"

Zechs scowled and looked completely put out. "Alright. As a favour. But I don't want to hear any more about the AC 58 and I get out of the reception next Sunday. Deal?"

She bounced up to hug him. "Yes, yes! Thank you, thank you, thank you! Best big brother ever!" There was a flurry of robes and scuttling slipper heels and then she was gone, leaving the faint scent of carnations in her wake.

He grinned. He was officially assigned to host Duo and making Relena happy into the bargain. This day was shaping up.

+

In the breakfast room of the private family apartments, the first round of hot coffee was just being poured from the presses when Duo arrived. Heero sat at one end of the table looking quietly amused, watching as Relena shoveled ever more scrambled eggs onto his plate. Quatre and Trowa were laughing over a dish of butter pats molded into the shape of yellow ducks. Duo took a deep breath. Wow! It smelled great!

"Hey guys! Did you save some for me?" He grinned good morning to everyone and took a seat at the wooden table across from Quatre. Relena left off heaping food to smile at Duo and point to the biggest of the serving dishes.

"Be sure to try the eggs and mushrooms, Duo! They're yummy..."

What a difference from the formality of the night before! The nicked-up but warmly polished table looked like it had seen many such meals over many years. Place settings of sturdy earthenware plates and mugs, checked napkins and battered silverware looked simple and inviting. There were cheerful pottery bowls and platters filled with hearty Sanq dishes scattered here and there, still steaming and filling the air with the rich scent of pot herbs. Caddys for jams and mustards and extra spoons crowded in amongst thick-sided pitchers of chilled juice and milk. Toast in heaps was next to kippers next to marmalade next to sausage next to potatoes with onions and peppers. Sunshine cut across the happily cluttered table top through tall chintz draped windows, opened a bit to catch the fresh smell of spring green from the gardens beyond.

Zechs paused in the doorway to sample the temper of the familiar room; laughter, happy murmurs, fresh-washed faces looking their ages for once; everyone in blue jeans and comfy sweaters. Duo was sitting in a pool of high morning sunlight, long legs threaded through his chair rungs, doing something with a butter pat that was making Quatre giggle and choke on his juice. Trowa was sniffing at a pimento he'd speared; Heero was eating steadily, watching Relena talk and wave her arms excitedly. He was nodding at all the right junctures and looking oddly serene.

Zechs smiled and tucked the picture they made away into his heart. As he nodded hello quietly all around and took a seat next to Duo, he thanked whatever providence had sorted out such a simple, perfect moment for them in their grandly imperfect world.

+

The ride out to the "special surprise" usually felt a lot longer. The country miles between the palace and the launch site were deliberately empty of much to look at beyond the odd curious cow and old privet hedgerows. Having Duo in the passenger seat was making it a lot shorter. Maybe too short. Zechs was beginning to feel an unaccustomed uncertainty about his plans to court Duo. Every moment he had with the pilot felt so measured.

Their conversation on the drive consisted in large part of Duo explaining how the salvage company he was starting up with Hilde and some of Howard's crew was going to work. He was obviously excited about his prospects and had thought everything through very carefully. It sounded like a great idea; there was enough junk out there to clean up, god knew. But, in all the light conversation, Zechs heard nowhere that someone who wanted more from Duo than his simplest friendship might fit in. Someone like himself. Duo was busy building himself an airtight world of work, distant comradeship and more work.

All through breakfast, Duo had been perfectly sociable, absolutely good company and very chipper. When Zechs had invited him out to see "something special" at the Mars project launch site that 'only a mechanic would love', Duo's eyes had lit up. Zechs knew without asking that Gundam pilots were easily as much mechanical engineers as pilots. The giant dreadnoughts were next door to indestructible but they needed almost continual mechanical grooming and tweaking to keep them in optimal trim for combat. Zechs recalled a time when the promise of a certain brand of gyro stabilizer would have made him actually drool.

As they'd been walking out together to Zechs' car, Duo had looked sideways at him for a moment and finally said something about the night before.

"Uh, thanks again for sharing the AC 58... I wanted to be sure to let you know I had a great time. I didn't run off like an idiot because of anything you did... I'm sort of old fashioned about some things and ... Well, I don't like casual relationships... well, I mean, friendship can be casual, but," Duo's voice had trailed off.

