Authors: TB and Marsh
Pairing: 6+2
Rating: R
Notes: Takes place five years after EW

Caveat + Part 8

When Duo opened the door, Zechs presented him with a kiss and a bottle of chenin blanc. 'Happy Christmas.'

'Christmas Eve,' Duo corrected. He had a smudge of flour on his chin. Zechs wiped it away with his thumb and kissed him again.

'Christmas Eve,' he repeated. 'Am I going to spend it standing in your hallway?'

'Oh, duh.' Duo stepped back for him, holding the door wide. Zechs shed his snow-damp coat onto the rack and pulled Duo back toward him, hip to hip.

'Smells good,' he said. 'Why are you so tense?' He rubbed lightly at Duo's shoulders, squeezing his neck carefully. 'Everything all right?'

'Relena and the French boyfriend are here,' Duo warned him. He huffed a sigh and put his face into Zechs' chest for a moment. Zechs ruffled his hair and let him go when Duo pushed off. 'Heero's been in his room “getting dressed” for about an hour.'

'Which of them do you want me to check on?'

'Heero. No, Relena. I'll do Heero. Here, take the wine, they're out on the balcony there. The boyfriend's name is Troyes and he owns some kind of ungodly villa somewhere where they grow grapes or some shit like that. Make merry.'

Zechs stopped for a corkscrew and opened his bottle, taking a glass from the arrangement on the bar. The balcony blinds were swept back and fairy lights provided a fanciful portal to the balcony, where two forms lit by candlelight were standing. Zechs opened the glass door and let himself out to join them.

'Zechs.' Relena's smile was warm, though her embrace was a little stiff; they had mended much of their relationship with time and effort, but glad as he was to see her, he was no less awkward. They exchanged careful kisses to the cheeks. 'I'm so pleased you've fallen into our little circle in Brussels,' Relena added. 'When Duo told me you'd be here I was so surprised.'

'Finally making friends,' he replied. He extended his hand for the young man lounging against the balcony rail. 'Zechs Merquise.'

'Troyes Lefèvre,' was the answer, with a lazy squeeze to his palm. Well, Zechs could admit the young man was handsome enough for Relena, though his looks were a little too consciously scruffy-- a day's growth of beard to shadow the square-cut jaw, hair just a little shaggy so that it swept the collar and fell rakishly over pretty grey eyes and an aquiline nose. Yes, handsome enough, and despite the diffident attitude, absent the smug superiority Zechs had so often found in children of the Continental aristocracy that had flourished under the Alliance. 'You are Preventer, yes?' Lefèvre asked, leaning back loosely on the rail.

'Yes. Based in Brussels.' Zechs offered his wine, and refreshed both their glasses before pouring for himself. 'May I ask how you know Relena?'

'Relena and I go to same boarding for a time.' Lefèvre gave her a smile, and Relena blushed just slightly, studying her wine with renewed interest. 'She is very passionate in everything. I follow her to her School of Pacifists. I follow her everywhere she allows me.'

'Relena has a way of inspiring loyalty.'

'Stop, both of you.' Relena patted at her hair as a breeze fluttered their candles. 'We'll have to rush back to Sanq tomorrow for Christmas, but I wanted to be here for Duo. There's something about a family dinner that's missing from a state celebration and ribbon-cutting.'

'Very true.' Zechs considered his sister, surprised to realise she'd somehow grown up quite a bit recently. Relena had never lacked for confidence, but there was something more relaxed about her now, less dogged, less single-mindedly earnest. Perhaps a little worldliness. Bundled in a cherry wool coat and scarf, her blonde hair unravelling from a sleek chignon, she could have been any university graduate, any young professional, bright and poised and ready for life's challenges.

Duo's knock on the balcony door made him jump. Duo waved them in.

'I hear Mister Duo is the excellent chef,' Lefèvre said. 'We are all in for the treat.'

'You have no idea,' Zechs murmured, recalling Duo's practise run. He held the door for them both.

