Authors: TB and Marsh
see part 1 for notes, warnings

[ archivist note: if any of this looks like gobblety-gook, it's Russian. i'm not enough of a code wizard to fix it. gomen. ]

2.7 Kelvin + Part 3

"'Is it not still more dreadful that we are now being told, thirty years later, 'Don't talk about it!' If we start to recall the sufferings of millions, we are told it will distort the historical perspective! If we--'"

Zechs stirred on his bed. Duo hushed immediately, unconsciously holding his breath until the other man turned over, facing away from the small desk light.

Duo touched the screen set into Zechs' wall. It came to life, displaying the United Earth Sphere seal in muted ozone blue. "Computer,' he murmured, 'search мораль."

A moment later, it beeped softly, and the screen cleared. "мораль," it repeated back, in that monotone, unaccented male voice that had become the industry standard after Hemmersley had won the hotly contested contract. They'd beat Winner by dropping their bid to millions cheaper and the promise of faster results. Everyone had been suffering through quality flaws for six years. They had Quatre's new design in the equipment packed in the storage bay. He'd got the new Mars Colony contract through a direct government order, the smartest thing to come out of elected office in a decade, in Duo's opinion. "мораль. Noun. Morality. Defined as conformity to the rules of right conduct--"

"I know what it means. Thanks." He doused the screen with another touch, as Zechs shifted again. It was almost morning by Zechs' schedule, but Duo was reluctant to give up his last quarter-hour of privacy--as private as you could get, anyway, sitting in another man's chair and wearing another man's underwear. He watched Zechs until he was sure he was really still sleeping, and pulled the book to the edge of the desk. The pages warmed under his fingers. He flipped forward and carefully pressed them flat.

Once it was established that charges had to be brought at any cost and despite everything, threats, violence, tortures became inevitable. And the more fantastic the charges were, the more ferocious the interrogation had to be in order to force the required confession. Given the fact that the cases were always fabricated, violence and torture had to accompany them. This was not peculiar to 1937 alone. It was a chronic, general practice. And that is why it seems strange today to read in the recollections of former zeks that 'torture was permitted from the spring of 1938 on.' There were never any spiritual or moral barriers which could have held the Organs back from torture. In the early postwar years, in the Cheka Weekly, The Red Sword, and Red Terror, the admissibility of torture from a Marxist point of view was openly debated. Judging by the subsequent course of events, the answer deduced was positive.

It is more accurate to say that if before 1938 some kind of formal documentation was required as a preliminary to torture, as well as specific permission for each case under investigation--even though such permission was easy to obtain--then in the years 1937 – 1938, in view of the extraordinary situation prevailing and the specified, limited periods granted for individual interrogation, interrogators were allowed to use violence and torture on an unlimited basis, at their own discretion, and in accordance with the demands of their work quotas and the amount of time they were given. The types of torture used were not regulated and every kind of ingenuity was permitted, no matter what.


It was easy to read objectively. Maintaining the level of concentration to translate and comprehend kept him from really feeling anything he read. But he thought about it, later, in these quiet times. Zechs had been right when he called it horrible and appropriate; and Duo had been wrong when he'd said it was still a cipher, lost in the past and incomprehensible without--without having been there, maybe. He had been there. It had been the machinery of his entire life.

There'd always been whispers on L2 about the secret prisons. Solo had always taken care to point out the homeless men and women to avoid--the ones who claimed they'd been there, the ones who had numbers inked on their hands in faded blue. They'd been crazy, most of them, some of them talking to anyone who would listen and others refusing to talk at all. They'd called them the untouchables. The soldiers would come and pick them up, sometimes, and some of them came back and some of them didn't, but it was always best to give them a wide berth and pretend you didn't know who they were if anyone asked. And then later there'd been the rumours that the Plague had been no accident, or, if it had, that there'd been no rush to pass out the vaccine, especially not to colonists. The Alliance had got it, that was a sure thing, the officers and their wives and children who lived on the bases, but not the colonists, not Duo's friends. And say it wasn't something Duo--thought about, a lot, ever; say it wasn't something he--knew how he was to deal with. Horrible and appropriate. Material proof that some things didn't change, and the only material difference between Duo and millions of others was that he'd lasted a little longer.

He felt a jolt then, with a hand landing on his shoulder. His heart pounded.

Zechs bent over him, a strand of long pale hair falling to Duo's arm as he bent over to look at the book.

"The Interrogation," Zechs said. His voice was gravelly from sleep. His thumb travelled lightly down Duo's arm and stopped on the knob of his wrist. "You shouldn't read it alone."

"I didn't hear you wake." Zechs' other hand worked under his braid to the back of his neck, warm and familiar. Duo closed the book quickly. "Fencing or shower first?"

"I can be flexible."

"Ample evidence of that. From what I remember, anyway." It had been a dry three weeks. Then, with no reason Duo could discern, last night over dinner Zechs had made an overture Duo could only describe as flirtatious--and cut things off the second Duo went for third base.

The hand on his neck disappeared, and Zechs perched on the edge of the desk, his bare arms crossing over his chest. Duo took in an eyeful of pink nipple and deliberately imagined doing naughty things to them; then he sighed and slumped back in the chair. "You don't think that's kind of self-defeating?" he asked.

