Disclaimer: I don't own any part of Gundam Wing and don't write for profit.
Note: This is for Snowdragonct. Happy birthday…and many thanks to Kaeru Shisho for editing.
None of the lights in his apartment were on. Not a big deal, except that it meant that Zechs wouldn't be there, because when he was he turned on every damn light and put the heating on at full blast and it was just as well Duo had managed to find a proper job or otherwise he'd never be able to afford the electricity bill.
Never mind. Duo switched his tool bag to his other shoulder and headed inside. Zechs had said he'd probably be late but after a few months Duo had sort of got used to having him there.
It wasn't all that nice going back to an empty, dark, cold apartment; something he wouldn't have noticed before Zechs. BZ, he thought whimsically, taking the first flight of stairs at a run. It was almost colder inside his building than out; just as well Zechs wasn't there or he'd be bitching about being cold.
BZ. Duo had sworn in those first few weeks that whatever happened between them, he wasn't going to change. He'd seen it happen to too many people who'd found themselves the Holy Grail of a rich boyfriend to give them a nice apartment and lots of goodies. It usually lasted a couple of months, tops, before the rich boyfriend got bored and moved on to someone new. Granted, Zechs hadn't seemed like that – for one thing, he'd hung around even after Duo'd made it very clear that sex wouldn't be on the menu until they got to know each other a lot better – but Duo still didn't harbour any Cinderella fantasies, and that was that.
Damn, his apartment was freezing. Zechs was making him soft. (Sometimes; sometimes the exact opposite. Most times, when Zechs happened to be around). Duo, resolutely, didn't turn on the heater out of pure stubbornness. It wouldn't have occurred to him to do so before Zechs; he'd have just put on some more clothes.
He'd been adamant his life wouldn't change, but of course it had. Still, Zechs had changed too, a bit, so maybe that made things equal between them.
He perched on the arm of the couch – the new couch, Zechs' couch – to check his messages, and then gave in and slid down to sit on it properly. Bliss. Considering the bloody thing had caused them a massive argument, he still felt a tiny bit guilty that he loved it so much.
It wasn't that Zechs hadn't given him stuff before. He claimed that it was a tradition in Sanque to bring a small gift when visiting someone's home, and that not to do so would be a tremendous breach of etiquette. Duo had gone along with that so long as the gifts had been fairly small; a contribution to dinner or a bottle of wine which Zechs would mostly drink anyway, or a DVD they'd both watch, but actual furniture was a whole other ballgame.
Zechs had tolerated Duo's ancient, battered, tenth-hand couch for all of two months before ordering this one. Looking back, it hadn't technically caused an argument, since Duo had been the only one to get angry. Zechs had merely pointed out, maddeningly calm, that he was tired of worrying about a rogue spring puncturing an organ every time he sat down; that it was his couch and that Duo didn't need to sit on it if he didn't want to, and that if Duo did decide to lower his backside on to it, then they could give the previous model to the new family downstairs, who had six kids and not much furniture.
Duo had huffed a bit, muttering about privileged, over-bearing aristocrats, and then Zechs had tumbled him onto the couch and, an hour later, pointed out that since the thing was now irrevocably broken-in, and stained slightly to boot, he wouldn't be able to return it.
Duo grinned at that particular memory; they'd been very new lovers at that particular stage, and up to then they'd been very careful with each other. And it was a hell of a nice couch. He'd just never dared to look up a similar model on-line to find out how much it might cost.
So things hadn't changed all that much. OK, there were a few other embellishments, but they mostly didn't count. He never used the gleaming espresso machine because he actually preferred instant, and he only used Zechs' hair care products on very special occasions.
Not all that much else had changed, really, except that when he came home he automatically looked up to see if Zechs was there, even when he knew he wouldn't be, and he had a couple of nice suits and a tuxedo hanging beside his overalls – Zechs had insisted that if Duo was generous enough to accompany him to the occasional function and save him from dying of boredom, then the least he could do was provide appropriate clothing – and he spent several nights every week at the embassy.
