torch, November 2000 - June 2001 (July 2001)

Disclaimer: Andy Warhol did it first. Well, okay, this isn't exactly what Andy Warhol did.This story is set during episode 10 of GW. It fits into the Theory of flight universe, but can be read on its own. elynross made it better. Feedback is always appreciated. Do not archive this story without permission.

Chicken, cream of mushroom, tomato

The instructions were brief, uncomplicated, and impossible to follow.

Heero put the first can down and picked up the second, angling it into the light from the candle. When he shifted his weight, the rubber soles of his shoes squeaked against the linoleum floor. The instructions on the second can were the same. He couldn't mix the contents with one can of water, because the water was turned off. He couldn't heat slowly while stirring, because the electricity was also turned off. The light of the candle wavered in response to his movements, but he could make out an injunction not to allow the contents to boil. This did not seem likely to be a problem.

At least there was food. It had been easy to break into this small summer cottage. The lock on the door was flimsy; the whole door was flimsy, yielding to a firm push. Inside, he'd found matches and a candle. The cottage was in an isolated valley, and the electricity probably went out during summer storms. And fall storms, and winter storms, and spring storms. He'd chosen it because of that isolation, and the proximity of a large field where he'd landed Wing. Food was a bonus.

Heero looked at what he'd found in the kitchen cupboards: three cans of soup, one slightly dented, one bottle of an orange-flavored soft drink, two rather dusty bottles of beer. He checked the alcohol content. It was low. Putting one can of soup and the orange drink aside for the next morning left him with Three Stars Light, tomato, and cream of mushroom. He opened the cream of mushroom, picked up a plastic spoon, and tried a mouthful. It would provide adequate nourishment. Heero ate another spoonful, and then opened the first bottle of beer and drank. It tasted thin and a little bitter; the soup was thick, with a broad flat flavor that covered the entire inside of his mouth.

It seemed probable that the true transport would take the air route, not the ground route; given that most of the Gundams had limited flight capacity, it would minimize the opportunities for them to strike. Duo could take the ground route, as he had said he would, and deal with whatever false distractions it provided. As a mobile suit fighter, he was competent. In all other capacities, he was an unknown and frequently bewildering factor.

Heero spooned some more soup into his mouth and washed it down with beer. Water would have been useful, more so than electricity, but he could only make the best of the current situation. There was no risk of dehydration, but he would have liked to get clean.

Outside of combat situations, Duo was erratic and unpredictable. He seemed to enjoy interacting with civilians, to have no real perception of himself as a soldier and how that identity separated him from others. Taking another sip of beer, Heero reflected that civilians also seemed to enjoy interacting with Duo.

He finished the first can of soup and opened the second. The taste of tomato was sharp and acidic after the cream of mushroom. Heero shifted, can in hand, to lean against the kitchen counter. He crossed his feet at the ankles and spooned up more soup. Some civilians seemed to enjoy it very much. The afternoon before they'd left the school, a rustle in a shrubbery on school grounds had turned out to be Duo and Naoko Wilson. She had squeaked on seeing Heero, blushed from a light pink to a deeper rose, and fled, buttoning her blouse.

Duo had just grinned, though his shirt was pulled askew and his hair was mussed. "I think she likes me. I never thought she'd let me get that far." Then an instant change to a different voice. "I don't want you to get the wrong idea. She's a nice girl, really. I'm just not a totally nice guy."

The tomato soup was easier to eat. It went down faster, didn't want to stay in his mouth and coat his palate. They'd been touching, Duo and that girl, that much was clear, touching each other through partially unbuttoned clothes. Heero finished the first bottle of beer and put it down. He didn't think that touching civilians while hiding in shrubberies was conducive to keeping a low profile, yet Duo was always telling him that his habit of keeping to himself was the thing that, paradoxically, made him stand out.

No. Heero shook his head and spooned more tomato soup into his mouth. He did understand. It was a question of blending in, of achieving a semblance to normal behavior. But if he took it too far in one direction, Duo took it too far in another, making too many friends who would remember him clearly, flirting with too many girls. Leaving a trail of broken-hearted girlfriends wasn't sensible. Any one of them might decide to try to track him down when he left.

The spoon scraped against the bottom of the soup can. Heero tilted the can to get out the last few spoonfuls. He was the one who had a girl following him all over the world, not Duo. It didn't make sense.

He wondered if Relena was a nice girl, wondered if she'd let him touch her the way Duo had touched Naoko. Wondered if he wanted to, and if she'd touch him back the same way. He knew, from brushing his fingertips against it, that the skin of her cheek just under her eye was very soft.

Still, he very much doubted that Duo and Naoko had been interested in that kind of touch. The tomato soup was finished, and Heero opened the second bottle of beer. He picked up the lit candle and walked into the small bedroom, where he'd already spread a blanket over a mattress he'd pulled off a squeaking, sagging camp bed. Heero folded himself up on the mattress and put the bottle and the candle on the floor within easy reach. The beer was definitely not to his taste, but he needed liquids.