Yuy's extended dressing adventure had yielded positive results; he was sprucer than Zechs had ever seen him, wearing sleek grey trousers and a new-looking navy jumper. Even his hair was well-groomed, carefully brushed flat. The scowl was the same, with an edge of helpless anguish as he stared at anything but Relena. Duo looked worried, but smiled for his guests.

'Dinner's served,' he said. 'Relena, you're here. Troyes, between me and Zechs. Heero, you're there at the head.'

They sat, Lefèvre holding Relena's chair as she swept her long skirt under her to settle. Duo returned with the soup pot and ladeled them each a serving of carbonnade a la flamande, a Flemish beer-based stew. 'Special occasion, so lots of bacon,' Duo told them. 'Pancetta, actually. I like it better with the beer, keeps a little sweetness.'

'Truly excellent,' Lefèvre complimented. He turned an eye-crinkling lady-killer grin on Duo. 'Relena has told me of your many talents. I see she does not exaggerate.'

'I rock,' Duo answered modestly. 'Heero, try it with a little bread. So you and Relena were in school together, Troyes?'

'Yes, as children. We have many classes together, the-- how you say, the--'

'Classics,' Relena supplied. 'Troyes is a modernist, actually, but of course the moderns spend most of their energy referring back to the classics.'

'Heero's a big reader.' Duo spooned a mouthful. Heero gave a sudden sharp frown at Duo, and from the way he jerked slightly Zechs guessed there had been some under-the-table kicking. 'He likes TS Eliot. Eliot's a modernist, right?'

'But I see you know something of the modernists too. Have you read Stéphane Mallarmé? Paul Valéry?'

'La Jeune Parque,' Heero said.

'One of the greatest French poems of the twentieth century AD.'

Duo finished his soup and overturned his spoon. 'Not much of a poetry guy, personally. But I like art. I got to go to the Louvre once. And I went to the Renoir exhibit while it was here last year.'

'Ah, Renoir! So you regard we French well in some respects at least. Which of his paintings is your favourite?'

'I don't know names or anything. I guess--' Duo shrugged finally. 'The one with the mom and the little kids in the blue frocks and the dog.'

'Which is this?'

'I don't know, I don't know titles. They're on a couch, the mom and her two little girls--'

'Mademoiselle Charpentier and Her Children,' Zechs supplied, catching on. 'Though one of the children is a boy.'

'Why's he in a dress then? That's weird.'

'Ah, no, Mademoise Charpentier. Yes, I know it.' Lefèvre tossed his hair with a finger, nodding to himself. 'A sentimental choice. Why you like this one so much?'

'Because it's safe. It's a picture about safe. They're in a pretty room all by themselves and they're smiling and calm and safe. The dog is asleep even. There's nothing in the entire world of that picture that can hurt them or threaten them in any way at all. There isn't anything dark or symbolic or mean or wrong. Just-- safe.'

'A picture of perfection. Renoir had a unique ability to convey such emotion.'

'Unique, all right. It's like a complete idiot painted it. I don't know about France in whenever that was, but did he ever, like, step outside? Who the hell wouldn't want to trade some gooey ignorance for the harsh reality? I mean I like art as much as the next guy, but come on, how useless can you--' Duo was the one who jerked, this time, and his eyes flickered to Yuy. He pursed his lips. 'We all ready for the second course?'

Relena bit her lower lip. 'May I help clear dishes?' she asked smoothly. 'I'll take that for you, Heero, Troyes.'

Zechs half rose, as did the other two men, but Duo and Relena were already gone with the soup bowls. Zechs sank back. Well, Duo had predicted accurately. Awkward indeed. 'More wine?' he asked the others.

