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

2.7 Kelvin + Part 5

"Buggerfuck," Duo said. He slammed the book closed and tossed it to the table.

Zechs closed the comic from Duo's porn collection that he was reading, and set it beside the book. "Bored?"

"My head hurts." He'd complained of headaches frequently since starting the antibiotics. "I can't think right now. In English, so fuck Russian."

Zechs checked the clock over the sink. It was evening for both of them; he had finally moved to Duo's schedule, determined to keep a closer eye on him. They were due for a sleep cycle, but not for a few hours. "We could try one of my other books," he suggested.

"Don't want to." Duo listlessly picked at a ragged fingernail. He was wearing one of Zechs' jumpers over his suit, and still seemed cold. It was hard to tell what was a symptom and what was a side-effect of the injections, but Duo wasn't doing well, and it was painful to watch.

"I have a deck of cards somewhere."

"Yeah, fine." Duo sighed, and put his head down on the table. "Okay."

They weren't where he thought he'd put them, and he had to dig through his luggage for the packet. He displayed them like a trophy when he returned. "Fresh cards, never used. What should we play?"

"You do poker?"

"Don't all soldiers?" He pulled the chair to the table and opened the cardboard box. "I kept myself in contraband for two years on poker winnings."

He got a reluctant smile for that. Duo stuck his nail between his teeth and hunched over the edge of the couch while Zechs shuffled the crisp cards. He set the deck on the table before Duo. "Cut it."

Duo halved it neatly. He tapped the top card with his pointer finger. "What'd you get?"

Zechs flipped it over. "Seven of spades."

"I mean what kind of contraband."

He smiled enigmatically. "That'd be telling."

But Duo wasn't in the mood for teasing. He didn't respond, except to chew harder at his nail.

Zechs dealt their cards, five each, the most basic of games. Duo took his time arranging them. There was a slight rash on his hands, dry red skin stretched over his bony knuckles. Zechs mimicked him, setting his cards in order. He'd dealt himself a poor hand, as it happened. "Stakes?" he asked.

"I don't care. Whatever you want."

"Loser has to tell a story. It can be complete fiction, but it has to be good."

He won another reluctant smile, and considered that a victory. "Okay," Duo agreed.

"How many cards?"

"Two."

It had been impossible not to notice Duo, even during the wars. Even when he was a child. Duo had a kind of wild, furious magnetism; every encounter, even from a distance, had been a taste of chaos and unpredictability. Zechs was, would always be, a man who treasured order, discipline, the rigorous suppression of emotion, a rigid adherence to logic. Duo made him remember that discipline could be carried too far, that logic could be soulless. Eyes that were bright even now, constantly roving, searching, seeing too much. Quick nervous movement--but a sure touch, too, absolute control and grace.

He liked Duo's mouth, he found himself thinking. It was wide, and generous, expressive. Maybe it hadn't smiled so much, since boarding in Japan, but there was something tender about it, anyway.

"Two," Duo reminded him.

Zechs dealt them obediently. "And the dealer takes three." He discarded a seven, jack, and four, and peeled the top three from the deck. "Do you want to raise the stakes?" he asked. He hadn't much improved his hand.

"Raise 'em what?"

He said it blandly, not looking at Duo. "I don't know. I'm asking. Do you want more than a story?"

Duo was quiet a moment, one of those unreadable silences. Abruptly he answered, "Raise you one backrub."

Zechs was pleased. Duo had been painfully quiet lately, and it was good to see him engaging in the game. He said, "I call your backrub and raise you a... laundry. Loser tells a story, gives a backrub, and does the laundry."

"You're on."

Zechs had called; he had to show his hand. He fanned the cards over the table with a dramatic wince. "Pair of threes."

"Jacks." Duo dropped his hand to the table.

A good hand. "Want your story and your backrub together?"

"Play another round first."

He slipped their cards back into the deck and pushed it toward Duo. "Your turn, then."

"New rules." Duo shuffled quickly and dealt them a card each, face down. "Lowest upcard bets."

It was sharper than Duo had been in days. He was glad he'd thought of the cards. A little competition seemed to be working wonders. He flipped his card; a queen of hearts. Duo's was a four diamond.

"Loser sings a bar song," Duo opened the betting.

Zechs laughed. "A bar song? I don't think I know any of those."

Duo rolled his eyes. "That figures." He rubbed his eyes, and sighed. "You bet. I don't care."

"No, no. I'll come up with something. If I lose."