As a trade-off though, Zechs spent the rest of the week at his place, and he'd probably never imagined himself sleeping in a place that was probably a few steps down from the servants' quarters at the embassy. He'd started helping out at the orphanage where Duo volunteered once a week, and had every one of the kids enthralled by a real life prince.
It wasn't such a big deal if they both made compromises now and again.
There were no new messages; Duo played back an old one, just Zechs wishing him a good morning and saying he'd see him later, and then rang Zechs' number.
'Good evening, Mr. Maxwell.' Oh, very formal, which might or might not mean there were other people around.
'Your Royal Highness,' Duo teased, equally proper and polite. 'You busy? I'm all alone here on the couch, and it's kind of lonely and I'd really fancy a shag.'
Zechs spluttered and then said something Duo couldn't quite catch and then there was a moment's silence before he came back on the line. 'You brat. If you must proposition me, I wish you wouldn't do it when I'm at work.'
Duo grinned. 'Who were you talking to?'
'No one important. The president of some corporation or other. Now, I'll be finished here in about half an hour.'
'OK. Your place or mine?'
'I'd like to take you out. It is a rather special day, after all.'
'You sap.' It was sappy and a bit dumb, but it was sort of nice that he'd remembered. 'Is six months even an anniversary?'
'I don't see any reason why not.'
'You haven't gone out and bought me some ridiculously extravagant present, have you?'
'Don't be so presumptuous,' Zechs scolded. 'And you'll get what you're given. Dinner?'
'I guess I could do that. Benito's?'
'Fine.' Zechs didn't sound overly enamoured by the suggestion; he'd probably wanted to go somewhere with lobsters covered in gold leaf and stuffed with caviar-flavoured truffles, but too bad. 'I'll meet you there, shall I? About an hour.'
'Cool. See you then. Oh, Happy Anniversary, I guess.'
'Happy Anniversary, darling.' Zechs voice warmed on the endearment. God; super-sappy. Sort of nice, though.
Half an hour later, showered and changed into his best jeans and a nice shirt, Duo was running downstairs, the sounds of his footsteps accompanied by little growls of hunger from his stomach.
OK, just as well they were going somewhere that served real food, in decent quantities, instead of just a tiny dollop of something ridiculously expensive on a giant plate with a few artistically arranged leaves and twigs and flowers that you weren't even supposed to eat.
Most of the time, they compromised where eating out was concerned, since they both liked polar opposites. When they went somewhere fancy, Zechs paid; Duo did if they went to the local diner or ordered from the Chinese a block from his building. Most of the time, it worked out pretty well. He'd even developed a taste for some of the fancy stuff Zechs liked; eating his first crème brulée had been a total revelation, and so had his first filet mignon. (There was a French chef at the embassy). In return, Zechs had tried French fry sandwiches and the L2 special hot dogs (which only possibly weren't made from real dogs). As far as culinary experimentation went, Duo was probably getting the better of the deal, really.
Benito's was somewhere in between both spectrums. It was a nice family-run Italian place that Duo had been to once or twice before meeting Zechs; once for his friend Hilde's engagement party, and once for one of Howard's guys winning money on the lottery and taking the whole crew out to celebrate.
Duo knew that Zechs thought it was a bit tacky – there were candles in wine bottles and cheesy music playing and big splashy murals of famous places in Italy – but he liked the food well enough.
He was standing outside the building when Duo walked up, checking something on his phone. Idiot; Duo had warned him countless times that he'd get the thing stolen, taking it out like that in public.
'Yo, big boy,' he called, following it up with a wolf-whistle that made Zechs whirl around. 'You charge by the hour?'
The blond gave him a long, appraising look. 'For you, I could offer an all-night special.'
Duo laughed delightedly; a couple of months ago, there was no way he'd have come out with something like that. 'You're going to get yourself a reputation, hanging around street corners at this time of night.'
'Am I indeed?' Zechs strolled up to him, taking Duo's chin in one hand, tilting his face and then kissing him.
