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This lovely thing was written by [livejournal.com profile] marasmine a lovely person, the Beta-With-The-Sharp-Stick, and a fabulous writer. It's my birthday present. Thanks Mara...it's wonderful and I can't wait for Part Two!

*flails happily*

And my B-day smut present from last year is in my writing journal under gift fic by Marasmine!

Title: Zechs and Duo
Author: Marasmine
Fandom: Gundam Wing
Rating: R-ish just in case
Warnings: 6x2, 1xR, 3x4, hint of previous 1x2.




Part One
Author: Marasmine

The taillights flared bright then dimmed before the limo pulled out of the gates and vanished into the night. The bride and groom were safely wed and on their way to their honeymoon. The massive gates clanged shut with a ponderous finality on my wishes for the young couple’s future happiness. The boisterous crowd cheered raggedly one last time and began making their way back into the palace that the bride modestly called home, all the while shedding pastel confetti shapes in all directions. I stared at the empty driveway for a few seconds longer before plastering my happy smile firmly in place and heading back to my duties as life and soul of the party.

Quatre had drilled me on the etiquette and behaviour of the best man. I shouldn’t think that there was a better prepared best man on the planet. As Wu Fei had pointed out, spending several hours with the rich and famous was nothing compared to what we had done in the past. But then all he had to do was stand around looking inscrutable; which was one of his best skills. I’m not sure that dangerous had been part of the description too but only Quatre would have taken him to task on adding that element. And only Quatre would have survived without serious disability for criticizing the dangerously inscrutable Fei. Or should that be the inscrutably dangerous Fei? I had suggested that Trowa would be a better choice as best man because of his experience of three-ring circuses. I am brave, I’m sure I have a certificate or a medal somewhere that says so, but I think I deserve another award for surviving the looks that one comment got me. It is a good job I don’t expect people to laugh at all of my jokes.

It had been a long day and my thoughts were flitting about randomly as I chatted and smiled and slipped from group to group. The reception was spread through several rooms large enough to store a Gundam or two in. At the first glimpse of flowing platinum locks it was relatively easy to find another place to be. Only a few more hours and I could escape. But for now I still had my duties and this game of hide and seek to occupy me.

“Yes. They make a lovely couple... No. I don’t know where they are honeymooning... My turn? How could I possibly marry another when you have disappointed me by marrying before you met me?... Such a beautiful bride... Such a handsome groom... So much in love...” The glib comments were automatic by now. How many times had I said the same things today? If I had realised how trite the conversation was going to be I could have made my speech a lot simpler and less stressful, just strung together all the platitudes and most of the guests would have been more than happy. I snagged a glass from a passing tray and soothed my sore throat with the hideously expensive champagne. Not that I could tell that it was hideously expensive, I can’t remember ever drinking the stuff before. But I was sure that the Sanq Kingdom had spared no expense today. Even if they had, Quatre would have substituted the best for his friends. He was holding court in one of the rooms, surrounded by a selection of his sisters, staff and hopeful dignitaries waiting to gain the recognition of the Winner. Trowa was leaning against the wall observing fondly. He raised an eyebrow at me as I came to rest beside him for a moment.

“At least he has enough vic..,” I cleared my throat before continuing, “Volunteers to dance with the sisters.”

“You know that you are safe from that, now...” Trowa’s lips lifted into a half smile as he glanced at me, “Except in emergencies, of course!”

“Even you aren’t exempt in an emergency,” I grinned back at him. “It was a priceless moment though.” He chuckled softly as we shared the memory of a speechless Quatre and I savoured the knowledge that I was the only person known to have achieved this miraculous feat.

Q had spent a lot of time and effort throwing sister after sister at me. They were all beautiful, sophisticated, entertaining and stinking rich. I liked them all. I enjoyed their company and they seemed to enjoy mine. And Q had become more and more frustrated when I returned them all without a moment’s regret. His grand plan to marry off all his sisters and as many of his friends as possible had hit a major stumbling block when applied to myself and Wu Fei. Fei had no intention of marrying anyone and neither did I. Fei had informed Q of this fact innumerable times before just refusing the ‘dates’ that were set up for him. Q turned his attentions to me while he regrouped for a further campaign on Wu Fei’s unmarried staus.

I had tried to tell him that I was no more interested than Fei. But I wasn’t the dangerously inscrutable one and Q just blithely ignored my protests. I shrugged and escorted his sisters, celebrities, titled ladies and whoever else he could manoeuvre into dates. Most were fun, Q was very good at matching people. His innate abilities were tested to the limit with me because they had failed him on one important little detail. One evening, when he and Trowa dropped in to visit me, his frustration finally boiled over.

“Duo, what is wrong with all the women I find for you?” It was late, or maybe early, depending on how you looked at it. There is something about three am that just takes you to the limits of your endurance; and Q had reached his limits. He fixed that seriously concerned blue gaze on me, “You only see them when I arrange it. You don’t follow up with any of them. What am I getting wrong? Aren’t they beautiful enough? Intelligent enough? Rich enough? What is it?”

