The Contest of Individuals
Graduation day meant full parade uniform. In the relentless heat, Zechs suffered like the damned. Sweat trickled down the nape of his neck and every inch of his skin down to the pores itched, but his spine remained stiff and he refused to allow his posture to waver throughout the entire ceremony.
Afterwards though, once the champagne had been popped and the new batch of officers congratulated by superiors and peers alike, he found a nice dark corner to slump in and loosen the buttons at his throat. The respite proved disappointingly brief. A well-decorated General he didn't recognise spotted him and arrowed in for the kill.
"Merquise is it?" the older man said, far louder than was necessary. The wineglass heavy in his hand tilted dangerously. "I hear good things about you. Good things! Top of your class, remarkable scores on and off the field."
"Thank you, sir."
Buried beneath a thick moustache, the man's mouth spread into a smile. He clapped Zechs on the arm with enthusiasm fuelled by more than just the one drink. "Here I thought it'd be another decade gone by before we had an officer candidate that even came close to our golden boy." He cocked his head towards where Treize mingled with a group of men sporting more stars and bars than Zechs could count. "To think we've got you and two more in your year. Fine youngsters, all of you."
His meaty hand came down on Zechs's shoulder and he gave Zechs a firm, affable squeeze. Wine kissed the lip of the glass as he raised a sloppy toast. "Make us proud, boy."
Draining half his glass in a single swallow, he clapped Zechs on the shoulder once more and made a beeline for the nearest server.
Relieved that the encounter hadn't been as painful as he had mentally prepared himself for, Zechs sunk a bit more into the shadows. Fencing words or playing at idle conversation to sift out important details was Treize's passion, not his. He stretched his neck out, discreetly watched his friend take his first crucial steps into the playground of men, and was glad to have a bit of space to breathe for the first time since dawn.
"So this is where you've been hiding," Treize said, approaching the pillar Zechs had chosen to keep company.
"I prefer to think of it as having kept a strategic amount of distance," Zechs replied. The fringe of his hair obscured much of his face. He fingered the elaborate trim of his jacket cuff. "Invite or not, the sharks were thick enough tonight I thought I'd let them circle each other instead of me."
"Fresh blood gets them excited." Treize looked back at the milling crowd and visibly weighed options. Attendance had thinned, but there were not so few that they couldn't slip away unnoticed, and not too many that taking leave meant missing opportunities or committing a sin of discourtesy.
"You'll need to rub elbows eventually," Treize said. He gestured down the hall that led towards an exit.
"Eventually," Zechs reluctantly agreed. He pushed off from his pillar.
Glossy new boots clicking smartly against the parquet, Zechs kept easy pace beside Treize. He was unconcerned by what some might consider a lack of deference when their ranks were, more than ever, so unbalanced, and caught a hint of a smile on Treize lips. It was for things like this that he professed to appreciating Zechs the most.
When Treize's hand settled against his back to urge him towards the doors first, lightning struck along Zechs's spine.
It remained crackling on his nerves long into the night.
With Treize gone on to bigger and better things, time at the Academy crawled. Training continued to hone Zechs's skills, but the days moved by at a pace that frustrated him, left him restless. He felt as if he were in a perpetual state of waiting, teetering on the verge of a vast something that eluded his grasp.
When it hit, it was as natural and inevitable as the clash of sea and shore. Orders in hand, newly minted dogtags hung beneath his shirt, Zechs was unprepared for the violent slam of his pulse when his transfer delivered him to his new commander.
"Welcome to the Specials," Treize said. His uniform fit smartly, tailored to a far finer standard than most officers sported.
He offered his hand. Zechs clasped it firmly, feeling affronted only after their fingers had slipped apart.
"It's been a while, sir," he said.
Formality not looking to ease, Zechs returned to standing at attention, forced his eyes forward and held his hands clasped loosely behind his back. His skin prickled under Treize's scrutiny, and his heart stubbornly refused to slow. If he'd had any indication that it was Treize to whom he'd be reporting, he might have been better prepared for the reunion.
"You've changed," Treize said, and there was a heat in his voice Zechs ached to hear. He risked a glance, found a matching heat in the deep blue of Treize's eyes.
"All things change," Zechs said, echoing a sentiment Treize had shared with him years earlier. Pinned beneath Treize's scrutiny for the first time in a long time, Zechs found that some things didn't change so much as deepen, like the humming bone-deep want that still left him dry-mouthed and hungering.
"So they do," Treize replied, and his gaze raked hot once more over Zechs's frame before Zechs found himself dismissed.
In the months that followed, time returned to a crawl, but it was laden with raw and realisable potential. Despite Treize's near-constant scrutiny and an interest that was all but voiced, there came no advances. Consequently, Zechs struggled to contain his wants even as he chafed under the yoke of drills he could run with his eyes closed.
It was late in the afternoon and the rest of the unit had scattered to enjoy the remainder of the daylight. Finished with his own test flights, Zechs stood alone with Treize in the windowed observation deck. He planted his hands on the console and stared out at the new Aries units filling the hangar. It took him hardly more than a day to master the system upgrades. Tomorrow promised more drills. "You hope to see my scores improve? For what, exactly? This is a complete waste of time."
"You would be wise to remember that there is no experience so trivial that it possesses no value whatsoever."
Zechs swept an arm up to gesture towards the suits, but with the swiftness of a striking snake, Treize caught his hand and his gaze.
A white-gloved thumb brushed over the centre of Zechs's palm, traced the lifeline there, then moved up to press between the bones of his wrist. Treize's lashes lowered in a slow blink, eyes dark as they reopened. Pupils contracted, narrowed to predatory points.
