Late evening after dinner she left her guests to their own devices and went to read by the fireplace, the kitten napping on her lap. The plan was to relax before bed.
For about an hour, it worked.
"Do you wish you could fuck him?" Duo asked suddenly, appearing at her elbow. She was getting used to his way of materializing out of thin air, though. She barely jumped.
"No," she answered, with the calm determination that had made her a political success. "I do not."
She felt angry with him, angry at the callous words he was throwing, insulting her and his own lover both. She looked away, staring ahead, her book abandoned on the table beside her armchair.
He was watching her intently, like a hawk, as if trying to read her eyes. She had never seen him more indecipherable.
"Do you wish you could make love with him?"
So that was it, eh? The warning off of his territory. She had grown so tired of waiting for it. "Yes," she whispered, her eyes suddenly full of hot tears, of rage and regret, of rage at Duo's surprisingly casual cruelty, and of regret for what would never be.
And with that, he grinned.
"That wasn't exactly the reaction I had expected," she managed to answer, glad that her years as a politician had given her such good schooling as for hiding her emotions; she sounded perfectly neutral.
Duo's laughing eyes told her that he wasn't fooled a second, but that he'd act as if he was anyway, for her sake. "What, you thought I would berate you for having good taste? Hell no, princess."
Only Duo Maxwell would reason that way, she reflected, bemused.
He dropped casually in the armchair on the other side of the fireplace, throwing a long leg over the armrest. The effect could have been vulgar; it only looked relaxed. "I wouldn't want to be insulting, princess, but you're slow. Or did you already forget what I told you on the beach?"
How could she forget? she thought, bemused. "No, of course not--"
"Did you dismiss it, then?" he asked, his eyes turning hard and cold.
She gulped and shook her head. She had watched Heero's expressions. She still remembered that moment in the garden. No, she hadn't dismissed it. She didn't know how she could ever dismiss it, now.
"He loves you," he told her patiently, adding little finger motions to underline his meaning. "You love him. Do the math."
She took a deep breath and straightened her shoulders; Duo's delusion that this love was more than platonic was too deeply engrained for her to dispel it, and there were other questions that needed asking. "Are you playing matchmaker with your boyfriend, Maxwell?"
"Yep." The bastard was grinning.
"Why not? He loves you."
She jumped to her feet, barely remembering to hold up the kitten; the book fell, knocked off, and lay on the floor forgotten. She caressed the back of her mewling pet gently, trying to calm herself as much as reassure the cat. "God help me Duo Maxwell, if you tell me that he isn't really in love with you, pacifist or not I am so going to deck you..."
"Did I say that?" he asked, amused. "I know that Heero loves me."
She paused, confused. "So why the ...heck are you telling me..."
For once he didn't laugh at her for not even being able to swear. " 'Cause it's true, princess. It's true and not telling something that important is the same as lying, and I don't lie." He eyed her. "And I think you have a right to know."
They were silent for a few seconds, listening to the cracklings of the wood in the fireplace.
"Aren't you afraid of losing his love?" she asked softly, still unable to fully understand Duo's thought process.
He shrugged and gave her his best disarming grin. "If he was meant to love you more than me... If you and him fit better than you and me... Then whatever I do, he will love you. I can only delay it, prevent him from finding a better-suited partner. That isn't love. That's selfishness."
"Meant to be... You're a romantic," she smiled, but she felt sad. "But love... can be nurtured. It can grow. Or die."
"If his love is weak enough that it can perish from being exposed to another love interest -- then maybe I don't want it."
And he had the gall to grin at her. She would have hit him for that-- except she knew he had never been so serious.
"He..." She didn't know what she wanted to say; she fell silent. Duo took it as an occasion to drive his message home.
"Loves you. Like a knight loves his princess. With an adoration and a devotion I've never seen him give to anyone else. You're not that high-profile now and there are others to take the job, but he still makes sure to keep an eye on you. And I don't know of any bodyguards that give presents to their employers--yes, I know about the bloody teddy-bear. He spent hours trying to choose one. Not that you're his employer anyway; how've you paid him so far? With no more than a smile and a few words, I'd guess."
"What," he cut her, "you didn't think he went so far protecting you and taking care of you just 'cause you're the Only Hope For Peace or something and without you everything would crumble, do you?"
She flushed. It was exactly what she had thought.
But the way Duo said it, it sounded so self-important. She didn't really think still that the whole weight of the peace rested on her shoulders. Maybe it had at first, but now she had helped to put a solid government in place and she really didn't think that her death would be enough to destroy it utterly.
"And like a fucking bloody knight, he watches you from afar, putting his life on the line for you and sighing after you when no one's looking, never daring to reach out and try to climb your pedestal. That's so friggin infuriating."
He laughed at her gaping fish impression, shaking off the fond annoyance tinged with worry there had been in his voice.
For a few seconds, she couldn't accept Duo's words. They just didn't fit in with her vision of the world. Then it wend 'click', and suddenly, they fitted indeed. But in a way that made her cold inside.
"He loves me. Like an ideal."
He didn't see her, Relena. Maybe being the princess to his knight wasn't so good after all.
Duo snorted. "Don't push the analogy too far, Relly-baby. We're talking personality types here. I say he's a knight turned soldier because he's too fucking noble inside to act as a ruthless soldier and not get hurt later when he stops repressing, not because his feelings for you are a stereotype. Believe me, he does see the woman in you."
She snorted; it was unladylike but right now she didn't give a damn.
"You want proof?"
"Yes," she answered sternly, scowling.
He smirked deviously. "Fine. I'll give you all the proof you need."
[chapter 3][chapter 5 ]