Note: Many thanks to KS for editing and to everyone who's been kind enough to review.
The moment Duo had whisked out the door, braid trailing, and the door slamming behind him, Trowa exploded through the kitchen doors. 'It went all right then? What exactly did he say about the food? He didn't eat all his bread; did he say there was something wrong?'
'He loved everything,' Zechs tried to get a whole sentence out and was interrupted by his friend's phone ringing.
'Quatre! Yes, it's OK. He loved our food, and he especially liked the nutmeg foam. Yes, the one I've been practising at home for the last couple of weeks. I suppose I could stop making it now. Sure, we can get Thai food for supper if you're sure you wouldn't like me to bring something home from the restaurant. That's an exaggeration, love. I'm sure you haven't had every item on our menu that many times.'
'Trowa,' Zechs broke in hurriedly, seizing the chance to escape. 'I have to go. I'll talk to you later.'
Predictably enough, his 'phone rang just as he reached the car. Quatre had been told about Duo then. The second great passion of Trowa's life may have been his cooking, but that didn't mean he wasn't capable of noticing other things.
'So?' His friend somehow managed to infuse that one syllable with curiosity and archness and humour and concern. He was gifted that way. 'Trowa said you seemed to be getting on very well with the restaurant critic.'
'Oh, he said that, did he?'
Quatre laughed. 'Well, he said the staff were taking bets on whether you two were going to stab each other, or have sex on the table. Tell me about him.'
'Nothing to tell,' Zechs said glumly. 'He's seeing someone and he's already informed me that I'm not his type.'
'My. How intriguing. No wonder you're smitten. And Tro said he's gorgeous.'
'I'm glad it's a source of entertainment that the first person I've been interested in for months isn't remotely interested in me.'
'Now you're being silly,' Quatre said briskly. 'It sounds like he very definitely was interested. People in happy, secure relationships don't go around inviting virtual strangers to eat dinner with them. And looking at them the way Tro said he was looking at you. When are you seeing him again?'
'Quatre, did you somehow miss the part about him being in a relationship? It's bloody typical. He's the first person I've really noticed since Wufei dumped me and he's taken.'
'Wufei did not dump you! He found it hard to deal with some aspects of your life, mainly the public part of it. It's a shortcoming on his part, not yours, that he wasn't prepared to make more of an effort to accommodate your lifestyle.'
'Not helping,' Zechs muttered, not really in the mood for one of Quatre's pep talks. 'Especially as he seems to have no problem accommodating Heero's needs.'
'I know. It's odd, isn't it? I never thought they'd last but somehow they seem to complement each other's personalities. They're almost perfect together.'
'Right. Quat, you're really not helping now. Anyway, I have to go. I'm supposed to be meeting the CEO of Romfeller Bank to discuss their donation to the hospital.'
'But it's eight o'clock in the evening!' Quatre, who managed to run an international corporation and still be home at six every night to spend time with his boyfriend and their cats, protested.
Zechs made a face. 'Apparently, it was the only time he had an opening in his schedule. And we need the money. I'll talk to you tomorrow. Enjoy your Thai food.'
Quatre was still laughing as he hung up. It was all right for Quatre Winner; he had everything any man could possibly want.
He was going to spend a lovely evening with his adoring boyfriend and a steaming plate of yellow chicken curry. Zechs had to drive across town to charm someone who wasn't remotely interested in charitable causes, but who would make a massive donation simply so he could tell his friends about meeting the prince of Sanque.
Relena was so much better at that sort of thing than he was. Zechs hated it. He was frowning while a secretary ushered into a small meeting room and offered coffee, offering assurances that Mr. Khushrenada had been delayed slightly but would be with him as soon as possible.
Wonderful. The evening couldn't really get any worse.
And what the hell had Duo meant when he'd said Zechs wasn't his type? A popular women's magazine in Sanque had awarded him first place in their poll of the country's sexiest men. Even women found him attractive, but oh no, he wasn't good enough for Duo Maxwell.
'What the hell?' At first, he thought his mind had conjured up the strident voice yelling through the door because it was unmistakably Duo. 'Treize?'
God, the man was everywhere he went today. It was insane!
'Damn right it's a bad time!' Duo was shouting. 'But then it's never really the right time to walk in on your boyfriend when he's kissing his secretary, is it?' There was a brief pause during which Zechs surreptitiously massaged his ears and then he was off again. 'Oh, it's exactly what it looks like, you bastard! What, I'm supposed to believe you were thanking her for doing your filing correctly? You were damn well filing your tongue in her mouth!'
There were more obscenities and then a very loud crash.
'Yeah? Well, I don't fucking care if that decanter was antique Waterford crystal.' Another crash. 'Or that one, you tosser! Screw you!'
