Of Love and Loyalty #2
"How are you feeling, Otto."
"Good, sir," the Lieutenant replied, struggling to rise.
"Don't sit up," Zechs said, holding a hand out to stay the other man.
Otto lay back reluctantly, trying not to wince at the strain on his bandaged ribs. He didn't want to be confined to the medical tents, not when the assault against the Sanc Kingdom was to be carried out at any minute. He silently cursed his own weakness. There was no way he'd be able to fight alongside Zechs and see the Tallgeese perform in the hands of a truly skilled pilot.
Zechs slid his gloved hands over the thin metal rail that ran at the foot of the bed and the air crackled with tension. Although he'd learned from Treize's example to give credit where it was due, it wasn't often that he had men serving under him that warranted such attention.
"Before I leave," he said slowly, "I wanted to take the time to thank you personally for all you've done in overseeing the preparation of the Tallgeese."
"I was only doing my job, Colonel Zechs."
"Yes, and I appreciate that," Zechs replied. Safely hidden by the smooth silver of his mask, he studied the other man's features. Otto's eyes were like a boy's; bright and full of enthusiasm and an unwavering belief in his commander's ability. Zechs felt a touch of pride and touch of shame at being the target of such a devoted gaze. "I'll check on you again when I return."
"Thank you, sir, " Otto said, neck heating at the prospect. He saluted sharply despite his injury and the awkward slant of the hospital bed. "Good luck, Colonel."
Zechs nodded sharply, and he returned the salute before turning on his heel and exiting the small tent.
It was well past midnight when Otto woke to the commotion of the strike force returning. He waited anxiously, hoping Zechs would stay true to his word and give him news on the liberation of Sanc personally. Instead, he found himself with a roommate: a young pilot whose Aries had taken enough damage to throw out the stabilizers and send him into a wobbly descent that ended with a huge splash in the ocean. The impact had rattled the boy around, breaking his left leg in three places and snapping his forearm in two.
"Was the objective accomplished?" Otto asked, after the teen finished blowing off steam for ending up in traction.
"No." The pilot turned his head to look at Otto and grimaced. "They had laser cannons! Dozens of them."
"Laser cannons..." Otto repeated quietly, using his elbows to prop himself up and ignoring the dull ache the painkillers couldn't quite mask. "So even the Tallgeese was no match for beam cannon emplacements."
"I wouldn't say that," the boy contested. "That new mobile suit looked like it would have no problem taking out the base all on its own, but Colonel Zechs was forced to retreat. He barely made it back alive."
"What?" Otto's eyes widened. "Colonel Zechs was injured?"
"Yeah. They've got him isolated over at that end of the camp." Otto pressed his lips together as the younger pilot waved his good arm to indicate which direction. "I had to wait until a medic saw to him first before I could get my leg set."
"Is it serious?" he pressed for more information.
"I guess," the boy shrugged one shoulder and blinked. He shifted uncomfortably and glared daggers at the contraption of wires and pulleys that held his leg suspended. "All I know is they aren't letting anyone in to see him, and they sent Lieutenant Noin to the city to get some specialist to look at him."
Otto frowned and rubbed a hand absently over the crisscrossing bandages that wound around his ribs. Not even Zechs could handle the Tallgeese...
Still struggling to properly button his uniform jacket, Otto hesitated at the entrance to the medical tent that housed his commander. This end of the encampment felt deserted; personnel and other patients having been moved far enough away to give Oz's Ace plenty of peace and quiet. The only guards in the area stood a good distance away sharing a cigarette, and had been easily avoided.
When he was finally satisfied that he looked presentable, Otto pushed back the flap and slipped inside. The lighting inside was dimmed and yellowish, glinting off Zechs' silver helmet as he lay wounded in a hospital bed with an oxygen mask strapped to his face. Otto wasn't at all prepared for the reality of the situation and he approached nervously, worrying that his mere presence was somehow detrimental to Zechs' well being.