He wondered what that kind of touching was like. Of course he knew about his body, knew where to touch it and how, in order to achieve release. But it seemed to him that this other touching was not about that kind of efficiency, that it involved other factors. Drinking some more beer, Heero thought about the look he'd seen on Naoko's face, and on Duo's. He didn't think he'd ever looked like that. He wasn't sure what the point was.

Taking another swallow from the beer bottle, Heero put it down and took off his tank top, letting it fall in a green heap on the floor. He put his hand on his chest. His skin was warm, and he could feel his heart beat. He shook his head; not like that. This wasn't about running a diagnostic check on his body. Was he supposed to imagine that he was touching someone else, or that someone else was touching him? Someone who wasn't in the habit of touching him and wouldn't be so used to it.

He lifted his hand and touched with just his fingertips, as if exploring something unfamiliar. The slanted line of the collarbone, the skin below, and it wasn't important right now that he could have named and individually flexed each muscle beneath that skin because this was someone else touching him, exploring, finding out what he felt like.

Someone who would brush down the center of his chest, fingerpainting a line of warmth, then skim to the right as he took a deep breath; someone who would graze lightly against his nipple and then shoot him a teasing look when he shivered, would smile at him with sparkling eyes the color of the sky overhead at sunset—

He jerked his hand away from his skin and looked at it. It was the same hand it had always been, long fingers, slightly grimy nails. Yet the touch had suddenly been unfamiliar and someone else's, and because of that he'd reacted differently. His skin felt more sensitive, and he was hardening against the stretch of spandex.

That was unexpected, and the face he'd imagined was also unexpected. Heero picked up the beer and drank it down. He put out the candle, got up off the mattress and walked into the kitchen to put the bottle away. There was no place to put garbage, of course, and he couldn't rinse out the soup cans. If he left them here they would grow moldy and the whole house would smell.

Heero went outside with the cans and bottles, then paused again. There were wild animals on earth, particularly in areas like this, and the cans had sharp edges, and the bottles were glass and could break. He turned towards the small shed by the side of the house. Its door was even more easily forced, and inside he found gardening tools, and several pairs of rubber boots, a lawnmower, a croquet set, some carelessly cut wood, and a couple of dirty plastic bags, one full of slowly decomposing leaves, one empty. He put the tins and bottles in the empty bag and left it near the door, then went out and wedged the door shut again.

The grass had grown long since the owners of the house had last been there, and he could feel it brush against his bare calves. Another touch not his own, but there was nothing stirring about it. The evening was quiet around him. Heero turned away from the house and went to the field to check on Wing.

The familiar bulky shape was still there, camouflaged into near-invisibility. The perimeter alarms he'd set remained untriggered. He walked around the field checking on each in turn. Stealth ability such as Deathscythe had might be very convenient at times. Duo made relatively efficient use of that particular feature.

Heero hoped the alarms wouldn't be triggered by an animal. When he had finished his round he relieved himself against a tree, then climbed up on the fence around the field and sat there with his legs dangling, watching Wing, and the trees, and the sky. It was a clear night; he could read the sky like a star map. The way OZ named its mobile suit series, he'd destroyed any number of constellations. He tried to picture them blacked out, the sky getting progressively darker. Killing stars one by one, the way he'd already killed Noventa and all the other men who wanted peace with the colonies.

They were gone, and there was nothing left now but killing, until OZ was gone or he himself was dead.

It was very quiet here, and very dark. He knew himself to have good night vision. The silence was more startling than the darkness. On a colony there was always a faint hum of electricity coming from somewhere, even in the parks away from houses and traffic. There was no wilderness on a colony. There was no silence like this, just as there was no darkness completely free from artificial light. Heero looked at the moon over the treetops. It provided very little illumination, considering how much mention literature made of moonlight.

He jumped down off the fence, looked at Wing for a few seconds longer, then walked back towards the house. When he went inside, the air felt a little musty, though he'd left the door open while he was out. Heero considered lighting the candle again, decided against it. It was getting late, and the most efficient use of his time would be to sleep. He went to the mattress, kicked his shoes off, lay down and closed his eyes.

He hadn't put his tanktop back on. Heero pulled the blanket over himself. It was softened by age and repeated washing. Experimentally, he ran a corner of the blanket along the inside of his arm, then traced the same path with a finger. Skin on skin felt better, but still, there must be a great difference between one's own and someone else's touch. Otherwise people wouldn't be so obsessed with getting others to touch them.

He'd touched Relena again during the school dance, her hand warm in his, her back firm if not overly muscular against his palm. The touch itself had not made much of an impression on him at the time, as he had been concentrating on her words. She said the strangest things.

Duo touched him all the time, whenever they met: slapped his back, touched his elbow to get his attention, flung an arm around his shoulders. Those touches were annoying. Other people weren't supposed to get so close to him. It seemed that to Duo touching was a casual thing.

Some touching, anyway. Heero found that his hand had moved to his chest again. He ran his thumb over his nipple, feeling the subtle change in skin texture. He did it again, and felt the higher sensitivity in that skin. Closing his eyes, he thought about Duo's hands and did it again. His chest tingled, and his neck flushed.

