it Down to Learning + Chapter 17
The Long Road to Redemption
Zechs shifted slightly, frowning
as he found himself moving even closer to the edge of the chair he was
perched on. He supposed that the tension in the room was affecting him.
His frown deepened. How could it not be affecting him? His light blue
gaze moved slowly across the other occupants of the large living room
that formed the central space of the townhouse the five Gundam pilots
shared, the room that had now been converted to the Preventer's main base
of operations for the mission against the Order.
Une sat in a large armchair across the room from him, scowling impartially
at the three former pilots. Since none of them were paying any attention
to her, however, her non-verbal signs of irritation were rather wasted.
That just seemed to be irritating her more.
Une hadn't taken well to the news that Duo was apparently ensconced as
one of the Order's prostitutes. At first, she'd been convinced that it
was part of a plot that the Gundam pilots had cooked up between them to
infiltrate the Order behind her back and without her knowledge. She'd
ranted and raged and refused to listen to anyone's explanations, until
a few cutting comments from Trowa cut off the barrage of accusations she'd
been lashing at all of them. Once she'd realized that, so far as any of
them knew, Duo's presence within the Order was nothing but a horrific
coincidence, she'd shifted her fury to the absent pilot, denouncing his
skills and sense and behavior in such a barbed and frankly bitchy manner
that even Zechs, who'd had to work closely with her in many different
capacities for years, was amazed.
That time, Trowa had had to be physically restrained as he leapt at her.
Zech's penetrating gaze moved to the former acrobat. His eyes narrowed
as he watched the other man. Trowa reminded him of the lions the younger
man had once tended. His lean body radiated the same aura of barely repressed,
rigidly contained power and menace as the caged animals Zechs remembered
seeing at the circus. Trowa's fists were tightly clenched, and he moved
back and forth with a fluidity that only seemed to somehow accentuate
the tightly coiled rage that Zechs knew could easily boil forth any minute.
Trowa's green eyes blazed with anger and frustration, and Zechs was uneasily
aware that the other man could snap again at any minute.
Somehow, Heero's anger was easier to deal with. The Japanese man was angry
too, but his anger had been expressed through shouts, curses, and a few
physical manifestations, to which the freshly punched holes in the living
room wall paid mute testimony. But Heero's anger had run its course and
burned through quickly, and now the former pilot's mouth was set in a
tight line of determination as he sat in front of his laptop, fingers
flying over the keys as he ran through the new data they'd accrued that
day, working on revamping and upgrading the map of the Order's facility.
The stakes in penetrating the organization had abruptly gone up, and Heero
was determined to accelerate their timetable.
Wufei stood by the window, his back to the glass, his arms folded impassively
across his chest. His face was expressionless, his gaze flat. But beneath
the seeming detachment, there was a sense of readiness. His emotionless
gaze followed Trowa in the other man's angry pacings around the room,
and Zechs knew that the Chinese man was watching his lover, waiting to
intervene if that rage that Trowa seemed so barely able to contain suddenly
Zechs was uncomfortable. There were so many variables here, so many loose
ends not to say loose cannons that could resolve themselves in such
a myriad of unpredictable ways. The pilots were all tense to the point
of breaking, worried about Quatre, about Duo, about each other, and, Zechs
guessed, about things of which he knew nothing. He didn't know in what
state Quatre would arrive home, didn't know how the others would react
to seeing him... He didn't know. And he wasn't used to not knowing.
His frown deepened again as his gaze returned to Heero, and he watched
the other man almost enviously. Heero had immediately thought of something
to do, and he was doing it. He had turned away from all the almost-naked
emotion flooding the room, and was concentrating on the computer program.
He was doing something constructive.
Zechs hadn't been able to think of anything to do, to say, to act upon.
He wanted to. He only felt control over a situation when he had some idea
of how to handle its variables. Without a plan of action, he was at a
And Zechs didn't like being at a loss.
For eight years, he'd worked feverishly to ensure that he would never
be in that state again.
Actually, he supposed that that wasn't quite accurate.
For some time nearly two years, in fact - he'd had no plan at all.
He'd had nothing.