Zechs seemed to know what he meant. He didn't smile--he never did--but his arms tightened over his chest. "It keeps me out of trouble."

"Keeps you in strong wrists, too."

"That's not your concern."

"Cause we're not sleeping together or anything," Duo said sarcastically. His suit was in the laundry; he'd been neglecting his wash out of the sheer luxury of being able to be lazy. With no-one to see him but Zechs, it hadn't seemed important. Except that Zechs' undershorts didn't exactly fit, and with Zechs standing there over him so determined to be all tall and muscled and everything, he sort of wished he was dressed. "Masturbation is that much better?"

"You only had to ask."

Duo rolled his eyes. "Oh yeah, it's been all about my wants."

"Hasn't it?"

"I didn't proposition you, Slick."

"We needn't continue if you dislike it."

"You are so god-damn prickly." Duo knocked his knee against Zechs' leg. "I didn't say I don't enjoy it now. I just don't get why it's on a fucking holiday suddenly."

"It's not."

"Three weeks," he reminded him.

"You could have approached me sooner."

Duo grabbed his crotch as vulgarly as possible. Zechs averted his eyes on cue. "I've practically got a dislocated jaw from making out last night. I'm offering. We can fuck more. We can fuck every night if you like."

Zechs looped his hair behind his ears, and sat on the bed instead, forcing Duo to turn the chair. "You as much as admitted to me that you saw this as a favour. An exchange for the language lessons. I'm not... comfortable with that, Duo. I can't be."

That left him speechless.

"I like you," Zechs said. "I'm attracted to you. Physically. I greatly enjoyed sleeping with you. I very much wish I could be assured that you chose to sleep with me for the same reasons. I'm not."

Duo chewed the inside of his lip and stared at the book. "I appreciate your candour," he said. "Especially since I've tried to be clear I don't feel the same way."

"And I'm explaining that I understand. There's no blame." Zechs opened the bureau drawer beside his bed and tossed a cotton shirt at Duo. "Fencing, I think. Perhaps you'd like to learn that as well."

"I don't think it's really for me." He dressed reluctantly. Zechs' shirt hung large on him, like the underwear.

"What do you do for exercise? Normally."

"You've seen me exercise."

"I've seen what you do in low gravity," Zechs corrected. He removed his fencing gear from under his bed and began to dress. Duo leaned over to snag the foil, letting the blunted tip wave through the air as he examined the handle. "You must have some other routine."

"Sure."

Zechs fastened his white jacket across his chest and held out his hand for the sword. "Well?"

Duo handed it over. "Dancing."

"Ballet?"

Duo laughed, and tried to stop himself. "No. Not ballet."

"Ah." Zechs rubbed the polishing cloth over the blade, suddenly preoccupied. "Clubs, then."

"No." Duo stood and stacked the book with his notes. "There's studios in town. I take classes. Contemporary dance, and Latin dancing. I even tried ballroom last year. It keeps me pretty fit." He made it to the door, and turned back. "Why would you assume I go to clubs? I mean, it's kind of an assumption."

"I apologise. I couldn't think of anywhere else one could dance, off the top of my head. Studios make sense." Zechs met his eyes squarely, the way he did, Duo had come to think, during any kind of confrontation.

"Well I don't," Duo said. "Go to clubs. And I don't go to bars, and I don't hang around the gyms. I don't pick up guys in public bathrooms, either. Not since my last boyfriend, anyway. Big mistake." He waggled his eyebrows.

"Ah," Zechs said again.

"That was a joke," Duo explained.

"I laughed on the inside."

Duo hugged the book to his chest. "The thing about--you called it a trade," he said. "I guess I don't get why that's a problem. Why it's a thing. You turned out to be nicer than I thought you would be, so maybe I don't not like you as much as previously indicated. I think that's plenty for fooling around."

"Maybe you're right." Zechs closed the few steps in the little cabin, stopping in front of Duo. His hand rose, then touched Duo's cheek. "You're bleeding."

"Shit." He hadn't even felt it. He rubbed his nose, and his fingers came away bloody. His mind blanked. "Shit."

"Head back." Zechs grabbed his flannel from the hamper and pressed it to Duo's nose, putting his hand on Duo's forehead to tilt his head back farther. "Maybe you're anaemic? Those nutrition drinks can't be enough."

"They've always been fine before." It made him uncomfortable, Zechs hovering so tall over him. He took the rag for himself and stepped back into the hall. The bleed wasn't stopping. He put the book on the floor and went to their bath. His blood spattered in little drips into the metal sink when he bent over it. He pinched his nostrils shut and held them.

Zechs came in behind him. With the both of them in there, Zechs was pretty much standing in the shower stall. He pressed up behind Duo, and put both hands on his hips. He rubbed gently, his thumbs stroking half-moons.

"This is fucking embarrassing," Duo said, after several minutes like that. He ran water over the stain in the flannel. It didn't come out entirely. He wiped his face with a wet palm. "I think it's done. Probably it's just the humidity."

"We can have the computer raise it."

Zechs' hand curved around his belly. It was so warm. All over he was warm like that. And after a little longer, his arm went wrapping around Duo, and then the other arm too.