That was new too. A couple of months ago, Zechs wouldn't even hold his hand in public.
'I've corrupted you.'
'I've noticed.' Zechs' hand slid along his jaw-line, caressing. 'I was a poor sheltered innocent from Sanque until I met you.'
'Innocent, right.' Duo snorted. 'I don't think so. Tell me more about this all-night special of yours.'
'I'll show you. Dinner first though, since you'll need to keep your strength up.' He let Duo go, moving away to open the restaurant door.
Duo stepped through; they'd had the argument over how he was perfectly capable of opening a door for himself several times, and Zechs had finally won it by saying he enjoyed Duo's rear view so much that Duo was doing him an enormous favour by going along with it.
'Who was on the 'phone?'
'Quatre. He said to say hello.'
'Cool.' Duo had spoken to Zechs' friends and he liked Quatre by far the best. Trowa was very quiet but perfectly pleasant, and Zechs had said he was quite talkative when he got to know people. Wufei, on the other hand, was downright scary. Zechs claimed he was just a reserved person, but Duo thought he probably didn't approve of his friend shacking up with someone who didn't boast all sorts of aristocratic connections. Well, screw him. Zechs was happy – way happier than he'd been with the blue-blooded bastard who'd broken his heart – and a good friend would respect that. 'How is he?'
'Fine.' Zechs pulled out Duo's chair –another source of arguments, but he let it pass this time - and sat down himself. 'As usual, saying it's scandalous that he hasn't met his best friend's boyfriend, when we've been a couple for six months.'
'Not exactly. We met six months ago, but it wasn't when we officially started going out.'
Zechs grinned, accepted a couple of menus and a wine list from a waiter. 'As far as I'm concerned, we've been a couple since we met.'
'You thought I was a hooker when we first met!'
'Yes, and you thought I was some sort of vagrant,' Zechs parried smoothly.
'Never,' Duo said honestly. It was the truth; other idiots might have thought that, but Zechs had been far too well-spoken and arrogant and downright gorgeous. 'Oh, hey, I have something to show you.' He produced a carefully folded envelope from one pocket.
Zechs' blue eyes lit up, teasing. 'You got me a card?'
'No! Not exactly a card. Just – open it, OK?'
'Certainly, sir.' His eyes drifted over the script; the sentences Duo had already learned by heart saying that Duo Maxwell had passed the official examinations and had been accordingly granted an official mechanic's license. 'Well done! Not that I doubted for a second that you'd pass.'
'You were the only one,' Duo muttered, a little bit flustered by the glowing expression of pride on his partner's face. 'Anyway, thanks a million for all your help.'
'I hardly think I did very much.'
'Yeah, you did! You're the one who convinced me to buckle down and study instead of just talking about it, and you helped me go over stuff, and you believed I could do it. That meant a lot, you know.'
It was perfectly true. Most people who knew Duo liked him, or at least they liked the smiling, happy-go-lucky façade he presented to the world – the grown up version of the street kid who'd learned early on that a winsome smile was the best way to charm people out of a few coppers, or to distract someone for long enough to slide a wallet out of a back pocket – but few of them thought he'd ever amount to anything.
Zechs had been different from the start, supportive and encouraging and believing that Duo could somehow get somewhere.
'You did it all yourself,' Zechs assured him, smiling. 'Now, what would you like to eat?'
'Everything?' Duo hazarded. 'And listen, now that I've got this exam under my belt and an official qualification and all, Howard's going to take me on full time so I'm paying, OK?'
Zechs nodded. 'If you insist.'
'Yep, I do. And Zechs, another thing. You've got to stop waving your phone around like that in public.'
Zechs looked slightly pained. 'There were plenty of people around.'
'Yeah, and that damn phone probably costs more than most of them earn in six months. Just don't come crying to me when it does get nicked.'
'You won't kiss me better?'
'Nope. I'll be way too busy saying I told you so, and then I'll have to go out and get it back for you. OK, food. D'you think they'd let me have two starters? I'm starving!'
