How the hell did I let myself get talked into this? Lunch at the palace. The goddamnmotherfuckingsonofabitch palace. With Relena and Zechs. With Relena and Zechs and Heero.
Fuckin’ great idea.
We’re waiting for the Happy Couple. Our room-suite, whatever-is in a different wing. I’ve never been here before, and the walk gave Zechs a chance to show me around and talk a little about his childhood. We stopped in front of this big-ass painting of his father. He was real quiet, and I know what he was thinking. As for me, I was wondering if that’s what Zechs will look like when he gets old. Weird.
I don’t like this place. I mean, I thought our house was intimidating at first. But the palace…shit. It’s all long halls with gold-framed portraits, and doors that get opened by guys in uniforms, and furniture that probably cost a fortune but looks really uncomfortable to sit on. I try for just a second to imagine Heero actually living in a place like this. I want to smile because it’s such a ridiculous picture, and then I’m thinking about Heero again, and I’m back to wanting to chew my leg off to escape.
Yeah, all right, it helps that Zechs is right here with me. It helps that he has his hand on my back, right by my waist, this possessive gesture that tells the world, “Don’t touch, this one’s mine.” Or at least, that’s what I like to think it means. Who the hell knows? Maybe he just likes to play with the elastic on my shorts.
He rubs my back a little. “You’re wound tight as a spring, little one.” Zechs’ eyes look so solemn and sad even though he’s smiling. Makes me feel like shit. “It’s going to be all right.”
“Yeah. I know.”
Nice words, but I don’t think either of us really believes them.
Three years since I’ve seen him. Three fucking years, and two of them were hell on earth. I loved Heero and I hated him and I missed him almost every minute of every day until I met Zechs. And any minute, he’s going to walk through that door, and I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do.
Zechs reaches for my hand. I weave our fingers together and squeeze. I want to let him know that I’m still here with him. I need to let myself know it, too.
He doesn’t squeeze back, but he says, “Kiss me.”
I do, because we both need it. His mouth takes mine, his arms wrap around me, and he tastes and feels so good, and I’m such an asshole, because I can’t help comparing him to Heero. I never needed to compare before. I’ve never been able to think of anything, anyone but Zechs before when he kissed me. Fuck it all, why does today have to be different?
But it is. I try to remember how Heero kissed, how it felt when he held me, but the memories have faded a little. He wasn’t that great at kissing, to be honest. He knew one way-hard and determined, the same way he did everything. There was always an edge to the way he loved me, and I don’t just mean sex. Like he was pushing himself to do something that didn’t come natural to him or something he didn’t really want to do.
Fuck. It still hurts to think that. You wouldn’t think it would, but there it is.
Sex, though…it was hot with Heero, I’ll give him that. It didn’t matter to him what we were doing or where we were if he decided he wanted it. I lost count of how many walls I’ve been fucked against, and in how many dark corners and alleys and back seats of cars. He was a horny bastard, Heero was. And I was just as bad.
Damn. I shouldn’t have thought about that. I really, really shouldn’t have. Thank god I’m wearing a jacket.
Zechs knows, though, because he gives me a Look. He’s got this sixth sense about me, I swear he does. He knows me better than I know myself sometimes. A hell of a lot better than Heero ever knew me, that’s for damn sure.
So why do I even care about Heero? Why should I give a crap that he’s getting married? That I’m seeing him again for the first time since I woke up in an empty bed, staring at his empty closet? I shouldn’t. I have a wonderful man, a good man, and I’m hurting him, just by standing here, remembering.
Maybe there’s still time, so I grab Zechs’ arm. “C’mon. Let’s go.”
“Go?” Zechs sounds confused, but he takes one look at my face, and he understands. “No, little one. We have to do this. You have to.” He touches my cheek, his smile all sweet and serious, and my throat closes up. I’m such a jerk. I don’t deserve him, I really don’t.
“Zechs, please. I can’t-” I can’t do this any more. I can’t do this to him any more.
He just bends over and kisses the top of my head, so light I can barely feel it. “You promised.”
Fuck. I promised. And not keeping a promise is just like lying. “All right, all right. Where are they, anyway?”
