Author: tokageMusume

When Zechs Met Duo + Chapter Three
What Dreams May Come

Zechs left Duo at the branching of the hallway that led to his own room in the family wing of the Sanq palace. He didn't intend to hover around and walk the pilot to his door like an eager high school kid. But he did put one last lingering good-night kiss onto that upturned, anxious face before they parted. Not, of course, that Duo thought he was looking anxious; no, he probably thought he was cleverly hiding all that from Zechs. The prince smiled to himself as he strode back to his own apartments. The man was no dissembler, it was plain. Well, he always had said he didn't lie.

They'd stayed in the gallery watching the fountains for a while after their tacit agreement to be fools together earlier that evening. Before Duo could repent or retreat, Zechs had taken them walking, keeping a hand he'd captured firmly in his own. He began describing to his nervous almost-nearly-lover the plans for moving the terraformer into space but he'd been only barely aware of anything he was saying. He was just weaving a protective spell of words around the two of them to feed the connection, keep the links open. Duo nodded and said "Uh huh" at all the right places but his eyes were huge and Zechs could almost hear him thinking that kissing the half-cracked prince had been a bad, bad idea. He hadn't tried to reclaim his hand, though.

They'd wandered out into the gardens finally where it was cold, the sky clear and the stars sharply plain. Zechs was planet born and liked open spaces. As a colonial, the former Gundam pilot was more comfortable with any structure at all between himself and the great wide open. Zechs watched for a bit as Duo tried not to notice the whole cosmos bearing down on them there at the bottom of a gravity well, then he'd found a nearby hothouse for shelter.

The flats of spring flowers being cozened along were colourful even in the dim scattered light. Small frost-heaters dotting the aisles gave off a warm glow and provided enough illumination to find the path leading to an old wrought-iron bench in the center of the glass building. The bench was rounded and smoothed, its edges blurred by many coats of paint over many years. It was obviously popular as a private retreat in the midst of the lush horticulture. Large leafy lime trees, permanent residents of the greenhouse, surrounded and screened the old bench and turned it into a secluded bower. The scent of fresh turned earth and young green growing things was as thick as incense and just as affecting.

Zechs was convinced there was more at work in Duo's reticence than a wish to avoid casual encounters on the eve of his departure. Duo was probably sexually inexperienced, maybe even a virgin but his reluctance felt to Zechs like it ran much deeper. The plans for his salvage company would effectively place him beyond all human contact for months on end. He wondered if Duo was even aware of how carefully he was setting himself up to live and die alone. Ironic beyond imagining that the press believed this 'Gundam boy' to be a party animal!

Now that he had permission, Zechs' plan was to touch and engage the pilot gently but persistently until he became more accustomed. Like taming a wild creature.

They sat on the old bench and Zechs pulled Duo into a close embrace. The younger man carefully put his arms around the prince's neck after only a moment of hesitation. Their lips met for the third time.

At that moment, all Zechs' calculations went out the window. He couldn't do anything but react. Duo's mouth was sweet and warm. Zechs surrendered to the taste and smell and feel of the man in his arms: the soft, heavy braid of fragrant hair; strong, lean muscles moving under his hands; the slight rasp of pale, light beard on his warm cheek; the faint musky scent of male excitement and day-old cologne. He was so solid and sturdy! Why had Zechs ever thought him delicate?

Duo made a small, trapped sound deep in his throat and his hands clutched at Zechs' back, twisting a bit in his linen shirt. Zechs felt himself flush from head to toe. Just this one person! That wasn't too much to ask, was it? Duo Maxwell was so right for him at so many points, he must be a gift from the universe! He broke away and buried his face in Duo's neck. "I need to touch you...Sort of make sure you're real..." His hands twined through chestnut hair. They kissed themselves breathless.

Duo pushed him away finally, sitting up on his knees on the old bench; obviously tired of the difference in their height. Zechs pulled back further and laughed softly, open-mouthed as Duo pursued him in turn, nipping and sucking at his lips. The moonlight made the pilot into a pale, sparely sculpted work of art with half-closed eyes and an earnest expression. Duo's normal stormy sea blue eyes looked darkly bottomless in the silvery light. They regarded each other, panting slightly after breath.

Then Duo made a strong, gymnastic move that caught Zechs off guard and ended with the pilot squarely straddling the prince's lap with arms wrapped around his neck. Duo's hands sifted through Zechs' long, loose hair as if he just couldn't help himself. He buried his face in Zechs' neck in turn.