+

"'The loneliness of the accused!'" Duo read. "'That was one more factor in the success of the unjust interrogation! The entire apparatus threw its full weight on one lonely and inhibited will. From the moment of his arrest and throughout the entire shock period of the interrogation the prisoner was, ideally, to be kept entirely alone. In his cell, in the corridor, on the stairs, in the offices, he was not supposed to encounter others like himself, in order to avoid the risk of his gleaning a bit of sympathy, advice, support from someone's smile or glance. The Organs did everything to blot out for him his future and... and...'" He turned the book to face Zechs, his finger pointing out the word in question.

"'Distort'," Zechs supplied, and rubbed his thumb up the arch of Duo's foot over the wool stocking.

"'And distort his present: to lead him to believe that his friends and family had all been arrested and that material proof of his guilt had been found. It was their habit to exaggerate their power to destroy him and those he loved as well as their authority to pardon, which the Organs didn't even have. They pretended that there was some connection between the sincerity of a prisoner's 'repentance' and a reduction in his sentence or an easing of the camp regimen, when no such connection ever existed.'" He paused. "Police do that," he said. "Preventers do."

"A fine line," Zechs agreed. "Intent may be the only thing that separates the evil from the good."

"That's not the point, though, is it?" Duo replied. "The point is that anyone who would do this to another human being is evil. Categorically evil. There's the interrogators and the interrogated. Baddies and goodies."

"What do you think?" Zechs asked.

Duo dropped his eyes back to the pages. He couldn't answer that right away, and Zechs didn't press him to. After nearly a month and a half he was fluent enough to read entire pages at a time, but they had never precisely discussed any of the reading. The most personal they'd managed to be was when Duo occasionally risked propping his feet in Zechs' lap. It probably wasn't as unconscious as he wished it would look, but he liked Zechs rubbing his feet.

"'We said that 'ideally he was to be kept alone,'" he continued. He sipped from his mug of tea, steam curling over his cheek, and set the cup aside. "'However, in the overcrowded prisons of 1937, and, for that matter, of 1945 as well, this ideal of solitary confinement for a newly arrested defendant could not be attained. Almost from his first hours, the prisoner was in fact in a terribly overcrowded common cell. But there were virtues to this arrangement, too, which more than made up for its flaws. The overcrowding of the cells not only took the place of the tightly confined solitary 'box' but also assumed the character of a first-class torture in itself... one that was particularly useful because it continued for whole days and weeks--with no effort on the part of the interrogators. The prisoners tortured the prisoners! If the latrine bucket replaced all other types of toilet or if, on the other hand, there was no latrine bucket for use between trips to an outside toilet, as was the case in several Siberian prisons; and if four people ate from one bowl, sitting on each other's knees; and if someone was hauled out for interrogation, and then someone else was pushed in beaten, sleepless, and broken; and if the appearance of such broken men was more persuasive than any threats on the part of the interrogators; and if, by then, death and any camp whatever seemed easier to a prisoner who had been left unsummoned for months than his tormented current situation--perhaps this really did replace the theoretically ideal isolation in solitary.'"

He scratched his head through his headband--the neon pink one Heero had given him as a going-away--then slipped it off to run his fingers through his hair. Zechs rubbed the ball of his left foot, warming it with his hands. The ship was always too cold.

"OZ always kept us together," he said. "On the Moon Base. Wufei and Heero were already there, when I went there. I think maybe you were out of OZ by then. I don't know."

"I was." Zechs kept his eyes on Duo's foot as he stretched Duo's arch with his thumbs. "Howard and the Sweepers told me about the three Gundam Pilots being held on the Lunar Base. They even contemplated a rescue, but we hadn't the manpower to attempt something so risky on a place so well defended."

"A fancy way of saying of the Treize faction arrived before you did." Duo offered a little grin. "I've known Howard since I was a kid. No way you kept that man out of Space when one of his boys was there. Three--no way in hell."

Zechs smiled. "Howard has a stubborn streak."

"Had," Duo said, and hesitated. "Sorry. I guess you didn't know. He passed, four months ago."

He didn't expect the way Zechs went frozen between breaths. "When?" he said hoarsely, like he hadn't heard right.

"Yeah. Well, he was a drunk, you know? Liver went." Duo dropped his eyes to the book. "Threw himself a party. Never woke up."

"Shit." Zechs' fingers curled around his foot. "No-one told me."

Like that explained something. Duo said, "Sorry. I didn't know you knew him much." He'd handled the arrangements; if Howard had had anyone, Duo had never known about it, and he hadn't known about Zechs either, being friends with the old man.

"He was a good friend," Zechs said softly, regretfully. His fingers slowly started massaging again.

"Best." He licked his lips. It still felt hollow, sometimes, moments thinking about Howard. Duo had never had a father and he'd never particularly felt the lack, but he knew he'd been lucky in the men who had been in his life. He glanced up, and said, "Ever feel like everyone you know is an orphan?" Heero, and Trowa too, and Quatre, he'd lost his father, and Relena Peacecraft for that matter, and Zechs himself--

"Maybe, yes."

Zechs was unsettled. Trying to hide it, but Duo saw. He would have sat up, but he didn't want to make it worse, and he had enough sense not to move when there was a wild animal on the couch with him, as it were.

"He never said he was sick," Zechs said finally.

"He was old. He'd lived the life he wanted to live. When he heard cancer, he just..." Duo shrugged slightly. "He said he was ready, and it was okay."