“Q I have told you time and again that I don’t intend to marry,” I returned his gaze, trying for my own version of innocent sincerity, “They are wonderful people and we have great fun on the dates you arrange. Well mostly we do. But...”

“I admitted at the time that the modern art exhibition was a mistake,” Q huffed, looking affronted, “And you could have said that you hated opera!”

“I did say I hated opera,” I reminded him, “I keep telling you a lot of things but you just don’t listen!”

“I’m listening now!” He glared at me and leaned forward intently, “So tell me what I’m getting wrong!”

“You are really going to listen?” I cocked my head to one side and waited for him to agree. My only excuse is that it was three am and I was heartily sick of all those women being thrown at me; and the silently reproachful looks I was getting from Q more and more often. I hadn’t intended to tell him; or anyone it didn’t affect directly, for that matter. He nodded and put on his sincerely attentive look. I was familiar with most of his practised expressions but they still worked on me. I don’t know how Trowa copes day in, day out. “Well, Q,” I settled back in my seat and made good eye contact with him, “Has it ever occurred to you that the problem might be the one thing they all have in common? Besides being beautiful, intelligent and rich,” I added quickly when he started to open his mouth. He closed his mouth and frowned at me. I could almost see the little wheels turning in his head.

Trowa understood first. I could see his face in my peripheral vision. His eyes widened slightly and then he started to grin. His free hand sketched a salute. His other hand was resting on Q’s back, I think, it had slid off Q’s shoulder when he sat forward to question me. They were usually touching when they were close enough. It was almost automatic between them; just a reassurance that the other was there, an expression of their bond, their love. It made me feel warm and fuzzy to watch them together; and faintly sad and envious. What would I give for that sort of relationship?

“I wish you wouldn’t be so cryptic!” Q complained, pouting slightly, “They are all beautiful, intelligent, interesting women!”

“Exactly!” I grinned at him. That penny was dropping and when it finally hit ...

“Duo!” Q slapped my knee in irritation. Then his mouth fell open and I could almost hear the thud as the penny finally arrived. “You mean ... they ... you don’t...” he spluttered into silence, his eyes wide and just stared at me. The silence lasted for nearly a minute. Trowa laughed so hard he cried.

“You are lucky he doesn’t have any brothers,” Trowa’s voice brought me back to the present and the wedding reception.

“Don’t even think it!” I pretended to choke, “One Quatre is more than the poor Universe can cope with at a time! I don’t even want to think about what life would be like if there were more of him!” I shuddered theatrically and made my eyes really round. Trowa chuckled quietly and then smiled over my shoulder. He only ever smiled like that at Q, so I was in danger of being cornered. I just hoped Quatre hadn’t found any eligible men to introduce me to tonight. I really didn’t want to have to leave via my bedroom window in the middle of the night. My present plans included a night’s sleep and a substantial breakfast before I vacated the premises.

“There you are, Duo!” Quatre’s voice wasn’t a surprise as he brushed past me and slid his arm around Trowa’s waist. “Where have you been hiding all evening?”

“I haven’t been hiding!” I protested. Well, I had, sort of, but not the way Quatre meant. “I have been circulating amongst the guests and being my normal charming self!”

“Hmmm,” he eyed me suspiciously, “I haven’t seen much of Milliardo, either. Do you know where he has got to?”

“He is doing his hostly stuff in the main hall, I think,” I replied quickly. “I think he is saying goodbye to people now that they have started to leave. There isn’t a formal line for that is there?” I managed to inject the right amount of panic into my question to allay Quatre’s suspicions.

Zechs ... sorry, Milliardo had been stalking me all week. We had been playing a game of cat and mouse. The cat had been winning until tonight, but this mouse had had enough. The wedding was finally over. My best friend had married his sister. He had given away his sister and I had given away my best friend. We had spent the last week here in the restored Sanq Kingdom Palace preparing for the great day; all of us, together in this enormous warren. There should have been plenty of opportunity for privacy and breathing space. But somehow Zechs – I just can’t think of him as Miliardo - had turned up everywhere I went. I suppose it wasn’t that strange, this was his home too. He had helped rebuild it and the servants all obeyed his every word. If he had been trying to avoid me on the streets of L2 I like to think he would have had as little success as I did avoiding him in his palace. But then I wouldn’t have been stalking him in the first place. I couldn’t understand why he found me so fascinating.

He had met and fought with Heero and Trowa during the war. He and Quatre had a lot in common – money, background, upbringing, probably friends and acquaintances too. But I could not see any link between the patrician scion of the Sanq Kingdom and a street rat from L2. Apart from the war and the Gundams, of course; but he hadn’t wanted to talk about either war or mobile suits whenever he had cornered me. He hadn’t really talked about anything, just casual chit-chat; but the tone of voice, the casual touches and the look on his face had suggested that he did have something on his mind, just not anything to do with conversation! Maybe I was just paranoid or delusional. Maybe he was just being the dutiful host. Maybe ...

“Duo,” Quatre shook his head and smiled widely at me, “Have you met ...?”

