By Xero Sky
Warnings: for the whole story, expect lemon, lime, blood, violence, sarcasm, and profanity.
Pairings: 6 x 2 (x1) I think... I've always sucked at math!
AN: Post EW. Possible OOC, but not intentional.
Disclaimer: All copyrights remain with their original holders. No profit of any kind is intended from this work of fan fiction.

Sanctuary + Chapter One

He opened the doors and let the ocean breeze come in. The stale air of the room stirred reluctantly before surrendering, stirring small whirls of dust in the corners. White walls shone now that the storm doors were pulled back. The lacquered wooden floor shone dully in the sunlight, making the empty expanse of the room seem somehow larger.

Home sweet home.

Most of the small villa was just like this: empty of everything but dust and the weight of years. All of the decorative items were gone, but one bedroom was stacked to the ceiling with furniture sealed away in plastic. The appliances and fixtures were still there and probably worked; the villa was designed to be self-contained, and it hadn't suffered much during the 20 or more years of disuse. The Peacecraft arms were still inlaid in the stone over the fireplace, but there was no other sign of who had once lived here or why they had left.

He heard the faint humming of the refrigeration unit, and the sound of waves. Other than that, there was only his own breathing.

His kingdom.

The villa was a relic, a forgotten bit of the Peacecraft legacy that no one wanted, not entirely unlike himself. The small trust that had been set aside to pay the caretakers had finally run out, and a polite, extremely old-fashioned letter addressed to His Serene Highness, Prince Milliardo Peacecraft, had arrived in Zechs' mail to gently inform him of it and request further orders. The battered envelope had surprised him, in a time when nothing else did. He had no idea how far it had traveled to reach him, but it had seen some adventures, certainly. The persistence of it, as well as the novelty, had seduced him.

So here he was, reclaiming a forgotten and useless house on a stretch of utterly deserted coastline. He pulled his gun out of his waistband and set it on the counter.

Perhaps not entirely useless.

The money wasn't a problem. Once he turned 21, a series of bank accounts he had never known existed were turned over to him. Much of it he had given to charity, for rebuilding the kingdom. The rest stayed hidden, for reasons he couldn't quite put into words. Something to do with preparing for the worst, perhaps, or husbanding his resources for the future. He didn't care enough to explore it further, knowing that it was mostly a reflex, a thought pattern carried over from the past. In the meantime, it was useful having entirely private funds from time to time.

Relena trusted him. Perhaps only Relena.

He caught a glimpse of his reflection in a glass pane of the folding doors. Always the same. Long platinum hair, a handsome face, vacant blue eyes.

Prince Peacecraft, Ambassador without Portfolio. Usually sent to frighten colonials who were thinking of splintering off on their own, or to soothe feelings that needed an icy touch, a reminder of what had almost been. He never threatened. All he had to do was be smooth and polished and Zechs Merquise. He went by his birth name, but he knew, and they knew, that he would always be Zechs. The Lightning Count. Terror of the colonies. Treize Kushrenada's attack dog.

Relena's attack dog, now. Currently absent without leave, tucked away in a forgotten house on a forgotten beach.

A waste of flesh.

He broke away and went to put the rest of his supplies away. He'd had no idea that the house had been stripped bare, but he'd had thoughts of 20 year old bed linen and brought a bedroll and other basics, just in case. His fastidiousness and preparations had been automatic reactions, the kinds of things he didn't really have control over any more. So many years as a soldier, as an officer, as Treize's protégé, had given him reflexes and sensibilities that he would likely never be rid of. He felt like a distant observer of himself, sometimes... often enough.

Some part of his mind was entertaining a certain idea now, turning it over and over like a shiny new toy, distracting him. He smiled gently, almost giving it a name, and then shook his head. Not now. Now it was time for getting down to work.

*

Sunset over the ocean was a brutal affair, he thought idly. There was nothing to mute and absorb the ruthless glare of the sun as it swelled up in glory before death. A glittering line of fire had been laid over the ocean like a trail of burning wreckage as the light was broken by the waves.