“The wedding is just a few days away. I’m sure they got distracted by some detail or another.”
“Sure. Must be.” Heh, that makes me smile, anyway. The idea of Heero planning a wedding. And not just a wedding, but the social event of the freakin’ century. Maybe there’s a god after all. If there is, he has a hell of a sense of humor.
I slip my arm through Zechs’. I need to anchor myself to him. He’s my rock, always, no matter what’s going on around us, safe and solid and real. It’s funny, but when I think back to the night we got together, it’s like a fog lifted from my life. Up ‘til then, I’d just been wandering around, lost, no point to anything. I can remember that night like it was yesterday instead of months ago.
Raining…seemed like it’d been raining forever. By some miracle, I wasn’t between jobs-a nice way of saying I was busted most of the time-and I had a couple of bucks, so I’d gone down to grab some caffeine and listen to the jazz and maybe flirt with the waitresses a little. That was about all the human contact I was up to in those days. And then he sent me a cup of coffee. Coffee. Other guys-girls, too-they’d send me drinks, beer, mostly, but sometimes something fancier. And I’d send them right back. I stayed away from booze back then, hardly ever touched it, especially in bars. I went on a binge right after Heero left and fucked myself over pretty good. When I finally sobered up, sore as hell and in a part of town I didn’t even recognize, I swore off it. And when I remembered how that whole fiasco started, I swore off guys who bought me drinks to pick me up. Once was more than enough.
But Zechs, he was different, right from the beginning. Coffee. Seems like a little thing, a meaningless thing, but it meant he asked about me. Cared enough to find out what I wanted, what I liked, which no one-no one-ever bothered to do before. And gorgeous…oh my god, he was so beautiful it hurt. I saw him across the room, and there he sat, like some kind of god who decided to slum with us mortals. And he just smiled, like he’d been waiting for me for always. I was a goner from the second I looked into those blue eyes of his.
I love Zechs. Honest to god, I do, like I’ve never loved anyone. With all my heart, as corny as that sounds. And I know I’m right on the edge of fucking it up forever.
The door opens and my stomach dives down to my feet. But it’s not him, it’s some stiff who tells us that Her Highness and Mr. Yuy are waiting in the dining room, and would we be kind enough to come with him, please. He bows and scrapes to Zechs, more than people usually do. I jab Zechs with my elbow to tease him, because I know he hates that shit. He’s usually pretty good-humored about it, but he just gives me this tight little smile, not like him at all.
All of a sudden, thinking about lunch makes me want to puke.
The palace is huge, but it’s not big enough for me, because we get to the dining room way too fast. The stiff opens the door, and in we go. Whee.
The first thing that happens is Relena. She hugs Zechs, of course, and I’ll bet she doesn’t even notice that he tenses just a tiny bit. Then I’ll be damned if she doesn’t hug me, too. I don’t have time to get tense-I’m too busy trying not to faint from the shock.
“I’m so glad you came, too, Duo.”
Fuck, I’d swear she sounds like she means it. She’s probably got a doll of me somewhere, and this way, when she sticks pins in it, she gets to hear me scream. Can’t think of any other reason she’d be glad to see me. But she is Zechs’ sister, and he tries to keep things smooth between them, so I dredge up a smile and mumble, “Yeah.”
Then Zechs has his hand on my back again, pushing me, even though no one else could tell that, and I have to take a couple of steps toward the table or look more like an idiot than usual. When I do, I see him.
He’s wearing a dark suit, a damn expensive one that looks like it was tailor-made for him. He must have a better barber these days, too, because his hair isn’t quite the mop it used to be. It still makes me want to reach for a comb, though. My heart jumps, and I decide it’s really better not to think about my fingers in his hair.
“Hey.” God, that was brilliant. But what am I supposed to say, anyway? I try again. “Long time no see.”
Fuck, that came out a lot more bitter than I meant it to. But at least he has the grace to wince, if only a little.
They just hang there between us, things said and unsaid. There’s no real use in pretending that this is just a normal day at the palace, but we all pretend anyway.