"Cancer." Zechs was hitting the moment of betrayal. Duo remembered that moment intimately. "I wish I'd known. I'd have made more time to see him." He let go so suddenly Duo was left blinking. "Excuse me," he said, and pushed down on the cushions to stand.

"Hey," Duo said, startled.

Zechs stopped. "Yes?" he asked, his eyes on the opposite wall.

"Don't go running off," he said, aiming his tone a little gentler. "Don't go running off."

"I--need a moment."

"Take it here." Duo spotted his bandana, and grabbed it up. He held it over his eyes. "I won't even look. Promise."

He felt him not moving. He waited for it.

Zechs said, "That's not necessary," somewhere over his head.

Duo lowered the headband. Zechs was standing over him, looking down. Duo reached out and brushed his knuckles over the back of Zechs' hand.

Zechs laced their fingers together. "Thank you," he said simply.

And--shit. That was actually--rather intimate. Duo felt his face heating, and pulled until Zechs let him go. Zechs put his hand in his pocket.

"Right," Duo said.

"I've got paperwork," Zechs answered.

"I've got a dick. You don't see me doing it all the time."

"Do you need me to bleed publicly, Duo?"

"Am I public?" Duo retorted. He slumped as low as he could into the sofa and buried his nose in the book. "What-ev."

"Thanks for your sensitivity," Zechs said, somewhat sarcastically.

Jerk. Duo tried very hard to read, but he couldn't focus on the words. "He was my friend too. First, actually."

"You've had four months to process his death," Zechs said coolly. "I've had four minutes. But I'm sorry for your loss." This time, he did leave.

"Damn it," Duo muttered.

He had nearly an hour to himself after that, with Zechs hiding in his room with the door shut. He puttered around the ship for a bit feeling useless and irritable, but there was simply nothing to do but stare. He ventured as far as the airlock to the cockpit, but even for the sake of privacy he didn't want to suit up and transfer through. It would be freezing in there, for one, and Duo had never liked a quick transition from a ship's artificial gravity into weightlessness. With a sigh, he abandoned the idea, and went back to the mess. He squirmed on the couch until he found a comfortable angle on his stomach, chin propped on one of the thin cushions, with the book open in front of him. The fun had rather gone out of it, but Duo didn't much like silence, either.

When Zechs finally did emerge from his protective cocoon, his fringe was damp and he smelled like soap. Duo checked curiously for red eyes, but immediately felt rude--prurient-- for doing so.

"I apologise." Zechs had his mask--his figurative mask, anyway--cemented back in place. Cool, and controlled, and Duo was obscurely relieved to see it. "He was your friend long before I knew him," he went on. "And you couldn't have been expected to know I'd care."

"Thanks," Duo answered after a moment. "That's maybe more generous than I could be about it. I'd be pissed, if I were in your shoes."

"What would be the point? I hardly think Howard would be honoured by that."

Duo bit his lips together against a retort. He hated how Zechs always turned things back to personal honour and personal shame. That wasn't Duo's code, and it hadn't been Howard's either. What people like them understood was debt and loyalty, and which one you owed to which person was what defined you, not some mediaeval idea of how noble it made you.

If Zechs noticed the need for his restraint, he didn't say anything about it. Instead he put the kettle under the sink faucet and began to fill it. "Would you like another cup?" he asked.

"Sure."

"Caffeinated?"

"Thanks." Duo closed the book decisively and sat up. "So, I have a question. I've been keeping it stored for an awkward moment." He offered a little smile.

And Zechs, miracle of miracles, returned it, if faintly. He placed a canister of tea before Duo, one of the loose leaves. Duo lifted it to his nose to smell; it was the ginger peach blend. "Should I be afraid?" Zechs murmured.

That was one side of coy. Duo didn't know if Howard would be honoured by a little roll and romp, but he figured Howard would understand, at least.

He occupied his eyes and hands with filling the infuser with the leaves, searching the canister for extra bits of candied peach peel. "That first time, with the alphabet," he said. "You wrote me some phrases, remember?"

"I remember."

"Ti takAya valnUyashaya. Ti takAya Iskrennaya. Ti takAya ocharovAtel'naya." Duo watched Zechs' expression go from caution to confusion. He poured steaming water into two mugs and took the infuser from Duo so delicately their hands didn't touch. Zechs didn't let it steep quite as long as Duo preferred, but he added just the right amount of honey, dipping a spoon in with the bowl-side down and letting it drip for ten seconds. Duo pressed his lips together to hide a smile when Zechs faced him with the cup.

"I know we've both got long hair and all," he said, "but I think we've seen enough of each other by now for you to realise. I don't have girl parts."

Zechs didn't meet his eyes as he fixed the second mug of plain black tea. "No, you don't." He sat at the table, opposite side from Duo, in the chair. "It took you half the time it took me to realise..." He sipped carefully. "Or maybe you're just more brave. I never confronted Treize about it when he tested me like this."

"Kind of a low trick, with a non-speaker." Duo took his own sip. The tea was sweet and just slightly peppery. "I thought it was just Russian for 'hand over your pussy.'"

That tiny tinge of pink appeared in streaks down Zechs' neck. "After a fashion. I did have that--relationship--with Treize, but there's a history to it as well. His mother was Russian. Those were the first words his father ever spoke to her."

"Love at first sight?" Duo guessed.