"All things in time," he said.
Zechs's lip peeled away from his teeth. "I tire of waiting."
"I don't doubt."
Treize smirked as he released Zechs's hand, tossed it away, more like. Heat rose beneath Zechs's starched collar, a hasty push of anger with shame quick to follow. Since their first meeting, Treize had never made the difference in their ages an issue. The freedom to speak as himself around Treize was a double-edged sword, and when he ill-considered his words, Zechs's awareness of his own youth needled at him cruelly.
"Then why not give action?" he asked, as desperate for real combat as he was for another touch of Treize's hand to his.
Treize went still, motion not ground to a halt so much as having bled out of him and left him as a statue of himself. Pregnant with the weight of long seconds, the air shivered with the beat of Zechs's heart, and his lungs begged for a deeper draw than just the shallow sips masquerading as breath.
His heart slammed harder against his ribs when Treize ordered him to hand over his sidearm. Obedient though he feared a serious reprimand, Zechs thumbed the catch at his holster and withdrew the pistol. He reversed it and held it out.
Treize took it from him and immediately clicked off the safety. Zechs blinked and found the barrel aimed squarely at the centre of his face. His ribs were close to shattering, his pulse a waterfall roar in his skull. Treize couldn't mean to shoot him, yet, he knew better than anyone that Treize never acted without reason and never-never-did anything to half measures.
"On your knees, Captain."
Refusing to play a game he didn't know the rules for and risk his life in the balance, Zechs didn't move. Treize hardly seemed surprised. Faster than Zechs could react to, Treize drew the gun back, cocked it to chamber a round, and returned it to grind a harsh, metal kiss into Zechs's cheek.
"War is not a singular pursuit," Treize said, voice smooth and unwavering.
Even should Treize honestly care to shoot him for his poor conduct during a throwaway exercise, it wasn't the live bullet that twisted his stomach in on itself. Treize's disapproval had often left him with the ground cut away beneath his feet.
This was different, though. Typically that disapproval came with a subtle reprimand that forced him to reflect upon his flaws, not with a weapon tracing slowly along his jaw. The sight scraped Zechs's chin until cold metal pressed unforgiving against his jugular.
"A soldier must rely on his squad, and consequently support them in order to achieve victory. The alternative is as dishonourable as shooting an unarmed enemy."
Ice water trickled into Zechs's veins, a chill infusing his bones that left him entirely unprepared for the hot press of Treize's mouth against his.
Ultimately, willingly, Zechs had dropped to his knees. And as he knelt there in front of Treize, unforgiving floor beneath him and a hard cock outlined before him, his head swam. He had received his rebuke, committed it to memory even as Treize's tongue against his threatened to dissolve everything but the moment. How many years had he longed to taste Treize's kiss? Never before had he been so close to something he wanted with such desperation. The gun stroked across his temple, pushed his hair away from his face.
"Battle, on the contrary, is a contest of individuals. Your duty as a man is not equivalent to your duty as an officer..."
The gun skidded towards Zechs's mouth, and Zechs invited it. He opened his mouth, slid forward to take it between his lips. He had never feared death, only failure, and his tongue pushed out to curl around the length of the barrel. He drew it in until he could taste the dryness of Treize's gloved finger resting flat beside the trigger.
The gun slipped away from his mouth, and Zechs twisted, nudged back the cuff of Treize's coat to kiss the wrist of his off-hand. Delicately, he caught the edge of Treize's glove with his teeth and peeled it down until there were naked fingers for him to suck. Treize moaned and the sound pierced straight through Zechs, vibrated along muscles taut with desire.
"Moreover, I need you to win this war. I need you-"
He braced his hands on Treize's narrow hips, fingertips stretching to trace the hidden angles of muscle and bone. When he gauged he could wait no longer, he mouthed a kiss beneath the filigreed buckle on Treize's belt, and worked his way down to the erection surging hot beneath layers of cotton and wool.
"After, you'll allow me to reciprocate, I pray," Treize said, words diced by the hitch in his breath. Zechs heard him hit the safety and the pistol was tossed aside to clatter on the floor.
Hastily, Treize freed himself of his other glove and then long fingers were knotted in Zechs's hair, holding him in place until there was a cock at his mouth. He wasted no time, sucking Treize deep and losing himself in the feel of silken flesh sliding along his tongue. Treize set the rhythm, using his mouth in a way that spoke of dalliances few and far between.
The idea that perhaps Treize, too, had been waiting for this hit Zechs harder than the adrenaline had. Hands beginning to shake, he pulled himself off Treize's cock and turned his head aside to catch his breath. He chanced to look up in time to see pleasure and raw want shiver across Treize's features. It took little urging to draw Treize down to the floor with him, to turn their clothes into a scatter and offer himself up fully.
"You need me?"
Spread out on the floor beneath him, Treize's fingers twisted into the dangling chain of Zechs's dogtags. Zechs settled his weight on Treize's thighs and watched as Treize ran the edge of a thumbnail across the letters pressed into the steel. And he said nothing as he reached to gather the pair around Treize's neck and do the same. This was the essence of them distilled: names and numbers, blood-type and burial preference. He spread his legs wider and tugged his tags free of Treize's grip. He leaned forward, slipping the chain off his neck and let them fall where they would as he brought their mouths together again.
"More than you know."
With the ache of Treize pushing inside him, spit-slick and needful, Zechs swallowed a moan and kissed harder.