They made it through dinner without any incidents. The evening even ended rather pleasantly-- Lefèvre had brought a guitar, and after the sorbet they retreated to Duo's couch for a quiet session of music. Zechs had not sung carols since earliest childhood and barely remembered the words, but Relena contributed her smooth contralto and Duo his slightly hoarse tenor. Yuy did not sing, but he shocked Zechs by asking for a turn with the guitar. Duo and Relena wore identical soft smiles as he played, more halting than Lefèvre, plucking out the notes of The First Noel. They emptied three bottles of wine between the five of them, until Relena's eyes began to close more often than they opened, and Duo's laugh was a little readier than usual. It was Lefèvre who called it a halt at nearly midnight.

'We fly in two hours,' he said, patting Relena's slim hand. 'Shall we call for the car?'

'Mm.' Relena looped her loose hair behind her ears, blinking sleepily. 'Yes. Thank you, Troyes. Duo, tonight was lovely. Thank you so much.'

'I'm glad you came.' Duo gave her a tight hug. 'It was good to see you again. Troyes, really good to meet you. I'll walk you down to the car.'

Yuy joined Zechs in a sort of listless shuffling when they were suddenly alone. Together they transferred the bottles to the bin under the sink, rinsed the plates, capped jars and bagged leftovers. Zechs ran himself a glass of cold water to fight off the deep yawns that had taken hold. Midnight on Christmas Eve, and if he couldn't quite believe he'd just spent it with two Gundam Pilots and his sister Relena Peacecraft, well-- he couldn't quite say it wasn't exactly what he wanted, either.

Duo came back shivering in his shirtsleeves but grinning as widely as a Cheshire cat. 'I don't think you have to worry about the French boyfriend,' he told Yuy.

Yuy's head came up from the chocolate cake. 'What? Why?'

'Because he tried to grab my ass out there.' Duo took Zechs' water for a few deep swallows. 'And here I thought he was just showing off with all that crap about art and culture.'

Zechs wasn't sure whether to laugh or be offended. 'You were being set up?'

'Hilarious, right? And apparently I impressed him. It's good to have options.' Duo finished the water and returned the empty glass. 'Do you own any villas? Because I might have to think carefully about this.'

'Har har.'

'He's gay?' Yuy was saying in disbelief. 'Her boyfriend is--'

'Not her boyfriend, clearly.' Duo quirked his head at Yuy. 'Forge on, brother.'

Zechs cleared his throat. 'Did you want to finish cleaning up now?'

'God, no. Let it soak overnight. I'm beat.' Duo cracked his shoulders in a hard stretch, his eyes coming sideways to Zechs. 'You headed out?' he asked, overly casual. 'I'll walk you out, too, but let me get my coat. It's fucking Antarctica out there.'

'Actually, I'd rather sleep here, if you don't mind. I shouldn't really drive now, and the metro will be closed.'

'Oh.' Duo's sideways glances went to Yuy, then. 'Um, yeah. I can make up the couch.'

'The couch?'

'Duo.' Yuy ate the last bite of cake and pushed his plate away. 'You can have sex in your room. I don't care.'

'Heero.' Duo rolled his eyes.

'Duo,' Yuy repeated in the same tone. 'You put up with it for me. I can put up with it for you.'

Unaccountably Duo flushed. 'Uh,' he said.

Zechs decided that was as close as they were going to get to a happy resolution. 'Thank you,' he interjected. 'Sleep well. And happy Christmas.'

'Yeah.' Yuy tugged at Duo's ponytail. 'Dinner was good.'

'Thanks.' Duo smiled at his friend. 'Thanks, Heero.'

'So.' Zechs propped his elbows on the bar. 'Success.'

'Who knew.' Duo leant on one of his stools. 'Glad you were here. Everyone behaved.'

'Except Relena's little date.'

'Oh, don't worry about that. She didn't know. I hadn't talked to her in a long time and it just didn't come up when I was inviting her this year. If it helps, she got my type totally wrong.'

'There didn't seem to be anything particularly wrong with him.'

'He's not you,' Duo said.

Zechs caught Duo by the belt and pulled him close. He smoothed his hand over Duo's pert behind. 'You should have broken his fingers.'

'Not in front of your sister.' Duo reached past him to flick off the light. 'Well, since we have permission now, let's go to bed.'