Zechs had stopped in the middle of the parking lot to make Duo meet his eyes.

"You don't have to explain anything. I had a great time, too. I realize you're leaving on Saturday and you have plans and you don't want to get involved with anyone you can't spend proper time getting to know. Did I get it right?" He smiled at Duo's surprise.

"Yeah, you did. Exactly. Thanks! I can always find words for everything but the stuff I really want to say, ya know?" Duo looked relieved.

"Come on. Let's go see the mechanical marvel!"

And now, two hours later, they were pulling up to a security checkpoint in what looked like the middle of a farmer's pasture. After Zechs leaned out and spoke with the guard, they drove beneath the raised crossbucks onto the base.

"So, when are you going to tell me what this marvel is? I'm dyin' here!" Duo sat cross legged on the seat, his shoes kicked off. Zechs began to see a pattern.

"It's right over the next swale, as a matter of fact. Let's see if you can guess what it is before I tell you..."

"If I guess, what do I win?"

"A t-shirt. All my money is tied up in this. I'm effectively poor for a prince."

Duo shot him a considering look and then watched through the windscreen as they rose above the plain. In the middle distance, something that looked much like a small town began to take shape. Large square blocks of some dark material attached to other large square blocks and all linked together on top of giant ... what? rollers? On top, various things that looked like chimney stacks and vents; sprinkled among the vents, obvious solar panels. Big solar panels! And lots of antennas. Duo was riveted.

As they grew closer, he saw the small silver quonsets set alongside the 'town' and tiny figures of people coming and going. Equally tiny cars were now visible on beaten tracks surrounding the encampment.

Duo swung his head back around to Zechs. "Holy crap! It's not close at all! That thing's still five miles off, isn't it? Oh man! Zechs, is that a terraformer?" He all but squeaked in excitement.

Zechs laughed. "Yes, it is. Great guess! You get the t-shirt."

Zechs was more than pleased at Duo's reaction. He knew the mechanic in his guest had to be running riot with wanting to get closer. He sped the car up a bit. As they approached, the operational features of the behemoth became visible: huge biting and crushing appendages; hoppers as big as city blocks to hold raw materials; conveyors and processors and vents and cookers and gas release stopcocks. It was a Rube Goldberg device on a planetary scale.

Every time Zechs saw it, it took his breath away all over again. But for the first time, he felt a purely pleasurable shot of proprietary pride in showing it to someone. He wanted very much for it to impress the hell out of Duo. So far, so good. Yes, indeed, the day was shaping up nicely.

+

Zechs found himself storing up more snapshots all through the day.

Duo piling his braid up under a hardhat; Duo grilling the American Dirt Guy about microbe control; Duo charming the French Mirror Guy with his stick-figure drawings of the orbital melting mirrors; Duo quietly leaning over to add the missing symbol to a white board formula when no one was looking; Duo asking with a carefully neutral expression who had the contract for hauling in ammonia from the outer system; Duo laughing at the crew's artwork on the inside of Jaws I; Duo eating an egg salad sandwich; Duo wiping sweat from his forehead and leaving an artful smudge of dust behind; Duo arguing happily with Dutch Payload Gal about the best launch strategy for big mechanicals in unstable gravity wells; Duo limned by sunlight on a high catwalk above the camp; Duo smiling at Zechs like he'd given him the damned Hope Diamond.

It was better than good. It was the best day Zechs could remember.

+

Gathering again in the family apartments that night it was obvious that everyone had enjoyed the day. Zechs busied himself lighting the fire that was already laid in the grate. When it was snapping steadily, he leaned against the mantle and listened in on the general chat.

Heero and Relena shared the big couch and seemed happy enough, if rather subdued. A visit to the somber new Sanq war memorial was hardly a lighthearted outing. But, Zechs judged his sister well pleased. Obviously having Heero to herself had gone as well as she'd hoped. She was being the gracious hostess this evening, prying words from Trowa by pitting him against the ever-silent Yuy. It was fun to witness a real politician at work.

Duo was barefoot and crosslegged, of course, on the soft old carpet that highlighted the fireside conversation pit. He was looking at sea shells with Quatre and smiling, of course.