“Sorry Q,” I interrupted quickly before he could complete that dreaded sentence, “Time I got back to my duties! Can’t let the bride’s side think the groom’s side isn’t pulling its weight!”

“Duo ...!”

I escaped the disapproving tone of Quatre’s voice by ducking behind a group of guests. Sometimes I am quite glad that I am short. I can disappear in a crowd without really trying. Unlike the elegant figure I had spotted making his way across the room towards where I had been talking to Trowa and Quatre.

“Quatre, Trowa,” the refined voice carried to me as I eased my way to another exit, “Are you being looked after? Was that Duo I saw ...?”

I breathed a sigh of relief as I escaped into the next room. Smile firmly in place I went back to circulating with a vengeance. Time passed and the crowd thinned and quietened. I decided that I had more than done my duty for Heero’s wedding. I slipped out onto the terrace and made my way around to the front of the palace. It had rained since the bride and groom departed; everything smelled fresh and there was an extra sparkle in the reflected lights. I leaned against a pillar, staying in what shade was available in the tasteful subdued lighting of the grounds, and listened to straggling guests get into their cars and be whisked away. My thoughts were much darker than the driveway. The occasional clang of the gates punctuated my mood perfectly. The wedding seemed to be an ending to me. It was the start of a new phase of Heero and Relena’s lives; but the end of a phase of mine. The hollow, metallic sound seemed very appropriate. I knew that the wedding didn’t really change anything. Heero was still my best friend. He was just my married best friend now. But a deeply buried part of me insisted that this marriage changed things, ended things, buried any possibilities beyond any hope of mine. I didn’t think I had harboured any hopes or illusions where Heero was concerned. I thought that I had realised and accepted the boundaries of our friendship long ago. My mood now told me that I had been lying to myself for a very long time.

He had never said or done anything to encourage my fantasies. They had been just that - my fantasies. I couldn’t accuse Relena of taking him away from me. She had met him first and he had fought his attraction to her long and hard. He had never been attracted to me. I was allowed to be his friend, after a struggle on my part, but there had never been a hint of anything other than friendship. Now I had to admit to myself, if no one else, that deep inside I had kept a small hope alive. Hope that one day he would look at me and see somebody he could love, somebody who loved him. Here, alone in the dark, I recognised that futile hope and watched it gutter and die; as it should have died within days of being born. Heero was not the one for me and he never had been. He would have been intensely uncomfortable if he had ever realised my feelings.

A stray pale blue confetti heart blew past my feet from the shelter of the portico, whirled down the marble steps and landed on the last one in a pool of illumination. It darkened quickly as it absorbed the moisture from the recent rain. I stared at it, seeing another apt analogy for my foolish feelings. The discarded heart lay for a second perfectly displayed on the white marble and then began to disintegrate. As I watched it turned into a shapeless blob, dissolving in the cold water, the colour thinning and bleeding away. Another car drew up to the main door, its lights washing the steps with a brilliant clarity. My eyes tracked along the marble, there were other faintly coloured patches scattered everywhere; confetti corpses waiting for more rain to wipe them away completely. The car pulled away and the sad corpses blended back into the shadows.

I sighed softly. I should go back in. I should go to bed. Tomorrow I could leave here and get on with the rest of my life. There was no point in standing here waiting for it to start raining again. The rain wouldn’t wash me away; I would just get wet. The confetti seemed more fortunate at that moment. I had a flashing image of Quatre’s face if I got my monkey suit wet and dirty. I really needed to go back indoors and get into some comfortable, real clothes that I didn’t have to worry about all the time.

“Deep thoughts, Duo?”

“Huh?” How in hell had Zechs managed to sneak up on me? He was wearing boots just like mine and I hadn’t been able to move silently all day. But then Zechs hadn’t really dressed up for the ceremony he was wearing his dress uniform but it was only slightly more ornate than the version he wore every day. Zechs wasn’t a jeans and t-shirt sort of guy. He was elegance personified. Even though his hair was nearly as long as mine, it never looked mussed; it was always smooth and shiny; and he didn’t keep it confined in a braid. I could picture Zechs covered in blood, he had that air of danger, but I couldn’t imagine him covered in mud. I am sure that even if he fell into a muddy pond he would come out looking wet but clean. I had not seen him anything but immaculate all week. Now was no exception.

“You have been standing there for a long time,” he smiled as he spoke, “You must be thinking about something important to you?”

“No,” I had been staring at him for too long. He had been watching me for too long. I was not going to admit that I had been having maudlin thoughts comparing myself to a bit of confetti. I still had some pride left! I forced my company smile back into place and thought fast. “I was just wondering if you will have pastel polka dots on your steps tomorrow.”

“Polka dots?” One perfect eyebrow arched enquiringly but his eyes never left my face.

“The confetti,” I waved in the general direction of the steps and dragged my eyes away from the bright, amused blue depths of his. “It is dissolving in the puddles. I wondered if it will stain the marble...” I just hoped my voice didn’t sound as husky in reality as it did to my ears.