The walls virtually shook as a door slammed; the planet probably tilted a few degrees. Zechs was on his feet immediately, following the running footsteps. Duo was damn fast when he wanted to be. He had made it out of the building, across a road full of traffic, and into the small park opposite the bank before Zechs caught up with him. He was flopped down on a bench, 'phone in hand, but looked up when he heard Zechs.
Are you actually stalking me?' he demanded. ''Cause I know some people might think that's cute, but to me it's just creepy.'
'I'm not stalking you! I had a late meeting with someone at the bank and I – ah – happened to overhear.'
Duo grimaced. 'Shit. You heard me yelling?'
'No offence, Duo, but I imagine people on L2 heard you.'
'Oh. Well. I guess that saves me having to change my status on FaceBook to single.' He looked down at the 'phone in his hand. 'What do I have to do to get a cab in this place? I've tried calling four different companies and they're all busy.'
'It's Friday night. My car's parked around the corner. I can give you a lift. Where do you want to go?'
'God, I don't have a clue.' He slumped forward suddenly, burying his face in his hands. 'I'm so freaking clueless. I walked away from my whole life on L2 to be with that bastard. How stupid is that?'
'It was an incredibly brave, generous thing to do,' Zechs assured him, sliding closer along the bench and slipping one arm around Duo's shoulders. 'It's not your fault that he's an ungrateful idiot.'
Duo hunched one shoulder. 'It's my fault that I believed every single word he said. Some big romance, eh? I actually fell for all the crap he dished out and he's been doing his secretary the whole time. Shit. I thought I'd be starting this great new life and now look at me! I'll probably end up sleeping on this bloody bench!'
'I think we can find you somewhere a little better than that,' Zechs said softly, tightening his embrace. Duo didn't pull away. 'And I am looking at you and I'm incredibly awed by what you did. Leaving your home and your friends to be with someone you loved. That's amazing, Duo. He's unbelievably stupid to have let you go like that.'
'Jeez.' Duo lifted his head to look at him. The hint of moisture in his eyes only made them more beautiful. 'Don't you ever give up? Just 'cause I'm going through a bad patch doesn't mean you get to take advantage of me.'
'I wouldn't do anything of the sort,' Zechs said stiffly. 'God! Why do I always say exactly the wrong thing to you?'
'It's not just your fault,' Duo whispered. Instead of pulling away, as Zechs had expected, he actually wormed a little closer. 'I've been kind of a jerk to you all day. I've just been worrying for ages about doing this, and then I was totally freaking out this morning about how all this would work out, and you just swanned in and you were all confident and prince-y and swishy..'
'I am not remotely swishy!' Zechs didn't actually know what that meant, but he didn't like the sound of it.
'Your hair is.' Duo seized a handful of pale hair and tugged gently. 'Swishy, swishy. See? I don't get how it doesn't get tangled. Mine's a disaster if I don't keep it braided all the time.'
'It's beautiful.' Zechs ran one finger down the length of that glorious braid, feeling its owner shudder slightly. 'Now, I believe you were apologising for how you've been behaving to me.'
'Was not!' Duo objected, just as Zechs had guessed he would. 'I was merely explaining that I may just possibly have over-reacted to a couple of things you said, for personal reasons. I'm not usually that touchy. Oh!' He tilted his face to the sky. 'Is that rain?'
'In Sanque, in April, it's highly likely. Doesn't it rain on L2?'
Duo shook his head. 'L4 and L1 have spray systems though. A way of cooling the temperature. This is different. I though it would be, I don't know, heavier. It always looks heavy in movies.'
'It's just a spring shower, but we should probably go. Now, where can I take you?' He stood up, taking one of Duo's hands to pull him up. Duo didn't let go. Imagine that.
'Zechs, I wasn't actually kidding when I said I didn't know. I guess I could go back to Howard's place. I slept there last night, and my stuff's still there, but I left his key with this old lady who lives next door and I'd rather not knock on her door now that it's getting late.'
He banged his forehead with his free hand. Loudly. 'God, I'm so fucking stupid! I just assumed I'd move in with Treize and it would all magically work out. I never thought I'd walk in on him with his tongue down his secretary's throat.' He hit himself again. 'I guess that's what I get from trying to surprise him at work.'
'He didn't know you were coming to Sanque?' The rain was coming down just a little harder; Zechs headed for the park gate, Duo in tow.
'Oh, he knew that. He was meant to meet me at the shuttle port yesterday when I arrived, but then he had to fly to London for some urgent meeting. I was supposed to meet him at his place after I'd had dinner, but when I was in the cab, we drove past the bank and I thought it'd be cool just to hop out and give him a surprise.'
