Safety Measures

On OZ bases, it was not unusual to occasionally see several soldiers clustered together in a group in the mess hall. It was unusual to see a large group of both on and off-duty soldiers clustered around one of the base bulletin boards.

Zechs Merquise's eyes narrowed. If there was anything of interest to such a large group of people under his command, surely he, as General Treize Khushrenada's right-hand Lieutenant (and secret lover) should know about it. That he didn't was worrying.

Stalking over to the group of soldiers milling around in the corner, Zechs was incensed to realize that none of his supposedly highly-trained guerillas were aware of his ever-nearing presence. He wasn't even trying to be stealthy; as he walked, his boots made a quick tattoo on the granite floor, audible even above the hushed whispers the group was exchanging. Never mind what was on the bulletin board; some of these recruits needed to be put on report for not being aware of their surroundings.

It was incompetents like these that led to Treize's rose-scented bubble bath having been replaced with a mixture of hair remover and rose-scented perfume. Treize had been simultaneously irritated with his enforced depilation, and amused with Pilot 02's daring. Zechs himself had rather enjoyed his unlimited and singular access to all that warm, smooth skin…

Mentally shaking off his wandering thoughts, Zechs reached the edge of the group of gossiping soldiers and cleared his throat loudly, peremptorily, and with enough irritation in the guttural sound to let the men and women under his command know that he. Was. Not. Pleased.

It was gratifying to see that eighty percent of said men and women whirled towards him with weapons drawn – maybe he wouldn't have to put all of them on report – but it was extremely worrying that when they saw who he was, they all…blushed?

This is new, Zechs thought, bemused by the others' actions. Lady Une engendered fear or hidden snickers, depending on what mood she was in, Treize commanded respect no matter the situation, and he himself had always been used to the same – with the occasional officer who was irritated over his quick rise in status, but then that was par for the course.

The last time anyone had blushed in his presence it had been Noin. She'd apparently confiscated some homemade porn. Someone had altered two photographs with a computer and ended up with an end result of a picture of a man with his head on the body of a porn star. The person who had created it hadn't even been very skilled; the skin tones were disparate, and the necks had not been aligned at all well, leaving the finished figure looking as if it had been put through a guillotine. (Let's not get into the fact that the man was not nearly as well hung as Zechs was, shall we?) Zechs had run into her in the hallway – her attention had been focused on the folder of photographs – and the photos had spilled all across the floor, drawing his attention as well.

Thankfully no one had come upon them before they were able to gather all the incriminating evidence.

Come to think of it, Zechs mused with a sudden flash of anxiety. I never did find out just what she did with them.

It was at that moment that one of the Ironies of the Universe decided to occur. Noin wasn't the Devil – though Une was occasionally referred to as the Bitch of OZ – but, as if thinking about her had drawn her here, there she was, standing on the fringes of the lunatics – otherwise known as OZ soldiers.

"What is going on here?" Zechs demanded in a deep rumbling voice that spelt doom for any who dared to defy his request for information.

Noin – also blushing, and obviously trying not to look at him, as her eyes were focused off in some middle distance – took it upon herself to answer. "Sir! The source has not yet been confirmed, but it appears that Maxwell may have been up to his old tricks. Sir," she answered haltingly.

Maxwell! Up to his old tricks? With a feeling of dawning dread, Zechs cast a glance out of the corner of his eye at the bulletin board, which was obscured from his sight by several tall MS pilots. One eyebrow rising above the edge of his silver mask, Zechs inquired, tone icily polite, "Is that right, Lieutenant Noin? How so?"

Noin, not deigning to answers with words, simply gestured to the bulletin board. "I think it would be best if you see for yourself, Sir," she said in a strangled voice. "There's no need to draw anymore attention to it." She glared at the now-sheepish group of men and women still clustered in the general vicinity of the bulletin board.

Zechs tended to agree with her assessment – aside from three men going through the lunch line, and one woman getting a cup of coffee, the soldiers gathered in front of the bulletin board were all that were assembled in the mess hall. Whatever had grabbed their attention must have been particularly salacious.

Gifting her with a curt nod – and directing a scathing glance at two soldiers who were in the midst of sneaking off to halt them in cowardly tracks – Zechs stalked towards the bulletin board and came to a military stop right in front of a large bumper sticker which had apparently been pasted overtop the announcements.

The bumper sticker read: Practice safe Zechs…wear a Gundam.

In the bottom right-hand corner was a grinning skull smiley face over two crossed scythes, leaving no doubt as to its origins.

Never had Zechs been more glad of his decision to wear a mask; no one could see him blush. It had taken him a moment to get the joke – the pun was more apparent if you sounded out the words – but once he did, he couldn't have kept his face from reddening if his life depended on it. Luckily, it didn't.

His dignity, however…

With a strangled cry of rage, Zechs ripped the bumper sticker down from the bulletin board and whirled swiftly around to face the group of soldiers. "If none of you have anything better to do than stand here laughing at one of Pilot 02's jokes – such as finding out how Maxwell got in here – then I suggest you report to the mess kitchen and volunteer for a few shifts of KP duty," he ground out.

It was clear that Zechs wasn't making a suggestion – and if any of the soldiers present wanted to keep their jobs, it had best be more than just a 'few' shifts. The groups of soldiers gave an audible, synchronized, gulp and then a less synchronized salute and answer of, "Sir! Yes, Sir!" before hightailing it out of the mess hall.

The only one left was Lieutenant Noin.

Raising one golden brow above the edge of his mask, Zechs turned to his adopted sister.

She shrugged sheepishly. "I only got here a minute before you did. Sir," she added belatedly, remembering they were both still on duty. "I hadn't had a chance to do more than see the…evidence of Maxwell's presence before you arrived, Sir."