"Burning wreckage," Zechs said aloud, snorting in disgust. "So fucking melodramatic."

He poured another shot and downed it all in one fluid motion. He bared his teeth at the taste, and then poured himself another before eyeing the bottle. Half gone. He'd have to slow down, or he'd sick it all up. A man of good breeding didn't waste expensive alcohol, and he doubted there was any more of this stuff, anywhere.

Besides which, he'd just gone to all the trouble of cleaning up and airing out the place, making it livable for however long he was going to want it. He still had no idea how long that was, even now that he was there. He didn't particularly care. There were more important things to think about.

But it turned out he wasn't quite drunk enough to get around to that particularlittle thought.

Well, there was a cure for that. Even if he was a little out of practice.

It had been... six months or so since he'd last gotten what Noin used to call "fuck drunk". He wasn't sure where the hell that term came from, really, but it never failed to get a smile from him, even now. It reminded him of the last time he saw her.

A beautiful woman, really: dark hair, dark eyes, and a fire in her belly to match his. She had been there for him, even when he'd barely noticed her. He had a clear image of her in his head, from that night: she been leaning against his desk, her head propped up on one hand, grinning at him. Her cheeks were flushed from laughter, and a few dark strands of hair were stuck to her brow. Her eyes had had that strange, kind look in them that she reserved for him. Both of them had been drunk. Some time later that night he'd finally rolled her on the couch in his office, doing something he probably should have done years earlier.

She'd been gone when he woke up, but there had been a note. A note with a tentative sort of affection in it, telling him she had a mission on L2 and she'd be back in a couple of days. She'd didn't regret a thing. She'd miss him.

Later on he'd done the unwilling calculations in his head. While he'd been lying there on his couch, feeling smug and tired and sated, thinking about what he'd do to her when he got the chance, a piece of orbital debris far too small to be tracked on any screen had hit Noin's shuttle. Moving at thousands of miles an hour, it had little trouble piercing the hull.

There had been no explosive decompression and little fuss of any kind, but when the rescue crew finally secured the shuttle, they had found all the atmosphere had been lost. Everyone was dead.

A smile now, and then another drink. He did not silently toast her. He mourned her loss, but his heart hadn't broken. He hadn't been in love with her.

But for a moment there, a few hours, there had been a possibility of something more, of a future that wasn't the bleak and monotonous wasteland he had been wandering through since the war. There had been sweet warmth and slow kisses, and he had almost caught a glimpse of something else.

Here's to almost, he thought.

In the warmth of the summer evening, he sat in the middle of the living room floor, wearing nothing but a pair of faded jeans. A small dark bottle was nearby, and a shot glass hung from one hand. His loose hair, stained to yellow gold in the light, cascaded over the smooth skin of his back. At 23, he was in the prime years of his youth, his skin tanned, his muscles hard, his body lean. Only his eyes told the story of how those years had been spent: their blue seemed faded now, as if their color had been spent with his passions.

Half gone, three quarters down... He was too fucking civilized to simply swill it from the bottle. A gentleman didn't. Even him. Bloodstains did not erase good breeding.

Laughing mirthlessly, he stood up without even the faintest wobble, stretching his limbs gracefully and feeling his spine crackle. There was a delicious sort of heaviness to his muscles as he walked outside onto the deck. The bottle, ever-faithful attendant, came with him. He smiled as his head spun slightly, and he finally swayed a little. The colors outside, like that astonishing sunset, were over-saturated, and his senses gave him too much of the world. He had to stop for a moment, smiling, the breeze catching his hair and sweeping it across his over-sensitive skin, making him shiver.

He'd laid his bedroll out here, intending to sleep under the stars. No stars yet, but he didn't care. It was good enough simply to flop down and cross his arms behind his head, staring up at a sky bluer than blue. Clean and deep, endless... He could hear nothing but the waves, and see nothing but the infinite depth of space, the darkness lying just behind the beauty.

If there is nothing beyond the sky, where is heaven? he thought, mesmerized.