He'd lived alone on a small colony more like a satellite, actually
and he did nothing.
He prepared meals, because he'd been rigidly trained all his life that
eating was what you did at certain times of day.
He'd slept, for the same reason.
But he'd done nothing else. He'd sat alone, in the dark, in the cold,
He'd been pulled out of his seclusion to fight in the Eve Wars, but once
they were over, he'd returned to his solitude.
One day, Relena had shown up and asked him what he was waiting for.
He'd stared at her for a long time but hadn't bothered to answer the question
because he thought that the answer should be apparent.
He was waiting to die.
Since the moment he'd learned that Treize was dead, that was what he'd
been waiting for.
Without the other man, and the promise of life Treize had brought him,
Zechs had been waiting to die.
Treize had been one of the few things that Zechs had lived for since the
day that Sanc had been attacked, its monarchs killed, its royal family
Zechs had been six years old then, but he still dreamed about that day
all the time.
He remembered the sudden crash, and the explosion that had rocked the
walls of the palace.
He remembered the frightened retainers who dragged him from the schoolroom
to the main courtyard where he'd stood helpless and watched his home burn.
He remembered the tight, pinched face of Dorlian, his father's retainer,
as the man explained that he could hide Relena, but not him, not the boy
who so resembled his dead father.
For years, Zechs had been passed around Europe, hidden by various noble
families from different nations who had owed his father allegiance.
He had lived in their homes, and was raised with their children.
They paid for his tuition at the most exclusive of private schools, they
bought him food and clothes and horses.
And guns. God help him, they bought him guns, and they taught him how
to use them.
And use them he did. He learned to fly and to fight and to kill, and those
lessons fanned the flame of hate and revenge that the fiery destruction
of his home had ignited within his heart.
Those years were hard, despite the luxuries with which he was surrounded,
and they were lonely, despite the constant parade of people who moved
through his life, currying secret, cautious favor with him.
He was a curiosity to them, he knew. A boy without a father; a king without
a country. It would be dangerous if anyone were discovered harboring him,
but if he one day regained power, it would be dangerous to have been one
who had spurned him. So he was at once courted and shunned, helped and
pushed aside, forgotten.
Very few people had ever shown him true kindness or allegiance.
The Kushrenada family was among those few.
He had spent a lot of time with them they were willing to harbor him
more frequently and for longer periods of time than anyone else was. He
had been sent to their home for the first time when he was nine, and had
been there for almost a year. He had returned again when he was eleven,
and thirteen, and yearly from then on.
In Treize he'd found, for the first time in his life, a friend.
The older boy helped him with his studies, rode with him, talked with
him as though he were an equal, not a higher-ranked "poor relation."
When they were apart, they corresponded, and Treize had convinced him
to enter the Academy and study there to become an officer. When Treize
began to rise to power, Zechs had been the natural choice to be his lieutenant.
His loyalty to the other man had been cemented by that childhood closeness,
and the other sort of closeness they had developed when Zechs was fifteen
and Treize was twenty-one.
Zechs pushed himself back in his chair, closing his eyes and wearily rubbing
one hand over his face. Why was he allowing himself to think about this
now? It had no bearing on the current situation; none at all. But he couldn't
stop the line of memories...
Twenty-one. God, he'd been so young... they'd both been so young.
But Treize had not seemed young to him he'd been powerful and masterful
and polished and perfect. And Zechs had fallen completely, utterly in
love with the person he'd always worshipped.
Treize had pushed and tested that love over the course of the four years
that followed. Time and again, Zechs had swallowed his own beliefs and
ethics to follow in the path that the other man had set for him. Finally,
there had come the irreparable breach, and Zechs had struck out, struck
away from the man he loved.
But not forever! It wasn't supposed to be forever!
Their differences were ideological. They were differences in ideal and
principle, and in the way each felt that the war they were embroiled in
should be fought. Those differences were insurmountable in the confines
of that conflict, but the conflict wouldn't last forever. So Zechs had
left, but left knowing that one day he would return to Treize, if not
to General Kushrenada.
But Treize had died. The one thing that Zechs had never even remotely
considered had happened.
For he'd never thought that Treize would die. Treize couldn't die.