'Well, I think you accomplished that.'
'Yeah, in spades,' Duo agreed wryly. 'Uh, Zechs, you're not planning to take me back to your palace and have your wicked way with me while I'm emotionally messed up, are you?' He didn't actually sound like he was too averse to that possibility but Zechs shook his head.
'Not tonight. I know a nice little boutique hotel by the harbour. You can check in there for a few nights while you decide what you want to do. Is that all right?'
'Yeah.' Duo squeezed his hand. 'Thanks.'
Zechs squeezed back, enjoying the feel of Duo's hand in his. 'I haven't done very much.'
'You've been pretty amazing. Shoulder to cry on, not taking advantage, all that stuff.'
'I'd rather like to take advantage of you at some point, but not tonight. For one thing, I don't want to get involved with someone who may be flying to the other end of the universe in the morning.'
'I won't be doing that. I have a contract with the paper for five months. So…you're not into one night stands either, huh?'
'Not in the least. For one thing, I can't imagine one night with you would be remotely enough.'
'Oh, smooth,' Duo approved. 'You might find out that one night is too much. I thought I'd scared you away a couple of times today.'
'I'm still here.' The three words hung between them, all but tangible.
'So you are.' Duo stopped abruptly, sliding both arms around Zechs' waist. 'It's OK to do this sort of thing in public here, right?'
'Yes. And if it's not, I'll pass a law to make it so.'
Well, something like that, anyway. It was hard to tell exactly what Duo said, with his mouth muffled against the soft wool of Zechs' coat.
'I think I'm going to have to buy a dictionary to understand half the things you say.' Words suddenly weren't important, though.
'Ass.' He rested that shining head against Zechs' shoulder. 'I don't want to kiss you tonight, if that's OK? It's been a sucky night, and I'm pretty screwed up after everything that's happened, but is it all right if I just snuggle for a minute?'
'Of course.' Just like that, he had the prickly, argumentative, impossible Duo Maxwell in his arms. Snuggling. And shaking slightly. Zechs carefully unbuttoned his coat and wrapped it around them both.
'Not cold,' Duo muttered. 'Just …you know.'
'I know.' Zechs clasped the slender body to him, loving the feel of Duo against him.
'Sorry,' Duo said finally, pulling away a little to extract a tattered piece of tissue paper from one pocket. He blew his nose violently a couple of times, and then looked up at Zechs. 'Wasn't planning to do all of that. Not in front of someone. I hope I didn't get your coat damp.'
'Well, it's raining anyway.' Zechs winced as Duo carefully put his very used tissue back in his pocket and tried to be positive. At least he wasn't littering.
'Yeah. Kind of heavy, now, isn't it?'
Wrapped up in the sensations of holding Duo, he hadn't even noticed, but the light drizzle had become a downpour. There was actually thunder; not just the thudding of his heart. 'Come on!' He grabbed Duo's hand again, and ran for shelter. Duo was laughing as they sprinted up the steps of a small bandstand, even if Zechs suspected that not all the moisture on his cheeks was from the rain.
'This is fantastic!' Duo hung over the balustrade, watching jagged lightning bolts rip the sky apart. 'I've never seen lightning before!'
'Your day for firsts, isn't it?'
'Yeah. You can say that again.'
Zechs flinched as he realised exactly what he'd said. Idiot! 'I'm sorry.'
'Not your fault. You know, I knew he wasn't perfect, and that we had issues, but I thought if I was here, we'd be able to work through them. Shit! I knew he was a total control freak, and possessive as hell, and he wasn't too happy about me helping out in a garage but I thought we could work it out if we spent enough time together. I mean, it's always difficult at the start and you have to compromise and stuff. I never thought he'd be two-timing me, though.'
'He sounds a total nightmare,' Zechs said bluntly. 'What exactly did you ever see in him?'
Duo shrugged. 'Have you ever seen him? He's gorgeous! And no, I'm not that shallow; he's super-smart, and he's got bucket-loads of charisma, and he treated me like I was this perfect, precious thing and no one had ever done that before, and I totally fell for it. Corny, right?'
'It sounds boring. And you're certainly not perfect.'
'Got that right,' Duo agreed. 'But I like who I am, most of the time, anyway. I'm not sure if Treize did, really, looking back. He was always trying to get me to behave appropriately, whatever the hell that means. And if I argued with him, he'd either just give in like he was indulging a kid, or steamroll over me. I think he really just wanted some pretty little toy to hang on his arm and gaze at him adoringly.'
Zechs spluttered at that unlikely vision. 'I refuse to believe you'd be capable of doing anything like that. You are pretty, though. Beautiful in fact. And for the record, I should say that I love the idea of having a boyfriend who can fix cars. It would save a fortune. And if he could cook as well, that would be perfect. I'd be able to get rid of half my staff. Do you have any other skills I should know about?'