Duo dealt another card for them both, face up. Six for Duo, a ten for Zechs. It was Duo's bet again. Zechs raised an expectant eyebrow, but Duo couldn't seem to think of anything. His finger was starting to get raw from being gnawed at.

"Loser... has to explain why he's never been in a bar before."

A tiny tease. Zechs chuckled. "I never said I hadn't been in a bar."

"Loser goes naked for a day."

In retrospect he ought to have anticipated Duo would turn it toward sex. He made a face, because he knew Duo would expect it, but didn't protest.

"Highest upcard bets or checks now." Duo slapped their cards to the table. He got a five; he was pleased, sitting straighter with a small smile. Zechs had a three of clubs.

They both had shitty hands, and it was Duo's bet or call. Zechs waited patiently. It took Duo nearly a minute to decide.

He said, "Loser cuts a lock of hair."

He was a little shocked. That was no joke. "Unless your next two cards are excellent, you'll lose, Duo."

"Maybe I'll be lucky."

"Maybe." He was hesitant. "It's only a game," he started, but Duo was already dealing.

A three for Zechs. He was in a position to win, if Duo didn't make a straight.

Duo got an eight.

Blowjob, Zechs imagined. Or some unusually adventurous sexual position. Not that Duo had been interested in sex, this past week. But they were running out of favours they could owe, on a ship where neither ran up many difficulties.

"Loser eats whatever winner cooks," Duo said.

Zechs outright grinned. Food had been a bone of contention between them. It was a gesture, a purely symbolic gesture, an ameliorative little liniment over all the fuss Duo had put up on him. Especially as it looked like Zechs was going to win.

"Perfect." He even felt a little smug. "Deal the last card."

Duo obeyed. He laid out Zechs' first: a two. Zechs pushed his pair of threes to the forefront.

"Seems to be my good hand," he commented.

"We'll see." Duo took his time, drawing out the suspense with a hint of his old playfulness. He slipped the card from the top of the deck to the tabletop, and peeked under the corner. His shoulders slumped.

Oh, Zechs thought guiltily.

Duo turned the card up. Seven. He had his straight.

Zechs narrowed his eyes. "Did you deal that off the bottom of the deck, Maxwell?"

Duo held up both hands. "Swear."

He huffed dramatically. "Bring me the scissors."

"You don't really have to cut your hair," Duo said apologetically. "I was being a jerk."

"A bet's a bet." He didn't mind. Really. It was just... hair. Duo was the one who was so overly attached, not him.

Duo didn't move. When Zechs did, Duo reached to stop him, but Zechs was quicker. There was a pair in the utility drawer, flimsy thin blades with a handle too small for his large hand. Why was his heart beating faster? It was just hair. It would grow back. He had plenty of it.

"I'll do it," Duo said suddenly.

He returned to the chair. Duo took the scissors from him and stood behind him. "You're aware this is stupid?" Duo asked.

"You've never run from anything, in real life."

"This is not real life." Duo sifted through his hair with little brushes of his fingers. It raised a shiver up his spine. He separated a thick handful over Zechs' shoulder.

"Like hell it isn't."

The scissors made that unique razor sound as they cut. It was a small snip, but he felt it as if it were cutting skin. There was a slight little tug, as Duo pulled the lock free.

Zechs drew a deep breath that shuddered more than he wanted it to. "Not too painful."

He could feel Duo's regret. Knuckles brushed softly over his neck; then soft lips.

"It's fine, Duo." He pulled Duo onto his lap, and Duo came easily, for once, bony behind and awkward elbows and all. His stocking feet dangled.

"Admit it," Zechs murmured. "You like me."

Duo pinched his lips together and occupied himself gazing at the wall. He twisted the long cut lock of hair through his fingers.

"Coward."

"You're just dying for the words?"

"Yes."

He took a minute, getting them out, staring at the wall as if it held answers to deep mysteries. "Fine," he grudgingly allowed. "I like you."

His heart, just recently returned to normal, skipped a beat. "Thank you," he said evenly. "I like you, too."

"You're a prince among men."

He laughed at the irony of that. "Duo--"

"A delicate flower. A blushing rose. So perfect and so peerless, created of every creature's best--"

"You have a beautiful mouth," he said quietly, interrupting that increasing flow of sarcasm. He kissed Duo's lips, caught hanging open mid-word.

Duo scowled. "I already said I like you. You don't have to lay it on so thick."

He let that pass with a second quick kiss. "Will you keep it?" he asked, nodding to his hair in Duo's hand.