Reassuring himself that Zechs was merely sleeping and not comatose, Otto found himself doubly relieved. He didn't quite know what he planned to say if the longhaired man had been awake. It was good enough that he could simply pause and see with his own eyes that the officer he so admired was not destroyed by the Tallgeese. Zechs would heal and overcome that beast of a mobile suit, he was certain of that.
Otto looked down at the face of his commander. With his lips parted slightly beneath the clear plastic and his breathing soft and even, it was easier to remember that the other officer was ten years his junior. Eventually, his eyes were drawn to where the mask's elastic band indented the smoothness of the other man's cheek. Did he even have to shave every morning?
Before he knew what he was doing, Otto was brushing the back of his fingers gently over the angular line of Zechs' jaw. His knuckles met the molded plastic of the oxygen mask and he traced it lightly, following it up to where it bordered the edge of Zechs' helmet.
The dark-haired man leaned over the bed as he hesitantly touched the cool surface. Zechs' breathing remained at the same slow, steady pace and growing ever bolder, Otto placed a second set of fingers to glide across the silvery metal reverently. There were rumors upon rumors as to why the Lightning Count hid his face from the world: to conceal some hideous disfigurement; for mechanical restoration of sight; out of sheer vanity; there were even those who thought Zechs was truly a woman. Otto believed none of these, but he longed to know the truth.
The temptation to look was overwhelming, and with trembling hands, Otto began to ease the helmet upwards. A powerful grip claimed both his wrists and he bit back a shout.
"What are you doing?" Zechs asked quietly.
Otto stared fearfully at the lenses that hid the other man's eyes, stammering an apology and trying to pull his hands away.
"Answer me, Lieutenant," Zechs said, tightening his hold.
"I've never seen y..." Otto rasped, his throat gone dry. He ceased fighting and stood sheepishly awaiting whatever punishment would be leveled for his insubordination. "I just wanted to see what you looked like, sir. All I've ever heard is rumors."
"I know," Zechs replied, his voice little more than a whisper. "The rumors are absurd, but natural I suppose..." He loosened his grip, sliding his fingers down to cradle Otto's hands and rested his thumbs in the older man's palms. They had the same calluses from piloting that his hand possessed, but the lines that crisscrossed his skin were deeper and shorter. "How does it feel, Otto, being so close to home?"
"Home sir? Sanc?" Otto scrambled to process the sudden question. Of course Zechs would know he had grown up in Sanc, he reminded himself, the Colonel never neglected reading the personnel files of his soldiers.
"It's changed so much since I was a boy," Otto said, forgetting entirely the fingers holding him captive. "When I left to join the Alliance, I used to believe the Peacecraft monarchy was foolish to uphold pacifism."
Zechs released one of Otto's hands to pull the oxygen mask off his chin. "And now?" he prompted.
"I'd give anything to have chosen differently when my parents begged me not to leave," Otto murmured. "But if I stayed I would've died with them..." He shook his head, eyes regaining their focus.
"I lost my parents in the attack as well," Zechs said, fingers tightening on the hand he still held. "I was only six years old."
"I didn't know you were from Sanc, sir," Otto said, blinking in surprise.
"Few people do," Zechs said quietly. He pulled the other pilot's hand to his mouth, ghosting his lips against Otto's fingers in a gesture reminiscent of a gentleman's kiss. "Your hands... they remind me of Treize's; broad knuckled and strong, but with such smooth, slender fingers."
The older officer stood frozen with uncertainty as the mood abruptly shifted. Another rumor often whispered among the ranks was Zechs' sexual preference. Was it true then, he wondered, flesh tightening with goosebumps, that Oz's top pilot preferred men? Fear, bewilderment, and curiosity swam beneath his skin and he was too shocked to flinch or pull away when Zechs placed a small bite at the heel of his palm.
"I ache, Otto. I've dreamed of the day when I could return home," Zechs said, lips brushing against the dark-haired man's palm as he reached up to slide his fingers along the brass of Otto's collar. His own jacket slid from where it was draped around his shoulders, leaving his smooth chest bare save for the bandages he knew were mirrored beneath the dark olive of Otto's uniform. "Laying here, I'm consumed by the knowledge that I'm so very close to that dream."