“Deep thoughts indeed! I don’t know. We will have to come and check in daylight when it has dried out,” Zechs said calmly as though it was a perfectly reasonable thing for me to be thinking about. Or he was humouring the mental defective who had taken over my body.

“Your friends were looking for you,” he spoke again when I didn’t respond. I hoped he didn’t see my flinch. I really wanted to crawl away to bed rather than socialise any more today, but I would not say anything like that to Zechs. I was sure he would take it the wrong way. “I told them I would pass on a message if I found you,” he continued, “They have moved to one of the family rooms for a night cap and would like you to join them.”

“I think I have probably had enough to drink for one night,” I started to edge away from the pillar and from Zechs.

“I have an additional message from Wu Fei,” Zechs put one hand on my forearm to stop my escape. Not gripping, not really restraining me, just resting there, the warmth seeping through the velvet jacket and the shirt beneath. I raised my eyes to his face again. He grinned and delivered Fei’s message. “He said to say this – Maxwell, if you leave me alone with those two for long I will track you down and make you suffer.”

“Ouch!” I winced. Wu Fei had a very literal mind and a valid point. Being alone with Quatre and Trowa was not comfortable. They didn’t mean to exclude everyone else but their love bonded them so closely and so visibly that it was almost embarrassing being alone with them. “How long ago did you see them?” I asked, resigned to joining the smaller party. They were my friends, and probably the only people on this planet who might understand me; apart from Heero, and the elegant blond watching me.

“Not too long! I am sure you are still safe,” he chuckled, “Come on. I’ll show you where to find them.” His hand swept out in a courtly gesture towards the door. It would have been a stagy affectation if I had done it but was smooth and natural from Zechs. I sighed and started to walk towards the palace. His hand settled in the middle of my back, guiding and encouraging me in the direction he wanted me to go. I didn’t pull away. I should have but here and now the human contact felt good. The warmth of his hand was pleasant. I must have been standing out in the cold for longer than I thought.

Zechs snagged two glasses and a bottle of champagne with his free hand as he steered me towards the stairs and urged me to start climbing. The ground floor of the palace was ceremonial rooms the family rooms were all on the upper floors. If I had tried to carry two champagne flutes and a heavy bottle in one hand there would have been a mess but, of course, Zechs made it look like the easiest and most natural thing in the world to do.

We made small talk, as he guided me up two flights of stairs, about how well the wedding had gone. It was unreal, I was making the same trite comments as I had all evening to complete strangers. Zechs was hardly a complete stranger. Maybe my mouth was programmed to platitudes and I wouldn’t be able to have a normal conversation ever again. Some spark of doubt or maybe self-preservation disturbed me at last.

“Where are we going? I thought this floor was private family apartments?” I slowed my steps and glared suspiciously at the ornate corridor we were walking down. I was here alone with Zechs, two glasses and a bottle of champagne ...

“Relax Duo,” Zechs laughed softly. His hand slid from my back in what felt like a gentle caress, “Your friends are here waiting for you.” He walked ahead of me to a door. He arched one eyebrow challengingly, “Unless you would rather avoid them and keep me company somewhere more private?”

“If Wu Fei is really in there with Quatre and Trowa,” I moved slowly closer to the door and him, “Then I won’t be forgiven if I don’t join them.” I ignored the temptation to just let Zechs help me forget everything for a while. I was sure he was capable of banishing all rational thought if I would only let him. I wished briefly that sex was a casual thing for me; that I could seek pleasure and oblivion with this very attractive man; that I could smile and walk away without regrets in the morning. It was a night for futile hopes and dreams; maybe I should avoid weddings if they had this effect on me. Zechs was watching me closely, almost as though he could follow my thoughts on my face. Maybe he could.

“Of course,” he inclined his head slightly and opened the door, “Gentlemen! I found the truant!” With a mocking glance at me as I hesitated further down the corridor he strolled into the room.

“Where is he? Couldn’t you persuade him to join us, Milliardo?” Quatre’s voice floated out of the open door. With a silent sigh I made my feet carry me forward. Why did I feel disappointed that my friends were really here?

“I’m here!” I fixed my grin in place and followed Zechs into the room. It was a large sitting room, at least two other rooms led off of it on opposite sides and the windows were covered by heavy velvet drapes. Quatre and Trowa were snuggled together on a couch. Wu Fei was cross-legged on the thick rug. Zechs had already deposited the bottle and glasses on the low table in front of the couch and was filling the glasses he had carried. He straightened and offered one to me. I accepted the glass and dropped into one of the armchairs, ignoring the warmth of the glass from his hand and the tingle from where our fingers had brushed.

“Is the wedding officially over now?” I glanced between Zechs and Quatre for the answer. They were the driving force in the show.

“Yes,” Quatre actually looked disappointed. “It is all over bar the clearing up.”

“Speaking of which,” Zechs drained his glass and set it precisely on the table, “I have one last task before I can agree with Quatre. If you’ll excuse me, I need to thank the staff for their efforts today!”