"If you like."

"I would."

Duo wrapped it carefully and pocketed it beneath the jumper. But he didn't get up or try to squirm away, so Zechs made no gesture to let him go. Instead he wrapped his arms around Duo, gratified when he actually allowed it. He even let Zechs pet his hair; even let Zechs lightly massage his back, the slender column of his neck.

"Backrub down too, then," he said idly, after a few minutes of silence.

They were just under a month away from Zebra Tango. It seemed like that would be plenty of time. Would they turn around? He didn't know. Probably they would have to. Even if Duo recovered, they needed to know what had infected him and how he'd got it, and Mars wouldn't allow them to dock if they didn't have those answers. Five months again, then, back to Earth.

"This doesn't count," he murmured. "It's just because it feels good." It did feel good. Permission to hold and touch. And that admission, that had been a long time coming. "You win with more grace than I would have."

"Only ‘cause I'm too tired to gloat."

"It's true." He kissed Duo's neck. "I'm tired, too. Can I get a night's forgiveness on the rest of my debts?"

"With interest." Duo slipped off his knees to the floor.

"My room tonight?"

"All right." The answer was just a bit tentative.

Why tentative? "I won't pounce you," he said, since Duo seemed wary. He waited for the nod, and stood himself. Then swept Duo off his feet and up into his arms. He was just a bit unsteady; his legs were tingling. Maybe Duo was heavier than he looked, or those bony hips had been pinching nerves. He ducked Duo out of the kitchen portal and carried him up the corridor to his cabin.

Duo was smiling at the end of the hike. "I've still got legs."

"Shh. I'm enjoying this." He flopped backward onto his mattress, still holding Duo. "Oof," he pretended to wince, and reached for the light.

There was a bit of mutual wriggling as they sought comfortable positions. Then Duo touched him, searching down his belly for his groin. "We could," he whispered. "If you wanted."

Did Duo want? He was by no means sure Duo actually felt up to it. But the idea of making out a little appealed, and Duo had exceedingly clever fingers. They had both missed this, he thought. Zechs rolled to face him, and in the dark they each found the other's mouth. He sucked Duo's tongue into his mouth, and they traced abstract patterns against each other, leisurely wet movements, gentle exhalations. Duo's hand stayed cupped to his groin. He massaged with little fits and starts as his concentration wavered, never consistent enough to get Zechs fully hard, but enough to build a banked fire. Zechs moved his hand under the jumper and found the top velcro tab of Duo's suit. He tugged it open slowly, pulled it open enough to palm one nipple.

Duo made a soft, encouraging noise.

He trailed the edge with his fingertip until it tightened. He chased Duo's tongue back into Duo's mouth and painted the rim of his teeth. Duo's hand found his hair. Did anything hurt, he wondered, were there any hints Duo was pressing beyond his endurance? This was so unlike all their previous sexual encounters. It was almost--lovemaking.

He settled Duo on his back on the bed. There was enough light from the hall to see the outline of Duo's face, his eyes closed, his lips parted still. He settled slowly between Duo's thighs. It was a delicious pressure, pressed together, warmth to warmth, that he wouldn't have minded maintaining for an hour or three while they kissed and petted. He didn't want to talk. He had nothing meaningful to say. He just wanted to hold Duo. They rocked together, so slowly. And he was thinking again, with every heartbeat, about saying that word that he knew would send Duo running. It was only fear that stopped him, but he kissed Duo instead, said it with coaxing, teasing bites, the venturing of his fingers over Duo's chest.

A deliberate squeeze of his upper thigh summoned his attention. He rested his forehead against Duo's.

"We don't have to do anything more than this," he murmured.

"You don't want to?"

With the offer spoken aloud--he did, yes. But he didn't have to.

Duo squeezed him again. "Gotta use up the lotion bottle."

"Are you sure?"

"Go get it."

He didn't have to look for it, at least. It sat on Duo's bedside table. He fetched it, and Duo's ragged flannel as well, and the pillow. He turned off the kitchen light, which they had forgot, and padded back to his cabin.

Duo did not stir when he came in. He wasn't sure if he was grateful for that.

He set the lotion and flannel on his desk and shed his clothes, then slipped back into his bed. Duo's breaths were deep and regular, his body limp. He had been hiding the truth, after all. Zechs ought to have known.