"The match was made by their parents. The Khushrenadas were wealthy, but they were bourgeoisie. Yulya Palivoda was a duke's daughter."

Duo shook his head. "Haven't you people ever heard of democracy?" he said.

"Never a popular idea in some circles," Zechs answered, deadpan.

"Obviously." Duo blew on his tea to cool it, and put it down. "So did you want me to hand over my pussy?"

"Yes." Zechs met his eyes for that one as he sipped his tea. "I wanted you."

"Past tense," Duo pointed out.

"I want you still."

"I kind of think you're the one who's not making the moves." He wished he'd stopped his own mouth for that, because there was no point. They'd already hashed this out and got no-where with it.

"I needed to care less about your motives."

Past tense again. Duo noticed. He burned his fingers on the mug holding it too tight, but it gave him something else to concentrate on. "I never intend for things to get important."

"It's not always avoidable." Zechs reached across the table. He slid his thumb across the back of Duo's hand. "They don't have to be if you prefer."

How was that for coming to terms? With a vengeance. Duo made an effort to look at the man straight-on. "You're the unknown in that equation," he said.

"I can be any way you prefer. I've spent my life performing to expectations."

"Kind of sad." The thumb went back and forth over his knuckles. "You and Heero really are twins. Fraternal twins, obviously."

"I'd like to think that's a compliment."

Duo rolled his eyes. "Sure. Anal retention is always flattering."

Zechs shrugged. He moved his hand away, then stood and leant over the table. He kissed Duo, simple as that, and said, "I want us to have sex."

"You're so weird." That leap of logic surprised the hell out of him. "Dry spell got you down, huh?"

"I'm... tired of fighting it." Zechs quirked his lips. "And my wrists are tired."

He had to laugh. He stood, too. Zechs met him halfway, and he pressed their lips together, slightly open. He flicked the tip of his tongue over Zechs' teeth in a tease. He got his answer when Zechs curled his hand around the back of Duo's neck and held him there. He opened his mouth and his tongue came dancing back, chasing Duo's.

"Take down your hair," Zechs murmured, nuzzling his nose to Duo's temple.

"No." Duo held the knot of his bandana when Zechs tried to slip it away.

"Care to explain why not?"

"Not particularly."

"Ah. Well." Zechs joined him on the couch and sat. If he was distressed by Duo's refusal, he didn't show it. But he took Duo's plait in hand, pulling it over his shoulder. He stroked it slowly.

"All that hair never got in your way?" Duo asked him curiously.

"Not really."

"You make all your army chicks wear it up."

That got him a sly little smile. "Yes."

Duo plumped the cushion behind him and slumped into it. He propped one foot on the back of the couch. Zechs' eyes went to his crotch. Duo let it linger there for a minute, then slowly he slid his foot down. His ankle bumped Zechs' thigh, and then he dropped it into his lap. He curved the arch over Zechs' package and pressed lightly.

"Not too subtle, Duo." Zechs' eyelashes fluttered, a flash of white in the light overhead. "Continue."

Duo grinned. He rubbed slowly, digging his sole into Zechs's balls, a soft bulk under his cotton trousers, then spreading his toes wide over the harder ridge of his prick. Zechs closed his eyes on a sharp indrawn breath. He covered Duo's foot with his hand. Then he reached for Duo's arm and pulled. Duo came willingly, straddling Zechs's lap and setting his back to the edge of the table. He let Zechs pull off his bandana this time. He shook his head until the long pieces grown out from his fringe fell loose. Zechs fingered his skull back from his temples to his neck, and held him still for a deep kiss. Duo did a thorough job trying to lick the inside of his mouth top to bottom.

"I've never been so happy for Velcro," Zechs murmured against his lips, breaking open the fastenings over his chest. Duo climbed off him and lay back on the couch. Zechs followed after him, plucking open his suit inch by inch, trailing his lips after and leaving a slow tingling burn everywhere he touched. When he reached the end of the line, he covered Duo's groin with his palm and squeezed.

Duo smiled up at the ceiling. "Touch me with it."

Zechs laughed. "Who's vanilla now, Duo?" But he did. He freed himself from his trousers and knelt over Duo. He pressed their cocks together.

God. Hot as a poker. Duo licked his lips. "All over."
"Like this?" Zechs dragged the head up Duo's body, from tummy to chin, walking up the couch on his knees and leaving a line of cooling precome. Duo guided the head into his mouth as it came near. Zechs gripped the armrest with a shaky exhale. "God, Duo."

He licked the salty taste away and kissed the head, then slid lower on the couch between Zechs' legs. He licked Zechs' balls and sucked gently, then pulled them into his mouth, too. Zechs groaned and gripped his head.

"Think you can stay standing over me?" Duo whispered.

Zechs moved to brace himself even while sounding uncertain. "For how long?"

As long as it took, and Duo didn't intend that it would take all that long. He squirmed until he had the right angle, propped up on an elbow in a way that didn't strain his neck too much, and pulled Zechs' bobbing cock down into his mouth again. Zechs supported him with a broad palm, holding his head up, and Duo sucked hard.

Fingers on his scalp, down his cheek. Duo stroked Zechs' thighs, dragging his fingertips through pale hair on tight gluts. He pulled his buttocks apart and rubbed his pointer finger against Zechs' asshole. Zechs jerked forward into his face.

"Let me touch you," Zechs moaned.