'Hey!' Duo poked him in the ribs. 'Getting ahead of yourself a bit there, aren't you?'
'I was speaking in a purely hypothetical sense,' Zechs told him haughtily. 'You're rather egotistical, aren't you? Not everything's about you.'
Duo, adorably, stuck out his tongue as a retort. 'So sure about that?'
'Not if you keep waggling your tongue about, no. I don't suppose you're prepared to reconsider this evening's kissing embargo?'
'I could. Maybe. But no tongue, OK?'
He'd expected kissing Duo would be a challenge simply because everything else about him was. But Duo's lips were soft and warm and pliant and parted very slightly for him.
Letting him go was a tremendous effort of will, but Zechs had had duty and discipline drilled into him since birth and they came in useful on occasion. 'Oh, little one, you are totally perfect.'
'Excuse me?' Duo's expression went from melting to murderous in a fraction of a second. 'What did you call me?'
'It's just an endearment.'
'Use it again, and I'll stick a knife in you,' Duo growled. 'The pointy end.'
'Sure, if we lived in the twelfth century.'
'I do actually have a knife.'
'God, you're such a brat.'
'That works. What do I call you? Sir? Your Highness? Prince Milliardo?'
Zechs kissed him again because Duo was utterly irresistible, deepening it until Duo nipped at his bottom lip. Rather hard. Ah, well. Life with him would never be boring.
'Perhaps you can call me your purely hypothetical, on-probation, abstract, possible future boyfriend?'
Duo's eyes, shadowed violet in moonlight, were suddenly very serious. 'You don't mind waiting? I need to get my life sorted out, and get over all this, and I can't promise I'll want to stay here for ever.'
'Well, then, I'll just have to do my best to persuade you.' It was ridiculous. He'd known Duo for less than twelve hours, and the thought of him leaving already hurt. Still, he had months to convince Duo he wanted to stay in Sanque and that would be fun and challenging and would probably drive him to strong drink.
Duo's sly grin was totally at odds with the soft expression in those beautiful eyes. 'Nothing to stop you coming to L2 with me.'
'Actually there is.' Zechs took a deep breath. After seeing how badly Duo had just been hurt by betrayal, he was going to be honest from the start. 'I can't just leave. I'm the prince of Sanque; it's probably the main part of who I am. Leaving's never going to be an option.'
'Yeah.' Duo, delightfully, reached up and kissed him sweetly. 'I guessed that. It's OK. I was prepared to move here for Treize; I can do it for you.'
'You do like me then?' Zechs asked, loathing himself for sounding like a fifteen year old girl, like Relena in the throes on one of her teenage crushes.
'It's not obvious? FYI, I don't go around kissing every guy I meet in a thunder storm.'
'I'm very glad to hear that.' Zechs sat down on one of the narrow benches that circled the bandstand and pulled Duo onto his lap.
'Oh, please. Tell me you're not one of those jealous, possessive types.'
'Only to the extent that if you ever so much as look at another man, I will tie you to our bed, and keep you there until you are quite incapable of recognizing the existence of any other male in the entire universe.'
'Our bed, huh? Let me guess, you've got one of those big four-posters with tapestries all around it?' He sighed theatrically when Zechs nodded. 'Typical! You couldn't just have had a nice futon, could you?'
'I think you may just possibly like my bed.'
'Yeah?' It was hard to tell in the near-darkness, but he thought Duo might have actually blushed. 'If you're in it, maybe.'
'Really?' Zechs teased. 'A few hours ago, you said I wasn't even your type. Now you're propositioning me.'
A flash of sheet lightning illuminated the gleam in Duo's eyes. 'You're so not my type. You're way too uptight and aristocratic, and a few inches too tall.'
'That won't matter when we're lying down,' Zechs pointed out helpfully.
'And you think far too much of yourself.'
'You're a smug, snobbish, patronising asshole.'
'Ignorant, brash, uncultured colonial,' Zechs shot back.
Duo's arms were suddenly twined around his neck. 'If I'm all those things, what the hell are you doing with me?'
'I could ask you the same question.'
'Guess I'm just a glutton for punishment. A masochist.' He said it lightly enough, but he'd dropped his gaze, and Zechs could sense all kinds of darkness lurking behind that one word.
'I won't hurt you,' he said abruptly. 'I swear. I'll argue with you until the stars fall out of the sky, and we have to have make up sex in total darkness, and we'll probably drive each other insane in the first week, but I'll never treat you like he did.'
Duo, for once, rather miraculously, didn't say anything. But the kiss did.