It was interesting, so he did it again, and it felt good, so he did it again. A warm hazy feeling was beginning to grow in him and around him, making the inside of his head fizzy, full of rising bubbles, like the beer. He wondered what it would be like to feel another body against his own, and once again called up a sensory memory of dancing with Relena. It was different from the forms of close contact he usually engaged in — to move with, instead of against.

When the tingle from stroking his nipples grew familiar, he explored further, brushing against the inside of his arm, which was good, and up along the tendons of his throat, which was even better. Heero imagined Duo's arm slung casually around his shoulders, and then a thumb moving from the hollow above his collarbone up to the point of his jaw and the lobe of his ear. He felt fine hairs rise along his skin. A light touch was best, though the edge of a nail felt good, too, in the soft places just under the jawbone.

The front of his throat was sensitive in an uncomfortable way. Heero skimmed lightly over it and down his chest again, fingertips, palm, rubbing the heel of his hand against the edge of his ribs. It was his own hand now, but still unlike the way he usually touched himself. He was learning new things about his skin.

Heero circled his navel with one fingertip, stroked down into it, and decided he did not much care for that, either. He hit the waistband of his spandex shorts and began to tug them off, kicking the blanket aside momentarily to have room to move. The slight chill in the air brushed over his skin, and when he pushed the shorts off and pulled the blanket over himself again, that brushed against him in another way, sensations he would not normally have reflected on or allowed to affect him in any way.

Curled up, he stroked along his legs to his feet, and found the skin between his toes unexpectedly responsive. The blanket and mattress smelled of dust and closed-in air and a little of other people, and Heero straightened out again to take a deep fresh breath. He turned on his stomach and pressed into the mattress. It didn't feel at all like a living body underneath him. The blanket scratched his back, and he arched his spine against it, then pushed down again. The weight of someone else over him, the planes and angles of someone else under him, these were things he had never tried to preserve in his memory, nor associated with any pleasure beyond the satisfaction of learning to fight and winning.

But the friction was good, and he flexed his hips and pushed harder. He wondered what it would be like, skin on skin, the whole length of his body against another's. To touch so much. Heero sensed that that would go far beyond what Duo and Naoko, blushing and fumbling behind the bloomed-out lilacs, had been ready to do. But once you started touching someone, if it felt that good, how did you stop?

The warm feeling wrapped all around him, more intense in some places; the tips of his ears and the small of his back felt glowing hot. He thrust and rolled, rubbing himself against the striped cotton of the mattress cover. To touch. To be touched. Heero pressed his hand to his mouth, sucked blindly at his fingers. A body against his own, hands clutching his back. His breath hitched. This was not efficient, but it felt good. He had time, in the slowness of it, to feel it build.

His eyes were closed tight, and the room melted away. In a small dark world, he was the only one breathing. Heero reached for those imagined hands, wanting to feel them, and a perfectly recalled moment of fingers squeezing his shoulder rolled over him and he came, shuddering, tearing at the cotton and foam rubber.

The mattress smelled even more strongly of dust when he had his face pressed into it.

Heero sat up. There was a wet spot. Two, really, on him and on the mattress. He sneezed and got up, surprised at how unsteady his legs felt, and walked into the small kitchen for towels. He had investigated all the kitchen cupboards when he arrived, and now he opened the leftmost one and took out an old linen towel, white with two red stripes, worn quite thin, but crisply ironed. Wiping at himself, he found that well-ironed linen did not absorb semen very well.

There were no other towels, so Heero took two more and went back to rub at the stain on the mattress. Cotton appeared to be more absorbent. He put a dry towel over the stain, rolled himself into the blanket, and closed his eyes. Sleep came easily.

Seven hours later, he woke to the sound of birdsong. Light streamed in through the uncurtained window. He had unrolled himself from the blanket and slept sprawled naked on top of it. Heero pulled on his tanktop and shorts and padded barefoot into the kitchen. The can of chicken soup and the bottle of orange-flavored soft drink stood on the counter and waited for him. He opened the can, wiped the spoon on another towel, and started to eat.

The chicken soup was thick, too, and unexpectedly sweet. A piece of chicken got stuck between his teeth. Heero poked at it with his tongue and opened the bottle. He alternated spoonfuls of soup with swallows of orange soda, and managed to get it all down. Duo had complained about the school breakfasts, but Heero thought he would have preferred tea and dry toast to this. Duo drenched his toast with honey until it dripped down his fingers. Heero disliked stickiness and mess. He looked over his shoulder through the doorway at the mattress and the stain and the towels.

Touching other people was undoubtedly even messier.

Heero drank the last of the orange soda and went to put his shoes on. He put the mattress back on the camp bed and folded the blanket on top. Picking the towels up off the floor, he folded them, too, and hesitated a moment before taking them to the kitchen and putting them on the counter. He left the house and closed the door carefully, went to the shed, and put the empty can and bottle with the others. Then he walked around the corner of the shed to urinate, and when he was done, he headed for the large field and Wing. It was a long way still to Siberia.

* * *

Not so much the heat

art || gundam wing || e‑mail