Disclaimer: I don't own the Gundam Wing Universe.
Note the first: This story is for Karina, just to prove I can write 6x2. A very Happy Birthday to you (and a very warm welcome to Annabelle Rose also).
Note the second: Many thanks to Kaeru Shisho, Snow, Cinnamon and Dyna for suggesting possible plots, and to KS for editing and laughing. This one was supposed to be a *cough cough* one shot, but it somehow mutated into three chapters.
It was definitely Howard's garage.
His marmalade cat was snoozing in a splash of sunlight, the usual rock music was pouring out of the battered radio, and there was a car in the forecourt with a figure bent over the engine.
The figure definitely wasn't Howard.
Grubby, grease-stained jeans clung to long, slender legs, and cupped the most perfect bottom. Small rips and tears in the fabric displayed hints of smooth, pale skin.
If Howard had taken on an assistant, and the rest of him matched the very enticing lower half, Zechs was just going to have to fire the palace mechanic, even if Walters was Pagan's second cousin. Relena's car would be coming here in future and Zechs would be driving it himself.
Still, enjoying the view wasn't going to get his car fixed today, pleasant though it was. Zechs switched off the blaring music, which made the cat look up, and the man bent over the car sang along – off key – for a few lines before realising he'd lost his accompaniment.
Blue – very blue – almost violet eyes, fastened on Zechs as the strange mechanic whirled around. Oh, yes, the rest of him very definitely came up to scratch. And those eyes were looking at him in a way that meant he reciprocated the feelings entirely.
Actually, Zechs wasn't used to being ogled, and really there was no other word for it, quite so blatantly. He was perfectly used to being admired, naturally, but his title generally made people discreet. Still, it was rather flattering to be looked at like that.
'Wow. Nice,' the young man breathed.
That was definitely overstepping the line. People did not speak to the prince of Sanque like that.
'I beg your pardon?' He accompanied the words, spoken with a good layer of frost on them, with a slightly raised eyebrow. Not his most intimidating look, since he didn't want to scare the young man away, but just enough to convey displeasure. Zechs waited for the stammered apology, the blush, downcast lashes sweeping against those heated cheeks.
Instead, the mechanic grinned at him. 'Your car. She's gorgeous. She's a classic, right?'
'Ah, yes.' Zechs abruptly realised the man had been staring over his shoulder the whole time.
'Bet she's a sweet ride,' he crooned, crossing over to run one hand over the bonnet. 'So what can I do you for?'
'I'd like to see Howard.' He hadn't meant to sound quite so abrupt, but he wasn't used to being thrown off balance, and he certainly wasn't used to being ignored in favour of a car, however special it was, and certainly not by a mere mechanic, even one who looked like that.
'Sorry. He's not here.'
'I can wait.'
'Sure. You might get bored though. He's gone for the next two weeks. I'm looking after the place while he's away. I'm Duo, by the way.'
'But he never goes away!' It was one of the reasons Zechs liked taking his cars here, even though it was just a small, backstreet establishment. But Howard was reliable, and treated Zechs' vintage cars with the reverence they deserved.
Duo shrugged. 'Well, he's gone now. It's his fiftieth next month, and he's gone on a cruise to the Bahamas.'
'I see. It was rather unprofessional of him not to inform his customers in advance.'
'He did. He sent all his regulars a circular, letting them know. Most of 'em sent cards back, and some even sent him a gift.'
Zechs felt his face colour slightly; he prided himself on being generous to employees and tradesmen and he'd known Howard for several years now. The letter had probably got lost somewhere between one of the palace secretaries and his private household staff. He would make a note to buy a present for the man's return, but it didn't solve the immediate problem of Howard not being here to fix his car.
'So…what's wrong with your baby?' Duo was leaning against the wall; he'd picked up the cat and it was snuggling happily in his arms, one paw batting at that amazing braid of hair. 'I can take a look if you want?'
Well, it was either that or go back to the palace and let Walters look at it and really, the man was out of his depth with anything more complicated than a ride-on lawnmower.
'I'm not sure exactly what's wrong. It's hard to explain but there's a slight rattle in the engine when I turn a corner.'
Duo frowned, putting the cat down. 'A rattle? Ooh, that's serious.'
'No idea. But you looked worried so I thought I'd try to empathise a bit. Here, let me pop the hood and I'll take a look.'
'Pop the what?' Zechs asked, not understanding. 'Oh, you mean open the bonnet.'
