Treize sighed wearily as he closed the glass door to his shower cubicle and stepped under the powerful spray, tilting his head back to allow the water to soak into his hair and massage his scalp. With a bit of luck, the gentle thrum of the water on his skin would be enough to ease away the headache that had been throbbing behind his eyes on and off for the last few days.
As his body relaxed in the hot spray and the clouds of steam, Treize let his mind wander where it wanted to, shutting down the ruthless hold he’d kept on himself whilst he tackled the latest crisis. He wasn’t particularly surprised to find that his mind wanted to consider Zechs, and with another soft exhalation, he gave in, knowing he couldn’t put it off forever.
Learning from Jean-Michel Rena just what Zechs had unwittingly committed the Specials to take part in had infuriated Treize, and he had turned the force of that anger onto the younger man, unable to comprehend how he could have been so careless. Surely Noventa’s games were obvious?
In trying to explain to the pilot what had happened, though, Treize had realised that, just perhaps, they weren’t. Zechs had been utterly clueless as to what he’d done, and the dawning horror in his beautiful eyes as the general made a point of telling him in the cruellest fashion he could come up with had been painful to watch. Zechs genuinely hadn’t known how those vultures had used him.
With hindsight, Treize could admit that it hadn’t been at all fair of him to expect that the younger man would be able to stand up to Noventa and his cronies. The pilot was barely eighteen years old, and had a self-admitted lack of interest and ability in politics. Zechs had none of the older man’s natural aptitude for shell games, and the rigorous training Treize himself had received at the hands of his family Zechs had never had. In conjunction with the distraction his understandable concern for his lover had caused, the blond had been easy prey for a pack of wily old wolves.
Treize had drawn these conclusions as his temper cooled and had found himself ashamed of the way that he’d treated his lover. He’d asked far too much of the younger man and then had turned on him when he couldn’t deliver to perfection. Given everything that had been working against him, Zechs had actually done a better job than could have reasonably been asked.
Thinking back over the nasty little scene in his London office, Treize shivered despite the heat of the water. Angry or not, some of the things he’d said to Zechs that evening were far beyond the point of decency – it was no surprise at all that pilot didn’t appear to want anything to do with his commander anymore.
Swamped with his efforts at damage control, stressed beyond bearing and exhausted by the strain, Treize had all but ignored Zechs for the remainder of their time in London. He’d watched from a distance as the younger man gradually lost the sparkle that seemed to light him, without knowing what to say or do to fix things and without the opportunity to try. He’d wanted to go to the pilot, to apologise and attempt to make things better, to make Zechs understand that he hadn’t done anything wrong after all, but before Treize got the chance Zechs was gone, returning to his command in Egypt in the early hours of the morning without ever telling Treize that he was going.
The unspoken message was clear to the older man – Zechs wanted nothing more to do with him – but then he’d never been one to do as he was told.
The move back to Luxembourg, when it came, had been a blessed relief to everyone involved, and now, three weeks later, Zechs had flown in to deliver his periodic progress report and to take care of some other basic administrative nonsense. The younger man didn’t know it yet, but Treize had arranged to take that report himself, forcing the pilot to be in the room with him, to talk with him.
If Treize had his way, they wouldn’t be talking about duty for long.
Stepping from the spray a little, Treize reached out for his shampoo, poured a small amount into his hands and began to work it through his hair, pressing his fingers into his scalp rhythmically. It was such a pleasant feeling to be able to do this properly again.
Over two months of not being able to use his left hand had left Treize with a new appreciation of how capable his body usually was. Simple tasks had been difficult, if not impossible, and one of the things he had missed most was the ability to wash his hair as thoroughly as he usually did. For a man concerned with his personal grooming to the point of obsession, having his hair less than perfectly clean was annoying in the extreme.
The week he’d spent in the hospital following the injury had been the most trying, overall. A civilian facility to begin with, the hospital had been swamped by the number of casualties they’d received from the base, and out of their depth with the nature of the injuries those casualties were suffering from. The staff, even with the support of the Specials medical unit that had flown in, was stretched to their limit and even for a patient of Treize’s rank they didn’t have time to do more than was necessary. Though Treize couldn’t fault the care they’d taken of him or any of his troops, he could wish wholeheartedly that he’d been allowed to wash a shade more often than he had.
Once installed in his London house, the general had found that Zechs was only too willing to assist him with his bathing, whether that meant simply hovering around to pass the older man things as he needed them, or going as far as getting in the bath with Treize to hold him whilst the heat of the water soaked out some of the pain he was experiencing.
After their argument, though, with Zechs gone back to Egypt, Treize had been forced to manage alone and he was only grateful that he had already healed well enough to make the switch to the much less cumbersome, waterproof brace.
Glancing at his left arm as he reached next for his soap, Treize allowed a rueful little smile to touch his lips. A fortnight ago, his doctors had allowed him to switch the support for his arm again, and this latest, and hopefully last, of the three devices was also the most tolerable of the lot. Light and almost comfortable, it was little more than a reinforced sleeve kept in place by adjustable straps. Treize’s physiotherapist had actually admitted in the session the general had just come from that he was being made to wear it more as a way to remind him not to stress his arm too much than out of actual necessity.