“We’ll eat on the terrace.” Relena walks over, her high heels clicking on the marble floors like the rapid fire of an automatic weapon. She looks different from what I remember, too-like a woman, not a skinny kid. Maybe it’s the cut of her dress that makes her seem older, or maybe it’s that we all grew up when I wasn’t looking. She hooks her arm through Heero’s. “This way.”
She must mean that for me, since Heero clearly knows his way around, and Zechs grew up here. I’m the odd man out in this crowd, the one who doesn’t know shit about palaces or royal protocol. I take a half-step backwards, just so I can feel Zechs behind me. He’s there, like I knew he would be, and I just stand still for a minute, needing to feel the warmth of his body through my suit. I’m so cold all of a sudden. He puts his hand on my shoulder, and I take a deep breath. Okay. Okay, I can do this. I stand up straight. Goddamn it, I’m not going to look like a wuss in front of Heero and Her Royal Fucking Highness.
“Sounds nice. We eat on our terrace a lot. Breakfast, especially.” I look back over my shoulder at Zechs. “Don’t we?” He nods, managing a smile. Ah, hell, that’s no better. Now I sound like I’m throwing it in Heero’s face that I’m living with Zechs, and what’s worse, Zechs has to know I’m using him as a weapon to try to hurt Heero. How many more ways I can screw this up?
Zechs offers me his arm, and I take it, glaring at Relena and daring her to say something nasty. She doesn’t.
We follow them out onto the terrace, and I’ll admit, the view is nice. Gardens with flowers and fountains and everything, and beyond that, mountains on one side, ocean on the other. Pretty table, too, with linen and crystal and more flowers. Fancier than at home, but then we don’t really like all that frou-frou stuff when it’s just us.
Zechs pulls out my chair for me, and Heero does the same for Relena. When we sit down, Zechs’ knee presses against mine. I slide my hand under the tablecloth and rub my fingers over it, and finally, I get a genuine smile. I love it when Zechs smiles…when he smiles at me. It’s like the feeling I used to get after a battle, when I knew I wasn’t being chased any more, and I’d found a safe place to land Deathscythe. Maybe I haven’t screwed up all that bad after all. Yet.
Relena sips coffee from her china cup. “The rehearsal is tomorrow. There’s a small dinner after.”
Small dinner. I try not to sigh, picturing what those things are like. More smiling and schmoozing and being on my best behavior. I can hardly wait.
Heero is opposite me. Not like I could ignore him, really, not with just the four of us. But I can feel him looking at me, even when I'm trying very hard not to notice. Unfortunately there's not much but the two of us on this side of the table, and it's look at him or look at the dishes. So I study the damn china, which is ivory with gold and red and blue trim, and the Sanc royal crest in the middle. Bone, too, I'm pretty sure. I could write a fucking book full of useless knowledge like that after a year with Zechs, but nothing I've learned can make my skin stop crawling with the feel of Heero's eyes on me.
He hasn’t said a word since we sat down. Not that that’s a huge surprise-it’s not like he was ever much of a conversationalist. Not like Zechs…sometimes we just talk. For hours. About everything. Anything. It came as a complete shock to me when I finally got it through my thick head that he wants to know what I think about. I thought he just wanted in my pants-not that I minded-but he honestly cares about my opinions. I don’t know why, it’s not like I’m educated or anything. But he listens to me. Who would’ve guessed what a turn-on that is, to really be listened to? I used to talk to Heero, but it was pretty one-sided. I have no idea if he ever heard me or not. I kind of think not, especially when I said stuff like, “I love you.”
Son of a bitch. What did I ever see in him, anyway?
Relena keeps the conversation going, like she doesn’t even notice me and Heero sitting here, dumb as a couple of lug nuts. Zechs answers when he has to, but he’s not quite as oblivious to the dynamic on this side of the table. Maybe she’s not, either. Maybe it’s just that I can read Zechs better. I know he hears every word Heero and I aren’t saying.
I have no idea what we just had for lunch, but it gives me a little bit of satisfaction to know that I just ate Relena’s expensive food and didn’t even taste it. Okay, I’m petty. I’ve never denied it.