He was trying to remove Duo's hairband without waking him when he felt it. The pillow was wet. He turned on the light, but he already knew what it was. Blood, pooling on the cotton. Duo's head lolled when Zechs rolled him away from it. His face was streaked red with the volume of it, but it had stopped. Nothing new seeped when he wiped Duo's nose with the side of his hand.

He wet the flannel in the bath and cleaned Duo, and threw the stained pillow case in their laundry hamper. Duo never woke throughout.

"Don't you dare leave me," he whispered.

+

The first thing he did on waking was check with the computer for a call from Barton.

It was there. He couldn't understand how he'd slept through the message. The computer was instructed to alert them to any urgent incoming calls even in the night cycle. But there it sat, the top item on the queue, received nearly eight hours earlier.

It finally occurred to him, the longer he stared at it, that it wasn't flagged as ‘urgent'. And that did not make sense. When they'd sent Duo's new results to Barton for analysis, they had agreed on procedure for communication.

"Did he call?" Duo asked sleepily.

Zechs turned the light on to dim. Duo rubbed sleep from his eyes and sat up. Rather than answer the question, Zechs said, "Did you sleep well?"

"Fine. Oh." Duo coloured. Sheepishly, he said, "Sorry. At least I didn't fall asleep on top of you."

"We both passed out at once," he lied. "I'm still halfway convinced this so-called ‘colonial daylight schedule' of yours is really some kind of Alliance sleep-deprivation trick."

"Straight out of Stolzen--Solsen--" Duo licked his chapped lips. "Straight out of the book, that."

He couldn't help a tiny twinge. Duo should not have had trouble saying that name.

"Why don't you take the shower first," he suggested. "I'm going to listen to the message."

Duo blinked. Zechs kept a level gaze. If Duo resented being excluded, no sign of it crossed his face. But he did look away to nod his acceptance, and he said nothing else as he slipped from the bed. Zechs heard him stop at his own cabin for a towel and fresh clothes, and moments later, the pipes began to rush.

Zechs scrubbed the stubble on his chin. "Computer," he murmured. "Play new message."

And then he sat up straight, surprised. It was not Barton's image that appeared on the screen. It was Lady Une's.

"Agents Maxwell and Merquise," she said, her eyes tilted down toward something on her desk. It was her office, he recognised it, the utilitarian curtains over the large window and the ESUN flag peeking out of the corner. Whatever she was distracted with, she barely looked up at the screen once. "I understand you've been communicating privately with Dr Barton regarding a medical concern. Dr Barton may be a friend, but he is not the official medical personnel assigned to your mission. You will direct any further inquiry to Dr Amari, who is the qualified physician. I have ordered Dr Barton to turn over all records of this incident. I order you to do the same."

There was nothing else. The screen went dark. "End message," the computer announced quietly.

Oh, like hell that was all, Zechs thought. "Computer, record," he snapped. "Lady Une," he began shortly. "Message emphatically not received. I don't know this Dr Amari from Adam, and even if I did, I see no reason to transfer the case. If you want our records, you better send me Barton's findings first." He felt a furious tremble in his hands and closed them to fists. "What the hell is going on down there, Une? He's dying and I don't know how to stop it. Don't waste time jerking us around. Computer, end message and send."

In the silence that followed his seething temper slowly leeched away. It left him cold. It left him with the sinking feeling that he'd given up precious information, shown a tell and given away the game. But he'd been so angry. Une didn't resort to rules and regulations unless there was something in it for her, and that meant, could only mean, there was something going on with Duo's illness that had her looking for her own advantage. But he drew a blank at what that could be.

And he'd told her Duo was dying. Had he been exaggerating for effect--or did he really believe that, somewhere deep, hiding it even from himself?

A throat cleared, behind him. Zechs turned, dry-mouthed.

It was Duo, his damp hair making wet stains on a new bandana--the paisley yellow one--wrapped to the throat in his own clothes, civilian clothes. Blue denims and a thigh-length camel-hair sweater. He looked, actually, very good.

"You went digging through the luggage," Zechs observed.

"Tired of digging through yours." He held out the borrowed jumper from the previous day.

"Thank you." He folded it and placed it on the bed. "What are you holding behind your back?"

Duo theatrically produced a glass full up of muddy, lumpy nutrient shake. With a sprig from their last remaining mint plant on the top, artistically cocked at an angle.

That was worth a laugh. He didn't quite have it in him, but he faked a smile, to the best of his ability. "I don't think that's going to help," he said.

Duo didn't evidence that he'd overheard Zechs recording that message. He wore a smug little smile, with a hint of teeth in the grin. "Drink up, loser."

