torch, December 2000 (January 2001)

Disclaimer: I don't own Gundam Wing, and I've never been to Antarctica. Most of the credit and none of the blame goes to elynross and !Super Cat. Do not archive this story without permission.

The weather outside

"I'm sure you're acting according to your emotions," Trowa muttered. "And so are the rest of us." Inspector Acht and his men, their blood spilled in a lonely place where no one would ever see it, were only more bodies piled on top of those he had already killed, a tally he did not wish to keep, a count that should have no meaning to him. He was a soldier, and this was war. He had spent his whole life killing people. When he'd knelt there, dropped out of his Gundam like so much garbage, the air that had surrounded him and penetrated him with its biting cold had not been able to make him numb.

"There are those who feel that emotions have no place in war," Zechs said softly, as if following and echoing Trowa's thoughts. "And those who conquer their emotions for the sake of expediency and what they believe to be a higher goal—" He broke off. "We all sacrifice something for our choices, even if it's something we believe we do not value. Have you finished?"

Trowa disposed of the remains of his omelet in four quick bites. "Yes."

They rose from the table together and went back to the counter. Akca was sitting on a stool, leaning back against the wall underneath the clock, reading a newspaper. When he saw them, he jumped to his feet. "Would you like that third omelet now, sir?"

Zechs nodded. "Get someone to bring it to hangar two, please. It's for the pilot there who is working on a mobile suit." He turned to Trowa. "Let's go, then."

So they went, out through the swinging cafeteria doors and down along a chilly, drafty corridor. Even though all the lights were on, the base seemed dark — felt dark, as though the polar night crept inside through the walls and made itself at home here. Zechs' footsteps in those big hard-soled boots were loud, and Trowa's made no sound at all. He walked at Zechs' side like a shadow. They turned right when the corridor crossed another, and then left a while later, and walked until they were in a part of the base where Trowa had not gone before.

The layout was much like other OZ bases, though, and he thought they were approaching the officers' quarters. The walls were painted a different shade here, and the floor was less worn down. Zechs slowed down as they came to a small open area, where hard benches stood in front of a large round window. The window embrasure was deep, its curve perfect for curling up in. This view was away from all the work areas around the base that were kept clear of snow, and so the only thing visible now was whiteness where the base lights reflected, and beyond that, the dark.

Zechs led them to the window, and they stood there, looking out. Trowa leaned forward and put his hand against the glass to feel its numbing chill. He didn't move as Zechs' large, warm hand wrapped around the back of his neck. "Here?" he asked.

"No, not here." But Zechs tugged at him, with both hands now, until Trowa came to stand with his back against Zechs' chest, with Zechs' arms folded around him, feeling the warmth of the man all along his spine, and the chill from the window against his face. It was like the reverse of sitting in front of an open fire. Trowa held himself upright in the embrace, neither yielding to it nor pulling away, but when Zechs propped his chin against the top of Trowa's head, he stiffened. "I'm sorry," Zechs said, his breath stirring Trowa's hair. Snow blew past the window in tiny crystalline spumes, here and gone, quick as panicked breaths.

Despite what he'd said, Zechs began to move one hand over Trowa's chest, stroking down and then up again. The edge of his palm brushed against one of Trowa's nipples, drawn tight from the cold, almost visible through the thin cloth of his sweater, but that touch seemed accidental. It was a slow stroke, the kind of movement one would use to soothe and pet an animal. The way, Trowa thought, that he had stroked the lions. He stood very still. With the darkness outside, and the sharp fluorescent light inside, he could see them mirrored in the glass of the window, not entirely clearly; he was hollow-eyed, his face full of shadows, and Zechs looked like a frame for Trowa's body, with the helmet a surreal ornament. Figures out of a dream, both of them. He could see Zechs' hand move, but he could not see himself breathing.

The sound of footsteps from down the corridor broke them apart, Trowa shifting forward as soon as he felt Zechs step back. He turned to see a guard on patrol pass by, salute Zechs, and continue on his way. With a slight tilt of the head, Zechs moved away; Trowa followed. All the way down the second half of the corridor they walked apart, separated by almost the full width of the distance between the dingy off-white walls. Zechs stopped at last at one of the nondescript doors and keyed it open.

Inside, the walls were the same. The furniture was worn, the wood was scuffed, the fabrics washed-out. In one corner, a bag stood half-unzipped, the sleeve of a white shirt showing. Zechs' red uniform jacket hung over the back of a chair. The room had no windows — it was like being in space. Zechs went to the table by the far wall, lifted off his mask, and put it on a folded newspaper lying there. He stood for a moment with his hands on the tabletop, then turned around.

Trowa blinked. In stories, people wore masks to hide either terrible scars or stunning beauty. Zechs wasn't scarred. He had smooth pale skin, and a thin red line near one temple where an edge inside the mask must have pressed down. His pale bangs were flattened. He looked as young as military records said he was. Trowa walked over to him, and stood in front of him, and waited.