"You smell so good," he whispered, laying small kisses in a trail along an ear, a cheek, back to his mouth."I like the way you kiss, too," he added, breathing into Zechs' mouth softly, lips hovering but not touching. "Like it hurts to stop." Zechs subdued his urge to simply overwhelm and held very still, watching Duo watch him. The pilot turned his cheek and rasped his beard against Zechs' face so lightly it sent small chills racing through them both.

"This is better, isn't it? I want to be face to face with you...," warmly murmured into the prince's ear. The flush shooting through Zechs' body settled down into a strong, steady pulse of arousal. Only flying was better. So far. Zechs pulled Duo into another blistering kiss in answer.

Being held down himself relieved some of Zechs' worry over pushing too hard and he pressed the kiss deep, ran his hands over all of Duo that he could reach. His better judgment whispered to him... Ah, slow down now. It would be too easy to slip his hands under this shirt, find out and map the flesh he wanted to know. He pushed Duo from him, held him back while he grappled for self-control. He shivered as he watched the boy on his lap lick his own lips slowly, dreamily.

Duo smiled and turned his head, kissed Zechs' wrist. He moved a bit closer on his perch. Zechs laughed throatily.

"Yes, torture me if you like... But, I wish you wouldn't..." He sucked in a hissing breath, his head tilting back and eyes closing slowly as Duo rocked forward just a bit more. Duo's grip around Zechs' neck tightened into a heartfelt hug.

"I don't wanna torture us. I want to touch you and I want you to touch me...Oh, man, do I want you to touch me!" Duo leaned back to look at him with brilliant eyes. "But I won't kid you -- this is happening kind of fast for me...I'm... I haven't done this very often...I'm a little bit freaked out. Just a little..." He held up his thumb and index finger about an inch apart and waggled it. As usual -- joking about what he meant most seriously.

Zechs stood suddenly, taking his burden with him. Duo yelped and threw his legs around Zechs' waist reflexively. He was obviously amused by the show of strength and grinned into Zechs' face, laughing. He turned and Duo let go to stand on the bench. From this vantage the difference in their heights was reversed; Duo looked down at the man who gazed up smiling, hands still around the pilot's waist.

"Come on. Let's go in. It's getting late and you know breakfast is the most important meal of the day in my sister's household. We don't dare miss it!" He let go and Duo landed lightly next to him.

"Yeah, it's late..." Duo reached to hug and kiss Zechs firmly and deliberately, as though putting a seal to an agreement. "I'm beat. I need to sleep. Things always make more sense after I sleep on them."

Zechs laughed and whispered into Duo's ear. "I promise I'll tell you about the dreams I have tonight if you'll tell me yours!"

At the branching of the hallway leading to his room, Zechs gave his nervous almost-nearly-not-quite lover a final, lingering good-night kiss and they parted ways with promises to meet at breakfast.

+

Duo wandered down the hallway of the guest wing in a daze. He was so buzzed from the breathless kissing and pure adrenalin push of Zechs' hands on his body that he felt like he was floating. But, he was glad Zechs had backed off and let him escape again. Why was it so difficult to just let his body take him where it wanted so much to go? It was his head that kept baulking.

A sweet, sad violin and flute duet drifted up the hallway. Duo stopped and leaned against the wall near the music room door to listen for a moment. Quatre and Trowa at it again; they played together nearly every day. It wasn't normally a type of music Duo relished but knowing that his friends were playing made it interesting. And knowing that the music was an expression of the obvious love they held for one another spoke particularly to Duo on this night.

Love. Those two certainly loved. Other people loved. Why was it was shocking to think that he might love one day too? He didn't believe in it, really, but it could happen. It could be happening already. Zechs had him mesmerized and he knew it. When it came to the platinum haired prince he knew he was feeling, not thinking. Maybe that's why his head kept calling a halt when his body was charging full speed forward at every opportunity.

The music choked to an abrupt halt. Something clattered to the floor; something else thumped. A started gasp followed and a murmured "Trowa!" Poignant silence and then a deeper, rougher murmur he couldn't make out. Then Quatre's breathless tenor again. "Trowa...oh." Duo felt his face go red. This was not the place to be hovering around. He started walking towards his own room again.

That. He wanted that. Not really accurate... He wanted to want it.

Sometimes he thought what he really wanted was to get so far away from everyone and everything that he never had to think about what he didn't have, couldn't have, ever again. Didn't he?

Amazing! He could blow up military bases, pilot from colony to colony on his own, fight many-on-one in a giant mecha, escape from nearly any prison, take physical abuse like nobody's business... and yet, and yet... He'd been more afraid before but only when he'd thought he was actually going to die. As he closed the door to his room behind him, he realized his heart was pounding, his palms were wet and his mouth was dry. Plain old fear.