His eyes closed for just a moment, but when he opened them the sky had shifted, grown darker. Stars were appearing. He smiled at their beauty, and then felt for the bottle at his side. The glass was gone, so he drank without it, feeling the bitter heat as he swallowed. Vile. It was his fault for not remembering how it was supposed to be drunk, though. Was it salt he needed? Lemon?

Sugar... You were supposed to let a tiny cube of sugar melt on your tongue before each mouthful, taming the monster before it slid down your throat. He had forgotten what it was supposed to taste like. The effects, so much more than whiskey, were as he remembered, though.

He watched the sky turn black, knowing it was going too fast. It was just as well this shit was banned, he thought, swirling the last little bit around the bottle. Bad for the head...

Like Epyon, and Zero. Like Treize.

Fuck. He didn't want to think about that. He sat up a bit, hunching his shoulders forward. A quick, nauseating flash of near-perfect recall made him flinch.

Explosions. Death. The suspicion that right then and right there, he might be God.

He shook his head, but images were coming faster, complete with emotions.

Treize was his enemy, Epyon was in his head, and... he did what he thought was right at the time.

That's what he told Relena, afterwards. I thought it was the right thing to do. And there wasn't anything to say to that, was there?

After it was all done, after that fucking useless whelp Mariemaia killed her share of defenseless people, he'd been caught. He'd been taken down by a mechanical failure, after all his love affair with the metal and the circuitry. He was a warrior who loved his tools, and when betrayal came, in the form of a simple breakdown, it had proven too much for his strained nerves. He'd gone into something like shock for a while.

Lovely numbness. It had lasted through the trials, his confessions, his conviction for war crimes and the pardon. He hadn't held back a thing. Long ago, he'd been religious and gone to confession, and unburdened his soul like a good little sinner. He'd done much the same thing at the war crimes tribunal. But his crimes were too many, and so they'd earned him pardon, since the only other alternative was death.

Relena Peacecraft's brother, the born heir to the Sanc Kingdom, was never going to be executed for war crimes. It was too important that nothing threaten her position or influence now, and his shameful death would have been too useful a tool for her enemies. That was how things were, and that was how politics and power ran now.

Even Treize hadn't been able to tarnish him enough, somehow.

His body jerked suddenly, with the memory of a fine leather whip being brought down on his naked flesh. A reminder, Treize had called it, of who was in command. A gift of awareness.

Treize... He whimpered gently and stifled it, not willing to let anyone or anything bear witness to the scar across his soul that was still the entire property of Treize Kushrenada.

The night pulsed and ebbed around him, as memory and sleep took him and then gave him up again in a slow erratic rhythm. The empty bottle went spinning through the air in a lazy arc, having given all its secrets up to him. The hallucinogenic effect of the many different herbs that had been blended into that liqueur remained with him, fading slowly with the night.

Near dawn, when the darkness had begun to seem worn and tawdry, he could no longer tell the difference between the sound of his own breathing and the gentle roar of the waves below. Everything, his private thoughts and the outer world, his pain and the indifference of the stars, had begun to twist together in one long bright river of being. He thought he might be on the verge of some revelation, but didn't all drunks think that? He laughed, and couldn't tell if that sound came from himself or the world itself, mocking him.

A different sound, alien and yet utterly familiar, intruded, and he wondered if he should care about it. But then his eyes caught sight of the star falling from the sky, and he understood for a moment. No heaven. No angels. Just the pure shriek of metal tearing the air apart in descent. Machinery in flight. Bright flashes of weaponry. Death offered and received.

So strange... Fighting here? He blinked, trying to see if it was real. Perhaps he was dreaming...

It remained, a star in flight, leaving a thinning trail. Not locked in battle, but descending through the paling skies, towards him.

A smile like a razor's bite curved thin, sensuous lips, and Zechs Merquise laughed. Maybe it was Death. If only he'd known it was hunting him, he wouldn't have put it to so much trouble to find him.

Lightning flashed across tired blue eyes.

Darkness followed.

[chap. 2] [back to Singles l - z]