He pinched him on the ass for that. Zechs jerked again, and Duo lifted his head the last few inches to swallow. The head hit the back of his throat and Duo opened around it, long practice making it smooth even in this position. The warm ballsac slapped his chin, the legs on either side of him began to tremble.

"If you expect me to be passive, you're just being stupid." The hand on his hair made a fist, then released. "What is it you want me to do? Or not do?"

Duo let his cock spring out of his mouth for a moment. "Stand still," he suggested, licking his lips to wet them and reaching for Little Darcy again.

"Fuck you," Zechs cursed hoarsely. "This isn't... right."

Duo dropped his head to the seat. "What do you when you touch yourself?"

"What?"

"When you wank off. What do you do?"

"You're not expecting me to show you--"

"Why not?" Duo said. He had a blurry impression of the top half of Zechs' body up there somewhere, but the view he had of the lower half seemed a lot more important. He aimed up for the dark little nub between Zechs' cheeks again, hidden in golden body hair, but not from the touch of his finger. He made a fist around the base of Zechs' dick. "Little Darcy," he said, just to hear it aloud.

"Fuck off." Zechs knocked his hand away. It was the tone that penetrated Duo's determination to ignore any problems, this time, and with a sigh he admitted they were probably jinxed out of sex forever. "Why does it always have to be a game with you?" Zechs demanded.

He rolled his eyes. "Vanilla."

"Maybe your one-note brand of sex just lost its appeal."

That was moderately nasty, and it sounded a lot more like the Zechs Merquise he remembered than the one who blushed through calling him 'exciting' and 'sincere'.

"Guess I'm not the only camel carrying the baggage," he said. He ducked his head between Zechs' thighs and sat up on the other side.

Zechs turned to face him. Duo waved his hands. "We're done," he clarified. "You might as well sit down."

He had the grace to look embarrassed. He eased down on the couch, tucking himself discreetly away as he did. "I apologise," he said stiffly. "I don't..."

"It's cool," Duo said. "No explanation necessary."

"I believe it is." Zechs sighed then, and looked away. "I don't have a long history of healthy sexual relationships. I've been trying to change that."

That did not particularly surprise Duo. He said, "Well, I have got. And it's really a lot easier if you tell me beforehand what's off limits."

"I don't like games." Duo raised his eyebrows, and Zechs acknowledged the redundancy of it. "And I don't want to be... the salt you rub in your wounds."

Another leap that left him behind. Duo looked him askance. "What are you on about? What's that mean?"

"Just as it sounds."

"Uh, well, it sounded a little crazy."

"Yes, doesn't it?" The look Zechs gave him told him it was supposed to be significant, anyway. "Maybe you should consider that."

"You know I've got no idea what you're talking about, right?"

"You pick people you think will hurt you." Zechs wasn't normally a fidgeter, but he was twitching now, toying with the handle of one of the mugs on the table, hiding behind his hair. "I don't know why. Maybe because you don't think you'll have to risk giving something real."

"Excuse me?" he demanded. He pulled his suit closed and made sure it fastened.

"You asked. Was I supposed to lie?"

"I didn't know you were going to be weird," Duo said gruffly.

"Then you don't know me at all."

He managed to crack a smile for that, but he still felt off his game. "Walked into that one."

Zechs traced the inside of his own wrist with a finger. "With Treize I grew very comfortable with surrender," he said. He met Duo's eyes finally. "He'd insist and I... I'd submit. Eventually, I will with you, too. If neither of us thinks very hard about it, we'll manage."

Duo exhaled. "It's just meant to be a game," he said softly, apologetically.

"It's not your fault."

"Guess he kind of did a number on you."

"I let him."

Duo forced a smile. "That was stupid, then," he said, not really meaning it.

Zechs returned it though. "I'm not a smart man."

"You speak Russian. Can't be all bad."

A laugh, finally. Duo pressed a palm to Zechs' cheek, and kissed him. Then his jaw. Then his pulse, and then back behind it to his ear. He tongued the edge of the cartilage through stray hairs and whispered, "I don't think you're going to hurt me. I do hope you're going to fuck me, though."

Zechs brought Duo's head around to look him in the eye again. His pupils were dilated, and there was no mistaking the expression there. "I want you," he said.

"Easy as pie," Duo promised. He licked Zechs' lips quickly, then made his own path through the stubble on Zechs' neck to his collar. "But I'm not doing it on the table again. The table is bad juju."

Zechs was fast, too, though, and suddenly Duo was off the couch and dangling in the air with no clear idea how he'd got there. "Works for me," Zechs said smugly, and carried him out of the galley into Duo's room. It was only a few steps, so Duo chose to laugh it off. Zechs kicked his door open and laid him out on the bed like he was draping out something precious that shouldn't wrinkle.

"I'm not a child," Duo said, amused. "You can't just haul me around all the time."

"I'm not sure you can stop me," Zechs retorted. He pulled his shirt off over his head and discarded it to the floor.

Good. If they could both make jokes, maybe they'd weathered all the karmic retribution after all. Zechs was wasting no time getting naked again, and Duo followed his lead. He got a foot stuck in the leg of his suit, though, and Zechs, golden tan all over down to the dangling line of his not inconsiderable assets, bent over him to help him out of it, then used the handhold on his calf to spread Duo's legs wide open. He knelt in front of the bed and pulled Duo across the mattress until his ass was hanging over the edge, and went down on him without so much as a by-your-leave, clearly determined to have his own way this time. Duo didn't tempt fate by objecting, though. Zechs had a firm, sure touch, and a busy tongue. He closed his eyes and enjoyed it.