What he'd told Zechs was true; when he was confused, sleeping always helped. He'd dream and things would be clearer in the morning. Some of the most important decisions of his life had been made in his dreams. He wound his way through the apartment to the bedroom. May as well get some use out of this bed, he grinned to himself, flinging himself down fully clothed. He rolled up into the bedspread like it was a giant sleeping bag. No telling when he'd get this close to a real bed again after Saturday.

+

Zechs finished rinsing the lather from his hair and shook his long bangs back out of the way. As he soaped up his arms and chest, he replayed his memory of the evening, especially the moments in the greenhouse. He felt Duo's every approach and retreat in the tensing and releasing of his muscles, the rhythm of his breathing, the dilation of the pupils in those huge, expressive eyes. The pilot was teetering on the edge of giving himself to Zechs alright, but still just teetering. He could jump either way. Zechs felt a stab of near disappointment. The man he'd decided was going to be his One and Only obviously couldn't sense it the same way he did -- that gut-deep, utter conviction that this was Right.

Oh, well. Only one person needed to know the path to find the way home, right? On the other hand, Maxwell was not a person accustomed to following. Zechs renewed his resolve not to push, not to rush. On the other hand, time was short and growing shorter.... Zechs laughed sharply. How many hands did that make? Over thinking it!

As he soaped up further, he was reminded again of the giant rush of eagerness some key parts of himself were feeling. Some things did not require much thinking. The way his body responded to Duo was certainly as clear and unambiguous as a heartbeat. The soft glide of the lather on his erection made it seductive to think about those soft, pretty lips and the masses of chestnut hair that he'd have unbound sooner or later, oh, yes; think about the slide and pull of those compact muscles beneath the silk of space pale skin; think about what his unrestrained voice would sound like as he cried out... No. No. Stop right there!

Zechs slammed both hands up against the tiles of the shower and dropped his head, breathing through his nose steadily while his racing heart tried to find a balance and his body shrieked. Absolutely not going to happen. There was a certain magic involved in this situation. He needed all his focus and all his drive intact if he was to bring the redoubtable Mr. Maxwell to bay eventually. That meant a bit of ritual denial at the very least.

As he regained control over the impatient bits of himself, he laughed shakily. Maybe pure superstition; maybe pointless. But, most matters relating to the human psyche were like magic as far as Zechs could tell. And the worst, trickiest and easiest to mess up had to be the magics of love. You could scheme and plan and tempt and lead but in the end, choices of the heart were impossible to compel. Zechs sensed he needed to act carefully, respectfully, even when there was no one but himself to know otherwise.

Only worthless things were free, after all. Everything else had to be paid for with care and perhaps a bit of pain and blood now and then. Compared to the truly great magics of sacrifice, like some of those the war had demanded of them, this was a cakewalk. Right?

He stepped out of the shower and toweled off almost viciously. Simple. All of him would focus on the proper courtship of Duo Maxwell; not just his head and heart. Got that? Good. Subject closed, libido.

As he threw the spread off the end of his bed and methodically freed all the sheets from their corners, he idly wondered if he would dream, too. He hoped his almost-nearly-not-quite lover was having good dreams all about him.

+

Duo was running his fingers through the long, silver pelt of a blue-eyed wolf. The wolf was huge, as tall as himself at the shoulder and he should have been afraid of it but he wasn't. He buried his head in the warm, gorgeous pelt and inhaled a familiar wolf-scent as he ran his hands over and through the soft fur. Strong, perfect wolf! The great creature whined a little in its throat and turned its head toward Duo, trying to lick his face. Duo laughed and batted the questing nose away.

"Stop that! It tickles!"

His wolf nudged at him again. And again. It had the same matter-of-fact cheerful air about it as most big dogs and its eyes were definitely playful as it kept shoving gently at Duo. The wolf settled to its haunches then and Duo dropped with it, still petting its giant head and rubbing the incredibly large ears. What a beauty! Oh, man, he had to find a way to keep him! He was perfect! When it was cold, he could snuggle with the wolf; when he was too tired to walk, the wolf was plenty large enough to ride; if he was lonely, the wolf would be good company; if he was in danger, the wolf would protect him. This was a wolf and a half! He had to talk this wolf into coming home with him, no matter what!

