Warnings: Lemony bits, language
"When did you get in?"
"About ten minutes ago."
The midmorning sun shone bright through the tall, tinted windows in the
reception area. The immaculate blue of the sky, broken only by the reflection
of the rays off the tarmac and the faint line of ocean in the distance,
cast the polished granite tiles in a glow pulsating with invisible waves
of heat, like the shadow of ripples moving over the floor. It provided
a small bit of warmth in an otherwise chilly building. Even in his dress
uniform buttoned up to the thick, starched collar and sweating from the
encounter with his superiors he felt a shiver and his fingertips were
frozen in his white gloves. The hum of the air conditioner could be heard
easily over the click of booted footsteps and the murmur of other officers,
only interrupted by the occasional roar of a jet or mobile suit taking
off. The biting odor of ozone was stronger out here than in the meeting
rooms; it disagreed with his nose and added to the difficulty he already
found breathing in the stiff, close-fitting suit.
He had found Alex relaxing in one of the overstuffed chairs by the window,
one leg thrown over the other, resting his head against one hand, an elbow
on the back of the chair, his eyes closed against the sun. He looked every
bit the spoiled academy brat Mueller himself had been accused of being.
He forced one eye half-open at Mueller's tone. "Why? Am I late?"
Inside Mueller couldn't help but chafe at his nonchalance. It had been
almost six months, although with the new year the time seemed longer.
It was long enough for a person to change, and the changes were what stood
out in his mind. The longer hair. The wider shoulders. The thinner face.
The uniform was the same, and the effect was as if an imposter had tried
to copy his graduation photo. Although the cocky smile and familiar voice
stayed Mueller's doubts, he still was unsure how to act.
When he received no answer, Alex opened his eyes and lifted his head with
a vague, "Hm?"
"They're not ready to see us yet."
Mueller let out a sigh. His gaze flitted unintentionally to the exits,
betraying his thoughts. His friend's blue-gray eyes did not waver from
his face, and he had no thoughts that needed hiding.
"Do you want to go for a walk?" Mueller asked him.
The air in Berbera was hot and dry, but at least it was fresh, and he
was used to the heat. A warm breeze was blowing off the ocean and smelled
vaguely of brine and the mustiness of the desert. They kept their eyes
downcast as they walked, following the skybridge, squinting when the need
arose to look up. In the distance Aries stood in silent rows, glinting
black and white on the tarmac. Perfect soldiers, their blank stares saw
everything and nothing. The heat coming off the pavement made them waver
like mirages and their disproportionate feet seemed to balance on only
water. Alex didn't ask him how he had been the last few months, nor did
he say much of the action or lack thereof along the Mombasa coast where
he had been stationed until that day. He listened patiently to the news
of the recent terrorist attacks and the coming war that Mueller related
to him, and of their old instructor Noin's business at Victoria and elsewhere
and new Taurus suits being gathered for OZ's takeover of space operations.
Alex nodded vaguely at everything, smiling distantly every now and then,
and if Mueller didn't know him so well he would have thought his mind
was somewhere else.
"Look," he said mid-topic. They stopped and Alex slipped his hands in
his pockets. On the other side of the skybridge, beyond the marked concrete
and piled crates and chain link fence the Gulf of Aden glittered faintly.
The dark gray-blue of the water faded seamlessly into the blue sky on
"If all goes well, two days from now the sun will be rising on a free
"Yes," said Mueller. "God willing."
"God has nothing to do with it."
Mueller was used to his old friend's dismissive tone of voice, and he
half expected some old, familiar wisecrack about his zealousness being
reminiscent of Khushrenada's rhetoric. "The UESA's a lot of fools," Alex
said instead. "That's all there is to it. They're too confident--too oblivious
to adapt; and after all, it's the tree that bends in the storm that survives."
Mueller glanced up at Alex who still squinted into the sun. The wind off
the water ruffled his blond hair and the short cape draped over his left
shoulder; and he seemed much older than seventeen, carrying the responsibilities
of an OZ officer as easily on his shoulders as he did the gold-threaded
epaulettes. His poise implied some passion, some drive just below the
surface too serious and refined for his matter-of-fact character. Still
his rank became him, Mueller thought with a pang of self-consciousness
and irrational, nostalgic disappointment. Now who sounded like Treize?
"That's true," he said. "It's for the good of the Earth Sphere we're correcting
But his distant, half-hearted tone gave away the direction of his thoughts.
Mueller started as his friend grabbed his arm, and he felt himself being
guided back into the shadow of the skybridge. He leaned trapped against
a pylon, which felt cool through the material of his uniform. The jet
engines of a plane taking off roared in the thick air, drowning out all
sound but the pounding of his own heart. "'The good of the Earth Sphere,'
hm," said Alex as the roar faded. "That brings back memories, doesn't
it?" He let go of Mueller's arm, bringing his hand to his friend's face.
The material of his spotless white gloves felt soft against Mueller's
skin as Alex brushed the back of his fingers over his temple, put his
palm to his cheek. How he could still do it so platonically . . . The
warmth of his hand inside the material was so real and elusive that for
a moment, despite the shade and a shiver that ran down his back, Mueller
felt overwhelmed by the heat. He closed his eyes as his vision briefly
darkened, bracing himself against the concrete pylon, all the while mentally
cursing himself for lapsing into old feelings so quickly, so easily. But
it had almost felt like they were back at the Academy. "It's been a long
time," he muttered to the pavement. When he looked up again he saw Alex
smiling at him, trying to pretend he hadn't noticed that little slip of
"I hope you haven't been working yourself too hard," he said, and almost
seemed genuinely concerned for his old friend's health. "Haven't been
stressing out over this Operation Daybreak."