'Yeah, what I said.' Duo peered interestedly at the engine. 'Wow. This is cool! I've never seen a vintage Rolls Royce engine before, only in books.' He tapped a fingernail at a …something. 'Hey! Wonder what this valve does? The newer models don't have it.'
Oh, dear God.
'You are a qualified mechanic, aren't you?'
'Nope,' Duo said cheerfully, straightening up to face him.
'No, I am not a qualified mechanic.' He spaced the words out slowly and carefully.
'Why on earth are you talking like that?'
'That's the second time you've asked me to repeat something. I thought maybe you were a little bit deaf. Or didn't understand my accent.'
'I'm not in the least deaf! Do you seriously mean you're not a real mechanic?'
'Well, now.' Duo crossed his arms, propping himself comfortably against the car. 'Define 'real'. I don't have any formal qualifications, but I've been working with cars most of my life. Howard can vouch for me, obviously, since he's left me in charge here. You could try calling him if you want but he's probably drinking pina coladas and chatting up rich widows by now, so he mightn't be too happy to be disturbed. Now, d'you want me to look at your car or not? Up to you.'
Zechs signed, torn between asking Duo not to lean against his pristine, newly-waxed paintwork and admiration of that lovely body in such a relaxed pose. Admiration won. 'I'd appreciate it if you could take a look.'
'No probs.' Duo straightened up, grinning at him. 'Don't worry. I won't take her apart unless I'm pretty sure I know how to put all the parts back together again. That's a joke, OK? Sorry, I never got your name.'
'You can call me Zechs.' It was an old childhood nickname, and what most of his friends still called him. He didn't want to overawe this boy straightaway, after all, and people tended to be intimidated by his title.
'Zechs. Cool. Now, can I have your keys, please? I'll need to take her for a little spin to hear this rattle of yours.'
'I'll drive,' Zechs said hastily. He certainly wasn't prepared to let a total stranger drive off in one of his favourite cars.
'Suit yourself.' Duo settled himself comfortably in the passenger seat, apparently not taking offence. Zechs felt a tiny pang for his leather upholstery and then decided a few stains might be worth it, simply to have Duo in his car, so close that Zechs' nostrils were being teased by an intoxicating blend of grease and shampoo and clean, male sweat.
He swung out of the garage, obeying Duo's instructions to turn this way and that into certain streets.
'That's a good idea,' he approved, driving up the road that led to the palace. 'If we take lots of turns, you'll be able to work out exactly when the rattle appears.'
Duo blinked. 'Uh, yeah. I guess. That's not really what I'm doing though. I just got here last night and it was dark. Since we're going for a drive anyway, I thought it'd be cool to have a bit of a look 'round.'
Zechs burst out laughing; he simply couldn't help it. On another day, he mightn't have taken that announcement quite so well, but it was April in Sanque and a perfect blue day and his passenger was giving him the most charming, cheeky grin imaginable. 'Is this your first time in Sanque then?'
'First time on Earth, period. I'm from L2; it's a bit different.' He pressed his face against the window, eagerly drinking in the sights they passed.
'I can imagine.' Zechs spoke with ready sympathy. Naturally, he'd never been there. He had no desire to, and his security team would have had collective coronaries if he'd suggested visiting the poorest of the colonies, but the Peacecraft Children's Foundation supported several orphanages and schools there, and he had a fair idea what growing up on L2 would be like.
'It's so pretty here with all the cobbled streets and the red roofs and the flowers. Like a city out of a kid's fairy story.'
'It's the best preserved mediaeval city in Europe,' Zechs said proudly. 'Sanque has always been a staunchly pacifist country. We never got involved in any of the continent's wars, so the city's never suffered any sort of destruction. And there are strict laws about preserving all the older buildings in their original condition.'
'Right. No wonder you've got such traffic problems, with these all narrow streets. At least on L2, we've got infrastructure that wasn't developed for horse-drawn carriages. Must be hell living here for anyone who actually wants to move into the 21st Century.'
'In Sanque, we happen to believe in preserving the past,' Zechs said tartly. Philistine.
Duo shrugged. 'Yeah? Where I come from, we think planning the future's a bit more important. But whatevs. Nothing to do with me, right? I've been reading up on some of your history. Pretty interesting..I liked the story that you managed to stay neutral in World War Two because some princess was sleeping with one of Hitler's Generals.'
'That was never proven,' Zechs snapped. 'It was just a vicious rumour.' Of course, Her Royal Highness the Princess Rosalba would never have done such a thing.