There was a low hum in the room from the ventilation system and from the electric heater. It added to the illusion of being in space, on a ship or perhaps a small maintenance station, or the room itself could be floating out in the star-studded darkness, so far removed did it seem from everything. Trowa looked up at Zechs' blue eyes and long pale-gold lashes. He raised his chin and tilted his head slightly, and Zechs responded, putting his thumb on the point of Trowa's chin and spreading his fingers along Trowa's jaw and turning Trowa's head slowly, right, and then left, with a contemplative look.

Letting go, Zechs brushed Trowa's hair away from his face. Trowa felt his mouth tighten ever so slightly, against his will. He stared back into that look, his eyes perhaps harder than they should be. Nothing prepared him for the moment when Zechs leaned down and kissed him. It was like stepping from the black and white freeze of a polar snowstorm into a tub of hot water: it made his skin ache.

"Don't do that," he said when his mouth was free again.

Zechs stepped back. His touch left handprints of warmth behind on Trowa's cold skin. "I apologize for the misunderstanding," he said. "I thought — perhaps you should leave."

Trowa shook his head, and his hair fell back into place again, shading his face. He walked forward; Zechs had his back almost to the wall. Reaching up, Trowa tugged the limp cravat free and dropped it to the floor, and began to undo Zechs' shirt buttons. "Just don't do that again."

Zechs was warm, but he already knew that. Smooth, unscarred skin. Zechs stood still, and when Trowa glanced up he saw a look on Zechs' face that did not match anything he had ever seen before. When Trowa reached the last shirt button, Zechs dealt with the cuff buttons himself, and shrugged the shirt off his shoulders. Then he reached for the hem of Trowa's sweater, and Trowa raised his arms and allowed the sweater to be pulled off, tugging on the tight polo neck to make it slip over his head. He toed his shoes off, feeling certain that his jeans would be the next thing to go, and he was right, though it surprised him that Zechs knelt before him to undo the button and work the zipper down, and tug the tight jeans down and down and down off his legs, taking his socks along.

The electric heater still hummed, but it seemed to Trowa that there was no warmth coming from it at all. When he looked down at the man kneeling in front of him, it was like looking from a great, great height, from the top of a snow-covered mountain. His feet felt frozen to the floor. He could not move. Zechs kissed the edge of his hipbone, and the skin just below his navel, and said, "I feel sure you will tell me if I do something else you don't like." Zechs' left hand moved up Trowa's side, thumb dragging over the ribs, and then back down.

Trowa put his hands on Zechs' shoulders. "Don't talk to me," he said. Heights had never bothered him before. Zechs tilted his head back and looked up, and there was that expression again. It drew more words out of him. "You can have what you want, but not with him."

From somewhere far away in the frozen expanse that surrounded him, he caught the emotion that went through Zechs' eyes, and knew it for pain. "My duel with Heero is about being a pilot. This," and Zechs ran his hand once again down Trowa's side, "this is about wanting to touch someone. If you don't want me to touch you, just put your clothes back on and walk out the door."

From somewhere deep inside the hollow spaces in his heart and soul, Trowa shuddered. "I'm so cold," he said, seeing his own hands, wondering if they belonged to someone else. "So cold."

Zechs stood up then, and wrapped his arms around Trowa and dragged him the three steps to the bed. They fell. He held Trowa close to his warm bare skin and pulled the covers around them, unwashed sheets and scratchy army blankets, until they were lying in a tight cocoon, Trowa on the inside, between Zechs and the wall. He could feel the tops of Zechs' boots against his feet. The shivers were all inside, and his body was quite still, unresisting in Zechs' tight embrace. He could feel Zechs' mouth against his hair, on his forehead, nibbling on his eyebrow. Cheekbone. Cheek.

"I know," Zechs said carefully, "you don't want me to do this," and then his mouth was on Trowa's again, a burning coal laid on his lips. Trowa squeezed his eyes shut. "And you don't want me to talk to you," kisses along his jaw, on the thin skin under it, "and you don't want to look at me." Kisses all the way down his throat. "But I will do it until you decide to leave."

Trowa bit his lip. The blankets held him, and Zechs pinned him down, kissing his shoulder and his chest, dancing fingertips along his side in a near-tickle. His muscles tensed as Zechs' mouth moved down his body, back to the same hipbone and down the crevice slanting from it, and he would have said that this was one more thing, one more thing that he did not want Zechs to do, but he couldn't get his teeth to loosen their grip on his lower lip and so Zechs kissed him again in a new place and warmth leaped unexpectedly in the cold spaces inside him.

He forced his eyes open again and stared up at the ceiling, which at first did not quite want to come into focus, and tried to find something to counter the intimate, searing heat of Zechs' mouth. The cracks in the paint of the ceiling would not do it, and the brush of harsh blankets against his skin would not do it, and the sound of his own breathing, rising in short gasps.... Trowa tasted blood. All his muscles were clenched in an effort to keep still, perfectly still, but he could feel a subtle tremor start from the sheer tension of it. He thought his bones might fracture and his teeth crack.