Relena glances sideways at Heero, but she smiles at Zechs. “There are a few things I want to ask you about before the rehearsal.” Her smile expands to take in Heero and me. “Royal sorts of foolishness-protocol and all that-I know you two won’t be interested in the details.”
“I can’t imagine what help I’ll be, but I’m happy to try.” Zechs squeezes my hand under the table and stands up. I can’t help watching him because I love the way he moves. He’s amazingly graceful for a tall man, like those dancers in old movies. I concentrate on his back as he walks away, the set of his coat across his shoulders, the way his hair looks like it’s made of sunlight, how his walk always seems full of purpose, like he’s still a soldier on a mission. Then they’re gone. I’m alone with Heero, and I’m beginning to be suspicious. I think I’ve been set up.
Heero is still studying me, but he’s not talking, and I’m not talking, and we’re just sitting here, glaring at each other over the china and crystal and flowers. Or I’m glaring, anyway. This is getting ridiculous, this stupid silence, but I know Heero, and he’ll never make the first move. So I do what I always did. I jump into the middle of it.
“So what the fuck were you thinking, asking me to be your best man?”
He blinks, like he wasn’t expecting that. Well, what the hell was he expecting?
He takes his time answering, and when he does, his voice sounds like it ought to be obvious. “…that you’re the best friend I ever had, and I wanted you with me…”
“Friend? Friend?” God, how dense can one human be? “Heero, in case you’ve forgotten, we were a hell of a lot more than friends.”
Something shows in his eyes, but it’s gone too fast for me to be sure of it. “I haven’t forgotten.”
“Then…why?” It’s a big question, because it’s got three years of why? wrapped up in it. But as usual, Heero ignores everything but the excruciatingly literal translation.
“Because I missed you.”
“You missed me?” I slam my fist on the table, and the china rattles. “Bull shit! You walked out on me without a word-without a single, fucking word for three years-and you’ve got the balls to sit there and say you missed me? You fucking son of a bitch-” And then, goddamn it, my voice breaks. All of a sudden, I can’t hold on to being pissed any more. I just hurt. All the hurt of those years when I had nothing and no one comes back and slugs me in the gut with one humongous sucker punch. It’s a good thing I’m sitting down, because my knees would’ve folded if I weren’t. I look back at the doors to the dining room. Where is Zechs, anyway?
“Christ, Heero…” I fold my arms over my belly, like I can still feel it ache the way it did every one of those empty nights. “I wanted to die…”
He looks down, finally, like maybe-maybe-he’s a little bit ashamed. “But you didn’t. I knew you wouldn’t.”
“I knew you’d live through it if I left. But I wasn’t sure you could stand it if I stayed.”
Now I remember another reason I couldn’t make conversation with him. When he did have something to say, he never made any sense. “What the fuck are you talking about?”
“Duo…why did you say yes? Why did you agree to be in my wedding?”
Why? Because I’m a sucker? Because I like poking at old wounds? I’m not sure what I open my mouth to say, but I am sure I didn’t mean to say what comes out.
“Because…because I missed you, too…”
This part is kind of fuzzy, because somehow, I’m hanging on to him, and I think in about two minutes, I could be crying like a damn baby. At first, he doesn’t do anything at all, and then he puts his arms around me. I keep trying to talk, but I can’t get the words out. Hell, I don’t even know what I’m trying to say.
“It’s all right now.”
Just like Heero to substitute platitudes for something real. “It’s not all right. I really hated you, you know. ‘Bout as much as I loved you. It sucked, Heero. You don’t know how bad it sucked.”
I can feel his body against mine, I can smell him, his hands are on my hair, and it’s all just the way I remembered. This is what I was dreading-and maybe even hoping for a little. But it feels nice, kind of familiar and comfortable. And then his fingers are on my chin, and he lifts it so I’m looking into his eyes, finally. He always had pretty eyes…
And then he’s kissing me. Hard. Just the way I remember.
I freeze. I think I forget to breathe. What the fuck? My brain spins its wheels, the thought “Heero’s kissing me” going around and around, until finally it catches, and I jump into gear. I push him back, but not before my stomach flips. Ah, no…
“Heero, are you nuts?” My stomach’s gone from a flip to a whole fucking gymnastics routine, and I look at the door. “What if somebody saw?”