I blinked in confusion as the door clicked shut behind him. I thought he intended to stay, that he was part of our group now. Surely I didn’t feel disappointed that he had gone?

“So the celebration is ended?” Wu Fei spoke, “Does this mean I am allowed to go to bed now? Or is there some other custom that must be observed?”

“There are several customs,” Trowa answered him, “But I think we are just going to have a last toast and wind down before turning in.”

“So all the official stuff is over?” I stared at Quatre until he nodded. “And I can get out of this monkey suit?” He nodded again. I put my glass on the floor and stood up to strip off the ornate jacket. I dropped it over the back of the armchair; I should never have to wear it again. There wasn’t much call for velvet and brocade military cut jackets in my lifestyle. I started pulling at the cravat that had been threatening to throttle me all day.

“Let me do that!” Quatre frowned at me as he uncurled from Trowa’s side, “You’ll tear it, yanking it around like that!”

I stood still and raised my chin so that he could free me from the cravat he had tied for me that morning. I think I had more help getting dressed for the wedding than Heero did. I hated to admit that the end result had looked good. I had learned a long time ago that just because someone else looked good in something didn’t mean that I would. I had always suspected that Heero would look spectacular in the sort of clothes Zechs favoured and I was right. The fitted jacket had emphasised the width of his shoulders, contrasting with the trim waist and the breeches had displayed his legs nicely. The knee high boots had finished the outfit perfectly. Of course Zechs had looked his normal immaculate self in his formal outfit. Zechs was built for the uniform style, tall, elegant and refined; and he wore it with an unconscious ease. I didn’t think I could wear it without looking like I was in fancy dress. I was wiry and virtually straight up and down; I didn’t have a head-turning physique like the other two. Quatre bullied me into it and Wu Fei pointed out that everyone was supposed to be looking at the bride and groom, so why was I complaining about what I wore. Somehow the jacket gave me shoulders and a waist. The breeches and boots made my legs look long and sleek. The odd lavender blue colour made my eyes stand out. I had to admit that I did look good. I didn’t look much like me but I did look good. It wasn’t as uncomfortable as I had expected; but it wasn’t like wearing my normal jeans.

Quatre stopped fiddling and pulled the cravat from around my neck. I tilted my neck and rotated my head, nearly smacking him in the face with my braid. I flopped back into the chair and retrieved my champagne. It was beginning to taste quite pleasant. I undid a couple of buttons on the shirt and rolled the cuffs up.

“That’s better,” I settled back in the chair and slung one leg over the arm, “I know why they call that a military cut now! You have to stand straight when you are wearing it or parts of you get attacked by brocade or scratchy lace! No wonder Zechs always looks so formal, wearing that stuff all the time!”

“Duo you are a barbarian,” Quatre scolded, without heat.

“Did you see what the Ambassador’s wife was wearing?” Trowa asked innocently.

“The old woman in the frothy pink dress?” Wu Fei had obviously been impressed.

“Oh! The Marshmallow was the Ambassador’s wife?” I had seen her and avoided her, most of the time. Her dress had not been a delicate marshmallow pink, more an eye searing, screaming pink. “Which Ambassador anyway?”

We discussed the dignitaries we had met today. This sort of thing might be normal to Quatre but it was a novelty to the rest of us. I relaxed and enjoyed the familiarity of my friends, pushing my earlier dark and dismal thoughts to the back of my mind. We were all laughing at something Trowa had said when Zechs rejoined us. He brought another bottle with him and topped everyone’s glass up before settling on the floor with his back to the couch arm.

He looked perfectly at ease but not relaxed. His back was straight, his shoulders back, one long leg stretched out towards me, the other bent at the knee with the foot flat on the floor; one hand rested on his outstretched thigh, his other hand held his glass, elbow resting on his raised knee. He was the epitome of casual elegance. No wrinkles or smears marred his clothes despite the hours he had been wearing them. How could anyone wear white breeches all day long and not get even a speck of dirt on them? The gleaming black boots that hugged his lower legs looked like they were freshly polished, not a smear or scuff to be seen. The only thing that spoiled his inhuman perfection was a pink smear of confetti caught between instep and heel of the boot stretched towards me. For some reason that hint of humanity made me want to laugh.

“What?” Those blue eyes locked on mine, eyebrow and corner of mouth raised slightly together in question.

“Do you ever relax?” I countered. I wasn’t going to tell him about the confetti. I wanted to keep that reminder that he wasn’t an untouchable statue.

“I am relaxed,” a small line appeared between those perfectly arched brows and his mouth curved a little more.

“You are sitting at attention,” I argued, “Do you ever just sprawl?”

“It has been known,” his eyes sparkled and ran over my body, “But I don’t think I have your expertise! I’m surprised you still have your boots on.”

“The boots are very comfortable,” I wriggled my dangling foot, “And I haven’t figured out how to get them off yet.”