Anyone would have to smile at Quatre and Trowa; wherever they went, whatever they were doing, they obviously made a private universe that contained just the two of them. Quatre appeared to realize this at odd moments and it was amusing to watch him snap out of his Trowa-induced reveries and try to join conversations and participate. You could almost hear him berating himself for his bad manners. Trowa just smiled the same dreamy smile as always and watched his lover contentedly. This particular evening, Quatre was spreading sea shells around on a coffee table in front of the loveseat the pair had claimed and making Duo ooh and ahh over them. Trowa leaned back and fed shells to the slender blond one at a time from a big bag while he fed equally singular words to Relena.

At one point, Trowa quietly put his empty hand where Quatre was expecting to be given a shell. Quatre found himself holding Trowa's hand for a second. He blushed, made a small slapping motion and reached for the next shell himself. Zechs caught Duo shooting the happy couple such a nakedly envious glance at the small display of affection that he wondered if he'd imagined it. It heartened him more than it ought to have. He laughed at his own hunter's instincts -- looking for cracks in the shell, hoping for weaknesses he could exploit. All for the greater good, of course.

After further chatter and a light supper, the party separated once more. Zechs found himself walking along the long picture gallery above the gardens with Duo. The fountains had been cleaned and reactivated for the season that very day. They leaned against the decorative railing watching the leaping water from behind glass.

"Thank you for today! I never thought I'd get to see one of those factories up close like that." Duo turned to Zechs and smiled. In the muted gallery light, Duo's eyes were grey and shadowed. Zechs noticed he had grasped the tail of his braid at some point in his nervous habit. Why are you nervous, Maxwell, hm? Worried about something that would happen or something that would not happen?

Zechs moved a little closer. He didn't want to loom over the shorter man but now and then, a commanding physical presence could be as effective as standing on someone's foot to hold them still for a minute. Duo was surrounded by an 'I'm-gonna-run-away-any-second-now' aura that was growing thicker and thicker and Zechs wasn't ready for the day to end just yet.

He reached over and gently disengaged Duo's braid from the hands that were all but wringing it. He tossed it behind the pilot's shoulder and grinned at him.

"I know you hate doing that. I watched you catch yourself a dozen times tonight. It's a real tell, isn't it?"

"A tell for what?"

"Oh, that you're nervous or a little anxious. Why are you anxious, Mr. Maxwell?"

"You're the one saying I'm nervous; you tell me, Your Highness."

Zechs' smile softened. "May I ask you a favour? Something small but important to me?"

Duo regarded him steadily. "You can ask."

"Can we forget for just one minute? All I want right now is one moment when we're not here in Sanq, you're not getting ready to go to the ends of the earth, I'm not getting ready to go to the other ends... you're not the fearless Gundam pilot and I'm not the half-cracked Prince... Can we be right here, right now?" As he spoke, Zechs lay one hand ever so lightly on Duo's arm. He felt very much like he was taming something wild. One wrong move and...

"That doesn't seem like a lot to ask. We can try. But, how will you know if we succeed?"

"Easy. Because if we're right here, right now -- plain old you and plain old me, we get to do this..." Zechs dipped his head and captured Duo's lips.

He felt one small startle and then Duo simply gave in and returned the kiss. They managed to complete the circle of the embrace somehow -- their arms found each other and sorted out the mechanics all on their own. Zechs forgot to be clever and Duo forgot to be afraid. For one moment or many they stood immersed in one another; neither could have said how long. Closing the infinitely wide and infinitely small gap between souls always happens outside of time. When they emerged from the kiss, two damaged hearts beat a little more soundly.

Zechs showered small kisses on Duo's face, his neck and forehead. "Please, don't send me away; don't run away. Ok?"

Duo pulled back and touched Zechs face with a gentle if calloused hand. "This is nuts. You know that, right?"

Zechs nodded, eyes dancing. "Yes. Nuts. Completely."

Duo nodded back. He'd sort out all the details later, when his head was working right again. His instincts were screaming at him right now that this was too good, too perfect to ignore or throw away. Screw the rules. "Ok. No running, no hiding." He pulled Zechs back to him.

Behind them, the fountains of Sanq splashed and sparkled in the path of the rising spring moon.

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