"A bet is a bet." He reached for the glass. It wasn't even cold.

"All of it, now. This is high-quality stuff."

He sipped it, and didn't have to fake a shudder. "You hate me. Don't you?" He decided to drink it in gulps, doing his best not to taste it as it went down. "Tastes like chalk. And... dirt." He wasn't exaggerating. It really did.

Duo's grin widened.

"How do you stand it?" He finished the glass with a manful effort.

"Practice," Duo said. "I swallow real good."

He licked the residue from his lip and grimaced. "You look like you feel better."

"Slept well, I think." Duo pulled back the sleeve of his sweater. "Show you something." He'd braided the cut lock from Zechs' hair and wrapped it around his wrist like a bracelet.

He blushed; he knew he did, and reached out to touch it. He couldn't think of a thing to say about it that wouldn't sound lame. It circled the knob of Duo's wrist three times, loosely, secured with a bit of wire stolen from who knew where.

After a few seconds too long of silence, Duo backed away. "Well, that's two down," he mumbled. "You still owe me a backrub and a day of naked."

He kissed Duo quickly. Had to choke back that desire to confess again.

Duo might have sensed it. He squirmed away. "You can feel free to start the naked at any time. Full twenty hours."

He gave a wince of protest, but nothing more. He was already clad only in his boxers, but there was a vast difference between that and completely unclothed. He stripped them, knowing he was red-faced again, grateful for the shield, however small, of his long hair. Duo's grin reappeared as he tossed the last of his cotton safety away.

"I'm not used to this kind of thing, you realise," he said stiffly.

"Baby, you've could have any catwalk you wanted."

"That's the most terrifying thing you've ever said."

Duo laughed. His eyes were openly admiring, and Zechs wasn't sure if that made it better or worse. Certainly there was nothing of each other they hadn't seen, by now, but never not during sex.

Duo bundled up their laundry. "Might as well make yourself useful, too. I believe laundry was part of the bet, too."

"It was." He accepted the pile; if he held it low, it offered a minimum of protection, at least. Duo whistled as he walked past. Zechs grit his teeth, and defiantly strutted down the corridor. He trailed Duo's laughter.

But not Duo himself, who stayed in the cabin area. He knew Duo listened to the message from Une, but never appeared to talk about it. Perhaps he didn't listen to the response Zechs had made. Zechs hoped not. He hovered uselessly in the kitchen as he made breakfast for himself, but Duo never so much as checked on him. Their cards were still scattered on the table, so he cleaned them, and put the book and the comic in a stack on a shelf. They had both got out of the habit of cleaning after themselves, alone on the ship.

He was halfway through his breakfast of rice and fish when his stomach rebelled. He didn't make it to the bath, but stood weak-kneed over the sink as he retched.

It was over as soon as it began, and as abruptly. Even the smell of his sick didn't move him. He rinsed it down the drain, and sent the rest of his rice after it.

"You okay?"

The sound must have summoned him. Zechs ran water over his mess. "Just peachy."

"The shake made you ill?" Duo seemed almost impressed. "Maybe they really are what's bad around here." He ventured in through the portal. "Blanket wasn't up," he said, motioning vaguely behind him. "You want some privacy?"

"I'm all right." He was very aware, though, that he was still standing in the nude. He made a strategic retreat to the couch, and took the comic with him. Though the comic had perhaps not been the wisest choice. The page he opened to showed a hairless Asian boy splayed wide with a look of ecstasy as he fingered himself.

"Zechs." Duo drifted closer step by step. He reached for the comic, brushing his fingers over the page. Zechs did not fight to keep it as Duo lifted it away, but did cover his groin with a hand, instinctive modesty. But Duo caught him and stopped him. He nudged the table out of the way, and went slowly to his knees.

Zechs did the stopping, this time. He tried to pull Duo back to his feet. "Just let me," Duo murmured.

"Why, Duo?"

"I would like to."

He let his head fall to the cushion. He felt Duo settle before him. "Are you going to allow me to reciprocate?"

"What makes you think I'm not getting anything out of this?" He petted Zechs' thighs, then drew them apart gently. "Sometimes I just want to do something nice for you. This is something I know how to do right."

He'd been doing a lot of things right, lately. Zechs surrendered. He tilted his chin down to watch as Duo slid curious palms over his knees, his calves.

"Besides," Duo added, "all the naked is, like, totally tempting my few remaining virtues."