"M-m. I have had plenty of time to think about it."
"Then they don't keep you busy enough up there."
"Who, us Specials? Don't you know we're just lazy, self-centered Academy
He laughed. Somehow the tension between them instantly vanished, whether
to Mueller's relief or disappointment he couldn't quite say. The transience
of the moment bothered him. The times really were changing, weren't they?
It would be pointless to try and resist it.
"We should probably start heading back," he said with a renewed professionalism.
"They weren't going to start for a little while yet, but . . ."
Alex nodded. "We wouldn't want to miss anything."
-= + =-
He felt like he was swimming. Surrounded and at the same time heavy and
In reality, grounding him was the terrible mattress, which dipped and
groaned under their weight. Sometime ago it had stopped annoying him.
Alex preoccupied him now, breathing hard and steady next to his ear, leaving
distracted, half-assed kisses along the back of his neck. Fucking him
with long, deliberate strokes. His hand at Mueller's waist burned, tormenting
him every time it seemed as if to move to relieve him. Mueller panted
and braced himself against the pillow as though, when he closed his eyes,
that was an extension of Alex too.
He managed to get his knees under him and pushed himself up off his stomach,
and the sensation of Alex's penis sliding deeper inside him made his groin
tighten further. He moaned. He pushed back against Alex's hips. His dogtags
dangled down to brush the pillow, rattling against each other with each
thrust and glinting in what little light came through the thick curtain.
His heart was pounding overtime in his chest and the muscles in his limbs
strained painfully from the repetitive motion; but the rest of him didn't
give a shit, his need was so narrowed to one goal. Alex was close. His
thrusts came slower and more focused, driving them both to the edge. A
low, satisfied groan, half smothered against the back of his hand, escaped
Mueller as he came shuddering.
When Alex withdrew, himself breathing hard, Mueller collapsed. His mind
was swimming in the afterglow. The springs protested as he turned over
onto his back on the narrow cot and tried to catch his breath. It was
stifling in the room, even with the window cracked and the ceiling fan
on its one slow setting.
His head felt like lead as he turned to watch Alex, who without a word
pulled on his trousers and then the undershirt he picked up off the floor.
It was not without some difficulty as he was sweating enough for both
of them. His pale skin was flushed and his bangs wet and sticking to the
side of his face. But some instinct kept him on his feet long enough to
preserve his dignity as an officer.
Mueller couldn't care less. Though physically drained, he felt recharged,
needed, and he would have liked to sleep on that. It was the knowledge
that it was only for a while that bothered him. "This time I'm making
damn sure we're in the same squadron," he muttered with a small smile,
not meaning much else than perhaps gratitude.
He was a little surprised that Alex would take him so seriously.
"I don't fly Aries," he said, shooting a glance at his friend as though
he should know better. But he added after Mueller's irritated sigh, "Anyway,
you're the only one I'd trust to do this right." Mueller might have been
flattered, but that was not Alex's intent. It was merely the truth. Judgement
forged by all those months together at Victoria. "Everyone else is too
bogged down in etiquette and don't realize Africa's not going to . . .
free herself with niceties. It's a fucking revolution. If you're going
to accomplish anything you have to be prepared to use any means necessary."
Suddenly wide-awake, Mueller's heart skipped a beat at those words. Any
means necessary. Strange how they produced the same yearning excitement
in the pit of his stomach as the thought of sex. He blinked slowly in
A smile was evident in Alex's voice. "Mueller?"
"Put some goddamn clothes on. Anyone could walk in here."
-= + =-
The desert was a sea in the darkness before dawn, at this moonless hour
when all that lit the crests of dunes was starlight and a faint bluing
of the sky from the east. His stomach was in knots in anticipation, to
which the recycled air being pumped into the mobile suit only helped contribute.
That same upward tug, like when one descends too quickly, pulled at him
as thoroughly as if he were strung on a line. At the same time it was
a strange sense of calm the solitude of the desert brought over him--that
funny calm before battle when time slowed down to eternity and the thought
crossed his mind untroubled that he might die today. The rush of adrenaline
caused by that single thought was better than any drug.
The squadron of Aries flew silently through the pre-dawn, the only thing
for miles to break the sacred emptiness between continent and sky. This
morning they were making history. Whether they triumphed today or went
down as martyrs, the promise of glory managed to capture each pilot on
this the first flight of the No. 33 Independence Troops of Northeast Africa.
The anticipation was evident in their relays back and forth and their
nervous laughter. Their burden was a large one, but history was on their
His wingmates were hardly any older than he was, some just out of the
Academy, but that didn't lessen their chances. It was the young who were
taking action; it was the young who should be leading the way, free from
corruption and minds set on the future. He remembered what Alex had said
two days ago, that when the sun rose it would be on a freed Africa. And
was it not the destiny, he thought, the divine right of an oppressed continent
to rise and rid herself of false masters? For the new and driven to overcome
the old and stagnant? That he would be there at the birth of this new
and enlightened age, leading the front, filled him with immeasurable satisfaction.
This was truly the beginning of something good.
A golden light rose abruptly in the distance along the coast, swelling
as they watched and brightening the sky around it with fiery tendrils.
Dawn had broken.
But as they neared they saw it wasn't daylight.
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