It didn't take long for the world behind his eyelids to narrow focus. Every breath seemed to burn. His legs were restless and everything more than an inch away from Zechs' mouth felt numb. He fumbled somewhere south of reality for one of Zechs' hands, not the one rolling his balls, and clutched it, brought it up to his stomach for a lingering caress.

There was a short pause while Zechs wet a finger. "In Space, no-one can hear you scream."

"Sorry," Duo said. His hand came away with sweat when he wiped his forehead. "I forget."

"Me, too," Zechs forgave him.

"Never had a lot of privacy really." The finger went in. God.

"Soldiers never do." Zechs lapped him up again and sucked so hard Duo cried out, private or not, his finger pounding up relentlessly. "Stop," Duo begged, clutching fistfuls of his duvet, but Zechs wouldn't. Duo lost his breath and for a moment, everything went a little dark.

He floated down slowly, unwilling to rush himself. He could feel Zechs' head on his belly, in no hurry either, his finger still inside of Duo's body but unmoving, just a little comforting presence. Guilt edged in first, reminding him that Zechs was on his knees on titanium and it had to be uncomfortable. He made a lazy effort to crawl backward on his bed, and Zechs followed him up, settling heavily on his side, the only way they both fit. He did his best not to crowd Duo, letting him come down in his own time. He traced Duo's trail of hairs over his stomach to just above his groin, but only that.

"Not bad," Duo said finally.

Zechs glanced up at him. "Not in your league, I'm afraid," he teased.

Duo grinned. "I've had the whole Preventers corps to practice on."

Zechs lost a little of his smugness. "I'm in no position to judge you for that."

"Why not? You wouldn't be the only one." Duo rolled to face him, and cupped Zechs between the very long legs carefully held to keep pressure away. He was hard and probably tender, and Duo gave absolutely no quarter as he stroked. "But I do not want to talk about other men right now," he said. "I'd much rather take care of this."

Zechs thrust into his palm as his face flushed. "I won't object to that."

"Excellent notion." He threw a thigh over Zechs as he reached over him to the bedside table. The lotion was still in the drawer from whenever ridiculous amount of time ago they'd first done this, and Duo praised his own optimism as he seized the little bottle.

Zechs snatched it out of his hand as quick as any pickpocket. "Let me?"

"Sure, studly," Duo allowed. He fell back to his pillow and propped his head on his arms. Zechs spread his legs again, nipping his thighs as he pushed them apart. He fumbled just a little getting the cap off the lotion, and it was cold when his fingers, two of them this time, went curving into him again, but Duo held his tongue and kept his smile firmly in place. It got better quickly. Zechs lay over him for leisurely kisses, biting lightly at his lips and his jaw, and, maddeningly independent, his fingers scissored and twisted, his thumb rubbing Duo's ballsac, his knee nudging Duo's legs wider every time he forgot to hold them wide. When a wet hand encircled his cock and spread lotion from base to tip, Duo swallowed dryly and said, "God, I'm so ready I could squeal."

Zechs kissed him a final time. "Ready," he agreed.

Duo grabbed his pillow and rolled with it, folding it in half under his stomach to prop himself up. Zechs slid into place behind him, lotion-damp hands massaging lightly down his back and then his buttocks, rubbing circles over his hole. Duo closed his eyes when he felt something larger replace the fingertips and slowly press him open.

Then it was in. There was a little wave of pain, familiar and half-erotic. He pressed his face into his arm as Zechs slid deeper and deeper; it felt like his whole body was no larger than just big enough for what was filling him. And just before it got to be too much it halted. Zechs traced his plait and kissed the tattoo on his shoulder blade.

Slow, at first. Momentum built, then, until the first stinging slap of Zechs' hips to his ass, and he gasped as it touched off a spark inside him. Duo breathed into his sheets. "Hold my shoulders," he whispered.

He wasn't sure Zechs had heard him. Maybe he just hesitated. There was some shifting, silken sounds on the duvet and the thing in him nudging deeper for a moment, and then thick, hard fingers on his shoulders. Without his sight, Zechs felt so much larger than him, a giant leaning over him like that, so close and radiating heat. Duo covered one of the hands with his own.

A hard thrust, using his shoulders as leverage. It forced a grunt out of him, and he saw light behind his eyes. "Yes," he hissed. Zechs sawed back and forth over that spot, perfect almost every time, and then like a switch had been thrown he started pounding in and out, rocking them across the bed until Duo threw out an arm to brace against the wall. "Yes. God."

"Duo." Zechs groaned in his ear. "I can't hold it much longer. Let me... " One of his hands went searching between Duo and the mattress. Duo got a knee under him, and Zechs caught his cock in a rough fist. Every snap of his hips sent him skidding on the duvet, dragging his cockhead over the fabric, and he let himself moan with abandon at that. Teeth in his shoulder, and Zechs came like a freight train, splashing him with wetness inside. Duo felt himself twitch like a puppet on strings and panted through it as he climaxed a second time.

+

"Record message," Duo said. "No visual."