'Hey, I'm not judging, just saying,' Duo assured him. 'You do what you gotta do to survive, right? She was doing it for her people and all that. Oh, there's that rattle again. Seems to happen on two point left turns, from what I can see. That narrows down what could be wrong and…Wow! What's that building? It's totally like something out of a Walt Disney fairy tale!'
'That's the Royal Palace.' Zechs let just a smidgeon of smugness creep into his tone. It always worked. Even his impossibly talkative companion was struck dumb for a moment; he'd doubtless be honoured by an invitation inside when Zechs told him who he really was. They always were.
'People actually still live there?' Duo breathed.
'Oh, yes. The royal family.'
'Jesus, that's sick! There are starving kids in the world, and those parasites get to live in a place like that. This is a seriously messed-up country!'
'They live in one wing! The main building is now an art gallery and museum, which is open to the public except when the government is using the state rooms for official functions. Also, the Peacecrafts aren't parasites, as you put it. They happen to be very active in the government of Sanque,' Zechs informed him stiffly. 'And they do a massive amount for charity.'
'Yeah, I'll bet they turn up at all kinds of gala balls and such to get their photos taken,' Duo muttered. 'OK, we can go back to the garage now. Oh, can you stop for a sec to take the top down?'
'Of course.' Zechs agreed at once, still stunned by Duo's reaction. The people of Sanque revered their royal family; they were looked up to as models by the other royal houses of Europe. No one had ever called him a parasite before! 'Do you think that may be connected to the engine noise?'
Duo's smooth brow furrowed. 'Can't imagine why it would be. Nah, it's a nice day, and I thought it might be cool to drive with it down. I've never been in an open car before. You know, thought it might be nice to have the wind in our hair and all that.'
'Why not?' Zechs smiled at him suddenly, rather liking the idea of watching Duo with the wind whipping colour into his cheeks, and that glorious hair blowing. He took the longest route he knew back to the garage, enjoying Duo's bright laughter, and his ready interest in everything they passed.
'Thank you so much! That was amazing.' Duo was virtually glowing as he climbed out of the car.
'It was, yes.' Zechs beamed at him indulgently. Slightly off-kilter sense of humour and anti-royalist tendencies notwithstanding, Duo was perfect. Simply perfect. He just needed a little polish, and Zechs would be more than happy to help him. Spending time with the charming, very beautiful young colonial would be just the thing to assuage his occasional bouts of ennui.
And he had nothing on for the rest of the day that his assistant couldn't cancel. 'Duo,' he breathed, using his most seductive, melting-caramel tones, 'I'd like to ask you something.'
'Oh, right! Sorry. You want to get this baby fixed, huh? Just give me two secs.' He glanced into the engine, selected a tool Zechs didn't know from the box at his feet and reached in to do something Zechs couldn't see. 'There you go! All sorted! There was just a screw a tiny bit loose. It happens sometimes in these old cars.'
For God's sake! The man was ridiculously fixated on cars. 'So it's nothing serious?' Zechs asked, playing along.
'Nope! Saw it the minute I looked at the engine.' He grinned. 'Just an attachment for the windshield wiper fluid container. Sorry, I really wanted to go for a ride in your car. Hope you don't mind too much?'
'Not at all.' Ah, there it was; the perfect opening. Zechs slid a loose strand of windblown hair behind one ear, and then tilted his head slightly, letting the silver-blond mass of it cascade down his back; a move that usually had men grovelling at his feet in droves. 'I'd love to take you out in her again. This evening perhaps, if you're free?'
'That's really nice, but seriously, you don't need to worry. I've fixed the problem.' Duo tapped the roof. 'She's good to go.'
'Duo,' Zechs grasped Duo's chin with the fingers of one hand, 'Is it customary on L2 to play so hard to get? I'm asking you out.'
'Me?' Duo blinked at him. 'You don't know me.'
'In this country, the generally accepted reason for asking people out is to get to know them better.'
'Yeah, I guess, but….whoa! Are you hitting on me?'
Oh well, with looks like that, he probably didn't need to depend overmuch on intellect.
'I certainly am,' Zechs murmured, making it breathy and soft and seductive.
'Oh, right. No, sorry, but I'm sort of seeing someone. That's actually the reason I'm here in Sanque. Thanks anyway.'
'Sort of seeing someone doesn't really count, in my book.' The blond smiled; the smile that never failed.
'Well, in mine it does. I don't know how it works in Europe, but in my culture if you're involved with someone you don't cheat on them. And even if I wasn't involved, you're not really my type. Hey, Ginger.' He turned to scoop up the cat, which was weaving its way around his legs. 'I'd better go and feed this monster before he takes a chunk out of me. See you.'