Zechs' voice went dark as he clutched Otto's neck forcefully and drew him down close enough that his eyes were visible to the other officer through the mirrorlike lenses of his helmet. "And I burn knowing that I failed to free my kingdom," he hissed softly. Otto's pulse thundered in his ears. Dimly he registered the potential harm to his drug numbed injuries, but he'd never seen Zechs like this before. The man's usual quiet control was gone, replaced by a cold fire that was reflected in his first view of Zechs' oddly familiar ice blue eyes. Poised inches away as he was to the man he'd give his life for in an instant, Otto found himself caught unawares by his body's reaction to the other pilot's warm breath.
When Zechs pulled him closer still and claimed his mouth in a forceful kiss, he didn't resist. Like the distant argument that his recovery time would be doubled by the strain on his body, as he braced his free hand against the bed, Otto easily ignored the part of him that insisted he wasn't attracted to other men. The lips that moved against his were bolder than a woman's, but the taste of Zechs' mouth when the younger man ventured out with his tongue was no less sweet.
"Otto," Zechs said, turning his head suddenly to break the kiss. He composed himself, releasing his hold on the Lieutenant's hand and regaining a tenuous control over the tone of his voice. "You should leave."
"Sir, I-" He wasn't entirely sure if he wanted to stay or even what he wanted to happen, but he couldn't leave Zechs alone to wallow in the bitterness of defeat.
"You should be resting," Zechs insisted.
"I feel fine, the medics said I didn-" The lie died on Otto's tongue. "Colonel Zechs, I'd like permission to stay a little longer if you'll allow me to."
"Do you know what you're asking?" Zechs looked into the other man's eyes. They remained as bright as always, but behind that lurked a quiet strength that he longed to borrow, if only for a short while.
Otto nodded, and his eyes slid shut as Zechs pulled him close again.
'I still believe in you, Colonel Zechs.' Otto's words hung in the air long after he had left the medical tent. 'You will conquer the Tallgeese.'
"I will overcome my cowardice to be worthy of your faith," Zechs said quietly, staring at the dark sliver of night visible through the medical tent's flap.
"Zechs?" The longhaired officer turned his gaze to the woman standing beside him; her eyebrows drawn together formed a concerned crease.
"Nothing, Noin," he said, and turned to look at the other man standing in the room.
"You're recovering nicely from the heart attack," the doctor told him, silently taking note of the sweat that was gathered at Zechs' temples, "but there are numerous irregularities in your circulatory system..."
Having seen Noin arrive with a doctor in tow as he headed away from Zechs' tent, Otto paused in the shadow of an Aries and argued with himself. He didn't care to do something so underhanded as eavesdrop, but as his own body complained about the exertion of their desperate encounter, he needed to assure himself that Zechs would be all right. So, turning with a pained gasp, he stumbled back towards the tent, steps slowing and breath catching as he heard the Colonel's voice.
"...I underestimated Tallgeese..."
As he listened at the edge of the tent flap to the deep, almost mesmerizing sound of Zechs' voice that had always seemed naggingly familiar, things began to click in Otto's head.
'I lost my parents in the attack as well...'
'...six years old...'
The impressive length of blonde hair that was so light it was nearly white, was as much an echo of his father as the rich sound of his voice. Otto wondered that he hadn't in all his time serving in Zechs' company that he hadn't put two and two together before now.
"That's why I have to be able to handle Tallgeese..." Zechs' words floated out and Otto turned away from the tent, his eyes gleaming. He understood everything now: the Tallgeese, the Gundams, and most importantly his Commander.
"I'll learn from the example of the Gundam pilots'," the Lieutenant whispered, as he headed towards the mobile suit that waited on bended knee like a knight before the throne.
Palming the panel to open Tallgeese's cockpit, Otto looked towards the lights of the Sanc kingdom that sparkled in the distance. "I can utilize the Gundams' strength, the same that this Tallgeese suit has, and I will help fulfill your dream, King Zechs."