Duo's bedroom was neat as ever, though Zechs detected a few rejected jumpers that indicated Duo had had his own bout with dressing doubts. He folded them for the bureau and then stripped his own, draping it over the back of the chair and following it with his shoes, stockings, and finally trousers. He shivered as he crossed to the radiator, cranking it up to a humane output of actual heat. A twitch at the curtain revealed a deep blanket of snow in the back garden. He let it fall and sat on the edge of the bed to wait for Duo to finish in the bath.

Duo returned with a faint scent of soap and a damp towel that he flung in Zechs' face. Zechs gave himself a quick swipe, grateful to find it warm, and turned back the duvet for them. 'You ready?'

'Yeah.' Duo climbed on with a pointy calvacade of elbows and knees, and Zechs settled in beside him, tucking a limp down pillow tight to his shoulders. He sought Duo's hand under the duvet, but it stayed limp when he linked their fingers. Duo was staring up at the ceiling, his lips tight as he chewed his cheek.

'You want to leave the light on?' Zechs prompted him.

'Huh? No. Sorry.' Duo freed an arm for it, and they fell into darkness. 'Mind on other things.'

'Talk about it?'

'Oh, it's not anything.' He felt Duo's head turn toward him. 'You, uh-- you want to do what Heero said...?'

'Maybe you'd rather not.'

'No, totally.' Duo sat up on his elbows. 'I mean, the last two times sort of, yeah. So you know, and Christmas Eve, it would be kind of nice.'

'Duo.' Zechs propped himself up against the wall and guided Duo down over his legs. He rubbed firmly at Duo's shoulders, not surprised to find him tight-muscled and tense still. Duo hugged quietly at Zechs' knee and let him do it, which itself spoke of greater unhappiness. 'Tell me about it,' Zechs murmured.

'It's stupid.'

'I've never known you to be preoccupied with anything stupid except your phone.'

'So funny.' Duo curled around him, his voice vibrating softly against Zechs' bare thigh. 'That jerk. French jerk not-boyfriend.'

'What about him?'

'Outside-- Relena gets into the car, right, and Troyes turns to me and says some shit about how she was right, I'm exactly as she described, and he wants me to have his number.' Duo shrugged under Zechs' massage. 'Nevermind. I'm just tired. I need to sleep.'

'You can if you want.' Zechs shifted to work on the knots in Duo's neck. 'Or you can tell me what's really bothering you. If you like. I would like.'

'It's just so dumb--' Duo sat up to turn off the radiator and instead remove a second quilt from the closet. 'I pretty much told him at dinner that I thought his education was a bunch of hooey, and if Relena was at all honest about who I am he's got to know I don't fall in with Pacifism, at the very least. So what the hell kind of common ground does he think we've got? He doesn't, that's the answer. So he grabs my ass and tells me we'd be hot together. I'm the only one at that table who doesn't read French fucking poetry, but we'd be hot in bed? Am I supposed to fuck him because he's rich? I'm supposed to fuck him because that's what guys like me are good for. Ignorant but hot. Terrific. Fucking hilarious.'

'I think you're right to be upset.' Zechs swung his legs to the edge of the bed, but didn't rise; Duo was slamming the closet shut and on his way to the bath again with his empty waterglass. 'I'm surprised at Relena. She couldn't have known.'

'No, of course not. He probably plays up the loyal puppy act with her and she thinks he's a great guy.' He heard Duo run the water. 'I'm just tired. It's not like it's the first time. I just thought...'

'Duo.' Zechs followed him down the hall and stood against the wall, watching him lean over the sink in the dark. 'You deserve to be appreciated for your total person. Not just how attractive the outside is.'

Duo dropped his toothbrush back into its cup. 'Oh, and you do?'

Zechs smiled. 'Why, it just so happens I do. But I already knew my education was a bunch of hooey.'

Duo was startled into a laugh. 'Jesus. Sorry. That was pretty rude. God, and Relena too. You can probably recite French poetry in Russian.'