"Who am I to suppress those urges, in that case."

Duo kissed his belly. His tongue made short swipes around Zechs' navel, then pressed inside it, making him suck in his stomach reflexively on a shiver. Then Duo's head rested on his hip, and his hand settled on the couch cushion between Zechs' legs. He made an unhurried examination of Zechs' cock, the touch of his fingertips almost too light to be felt.

"I've seen a lot of Johnsons," Duo said. "Big ones, skinny ones… hairy ones…"

He knew Duo's reputation, and knew by now it had probably been well-earned. It didn't make him comfortable discussing the practicalities.

"I know the story is something you're supposed to tell to me, but I want to tell you this one." Duo combed the curls over his ballsac. It felt like tiny pinpricks, not painful at all--quite the contrary. He was getting hard, and Duo was close enough to go cross-eyed looking at it. But the little mumble went on. "I wasn't abused or anything, like you. I never did anything I didn't want to. On L2, your choices are pretty much drugs or sex, or if you're really unlucky, both of ‘em. But you don't live long in the drugs business, and you may not want to, with sex trade. I promised myself I'd do anything it took to get off the colony, and once I was off, there was nothing you could do to drag me back there, even if it meant I was going to die out in Space--I wanted to be free that bad. My whole life."

"But you fought for the colonies." Duo's thumb found the slit on the crown of his penis and pressed it open. He couldn't watch anymore. He dropped his head to the couch again and tried to envision anything else.

"I fought for an idea. Maybe if I'd been older, I've had known better." Duo sighed. The exhale caressed him. "I fought because that's what you do, where I come from. If you're strong enough to fight back, you do it, because if you're weak, there's no-one going to protect you."

"Not so different from the rest of the world."

"I think you're wrong about that. I think if you'd known what you were getting into with White Fang, if you'd really lived with us, maybe you wouldn't have joined them. Maybe you wouldn't have gone so far to fight for them, with the Libra and the mobile dolls."

"There were a lot of factors, Duo."

"I'm just saying--I don't know. I'm just saying maybe they didn't really deserve what you did, what I did, for them. It was for the idea. And you and me may not be the least bit alike but we have that. We were both young and stupid. And strong enough. But what do you do when you've won? Even ideas wear out."

"Sex and drugs." He carefully threaded his fingers into Duo's hair. Duo laughed softly.

"I guess so," he whispered, and slipped Zechs' cock into his mouth.

He was already on the edge. He'd been on nerves about being naked, and the unresolved tension from the night before, both sexual and fearful--it was wet and hot, and Duo seemed to know he wanted, needed, something fast, something overwhelming, something to blot out too many thoughts that went no-where. Duo sucked him hard, and then let him down his throat and swallowed around him again and again and again. Zechs cried out, and crushed Duo's head to his belly as he came.

Duo rested his head in Zechs' lap. His thumb stroked Zechs' hipbone, up, down, and then that rested too.

"Come here, off the floor." His voice was husky. He cleared his throat.

Duo obeyed. He set his knees on either side of Zechs' legs and didn't quite let his weight fall, but kissed him on the side of the jaw. "Shake would have been more nutritious," he said dryly.

"You can have one later." He kissed Duo on the mouth. Duo tried to keep his lips closed--it wasn't the first time he'd resisted it after they had oral sex. But Zechs chose to force the issue. He pushed his tongue past Duo's teeth and kissed him as thoroughly as he knew how.

And this time, he forced something else. He said, "I love you."

Because it was bloody well time. While Duo could still grasp it.

Duo's face went still and blank. Zechs tried to touch his cheek, and Duo turned his head away.

"Don't," he said.

Don't touch, or don't love? Zechs let his hand fall. Duo swallowed visibly, and then suddenly he was moving. Zechs only barely caught him by the arms, and forced him to keep his place on Zechs' lap. "Stop it," he said harshly. "Don't make me guilty for caring about you."

"Nothing's ever enough for you! You always have to have more out of me!"

"I didn't ask you to return the emotion. Only to let me."

He could feel Duo's silent distress, radiating off him in waves. But he didn't fight to run, and Zechs slowly released the deathgrip he had on Duo's arms.

"I'm sorry," Duo finally whispered.

He cupped Duo's cheeks. Duo would not meet his eyes. "Don't be. You've done nothing wrong."

"I know. I mean I'm sorry-- I'm just sorry."

He shook his head. "Shh."

[part 4] [part 6] [back to TB and Marsh's fiction]