“Another new skill for you to learn,” Wu Fei raised his glass mockingly and the conversation turned to a discussion of the skills we had all learned since the war ended; and somehow moved on to antique furniture. I wasn’t that interested in furniture. The contents of the room were nice but I would never pay the sums Zechs and Quatre were bandying about on a second-hand chair. I set my glass down carefully and set to work on removing my boots. I had got them on easily enough, so all I needed to do was pull them off again; but somehow it didn’t seem to work that way. I folded my leg across my lap and tugged at the boot, nothing happened.

“Let me be of assistance,” Zechs was suddenly looming over me and I hadn’t even noticed him move, “It really is a two person job,” he grinned and grasped the back of my heel in one hand, the other folding across my toes. He pulled gently until my leg was straight and then he kept pulling. I slid further down in my chair as I tried to brace myself.

“Wriggle your foot and pull back,” Zechs advised but his eyes were laughing at me. I tried but had nothing to brace myself on. After several minutes of struggling, the boot finally parted company with my foot and Zechs brandished it triumphantly. My sock was dangling from my toes until he snagged it and dropped it into the empty boot. I hoped the others would think my flush was from the struggle with the boot, rather than the foolish embarrassment I suddenly felt because my foot was naked. Since when had naked feet been embarrassing? Since Zechs had that predatory expression while he watched my foot, I answered my own question.

“One down, one to go,” he said cheerfully and took hold of my other foot before I could escape. “If you brace your free foot against my thigh, it might be a little easier,” he suggested.

He was probably right but I did not want to put my naked foot on his thigh. That was much too close and personal. “I don’t want to leave a grubby footprint on you,” I hedged, “The other one came off alright in the end.”

“Don’t worry about it,” he replied smoothly, one long fingered hand wrapping firmly around my naked ankle. He inspected my foot carefully, “It looks perfectly clean to me!” He placed my sole carefully on his thigh, pressing it there for a moment. I hoped he hadn’t noticed how my pulse had leapt while he held both of my feet in the air, but the expression on his face said that he had missed nothing. His thigh bunched and relaxed under my foot and part of me wished that there wasn’t a layer of cloth between my skin and his. He issued calm instructions as he began to pull steadily on my remaining boot.

The words he used were innocent but my brain made less than innocent connections. At least I think his words were innocent. They could all be applied to removing the boot. They could also be applied to something much more intimate. The mental images of a naked Zechs crooning those words in my ear as our bodies slid together made my blush even deeper. He had made it perfectly clear that he was more than willing to move in that direction but I had pretended not to notice his veiled suggestive comments, not to respond to his casual touches that were almost but not quite caresses. Nothing overt, nothing I could object to but even I could not pretend that he wasn’t interested. The slightest hint of a return of that interest and he would pounce. I did not need the complications that sex with Milliardo Peacecraft would bring. And it was tacky to even think of a one night stand with anyone, let alone my best friend’s new brother-in-law. Wasn’t it?

I was almost disappointed when the boot slid from my foot and the soft commands ceased. I swallowed hard; those words would be featuring in my dreams for some time. “Push now ... harder ... that’s it ... with me ... together...”

“Thank you,” I struggled upright in my chair and hoped my voice didn’t really sound that husky outside my head. I snatched up my glass and took a large swallow of the cool wine.

“My pleasure,” Zechs all but purred at me as he set the boots neatly beside my chair and thumped me on the back as I choked on my wine. That had not been an innocent comment at all. I stared into those burning blue eyes so close to my own, expecting to see smug triumph but only finding a heat that made my body tighten in response. “Are you alright, Duo?” His warm breath flowed over my lips. He was almost close enough to kiss. Almost. I was enveloped in the scent of his cologne, the scent of his skin.

“Yeah. I’m fine. Thank you. I think I can remember how to drink, now. Just forgot for a moment there. Stupid...” I shut my mouth to keep the babbling inside. I was rattled and it showed.

“Any time, Duo, any time!” He stared into my eyes for a moment longer and then drew away, as though nothing had happened. Of course, nothing had happened. Zechs had helped me to take my boots off and had slapped me on the back when I choked on my wine. Nothing had happened. That was why my heart was racing and I was desperately thinking about cold water, very cold water, to dispel the heat gathering in my groin. My feet were still tingling from his touch and my lips throbbed from the kiss they hadn’t got. I tried to remember all the reasons I had been resisting him all week. I knew I had reasons. They had been very good reasons. I was sure they had been excellent reasons. I just couldn’t remember one of them right now. Would it really be so wrong to take the comfort he was offering? The human contact? The oblivion of sex? Did I really want to be alone tonight? I had been alone for so many nights and would be alone for so many more. Would it be so wrong not to be alone for just one night?

Zechs finished his own wine and lifted the bottle to top the glasses off again. He filled Quatre’s and then Trowa’s before turning to me. I did not meet his eyes; instead I pretended to be fascinated by the wine flowing into my glass.

“Not for me, thank you. It is time I called it a night.”

Wu Fei’s voice drew me from staring blindly at the sparkling bubbles in my glass, in time to see him rise smoothly to his feet and bow slightly to Zechs. He set his empty glass down on the table with a precise click.

