While Trowa and Heero faced the rigors of undercover work, the other new face at the OZ base was trying to tolerate the intolerable without much success.
As a long and boring guided tour of the research facility concluded, Lt. Zechs Merquise had excused himself from the group to return to his quarters to ostensibly write a report of what he'd found so far during his inspection. In reality, the platinum blond officer was trying to nurse a migraine headache into some semblance of control so he could handle the tedium of the additional simpering self-officious fools that would undoubtedly seek him out during the evening meal and he just needed a break.
//Why, oh *why* did Treize think this was a good idea in the first place?//
The man asked himself as he stared at the mirror in the bathroom of the VIP quarters he'd been assigned. He sighed as he realized there were no easy answers and there never would be as long as he failed to understand why the ginger-haired commander of OZ seemed to be both attracted and repulsed by his own presence.
//Did I do something to convince him that I was disloyal to the organization? I've never failed him in the past, so why have I been sent away like this? Is it because of that incident in Berlin? Hmm, I wonder if Noin knows something about all of this that I don't?//
As he got out a pair of pain pills and poured a glass of water to take the drugs, he shook his head angrily at the thought of the brunette woman who had pursued him with a single-mindedness that frightened him.
//No, best to just stay the hell away from her! Since she found out that I'm gay, she's been acting as if I betrayed her. Honestly, I never claimed to be straight and I certainly never gave her any reason to think that I was interested in her sexually, so why is she being so vindictive?//
He swallowed the medicine and tossed the empty paper cup in the trash with a sigh.
Zechs ran a hand through the long blond hair that now cascaded freely around him since the trademark silver mask had been taken off as soon as he had locked the door. Walking over to the bed, he stretched out on it and closed his eyes briefly as he considered the loss of the woman's friendship and how lonely he'd felt since then.
//I really do miss Lucrezia, though. She'd been my friend throughout our training at the Academy and then she became my first officer after Lake Victoria Base was destroyed. But how was I supposed to know she expected something more from me? It's hard enough trying to figure out what Treize wants from me and *he's* my commanding officer!//
Ice blue eyes remained closed in remembered disappointment as the man reflected on one of the greatest confusions in his life.
//Then again, maybe I'm as guilty of assuming things as she is. I always thought Treize wanted me for a lover, but when I came as close to offering myself to him as I ever have, he not only rejected me, he sent me off on this pathetic inspection tour.//
He sighed deeply and allowed himself to sink into a light sleep as he recalled how sad and upset the older man had been one evening after they returned from the opera and Zechs had mistakenly tried to seduce him.
The performance of a selection of Wagner pieces by the Berlin Opera Company had been pleasant enough that evening and afterwards Treize and Zechs sat together in the general's study in the OZ headquarters in Berlin.
Without preamble, the ginger-haired man had asked, "So, Zechs, I understand that the Gundam pilots made fools of us yet again by destroying a significant part of the new base you were working on. I wonder if Wu--" he cut himself off, hoping to disguise how much he knew about the youth, "I wonder if pilot 05, he's the Chinese one, was involved in the raid?"
Zechs snorted angrily, "I don't know and frankly I don't care! Their little 'raid', as you call it, set us back four months in only a few hours!" The taller man hadn't thought much about the incident other than annoyance and Zechs was utterly surprised by the silence that followed his statement.
When Treize finally spoke, only two words were said. "Get out."
"What? Why?" Zechs had asked in confusion.
"Just leave, Milliardo." Treize had sighed and looked away but not before the pain that was deeply etched across the older man's face was seen by the younger one. The combination of hearing his usually unmentioned birth name along with the obvious suffering on his friend's face caused Zechs to virtually flee the other man's presence as quickly as possible.
Later realizing he had made some sort of terrible error, the tall blond had returned intending to apologize. What he found, however, shocked him.
General Treize Khushrenada, arguably the most powerful man alive, sat in the near darkness of his study staring at flickering images on a computer terminal while sipping disconsolately at a rather large snifter of brandy. Judging by the empty liquor bottle on the floor by the desk, though, this wasn't the man's first drink of the night.
"May I come in?" Zechs asked respectfully.
"If you feel that you must," Treize had responded with a sigh.
"Um, thank you, I think," the platinum blond had answered, taking a seat where he could watch the slowly shifting images that held the older man's attention so completely. "Those are the surveillance tapes from the Gundam pilots' raid, aren't they?"
"Very observant," Treize responded with only a modicum of the sarcasm that might ordinarily have laced the words. After taking a deep swallow of brandy, he sighed and sat back rubbing one hand across tired cornflower blue eyes. "He wasn't there."
"Who wasn't there?" Zechs asked. He recalled the other's apparent interest in the black-haired Chinese teen, but wasn't about to jump to any conclusions at this point.