'You are paying,' Zechs reminded him. 'You may have whatever you like.'
After they'd ordered, Zechs sat back in his chair, looking slightly unsure. 'Do you think I could ask you something?'
'Sure! Oh, god, this isn't some mad Sanque tradition for six month anniversaries, is it?' Duo teased. 'Like you have to do the national dance with me or propose or something?'
'Not at all. That would be after two years.' He said it perfectly seriously but his eyes were dancing; impossible to tell if he meant it or not. 'I have to go to Sanque next month, for the official opening of Parliament.'
'So?' He'd been back to Sanque four or five times and each time Duo had missed him, but then he'd come back and nothing had really changed.
'I'd like you to come with me.'
Oh. Duo sat back, not quite sure what to say first. 'You never asked me that before.'
'Well.' Zechs' long fingers were toying with the stem of his wine glass. 'You wouldn't even have considered it a few months ago.'
Wasn't that the truth? Their first couple of months together had been mostly punctuated by arguments and making up, and then the same arguments all over again. Luckily, the making-up sessions had been worth it.
Zechs, back then, had wanted nothing more than to shower Duo with luxuries, move him into the embassy, or failing that, into some opulent penthouse, and been utterly frustrated when Duo refused to comply with these plans. Duo, for his part, had been bloody-mindedly independent, flaring up at the faintest hint that he was some sort of toy-boy. Even after he'd accepted that Zechs wasn't just after a quick fuck, he'd still half-suspected that the other man was using him as some sort of project, to appease his boredom or assuage his social conscience.
They'd both mellowed a lot since then. Duo got how frustrated Zechs must have been when he wouldn't let him help, even a little, and Zechs could understand how important Duo's independence was to him, and why.
'The opening of parliament,' Duo said slowly. 'That's some sort of state occasion, right? Would I be going to that?'
Zechs nodded. 'If you wish.'
OK, this was a big deal, a very big deal. Not just a casual invitation then.
Duo swallowed. 'How big of an issue is it going to be that I'm a guy?'
'For me, it's immensely important. Essential, in fact.'
'Zechs,' Duo warned, an edge to his voice. 'Seriously?'
'Seriously then.' Zechs took a small sip of his wine, put the glass down, picked it up again. 'Sanque is a very liberal country. Homosexuality has never been a crime. Same–sex marriages have been legal for years.'
The waiter appeared back, carrying the wine Zechs had ordered. Duo knew you were only supposed to take a small sip to taste at the start, but he took a good glug, buying time. 'Marriage is kind of heavy, Zechs.'
'You did ask. And I'm not pressuring you into anything. I just want you to know that you being male isn't an obstacle to anything. I've never hidden the fact that I'm gay. I've had partners before. It's not exactly going to be a revelation to anyone that I have a boyfriend.'
'I might be a bit of a revelation, actually,' Duo swallowed. 'I don't exactly have your sort of background. I've done a fair bit of stuff that wasn't strictly legal. D'you really want the press getting hold of that?'
They'd managed to keep a fairly low profile so far. After Duo had attended his first function at the embassy, there'd been plenty of rumours and Zechs had informed the first journalist who'd asked outright that they were indeed a couple, but they both valued their privacy and expected that it would be respected.
Amazingly enough, it had been so far. There'd been a few slushy tabloid stories and a couple of photographers had hung around Duo's building or the shuttle port until they'd had their cameras and wallets stolen (Duo had lots of people who owed him favours), but that had been it. Of course, Zechs wasn't a huge deal on L2; most people probably couldn't have found Sanque on a map.
It would be different on Earth. For all Zechs claimed that he held a courtesy title only, and had no real power, the royal family of Sanque was highly-regarded and when Duo had Googled his boyfriend, there'd been thousands of articles. He'd bookmarked a few of the hotter photos, especially the ones of Zechs in that military uniform with the red coat and the boots.
If he went to Sanque, his photo would probably turn up on all those websites, along with the other guys Zechs had dated; royalty and actors and models. (Gulp)
'Don't be silly,' Zechs reached over and took his hand. 'You did what you had to do,' he said firmly. 'In the process, you've helped countless other people and I could never be less than proud of you. Do you understand?'