"Message recording," the computer answered.

"Hi," Duo said to the thin air, feeling slightly ridiculous, talking almost to himself like this. "Hi, Trowa. It's Duo. Just checking in, I guess. I hope you're well and that everything at work is too. Don't fight with Wufei too much. I'm not there to break it up if it gets too physical." He chewed on his lower lip. "I'm all right. We're getting on, me and Zechs, more or less. Not a lot to do but get on, yeah?" He discovered a tiny hole in the arm of his stretch suit and pulled his hand inside his sleeve to stretch it over his thumb. "I'm learning a language," he remembered to say. "When I get back I bet I won't even speak English anymore. You won't be able to understand a word I say. Though I guess you'd tell me that's already the way of it." He dropped his head back to the chair rest. "This is a stupid question. I just--never mind. Anyway, I hope--look--did you ever think that I choose who I sleep with because they're going to hurt me? Someone--someone I know said that. I guess I was just wondering if you thought it too, that I do that to avoid having to give anything 'real' to anyone else. I mean, we were real, right? Sure as hell not true love or anything, but we did all right, so I guess you're as qualified to judge as anyone. I trust you, anyway. I mean, I trust you to tell me the truth. I mean--I mean I know you lie to me a lot, but never about the important things, or the really unimportant things, and this is totally one of the latter, so, you know, don't even bother with an answer, it's nothing. Hope you're well. Probably it'll be a while before I send another message, so just tell the others that I rang and that everything's on schedule. Ta."

His face was hot. He was glad he'd cut visual. The computer took his silence for a command, and softly informed him, "Message sent."

"So it is," Duo muttered. He pressed his hands to his cheeks to cool them. "Thanks, Computer." He fixed his sleeve and stood.

And sat quickly. His head was swimming and a wave of black spots broke over his vision. He sucked in a deep breath and another quickly, gripping the arms of the chair hard.

Slowly the faintness cleared away. He was more cautious, this time, getting up. He felt a little light-headed still, but he could see, at least. He kept a hand on the wall for safety and walked the length of the hall, hoping it wouldn't recur. He was relieved when it didn't.

Zechs was asleep. Duo checked on him to be sure, even turned on his light and made a little noise, but the movement of his eyes under his lids said he was deep in REM. Duo carefully closed his door almost to latching, and went back up the hall to the galley. It didn't have a door, short-sighted construction, but they'd worked out a blanket taped over the portal for when one of them wanted to exercise in a little privacy. Duo hung it now, and kept the light low, too.

There were basic medical facilities in the galley. Duo hauled out the suitcase and opened it on the floor; it was too heavy for him to lift on his own without emptying it first. There was a phlebotomy kit inside. Duo tore open one of the packets and donned the latex gloves. He used his teeth to tie the rubber band around his upper arm. It was a little hard to manage the needle one-handed, but with a few painful tweaks, he filled four vacutainers of blood. He folded a cotton ball into his elbow and worked quickly to connect the centrifuge to the power supply. If Zechs stayed in bed to his unofficial 'morning', then Duo had several hours, but only if he was quiet enough to prevent any interruptions.

"Computer," he said. "Switch to Medical Aid."

"Medical Aid engaged."

"Agent Duo Maxwell," he said. "Reporting symptoms." He balanced the rotor with his vials and set the controls. The centrifuge began to spin his blood. "Headache. Stomach ache and vomiting. Nosebleed. Newest symptom is dizziness."

"When did you start experiencing these symptoms?" it asked him.

"Headaches before boarding, so maybe two and a half months," he said. "Stomach, about the same, two months maybe. I don't think before I boarded really. Only two nosebleeds at different times, one about two weeks ago, and one last night. Woke up with blood all over my pillow. Dizziness, the last half hour."

"Please rate severity of symptoms."

"I don't know," he said, frustrated. "Nothing I couldn't deal with."

"The preferred scale is--"

"One to ten," Duo finished. "Fine. I don't know, a four on the headaches, maybe, and the puking too. Four for all of it."

"Noted. A case file has been created. Please add any further information now."

"Right." The centrifuge slowed to a halt. Duo freed his vials, and set up the lab console according to the picture taped to the inside of the suitcase. He followed the instructions for dividing the blood sample, and sat back on his heels. "Ready."

"Testing to commence. Results to be analysed and referred to the Zebra Tango Midway Post."

"No!" Duo glanced to the blanketed portal, embarrassed by his exclamation. "File access restricted on voice command."

"Medical Aid may be unable to complete the analysis with expected accuracy--"

"I don't give a damn about the disclaimer. We'll deal with it when it happens. Access restricted." Duo checked his cotton ball; the bleeding had stopped. He gathered the remains of the phlebotomy kit for discard. "How long will this take?"

"Estimated two point seven hours."

Nothing to do but wait, then, and hope Zechs stayed put as long as he was supposed to. He stood carefully, fighting the disorientation. He tried to breathe evenly until the dancing spots faded. If he was lucky, it was a problem with the nutrient shakes, low blood pressure--just an unlucky flight. It happened. Never to him, but he'd known plenty of Sweepers who suddenly developed problems on long flights. They called it Sweepers Sag. And they got over it just fine.

Just fine. He'd be just fine, and Zechs would never have to know he'd even worried about it.

[part 2] [part 4] [back to TB and Marsh's fiction]