Treize, however, had lost the keen edge he held under most circumstances and answered simply, "Pilot 05. I've scanned these few frames repeatedly and don't see him here."
Zechs frowned in confusion. "Were you expecting him to be there, your Excellency?"
The general missed the use of his title entirely as he answered quietly, "No, not really. It's just that I've been trying to track him down for the last few months and I thought it might help if I could place him somewhat more recently than two months ago."
Brow furrowed with the sense that an essential issue was at hand yet he couldn't quite grasp it, Zechs asked, "Why are you looking for one of the Gundam pilots in the first place? Does he pose some type of unique danger to OZ that I should be aware of?"
"No, nothing like that, mores the pity," Treize sighed as he entered a series of passwords to open a heavily protected file. Onto the screen flashed a crystal clear photo of Chang Wufei perched on a motorcycle, a rare half-smile gracing his exotic features.
"Where is this from, sir?" Zechs asked with curiosity, admiring the appearance of the attractive youth on the screen.
"An undercover agent at one of the boarding schools he hid in two months ago sent this in," Treize remarked sadly. "By the time I saw this photo and confirmed this was the one I was looking for, the boy had vanished without a trace and there have been no sightings since then."
The Russian officer sighed deeply once more, then stood to walk to one of the open french doors that led to the balcony the study shared with his own bedroom and he stepped out into the night air.
Treize stood silhouetted against the moon and Zechs thought about how stunning the man was but didn't allow false hopes about being invited to join him in anything beyond the cool breeze enter his mind. He followed at a respectful distance before asking, "Would you like for me to try to locate the boy for you, sir?"
Turning to look at him, Treize shook his head, "No, I'd rather you not do that, Zechs. You might be spotted by his companions if you do and I can't afford to miss a chance to talk to him myself soon. No, this is not a mission for a soldier. This requires a lighter touch, a gentler hand, or it will only make matters worse."
"What kind of matters, Treize?" Zechs finally asked in annoyance. "You're talking in riddles now and it's giving me a headache. I'm offering to help any way that I can, but if I don't understand your objectives there is very little I can do for you."
"Precisely the issue," the older man swallowed the last of his brandy and handed the empty glass to the lieutenant before walking away. "This is my problem to cope with, not yours. I made a terrible mistake awhile back and my conscience will not allow me peace unless I can find him and explain. I don't expect him to ever forgive me, I can't forgive myself for that matter, but I must at least try to offer restitution."
Cornflower blue eyes locked with ice blue ones as Treize commented, "Good night, Milliardo. Please see yourself out, won't you?"
Then the man in charge of the most frightening fighting force assembled on Earth in centuries walked into his own bedroom, refusing to answer any more questions or concerns.
Understandably, Zechs had left at that point thinking he might be able to get more useful information from the man in the morning when he was no longer under the influence of the brandy he had drunk so much of.
However, when Merquise had tried the next day to discover if there was anything he could do to make up for the apparent error he had committed, Lady Une herself had stopped him outside the general's office to hand him orders that required he leave immediately. A brief and bitter conversation followed and eventually Zechs had left planning to contact Treize personally later. But each time that he had, he was blocked by "Lady" Une and she refused to assist him to any great extent.
A knock at the door roused him from his dozing, and the TallGeese pilot rose. A slight smile formed on his lips as he realized that the drugs had once again done their job and his headache had diminished. But as he left his room, one final thought crossed Zechs' mind.
//If that young Chinese pilot means so much to Treize, then perhaps I need to find a way to meet him myself. I've already met pilots 01 and 03, perhaps I can convince them that I wish to meet 05 under a comparable flag of truce? I have no idea what kind of excuse to use for needing to see the boy, but obviously he is connected with whatever is disturbing Treize.//
With a plan forming in his mind, Zechs Merquise felt a little better as he went about his duties as a field officer and tried to tolerate the pointless ramblings of the scientific staff of the base over a typical dinner of "rubber chicken" and cold vegetables.
Full Author's Notes to Run at Conclusion.
End Notes for Parts 13 and 14:
Dedications: Ta-Da!! The "Hall of Fame" returns tonight! Here's a probably
incomplete list of the fine folks who sent me words of encouragement lately!
(It's "probably incomplete" since no matter how hard I try, I seem to miss
someone each time I do this! But rest assured, I thwap myself mightily when I
discover the error of my ways later!) This list is extra long since I skipped
one night due to thunderstorms and another due to extreme gratitude for aid
with German cuisine, so hold on tight and here we go!
In no particular order since I adore you all too much to pick favorites to go
first tonight, I wish to thank: Shea, Kayo, Jana, AJ from NZ, Danielle, Lori,
SkyLark, Starlight, Aurelie, Mahtob, Rubious, Zan, bearilou, Francine, Dan,
SteelSong, and (of course!) Ryoko and Kimmie!!