“No one did.” But he lets go and looks at the door, too, before he steps back. “Duo-”
I scrub my hand across my mouth, like it’s dirty. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“You had your chance to say good bye! You had it three years ago!” I’m pissed again-and scared. And my mouth feels swollen and hungry. “Heero..Heero, my life is good. Don’t fuck it up for me.”
“You do love him, then?”
“Yeah.” I look at the door again, and I want Zechs to be here. I just really need to see him. And I hope he’s at the other end of the palace, because this is the last place I want him to be. “More than I can stand, sometimes. Like…like it’s going to…I dunno…swallow me whole. Like I could just disappear inside it, it’s so big, what I feel for him…”
“Did you ever love me like that?”
“…I…” I want to tell him I did. I think I want to tell myself I did and somehow justify those years of wallowing. But I can’t lie, not to either of us. “…No. I tried to, I wanted to…but…Heero, why are you asking me all this now?”
“I needed to know.”
“You? You?” I grab the back of the chair, not to hold me up or anything, but to keep myself from slugging him. “Is this all about you? What about me, and my life? And Relena-damn it, Heero, you’re marrying her. You’re not supposed to be kissing someone else like that!”
Heero blinks. “Like what?”
“Like you just kissed me.”
He frowns a little, like he doesn’t have a clue what I’m talking about. But when did he? He looks down, and his hair falls into his face, just like it used to when we were younger. It tugs at my heart more than I want to admit.
I’m sorry. I’ve been waiting for years to hear him say that, and now that he has, it doesn’t mean quite what I expected. I don’t think he really knows what he’s apologizing for. This feels familiar, too. Christ, how many times did he frustrate me like this? He never got it, never really understood anything I tried to tell him about me, about what I wanted or needed. It always came down to this-I’d get mad and lose it, and he’d say, “I’m sorry.” And nothing would change. Funny how history repeats itself. But this time…this time, I think I’m fresh out of forgiveness.
“Sorry doesn’t fix everything, Heero. And you know what? It never did.”
He looks at me again, and I can see he’s thinking about that, but it’s not making sense to him. “Then what’s the point of it? Apologizing?”
“I don’t know.” I don’t know much of anything right now. Except that I want Zechs. I want him to get me out of here, to take me someplace were it’s just us. I want him to hold me and talk to me without saying a word. I’m so tired all of a sudden. I’m still standing behind the chair, and I drop my head on my arms. “Maybe there isn’t any point. Maybe there never was.”
Heero is quiet, but after a couple of seconds, I feel his hand on my head. He pets me, gentle like he used to be those few times when I felt like we were really close. It was those times that kept me going, that made me stay, I realize. It was all I ever wanted from him, that rare gentleness. Maybe I knew even back then it was the closest we’d ever get to really knowing each other.
“I’m glad you’re happy, Duo. That was all I ever wanted, really. For you to be happy.”
I lift my head. “Well, you had a hell of a way of going about it.”
“It was the only way I knew. I gave you everything I could. But you deserve more than I was able to give.”
“I-” I sigh. What’s the use? It’s over, it’s done. Whatever I felt for Heero is part of my past, just like running and hiding and hating and fighting and hurting. And I have to give him credit. I think he did try, as much as he could. But he’s right. It wasn’t enough. It’s just that it was all I had.
I straighten up and look him in the eyes. “If you want to kiss me goodbye-it’s okay.”
He blinks, and then he smiles for real. Just a tiny, quirky lift of his lips, but for him, it’s like a big grin. He leans down to kiss me again, like before, but I shake my head.
“Not like that. Like this.” I kiss him once, softly and without lingering. No internal gymnastics this time. Just a quiet, steady feeling that things have worked out the way they were supposed to.
Heero looks at me for a minute, his eyes intense, and I feel like he’s trying to fix something in his memory, but I’m not exactly sure what. Then he leans down again and proves that you can teach an old dog new tricks after all.
I feel like I’ve finally laid down something I’ve been dragging around for years. I laugh, because I don’t know what else to do, but it’s shaky and not very convincing. “You’re a dope. I don’t know what I ever saw in you. Must’ve gotten hit on the head during the war or something.”