It would be a surprise for Zechs, at least, to see his commander seemingly recovered. Although the blond would certainly learn the truth if Treize got his way, until the general removed his shirt the new brace was undetectable, perfectly concealed by his heavy uniform.
Treize realised suddenly that his hands, prompted by thoughts of the younger man, were lingering on his body more than washing it, adding tiny flares of physical pleasure to the tension his mind was creating in him. Despite one or two occasions of rather creative thinking on their parts, there had been almost two months were Treize had been able to touch his love properly, and combined with a nearly a month of not seeing Zechs at all, with the uncertainty of their relationship casting a pall over his mind, it was enough to leave the older man more than a little eager for what he had planned for the evening.
Treize hesitated for a moment, taking a deep breath as he let himself sink into the light haze of pleasure he was feeling, wondering whether or not to let it go any further. An admitted hedonist, he was normally the last person to advocate self-restraint over something as trivial as masturbation, but on this occasion, with his plans for the evening firmly in his mind, he let himself drift for a few seconds and then forced himself to turn off the shower and go about the business of drying off and getting dressed, suppressing the urge ruthlessly. Practiced as he was in making himself feel good, there was no comparison between that and what he felt when he was with Zechs.
His body humming pleasantly, the headache banished completely, Treize slipped into his uniform and made his way to his office to wait for the younger man.
On the far side of the base, Zechs forced his face into stillness as he stepped down from the plane that had brought him in from Egypt and came face to face almost immediately with Lady Une.
Wondering what she was doing here, he sincerely hoped it wasn’t more than her customary greeting to an incoming officer. If it turned out that he was supposed to deliver his update to her, the pilot thought he might be forced to scream. Une wasn’t the easiest of superiors on a good day but after a month of frontline action and a five-hour flight she would be intolerable. And that was if she’d recovered from her amazing bitching streak in London.
He saluted her neatly as his feet touched the solid concrete of the hanger floor. “Lady Une?”
“Major Marquise, welcome back to Luxembourg. I trust the flight was comfortable?”
“Perfectly, Lady, thank you,” Zechs agreed, responding to the empty pleasantry in like fashion. He extended a hand as Une offered him the small paper wallet that contained the details of his stay at HQ.
“Your room assignment and schedule until you return to your squadron, Major,” she told him unnecessarily.
“Thank you again. You wouldn’t happen to know when the first debriefing is scheduled, by any chance?” he asked, praying for it to be in the morning so he could fall into bed and sleep for twelve hours before he had to have his wits about him.
“19:00 this evening, Major. I assume that won’t be a problem?”
“No, of course not,” Zechs agreed, but he groaned internally. Had Une done it deliberately? He was well aware that scheduling debriefings was her responsibility, and he wouldn’t have put it past her to try to catch him out by not giving him chance to rest first. If she had done it on purpose, where had she found a Staff officer willing to work after dinner to take a Major’s routine report? Unless Une was taking his report herself…
“Lady, forgive me, but would you know which officer is conducting the debriefing?”
Behind her glasses, Une’s eyes flicked to the envelope she’d given the pilot, as much as saying ‘look it up for yourself!’ but she merely smiled tightly as she answered, “Mr. Treize, I believe. He insisted.”
“Ah. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Any other questions?” Une asked, but didn’t give him time to reply before she carried on, “No? I assume you remember your way around then? Good.”
Zechs watched in wry amusement as she turned on her boot heel and stalked away.
A glance at his wristwatch when Lady Une disappeared from his sight had been enough to jolt Zechs into action. He had just a little more than an hour before he had to report for his debriefing and if he couldn’t have the night’s rest he’d been hoping for, then he at least needed a long shower, a pot of coffee to try to wake himself up and a chance to look over his notes again. With luck, Treize would keep it short and wouldn’t ask too many awkward questions.
Flicking open the envelope he was holding in his hands, Zechs scanned the first page until he found the room he had been assigned and began making his way there with a swift stride. He found the room rather easily and unlocked it with the code printed next to the room number. Pausing only briefly to look around before dumping his duffle onto the neatly made bunk, Zechs headed into the bathroom to turn on the shower.
With the water warming, he made his way back into the main room and found the coffee machine, setting it to brew as he pulled his uniform off and dug into his bag enough to find the case he’d packed his toiletries in.
Half an hour soaking in the shower left Zechs feeling something close to human again, and he dried his hair with practiced ease before sitting down on the edge of his bunk with his coffee to read.
After the first quick glance through of his notes, though, he couldn’t make himself concentrate any more and he sighed as he tossed the file aside and flopped back onto the pillows. In his mind he could hear Lady Une’s voice replaying over and over again, ‘Mr. Treize, I believe. He insisted.’ and he shook his head a little, trying to banish the emotions her words had called up.