He was a kernel of self inside the shell of his body, wrapped in the blankets, held in the bed, inside the room, inside the base. Out there was snow and darkness. Within his heart there was silence and cold. But in between, there was heat, and Zechs was breaking him open. There was determined skill in the mouth working on him, in the fingers that teased and danced and fluttered. When one finger slipped down to press against him in a familiar demand, he could almost take hold of that sensation and use it to close himself off again, almost, but then the feelings slid into each other, built on each other, too strong for him to grasp, or to fight. Pressure, friction, suction, those were just words, and the sensations were like fire and colored darkness and a slow drugged concentration of consciousness into a single point where he could not see or hear or think.

All that remained was the struggle, the narrow climb up and up and up and he fought with his own body as Zechs pushed him higher and higher, as the fire burned hotter and hotter and there was nothing left to do but fall, like a shooting star trailing sparks of red and orange and gold that lit up all the dark places within and without, and left him warm, and cradled in blankets and strong arms, and still, perfectly still...

...but not as before. Perhaps it was Zechs' weight across his body that made him feel so heavy. Unwilling to move, just lying there, full of something that he tentatively identified as peace.

The blanket itched under his right shoulderblade, though. He shifted and blinked, and the light in the room was the same as before, and the sound of the ventilation and the heater was the same, too. Zechs was breathing steadily, warm damp breaths, against his ribs. It tickled a little. Trowa flexed the fingers of his right hand, which were wound tightly into something. He lifted his hand: strands of Zechs' hair, looking almost white in this light.

When Trowa moved, Zechs moved, too, lifting his head off Trowa's stomach to brush a kiss there, and then one against his breastbone, one on his throat, one on his chin and finally his mouth was taken again, Zechs' tongue tasting of tidepools and burnt sugar. Zechs was heavy on top of him and full of strength, moving in slow thrusts. "You can," Trowa tried to say, "it's all right if you want," but the words were eaten by another kiss.

So instead he worked one hand between their bodies, to unbutton and push down, to touch and stroke, feeling the blood-pulse hard against his palm, the slickness of desire wetting his fingers. Zechs drew out of the kiss for a gasp that might have been a yes, and his face was flushed and softened, brows drawing together, lips moving in silent urgency before his mouth sought Trowa's again. Eating at him, sucking at his lips and his tongue. It was hard for him to keep up when he still felt so weighted down by languor, but he found a pace that seemed right, stroking by turns with his hand and with his whole body, following the pressure of Zechs' mouth on his and listening for sharper breaths and dark smothered growls.

The room was still closed tight around them, a small windowless space. Full of light, full of warmth, while the winter night whistled snowily outside. The force of Zechs' thrusts was moving Trowa, too, scratching that itch on his shoulderblade. He pushed at the rhythm, driving it a little faster, nipping at Zechs' lower lip. A strand of Zechs' hair fell against his face and clung to his cheek. Trowa tried to swipe at it with his free hand and almost hit Zechs, who just then lifted his head, mouth still open, quick breaths almost vocalized. His eyes were hazy and he ground himself into Trowa with mindless force, arched and shuddered in long spasms, then slumped down with his face buried against Trowa's neck.

Trowa's hand was trapped between their bodies, covered in slippery warmth. He breathed shallowly against the weight holding him down, and thought about pulling the hair away from his face, but there was more hair now, falling all over his throat and shoulder, and he didn't really care all that much. Zechs muttered something into the hollow of his throat, moved as if to push himself up, then slumped back down again. They floated for a while, drifting through the night in their cocoon of blankets. When Trowa rolled his head to one side he saw the mask over on the table, leaning a little to the right. He wondered how heavy it was.

Zechs rolled slowly to the side, pulling Trowa along so that they still lay close, curled up with their legs tangled, nose to nose now. Trowa could taste Zechs' breath on his lips. He tried to look into Zechs' eyes, but they were so close, all he could see was one eye, strangely blurred, with two pupils. When Zechs spoke, Trowa could feel his mouth move. "Are you still cold?"

He shook his head, brushing the tips of their noses together. The frost in the marrow of his soul had melted, and just now, in this small moment, the fear he felt at that knowledge made him almost giddy. He wanted to place himself in Zechs' warm hands once again to see what would come of it, what he would be shaped into, and if it would be as painful as the rebreaking of a crookedly healed bone. He rather thought that it would be, and he also knew that he would never find out.

The electric heater clanked, a hiccupy kind of sound, and began humming more loudly. Trowa pushed his free hand into Zechs' hair just to feel the thickness of it, the insubstantial touch of each strand and the weight of all of them together. His other hand was tucked under Zechs' shoulder. He knew that he should pull it free and leave, go out of this small brightly lit place and back to the shadowy high-ceilinged hangar and its dim echoes. "He is waiting for me," he said, though he didn't know if that was true. He didn't know if Heero had ever waited for anyone.

Zechs' arms tightened around him. "Not yet," he said, "not just yet," and they remained as they were, fitted together with much effort like two halves of a badly formed clasp, not ready for the friction and wrench of disentanglement. Not yet, not just yet, Trowa thought, and closed his eyes.

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