“You’re really going to get married?”
“I really am. Are you really going to be my best man?”
“Yeah. After all…” Memories come back, things I haven’t thought of in a long time. Times during the war, mostly, one of us saving the other one’s butt, or hanging out between missions…they’re good memories, pretty much, of good times, all things considered. “After all, you’re the best friend I ever had, and I want to be up there with you.”
I hear footsteps in the dining room, and the terrace doors swing open. It’s Zechs, with Relena on his arm. They’re both smiling, but I see the same hesitance on their faces. It’s weird, how two people can have the same expressions. I feel a little sorry for Relena, because I know what she’s getting. But who knows? Maybe it’s enough for her.
I look into Zechs’ eyes, and I nod, enough to let him know everything is okay. He relaxes, although probably no one else even saw how tense he’d been, and his smile turns real.
“You guys get all the details worked out?”
Zechs nods and slips his arm away from Relena. He holds out his hand to me, and I take it, not because I want to rub Heero’s nose in anything, but because I need to touch my prince. My fingers vanish in his, and I feel like I’m home.
Relena takes in the scene, says something about florists, and disappears again. Heero stands there, like he knows he ought to go after her, but he just can’t, not yet. He’s got something to say, I can tell. Whether he’ll ever say it, though, is an even bet.
Zechs lets go of my hand and puts his arm around my waist. I scoot closer to him, settle against his side, and I wonder why I ever thought I might want to be anywhere else. He looks down, and something leaps between us, some spark, some connection I don’t really understand. I only know how right it feels.
Heero finally speaks. “You’re a lucky man, Zechs.”
Zechs’ arm tightens in a possessive squeeze. “I know.” He glances back toward the dining room, where Relena vanished moments ago. “But you haven’t done so badly yourself.”
“Hn.” For just a second, Heero looks like every guy who’s ever been mystified by a woman. It’s such a normal look that I think maybe he and Relena are going to be okay after all.
Which is a good thing, of course. But the one I really care about is Zechs, and I was an idiot to even wonder about it. I want to say I’m sorry, but I can’t, not with Heero standing here. That would be rotten, and anyway, it wouldn’t change a thing, just like I said. I’ve still been a shit to Zechs, but I’ll make it up to him-somehow.
Zechs and I start to go, but I look back one more time. Heero is still standing on the balcony, the breeze messing with his hair, his hands jammed in his pockets. He has a look in his eyes I don’t think I’ve ever seen before, but still, I know what it is. I know what he’s saying.
That’s the way our luck has always run. Finally, we get to the place where we understand each other, and the only thing we have left to say is goodbye.
I turn away and leave with Zechs. When we’re inside, he stops me. “Little one-are you all right?”
“Me? Yeah. I’m fine.”
“You aren’t bullshitting me, are you?”
I laugh, because it just sounds so funny to hear him say say something like that. “I think that’s my line.”
“You’ve corrupted me.” His fingers stroke my chin, and I’m almost overcome by the urge to rub against his hand like a cat. “How did-”
“I’ll tell you. But later? Right now, I…I just need a little space.”
He nods, but shadows still dim his eyes. He doesn’t push me about it, even though I can tell he wants to. Damn it, I’ve tortured him enough lately. I stand on my tiptoes and kiss him.
“Don’t worry. It’s all okay. I promise.”
The last of the shadows disappear, and I put my arms around his neck. We kiss again, then I just snuggle against his chest for a minute. And after a few heartbeats, it's like something just... uncoils--something tight and hard and ancient lets go and slips away, and I want to laugh. I'm free of the past, or of that part, anyway. Okay, maybe I’m just a little bit hysterical, but I'm free, too. It’s like being able to breathe again.
“Little one...?” Zechs pulls away just enough to look down at me, a faint, worried line forming between his perfect brows.
“Let's go home.” Back to our rooms, home, it's all the same just now, because Zechs is here and I'm okay. I'm really, actually okay.
Funny. I always thought that I was the one teaching Heero stuff about relationships. But today, he was the one who knew how to let go, so I could, too.
So good bye, Heero. And…thanks. For everything.