Duo blushed. 'Just so I know, I wouldn't have to be a princess or anything, would I? You know, just hypothetically.'
'Of course not. I imagine the official title would be prince consort.'
'I guess that would be OK. And it's not a problem that I can't have kids?'
'Hardly. I have a sister and a host of cousins. The succession is perfectly safe.'
'Would I have to do royal duties and shit? Hey, stop laughing!'
'I'm sorry,' Zechs said hastily. 'It was just the way you put it. Yes, there are some functions that my purely hypothetical consort would be expected to attend, but very few of them are compulsory. No one would force you to do anything you didn't want to.'
'Right, then. We're seriously talking about this?'
'Hypothetically, only. Isn't that what you said?' He still hadn't released Duo's hands. 'Is that in any way acceptable?'
Duo took a deep breath. 'I kind of like the two-year time frame. Ask me again in eighteen months. But, yeah, it's acceptable. I don't know. There's a lot of stuff I want to do. I still want to be a pilot someday, and now I can actually start saving up for lessons.'
'Why not? You can borrow the royal jet to practise in.'
'Well, that's insane,' Duo said crossly. 'A whole jet, just for one family. Think of the carbon footprint. It's crazy!'
'Absolutely,' Zechs agreed smoothly. 'Really, you should feel compelled to marry me straightway just to save the planet.'
'Oy! I said you can ask me in a year and a half, so stop pushing. And I want a damn long engagement.'
'Fine. For my part, I would like to be married before I'm sixty. Any other demands?'
'You wear that red coat,' Duo said promptly. 'And, um, all the rest of it. And I'm not wearing a dress, so don't get any ideas.'
'But you'd be so very beautiful, with your hair loose,' Zechs teased, reaching to run one hand down the length of his braid
'Screw you,' Duo muttered, taking another good mouthful of wine. Fuck. What the hell was he getting into? 'No way am I taking my hair down in public.'
'Well, of course not.' Zechs smiled at him; that special smile that damn well liquefied his organs, and set his blood on fire. 'But later tonight, perhaps?'
Duo nodded, feeling his face flame at the look in Zechs' eyes, the promise in his voice. God, did the guy have the least idea of the effect he had?
'Come home with me?' Zechs coaxed. 'I've already asked the chef to prepare your favourite breakfast in the morning.'
'Could've asked me first,' Duo mumbled. It wasn't like he had any objections to sleeping at the embassy; Zechs' bed was bigger than his whole apartment, and he had pillows that were probably made from the feathers of baby phoenix chicks, and there was a balcony that overlooked an actual flower garden with a fountain. It was just – it wasn't what his life was like.
'Duo?' Zechs questioned softly. 'I'm rushing you, aren't I?'
'Kind of,' Duo mumbled. 'Yeah, actually, you are. Totally. I mean, you just spring this whole proposal on me out of the blue and I wasn't expecting it, and now you want me to go to Sanque and, I don't know, stay in a palace or whatever, and wear a tuxedo all the time.'
There was a tiny frown between Zechs' brows. 'Dearest. I very deliberately haven't proposed. I've merely asked you how you might feel about it in the future. You're an intelligent person; I'm quite sure you must have realised at some point that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you. I had rather hoped that perhaps you felt the same.'
'I do!' Duo said forcefully, realising it was true. 'Sure I do. I just – kind of forget who you are, sometimes. I was kidding myself that we could just stay on here and that won't happen, will it? You'll have to go back home some day.'
Zechs nodded. 'I think you'd like Sanque, you know. I hope so.'
There was a thread of wistfulness in his voice that made Duo reach for one his hands. Shit. What the hell, though? He loved Zechs, and Zechs loved him back. They'd managed OK so far. They'd work it out. And he damn well wasn't going to let Zechs go.
'Yeah, me too. So, this parliament thingy. When is it? I'll have to ask Howie for time off.'