Zechs nodded in acceptance. "Then I shall put you in charge of finding out how Maxwell once more got onto our base," he replied, knowing it was not a reward. It would be no picnic tracking down the braided thorn in OZ's backside's every move, but it needed to be done.

And they seemed to have a shortage of trustworthy, intelligent soldiers on the base.

Noin grimaced, but nodded. "Yes, Lieutenant Merquise. I'll get on that right away."

"In the meantime, I will go seek out the General and speak to him about beefing up security," Zechs told her. Trying to keep Pilot 02 out of OZ bases was a futile enterprise at best – and required long hours of brainstorming up new security techniques – but it would not do to just…give up.

Flashing him a sympathetic grin, Noin said, "As you will, Sir," she trotted off to begin her search for the trail of the braided mischief-maker who had been in their midst.

Heaving a sigh, Zechs turned on his heel, heading for General Khushrenada's office. He needed to inform his commanding officer of this latest insurgence.

And inform his lover that they'd have to work tonight, instead of play.

Storm clouds forming over his head could not have made it any clearer to any passing servicemen that Lieutenant Zechs Merquise was in a bad mood. Grumbling under his breath as he stalked down the hall, his fist closing ever tighter on the sticky paper in his hand, Zechs almost made the mistake of not being aware of his surroundings. Luckily, he came to himself just in time to keep himself from running into someone.

Just his luck that that 'someone' was General Treize Khushrenada.

Looking up into the blue eyes of his lover – his subtly smirking lover, blast him – Zechs' rage faltered. "Your Excellency," Zechs greeted his lover in a strangled tone of voice. He bowed his head slightly, his eyes sweeping from side to side behind his mask – peripheral vision was inhibited by the silver covering, which is why he never wore it in battle – checking for others in the near vicinity.

It wouldn't do to be caught ogling his commander, now would it? Never mind being ogled in return…

"Lieutenant Merquise," Treize replied smoothly, a knowing twinkle in his blue eyes. "Taking out the trash?" he said drolly, eyeing the wadded up bumper sticker on the floor.

Forgetting himself for a moment at the reminder of Maxwell's latest prank, Zechs growled, "Yes."

Treize gave Zechs an amused look at this overt lack of decorum on his subordinate's part.

Drat! Keeping business and pleasure separate is so difficult – especially when we're always on base. Looking abashed, Zechs coughed and added, "Sir."

Treize nodded, a silent signal that all was forgiven. "And what might this trash be, Lieutenant?" he purred. It was obvious he had noticed his lover's slip, and suspected something was up.

It wasn't until that moment that Zechs realized that in order for him to report Maxwell's infraction…he would have to let Treize read the bumper sticker. Somehow he had overlooked that fact when he was fueled up by righteous ire.

"Just another one of Maxwell's practical jokes," Zechs blustered, cheeks reddening underneath his silver mask.

Unfortunately, Treize knew him well enough to see beyond the mask.

"I would like to examine this latest…incident…of Maxwell's brand of humor further," Treize stated, arching an eyebrow to hide his mirth. "In private. Accompany me to my office, Lieutenant." He crooked a finger at him.

Zechs bowed his head, knowing that there was nothing he could do to keep Treize from seeing the words on that sticker now. "Yes, Sir."

Treize nodded to him and turned to lead his lover back to his private office. Once they were inside, the General made sure to close and lock the door behind him. He had a feeling this prank of 02's would be most interesting and he wouldn't want to be disturbed during the middle of the punch line.

Settling into a plush chair next to his desk, Treize gestured for Zechs to sit in the matching chair across from him. Once his lover was seated, he asked, "Now, my dear Lieutenant, would you please show me this latest…mischievous missive from Maxwell?"

Now that they were behind closed doors, Zechs was free to do away with the formalities, so he just nodded heavily and handed over the balled up bumper sticker with an internal wince of resignation.

Treize was sure to find this pun much funnier than he himself had. Then again, it would be only just compensation for laughing at him when Maxwell slipped neon purple hair dye into his shampoo… Zechs frowned at that thought even as the memory caused a smile to quirk up the corners of his lips.

After taking in his lover's reluctance to hand over the bumper sticker, Treize became even more curious as to what it said. Placing the crumpled bumper sticker on his desk, he proceeded to smooth the wrinkles out of the sticky-backed paper. Hands placed at either ends of the sticker, the General stared down at the words in surprised amusement. It was only by exerting every ounce of decorum at his disposal that he was able to keep from roaring out his laughter.

Glancing up from the humorous phrase to look at his lover, Treize let the barest hint of a smile show on his face. "Now I understand why you were so…reluctant…to allow me to view this, Zechs," he purred.

Zechs squirmed uncomfortably in his seat; that tone of voice always meant trouble. Trouble of the kind that would have him standing for the next two days, because sitting would be out of the question.

Coming out from behind the desk, Treize strode towards his lover and, reaching down to grab Zechs' hand, pulled his lover to his feet. Initially startled, it took a moment for Zechs to regain his feet. "Treize?" he asked uncertainly as his lover wrapped his arms around and just held him close. Is he not going to ravish me? And why was he disappointed that his ass wasn't going to be worn out? "What's going on?"

Treize chuckled and pulled his lover closer, kissing his way from collarbone to cheek. He whispered in Zechs' ear between nibbles, "Just thought I'd follow Maxwell's advice." He grinned at the confused look on his lover's face. "See if you 'measure up' to specs." He palmed the other man's rapidly growing erection through his uniform pants.

Guess that's a 'Yes!' to ravishing – and how! Zechs let out a moan and gasped, "By all means, Sir. I'm ready for your 'safety inspection.'"