But he had.
Zechs was stunned, shaken to his core. In many ways, it was the nightmare
of his childhood relived, where the one man he loved and looked up to,
the man who was larger than life and more enduring, was suddenly, shockingly,
ripped away from him.
He hadn't been able to believe it. Even after all this time, part of him
was still screaming in denial.
It couldn't be.
Treize couldn't be dead.
But he was, and all that Zechs could think to do was to wait to join him.
Somehow, it never occurred to him to hasten the process. That wouldn't
be right, somehow, wouldn't be playing by the rules of the game. Treize
wouldn't have approved.
But he hadn't been able to think of anything else to do. Until Relena
had come, and forced him back into the world. She'd delivered Sanc back
to him, given him a focus and a purpose and a piece of the life that he'd
thought he'd lost forever.
But he was still alone, still cold... still waiting. He had more to do
while he waited, but he still was in stasis, still merely existing until
the time came when his wait would be over.
In the last month, though, that had begun to change.
And of all people to bring him back, that it should be Chang Wufei was
an amazing irony.
Wufei had been one of those things that he and Treize had disagreed on,
one of the many disagreements that Treize had emerged from victorious.
Treize had wanted the young man, wanted to revel in that fierce warrior
spirit the Chinese boy had radiated so proudly.
Zechs hadn't wanted anything more than Treize, and, though he hadn't said
it, had been a little hurt that he wasn't enough for the older man.
Treize hadn't addressed that directly, but Zechs always felt he knew it,
and that's why he had pulled him along into his plan of seduction.
His very thorough plan of seduction.
Before Zechs really knew what was happening and certainly before Wufei
did the three of them were lovers. Treize had never physically forced
Wufei to do anything, but the Chinese pilot had certainly never intended
to take a man much less two men as a lover, before he found himself
between Treize and Zechs in the General's large bed.
For several months, while the forces of OZ fought the Gundam pilots, the
three men fought by day, and fought a different sort of battle by night.
The turmoil it caused the youngest man was practically tangible, but again
and again he proved unable to withstand the temptation Treize presented,
and again and again he returned to them.
The tension that the bizarre relationship caused between Treize and Zechs
was one of the determining factors in Zechs' decision to leave OZ, and
Then, it was Wufei who killed Treize, thereby eliminating the possibility
of the future that Zechs had dared to dream he might have with the older
But it was Wufei who came to him several weeks ago, and determinedly broke
through the walls that had been shielding Zechs since Treize's death eight
years before. It was Wufei who touched him as he hadn't been touched since
the last night he spent with Treize. And it was Wufei who, the next morning,
had packed his bag and brought him to the townhouse where he lived with
his other lovers, announcing that Zechs would stay with them until he
decided what he wanted to do next.
Quatre, Heero and Trowa had been a bit nonplussed by the sudden announcement
that the former Lightening Count would be staying with them, though not
nearly as much so as Zechs was himself. But within a day or two, much
to Zechs' surprise, they'd seemed to completely adjust to his presence.
A day or two after that, when Wufei was with Zechs in one of the many
bedrooms, continuing his campaign to make up for the older man's eight
years of celibacy, Heero had wandered into the room and nonchalantly joined
The next night Quatre had come too, and a few days later he'd brought
Trowa with him.
Zechs had gone from complete abstinence to sleeping with four men in less
than two weeks.
He was still reeling.
But he wasn't under any illusions. He wasn't part of what the others had
built over the last several years. It was just... Well, he was there,
for one. For another, they pitied him. He was certain that Wufei had told
them his story, and possibly even enlisted their help in his plan to bring
Zechs back to the world.
Also, he thought, he was probably something of a fill-in, a temporary
replacement for the other of their number whom they were all so desperate
to find. In some small way, his presence probably helped to fill the gaping
hole that had been left by Duo's absence.
Far from upsetting or angering him, he was grateful that he could do that
for them. By all rights, they should hate him everyone should hate him
for the things he had done in the war. Instead, they took him into their
home, into their confidence, and into their bed. If his presence lessened
the pain of their loss any, he was glad of it.