He turned then and laid back, resting his head against the wolf's side, crossing his legs and preparing for a little nap. He could rest anywhere as long as he had his wolf. Before he could close his eyes, though, he heard the wolf whine softly again and felt it startle. What was that noise? He jumped to his feet, scanning for danger, the wolf standing beside him. What was that noise? He knew that noise! Like the rustling of hundreds of wings, or sharp things snapping, breaking or cracking or ... Fire! It was fire!

He smelled the smoke then and instantly the air billowed heavy and oppressive with it. He could barely see through the black, sulphurous clouds. He was standing with his back to the great wolf, who threw back its head and gave one long, blood chilling howl before grabbing Duo by the sleeve. The great wolf was dragging him away from the smoke and the growing thunder of the fire.

Suddenly, there were walls of stone and wooden benches and ... oh, no. Not again. It was the church and it was on fire. Still. It burned and it burned and he could never put it out or save anyone or change anything. He was going to die here. That's what always happened; that's what was supposed to happen. He tugged at the sleeve the wolf had captured. Let me go, wolf. This is my place. I can't leave here.

The wolf bounded through the growing flames, stubbornly dragging Duo along through the perpetual fire. Everyone and everything he'd ever loved, burned once and forever burning. Tears blinded him and his lungs felt seared and heavy. He couldn't see the wolf anymore but he felt himself being hauled steadily through flames and darkness. Running was so hard and he was so tired. Wouldn't it be easier to just stop? Then maybe it would finally be over. He pulled back against the wolf's grasp and felt himself falling.

Suddenly, cool air washed over him where he lay. He could breath, oh, breathing was good! He stood and rubbed at his streaming eyes and there was his wolf. The wolf wasn't dirty or burnt; he was as strong and as beautiful as ever.

Duo looked down at his soot smeared, burnt and blistered hands. So dirty. His hands were so dirty. The wolf whined, dropped his head and drew closer. His great smooth tongue licked a clean path over Duo's ruined hand. Where his tongue passed, the pain leached away with the filth. Slowly, thoroughly, the wolf licked his wretched hands to pink again as Duo watched with mingled gratitude and horror.

At last, clean and whole, he looked up into the unblinking ice blue eyes of his wolf and woke with a start.

+

"So, my friend, do you love him?"

"It's a little early to be saying words like love, don't you think?"

"You're the one who decided he was going to be your one and only on the very night you met! Why would you think such a thing if you didn't love him?"

"You're always talking about love. Love, love, love. You were such a horrible romantic. I never understood that about you."

"Most warriors are romantics. Not soldiers, mind. Warriors. We stand in front of the tribe and honour is usually our only shield. You are a warrior."

"Ipso facto, I'm also a romantic. I won't argue with you. I never win. Okay, so what if I do love him already. Don't you think it can happen that quickly?"

"I'm not the one resisting the idea. I believe utterly in love at first sight. It happened to me personally several times."

"Love? Or lust?"

"Those I loved, I always loved. Why do you insist on splitting hairs like this? You're a man fully engaged in his own life, his own senses, his own thoughts. Decide for yourself."

"I wasn't asking you to decide for me."

"Then why am I always summoned in dreams and made to ask these horrible leading questions?"

"I honestly don't know. I think I just miss you."

"..."

+*

The next morning, Zechs found a scrap of paper wedged between the knob and the jamb outside his door.

"Good morning! Hope you slept well. I sure did. I'm making Yuy drive me into the port since he's up early too. We'll be back for supper. Just a little business to take care of. Tell R, would you? Yuy forgets stuff like that. -- D" The hand was precise, more printed than cursive. Not a wasted mark or motion. Zechs smiled.

He folded the note up and put it in his pocket. He couldn't decide if this was a good thing or a bad thing on the face of it. It could be a good thing. Maybe Duo was going to sell his interest in the salvage business and go with Zechs to Mars. He laughed out loud at his own fancy. He started off down the long, carpeted hall.

He couldn't remember exactly what he'd dreamt last night but he had awakened that morning with the echo of a lost friend's voice in his ears. He fought off the seductive whisper of melancholy as he headed for breakfast. Had Yuy really left for the day without letting Relena know? Listening to his sister fume for a bit might make breakfast without Duo a little less glum.

+

The last five miles or so had been very quiet in the cab of the borrowed fleet sedan. Yuy was driving with all the focus he brought to everything. Duo didn't really feel like filling in the empty air space between the two friends with words like he usually did. That was always more for his own benefit than Heero's anyway. Yuy could remain silent for hours on end and be perfectly happy.

Duo was idly watching the mile markers drift by on the roadside when Heero cleared his throat.

"Maxwell..."