If there had been one officer he wanted to take his report even less than Une herself, it was Treize. The unrelenting nature of his duties for the past month had left Zechs with very little time to think about what had happened between the two of them – something he’d been grateful for at the time – but now it meant that his own feelings on the subject were no more resolved than they had been in London. Despite Noin’s assurances to the contrary, it seemed as though Treize could and did hold Zechs responsible for what had happened. In the week following the argument in Treize’s office, the general had barely spoken to the pilot and he’d made no effort at all to contact Zechs during his time in Egypt.
From a man who, two months before, hadn’t been able to go 24 hours without at least an email back and forth, Treize’s silence was an effective way of making sure Zechs knew how things stood between them. Clearly, Treize wasn’t about to tolerate someone as useless as the pilot had proven himself to be as his lover. It was still up for debate whether there was anything of their friendship to be salvaged.
Seeing Treize hadn’t been on Zechs’s list of tasks to be accomplished in this brief stay at headquarters. In fact, it had been his sincere intention to avoid the older man altogether so that Treize wouldn’t be able to confirm everything Zechs was suspecting. However self-deluding it might be, the pilot wanted desperately to hold onto that last shred of hope he had that he hadn’t ruined things completely. Hearing Treize tell him things were over would tear that away.
It appeared, though, that the general had other plans and Zechs supposed he shouldn’t be too surprised – Treize had never been one to shirk away from a task that had to be faced.
It remained only to be seen whether Zechs could hang on to his composure long enough to get through this meeting without making a total fool of himself.
The beep of the reminder he had set on his watch forced him to pull away from his thoughts and he began to dress methodically, taking the time to make sure his appearance was as close to perfect as he could get it.
Zechs hesitated for a full fifteen seconds before he knocked on Treize’s office door, waiting for the second hand on his watch to tick down so that he would be precisely on time. His rap was answered almost immediately by that so-familiar voice bidding him to come in and Zechs obeyed, taking a deep breath meant to calm his nerves and feeling suddenly grateful for the mask hiding most of his expression.
Treize was sitting behind his desk, the chair half turned away so that he could tilt his head to look out of the window, balancing a cup and saucer between his hands. Zechs was both surprised and relieved to see that his friend seemed to have the full use of his left arm back, with no sign of any support or restraint to be seen.
He drew himself to attention as Treize turned the chair and set the cup down on the desk. For a moment, his sharp, stern expression made his eyes hard as he scanned over the younger man, and then the general came to his feet, smiling affectionately and his gaze gentled. “Hello, Zechs,” he greeted quietly.
“Sir,” the pilot returned formally, wondering what was happening. The warmth of Treize’s tone was surprising, not at all what Zechs had been expecting and he couldn’t help but feel the first edges of panic as he tried to work out why the older man would behave this way. “I have my report for you, sir, if you…?”
“Yes, of course. Do put it on my desk – I’ll read it later.” Treize waited until the younger man’s move to obey put them level, then he reached out and brushed his fingers across one red sleeve, feeling the heat from the other man’s body even through the heavy fabric. “How have you been, Zechs? You didn’t write to me….”
The fleeting touch and the almost wistful tone of Treize’s question made Zechs freeze, his head snapping round so he could look at his commander. “I didn’t imagine you wanted me to, sir and I had no wish to make a nuisance of myself.”
The soft smile touched Treize’s mouth again. “Zechs…” he chided gently. “How could you ever be a nuisance? Of course I wanted you to. Don’t I always?”
“Yes, but…. I didn’t think you were talking to me, sir. You made it rather clear in London that you didn’t want to see me.”
“By asking you to leave me alone after the meeting? I am sorry about that but I rather needed the space for a few hours. Losing my temper like that was quite embarrassing enough without you seeing it. I didn’t mean for you to avoid me altogether.”
Zechs frowned, beyond confused. This really wasn’t the conversation he’d been expecting to have. “No, sir…I know that,” he admitted, “but it…. Well, it looked as though you were avoiding me.”
“I was busy, Zechs. Nothing more.”
“I’m sorry, sir. It didn’t look that way.” Zechs stopped, caught his breath and spoke without thinking. “Treize, if that’s really all that was going on, why didn’t you write to me?!”
To Zechs’s surprise colour touched the older man’s face.
“Ah,” Treize murmured, “you see, I rather thought it was you that didn’t want anything more to do with me. I didn’t want to seem… pushy, I suppose. I hoped that if I let you be for a while that you might… forgive me.”
“Forgive you? For what? I thought I was the one who….”
Treize shook his head. “For the way I spoke to you in my office.” The general let the words linger for a moment or two, and then, seeing that Zechs didn’t understand, he sighed. “Zechs, sit down. And take that damned mask off.”
The pilot began to obey without thinking, and then stopped himself, realising that he had almost slipped back into the habits that had formed so naturally in the months since his relationship with Treize had changed. In the weeks leading up to the Dover bombing, almost every evening the two men had spent together had started in Treize’s office, with Zechs complying with those same two instructions as the older man moved to pour them both a drink much as he was now.
“Sir – this is meant to be a debriefing….”