But he wasn't certain how he fit with them, what part if any he should
or was entitled to play in their personal affairs.
Quatre's pain since he had begun his infiltration of the Order was almost
palpable. He'd been there, offering the silent support of his presence,
as Heero and Trowa and Wufei tried to figure out how to help the Arabian.
But they hadn't asked for his input, and he hadn't offered it. He'd seen
Quatre get paler and thinner and more miserable, but the other blond hadn't
asked for his help, and so he'd extended no offer.
But now... The situation now was infinitely worse than it had been. And,
as he continued to watch the other pilots, he realized that none of them
were really in any condition to determine how they could or should deal
with the situation that had suddenly exploded on them.
Perhaps now it behooved him to take action.
But... he didn't know. He didn't know if that would be overstepping his
bounds, or what the consequences would be if he did.
All he knew was that he didn't want to hurt any of them again. He already
lived beneath a burden of regret so heavy that sometimes he felt he could
hardly bear its weight. He didn't want to do anything that would add to
Suddenly, there was a stir at the doorway, and everyone's eyes riveted
to the man who had just entered the room.
Quatre looked awful. His skin was chalky white, and he looked exhausted
and ill. Zechs' sharp gaze noted the slight tremors that racked the other
man's body. He looked ready to collapse.
Quatre wasn't looking at him, though. He was staring across the room at
Trowa, who had stopped mid-stride when the Arabian entered the room. The
two men stared at each other for a long moment, and Zechs saw Quatre flinch
at the cold anger in the glare Trowa was directing at him. Trowa's fists
clenched again, convulsively, and Quatre's eyes closed, his face contorting
Zechs reflexively stood up, as Wufei started across the room. Since the
start of the operation, Quatre had never visibly displayed that much distress.
He must be very near the breaking point to be showing it now.
Quatre's voice, light and disconcertingly normal, broke the tightly stretched
silence in the room. Zechs frowned at him the blond was still standing
in the same spot, swaying with fatigue and reaction, his eyes still tightly
closed. But his voice betrayed none of the turmoil he was so obviously
Wufei stopped halfway across the room, frustration written across his
features. He wanted to address this problem. But Quatre hadn't been checked
yet they didn't know if he was clean, or if the Order had somehow managed
to plant some kind of tracing device on him. And until the Preventers
team had checked him out, they all had to speak and act perfectly naturally.
"Hey, Q," Heero said lightly. The blue-eyed man was still sitting in his
chair, but had turned around and was staring at Quatre.
Wufei glanced at Trowa, but the auburn-haired man set his jaw and glared
at the floor, not speaking.
"How was your day?" Wufei asked after a moment, and Zechs winced. He could
only hope that someone who didn't know Wufei wouldn't recognize the tension
in the other man's voice.
"Rather long, actually. If you don't mind, I'm just going to go pass out,"
Zechs blinked in surprise. Quatre usually made an immense effort to talk,
to chat as though he hadn't just been in a brothel. If he couldn't summon
enough of his impressive control to provide his cover...
Wufei was alarmed too, if the expression on his face was any indication.
But he replied easily. "Of course not... We'll be in in a bit."
"Good night, then!" Quatre managed cheerfully, before his knees gave out.
A few of the Preventers who had trickled in behind him caught him, and
soundlessly pulled him over to the sofa. Zechs turned away as they systematically
began to strip him, took his clothes away, ran various instruments over
his body and through his hair, searching for any small, concealed device.
They carried him over to a machine and strapped him in, searching with
X-rays through the layers of his skin, making sure nothing had been hidden
anywhere within him.
Through it all, Zechs sat helplessly, unable to make any noise that would
betray his presence or their intent. The searchers had to move slowly,
so as not to make any sounds that would indicate to any listeners that
they were there, or searching for a recording device. The process was
slow and tedious, and the sheer indignity of it was awful.
Finally, after more than an hour, one of the team spoke.
"He's clean," he announced succinctly, and he and the others turned and
left the room.
Heero rose to his feet and walked over to Quatre, and pulled the other
man to his feet, wrapping a white robe that had been set on the sofa around
the taller man's strong frame, tying it securely around Quatre's waist.