“Some decisions are best made with a clear head,” Fei stared at me as he spoke, “And some are best made in the heat of the moment.” The message was for me but made no sense. He smiled and shook his head before wishing us all goodnight. I blinked at the closed door, surprised by the speed and suddenness of his departure.

“I wish he would give up on the inscrutable stuff,” I complained, “I don’t know what he is talking about most of the time.”

“I think he was hinting that you might have had enough champagne,” Trowa suggested. Quatre had crawled onto his lap at some point and it was difficult to tell which part of the entwined bodies belonged to which of them. Maybe that was what had prompted Fei’s abrupt departure.

“I probably have,” I admitted ruefully, looking at the nearly full glass, “It is quite good when you get used to it.” For some reason they all found that funny. I hadn’t been joking but the laughter was infectious. Maybe I wasn’t the only one to have had a bit much champagne. I wiped my eyes and tried to breathe normally. Trowa and Quatre were employing their own cure for the laughter. I looked away catching Zechs’ eyes. “Do you know what was so funny?” I asked him, more to distract myself from the lonely feeling that my friends’ passionate embrace always produced, than because I really wanted to know.

“This is one of the best vintages available,” he lifted his glass slightly and glanced behind him at the entwined couple. He slid across to lean against my chair before continuing, “And you described it as ...”

“Quite good when you get used to it,” I spoke my words with him. “Well it is. I’ve never had champagne before.”

“What do you normally drink?” he regarded me over his glass as he sipped the pale wine. Wine that was nearly as pale as his hair.

“Coffee or soda,” I shrugged. Was his hair as soft as it looked? I blinked and forced myself to speak instead of think, “I’ve never been that fond of alcohol. Do you have a favourite drink?”

“I am fond of wine,” he smiled and we both glanced at the couch after a particularly loud moan. It wasn’t apparent who had moaned but the embrace was getting more heated. “Should we give them some privacy?” Zechs raised one elegant eyebrow as though I was an expert on the subject. Which, I suppose, in a way I was. I knew them better than he did.

“No, they usually surface for air at some point and take themselves away.”

“If you say so,” he was laughing at me.

“If they start getting undressed you could pour some champagne over them,” I suggested.

“I’d rather pour it over you,” Zechs muttered. He continued, before I could respond to that half heard comment, “I should have brought a chiller up with the champagne, then there would be cold water available.”

“You might not need it.” I sighed and stared at my friends, “I wish ...” I did not complete the thought, remembering just in time who I was talking to.

“It would be nice to have someone desire you that much, wouldn’t it?” Zechs’ voice held a wistful note which drew my eyes from Quatre and Trowa to stare at his profile. He turned his head and smiled at me but I could see pain and longing behind that smile. I hadn’t thought about what he really wanted. I had tried not to think about him at all; it was too disturbing. Now to realise that he might feel as lonely as I did; that he also might long for a committed relationship; for someone to call his own; someone to love ...

“Maybe one day we’ll be lucky enough to find that special person,” he continued, breaking our eye contact.

I blinked and tried to catch my breath. Why had those husky words hurt so much? I wasn’t the one for Zechs; and he wasn’t my ideal partner. He was too tall, too arrogant, too rich, too far out of my reach; and much too sexy for me. Maybe I had had too much champagne.

“Has anyone ever loved you more than their own life?” Zechs continued, his voice dropping to barely above a whisper. He glanced at me and I shook my head. Nobody had loved me that much. Nobody had loved me at all, the way he meant. My friends would have given their lives for me, as I would have given my life for theirs, during the war; and perhaps even now any one of us would be willing to make that ultimate sacrifice. Heero’s face floated into my mind and I pushed it away determinedly, concentrating on the pale, beautiful profile before me. Zechs stared at his glass, swirling the wine with idle movements of his hand. “It hurts, you know? Knowing how much they love you but not being able to return that depth of feeling,” he sighed, “Knowing that every day, no matter how careful you are, you cut them in a thousand small ways. That you repay their unconditional love with pain, because they aren’t the one for you.”

I didn’t reply. Was he talking about himself? Or was this some veiled message for me? Had Heero realised how I felt? Had he confided in his brother-in-law? Had all Zechs’ subtle approaches this week been to make Heero more comfortable with having me around?

“Poor Noin. I tried not to be cruel to her,” Zechs continued so quietly I could hardly hear him over the rush of relief. He hadn’t been talking about me. He was talking about himself. Maybe Heero had no idea how I felt. I had tried to hide it from him. I had thought I was successful. I pulled myself back to the sad man sitting at my feet.

“Maybe you didn’t hurt her as much as you think,” I offered, “Maybe she recognised the care you took for her feelings.”

“You don’t think that would have hurt her? Knowing how careful I was around her?” Angry blue eyes glared into mine.

“No,” I said, sure of my answer, “Knowing that you cared that much would have given her hope that one day you would come to love her as much as she loved you.”

“You sound very sure about that.”

“I am,” I forced myself to smile at him, “Love is nothing if not hopeful!” He stared at me intently as though trying to see the truth of my words. He sighed and smiled slightly.