'Only when inspired.'

'Forgive me?' Duo poked him in the belly until Zechs caught his hand. 'Forgive me. I'm super super sorry.'

'Oh, I'm just sure you are.' He put out his hand. 'Shall we?'

They had never been completely undressed with each other. Zechs found himself unexpectedly appreciative of the experience. Anticipation really had sweetened the reveal. The slender trail of hair from Duo's navel to groin fascinated his finger pads; when he cupped Duo, touching him there for the first time, he caught himself trying to log the experience for memory, the kind of intense concentration he'd once reserved for the first test flight of a new mobile suit. Duo's weight straddled his thighs, Duo's breath sighing against his ear as they explored, no teasing now. Duo's neck was tense under his hand again, for better reasons now. He dragged his palm down the bumps of Duo's spine, pulled him near at the small of the back. They tipped into a slow roll, and he pressed his open mouth, his tongue against Duo's skin, his sternum, his navel. Duo whispered something at him, but it didn't matter if he couldn't quite hear it. He knew what it was. He left a kiss on Duo's hip and slid off the bed, reaching for his trousers.

Duo cracked a laugh. 'You drove all the way here with lube in your pocket? What if I'd kicked you out after all?'

'Then I would have driven home with it.' He paused beside the bed, tapping the tube against his knuckles. 'You have... before?'

'Have-- done the deed? Yuh.' Duo touched the tip of him, and Zechs closed his eyes. 'Which is how I know this is going to go a lot smoother if you come back down here.'

They took their time working up to it, Zechs judging his way by the fits and starts of Duo's breathing, the little shivers, the strength of Duo's grip on his hair. He wrapped both of Duo's long legs around him, tight around his waist. At one finger Duo was stiff, tentative. At two he began to relax into it, and Zechs played lightly with him, coaxing him to hardness, fondling Duo in front and behind until Duo was biting his lips. By mutual agreement they arranged themselves for the final act, Zechs half-reclined against the pillows, Duo leaning back on his hands, his knees wide, his groin hot in Zechs' hands. Despite Duo's assurances, Zechs had the private notion that he wouldn't go deep-- but that idea didn't last long. His vision went hazy as Duo's body opened for him, and inch in and out and in until some point arrived when he realised he was fully seated, that Duo's head hung back from his shoulders, that there was oily fluid gumming his fingers around the shaft of Duo's cock. He pulled Duo up by a limp arm, chest to chest, and locked their lips together. Duo obligingly rolled his hips when Zechs guided him, looser now, more abandoned to it. With Duo mouthing at his jaw and neck Zechs rocked him back and forth, building a slow tingling burn in his-- almost-- almost, when Duo took back the reins, sitting upright on his own, bearing down, reaching behind to cup Zechs' sac. Zechs panted through his orgasm with Duo grinning down at him.

'That was so worth the wait,' Duo said.

'No argument.' His voice felt rusty. Zechs cleared his throat. 'You better let that go.'

'Oh, this?' Duo tugged at his sac again, and Zechs ground his jaw on a groan. 'Or this?' he asked, pulling none too gently at Zechs' nipple.

'Just because you're ready to go again--'

'It's my turn.' Duo had him by both nipples now, and his squirming in Zechs' lap was no accident. 'I flaked out on the first one. I can do better.'

'You were better than better already. I don't doubt there's a steady upward trajectory.' He hooked Duo in a headlock and buried him against the sheets, using his weight to splay Duo down. 'Be good and I'll see what I might do about that.'

'Look at you, all take-charge, man about town. I like it.'

He shut Duo up the only way he'd ever found that worked. 'You were definitely worth the wait,' he whispered.

'I like you too.' Duo combed through Zechs' hair slowly, eyes sleepily low. 'I like you a lot. A lot a lot. We still on the same page?'

He hid his smile in Duo's shoulder. 'You can be sure of that.'

'Happy Christmas, Zechs.'

[part 7] [part 9] [back to TB and Marsh's fiction]