"Hm?"

"Are you and Merquise together now?"

Duo's head swiveled around to face Heero in surprise. "Why? Did Relena say something?"

Heero shook his head and looked a little annoyed. "No. I do pay attention to what's going on, even when I don't say anything about it."

Duo laughed softly. "Sorry. Yeah, I know you do. But you've been kind of busy with our hostess. I figured I was flying under the radar."

"You haven't answered."

"I know. I don't know what the answer is yet."

Duo caught the look Heero shot him.

"What's that look for? I only get that one when you're worried I'm going to fuck something up! What?"

"I think it would be... good... if you could be with him."

Duo turned toward Yuy and leaned against the window. "Really! Okay, now you're gonna have to talk. What makes you think so?"

Heero kept his eyes trained on the road as he picked his words with care. "You're both pilots. He lived through the war, too. He's a serious person. And he loves you."

Duo goggled. "What?!"

Heero pinked up a bit but went on doggedly. "I'm a trained observer, Maxwell. Merquise is in love with you."

Duo laughed a nervous, disbelieving laugh. "That's not possible. We just met three days ago!"

The tips of Heero's ears turned even redder but he soldiered on. "Two days ago. Nevertheless. I'm right."

Duo examined his hands carefully. "So what if you are? Just because he ... That doesn't mean I'm... I can't just... " He felt himself flush in turn. He sighed and turned back to the window. "I'm not completely crazy, you know. Just mostly. I can do things in my own best interest now and then." He looked back at his friend. "We're going to the port today coz I'm not sure what I want from Zechs but I am sure I don't wanna just piss away another shot at a normal life."

"Oh? What are we doing at the port?"

"I'm putting in a bid from Maxwell Salvage for the ammonia hauling contract with the Mars project." He finished up defiantly.

Heero turned slightly, the smallest hint of a smile curving his lips. "Good."

+

Zechs spent the morning with Relena, Quatre and Trowa touring the gardens and visiting what felt like every newly active fountain on the grounds. It wasn't until they passed the greenhouse he'd taken Duo to the night before that the whispering worry he'd ignored all morning turned into a full-blown dread. What if Duo had gone to the port to arrange an earlier shuttle? Had he pushed too hard last night? Had he blown it completely? What if he was already off planet? His stomach did slow revolutions.

Zechs tried to keep up with his part of the empty, genial chatter but he could tell he wasn't quite pulling it off. Relena came to his aid; she teased and distracted Quatre and his notorious empathy until Zechs regained enough balance to rejoin the conversation. She gave her brother a considering look that promised questions later.

The afternoon he spent in his office. He read project communiques; took care of correspondence; emptied his message buffers; sent reminders, made a few calls and signed financial vouchers. He took a video conference call from an excited Lucrezia Noin who waved her reassignment papers at the camera lens; she was officially attached to the project now. That was a relief! Mostly he stood at the tall windows waiting for the endless day to end.

At last long shadows crossed the lawns and the world paled toward twilight. In the east, the huge spring moon began floating up into the lavendar sky. Headlight beams slashed across the window briefly; he heard wheels crunching on gravel. Two figures climbed out of one of the official palace sedans on the drive below. Zechs felt his heart hammering against his ribs like it wanted out. He snapped on a lamp on a nearby table; remained standing by the window; watched a motor pool driver pull away with the car. A sprinkling of stars began burning their way through the sunset cloud veils.

There were footsteps in the hall outside his door.

Duo peered around the corner of the office door he gingerly held open. He hoped this was the right office... And there was Zechs; standing at the window, the moon rising behind him. Even in the low warm lamp light, the look on the prince's face told quite a tale. Duo launched himself happily at his almost-nearly-not-quite lover. After a rib-cracking hug, he tugged at Zechs' hand, heading towards the door.

"Come on... I'm starving! Relena says dinner's going to be in the conservatory tonight and to hurry. Something about first flowers..."

Zechs found he couldn't let go just yet. He nodded happily and tangled Duo up in his arms all over again. "Yes. All the bedding flowers that will be planted tomorrow are kept there tonight..."

"Well, come on then..." Zechs flicked open the top button of Duo's shirt. "They're gonna wonder...." Nuzzled at Duo's neck."...where..." Sucked gently at Duo's ear lobe. "... we..." Trailed kisses across Duo's cheek. ".. are..." Pressed warm lips to Duo's mouth. "... unhhhh..."

Long quiet moments passed.

"We better go then.." Zechs murmured, watching stormy blue eyes open slowly."Remember where we left off, okay?"

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