“Thank you. I think I needed to hear that.”

“We’ll be going now,” Trowa’s husky voice made me jump and I looked across to the couch. They were both standing up, grinning at Zechs and me.

“You look like you need a bit of privacy,” Quatre added.

“We need privacy?” I objected, “When you two were all but having sex on the couch?”

“Duo, you are beyond hope!” Quatre glanced back over his shoulder, as they made their way to the door, “Even you should know that you have to at least undo some clothes to have sex! Tell him Zechs!”

“Or better still, show him!”

The door shut on their soft laughter and I continued to stare in shock. Had Trowa really said that? Had Zechs heard him?

“Close your mouth, Duo!” Zechs laughed softly and a finger gently lifted my chin. I snapped my mouth shut and reluctantly turned to look at him. I could feel my face burning. And I could feel his finger slide along my jaw before he took it away. I swallowed hard.

“Don’t look like that. I am not about to ravish you on the chair.” He laughed again, “I wish that was disappointment I saw then. I want you; I thought I had made that clear. But I want it to be mutual. I am not going to take advantage of you or force you into anything. I want more than one night. I want a chance to find out if the attraction I feel is what I think it is.”

I blinked and opened my mouth to reply and then shut it again. What could I say? He wanted more than one night?

“You look shocked,” he smiled wryly, “Tell me that you don’t feel any attraction to me at all and I’ll leave you alone.”

“I don’t ...” I couldn’t bring myself to finish the lie. I did feel an attraction to him. Who wouldn’t? He was beautiful and powerful. But with those eyes staring at me with a hint of uncertainty, even vulnerability, I couldn’t say the words that would send him away for good.

“You don’t ...?”

“I don’t think I am ready for a relationship with you,” I stammered.

“Why not?” He leaned closer, platinum hair spilling across my thighs. “Is there someone else?”

“Yes.” I sighed, “No. There is no one else, not the way you mean. I ... I’m like Noin, in a way ...”

“But is he the only one for you?”

“I’m not the one for him ...” I refused to look at him. Why was I even telling him this much?

His lips brushed mine gently, almost comfortingly. His mouth was soft against mine and tasted faintly of champagne. His eyes were open and staring into mine with a hint of uncertainty, vulnerability. If he had looked triumphant I could have resisted. I think I could have resisted ...

I buried my hands in his hair and it was soft, silky. I slanted my head slightly and kissed him back. I teased his lips with my tongue, getting past the taste of champagne to the taste of him. His lips parted and I plunged my tongue inside to meet his and twine with it. I wanted more. I wanted all of him. I wanted.

“Duo?” He pulled away enough to whisper my name. I tightened my hands in his hair and pulled him back into the kiss. And suddenly he wasn’t passive. He wasn’t just accepting what I was offering. He was making demands of his own. And I met them. Gloried in them. Suddenly it was simple. I wanted this gorgeous, infuriating man and he wanted me. And I couldn’t think of a single reason that I couldn’t have him, shouldn’t have him. Only ... he was pulling away. He captured my hands and held them. His lips brushed mine one last time and left them.

“Duo?”

I blinked and stared at him in disbelief. Had I been wrong again? I thought he wanted me. I had been sure he wanted me. He had kissed me first. Hadn’t he? I looked away. Ashamed of my weakness, my need, that I had revealed in that moment of madness. My face was burning again. Damn! Would I never get this right? Would I never want somebody who wanted me?

“Duo! Listen to me!”

The snap of command made me flinch. Couldn’t he just let me slink away? I did not want to talk about it. I didn’t want to talk about anything. I just wanted to hide. Maybe there would be an earthquake and the ground would swallow me up. A sudden pain in my ear made me yelp in surprise and look at him again. He had bitten me!

“Listen to me, Duo,” he was smiling but it looked strained. He was still holding my hands painfully tightly. “I want you to be sure about this,” he continued, “I’m not looking for a one-night stand. Or a drunken encounter that you will regret in the morning.”


“Whatever happens or doesn’t happen, I will regret it in the morning,” I slumped back in the chair breaking our eye contact. I stared at our hands; his long, pale and elegant; mine small and squat in comparison. Honesty was all I could give him. And it wouldn’t hurt for me to be honest with myself either. “I want you. You know damned well that you are attractive. That I am attracted to you. But I can’t offer more than one night right now.”

“One night isn’t enough. I am greedy. I want all you can give me.”

“And right now, all I have to give is tonight. I can’t pretend that I can offer you any more than that,” I raised my eyes to his again, “I may never be able to offer anyone more than that.”

“You love him that much?” Bitterness coated his words and there was the beginning of anger in his eyes.

“Yes. Maybe. I don’t know anymore,” I sighed again, “Let me go Zechs. I can’t be who and what you want. Just let me go.”

A/N:That pair are really resistant to the idea of smut aren't they? I think that may be a record even for me - 8000 words to get to the first kiss. If you are lucky you might or might not get the second installment!

But I feel lucky! N/V
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