A great thank you to Karina, MikaSamu and Rude2 for your wonderful feedback.

Lightning Arc 5 - Winter

Fandom: Gundam Wing
Rating: M for references to an intimate Zechs/Treize relationship.
Pairing: Zechs and Treize in their whole dashing, brilliant, ruthless humanity
Warnings: m/m love and some references to m/m sex, some swearing - and still nothing explicit (although they do remember a few of their closer encounters).
Spoilers: everywhere, in all my stories

Summary: see Chapter 1.

xxx

Chapter 7 - Wild Goose Chase

They spent the morning lazing in bed, doing not much of anything except watching winter reclaim the little house, the whiteness of their breath growing denser, the bedroom turning gloomier as the wind continued to drive snow against the window. Timeless, floating, Zechs had no idea when they finally began to move, Treize first, hugging him hard, breathless, long. Kissing with an intensity that held more than a hint of desperation, then tearing away to get out of bed.

When Zechs finally made it outside, dressed and slowed by a strange exhaustion, Treize was pacing a small patch of trampled snow just by the porch. All around, snow was piling hip-high, shoulder-high where the wind blew it into drifts in beneath the trees at the edge of the clearing, and still it kept snowing, in silent, dense swathes from a grey sky. Treize, in his silverfox coat but without cap, his copper hair dusted with snow, pressed the phone to his ear with a gloved hand. His face was harsh and concentrated as he talked, fast and in a mixture of Russian and English, interrupting himself from time to time to listen and wipe the snow from his brow and collar.

Zechs did not want to know. He went to tack the horses.

When he had finished, stowed all their gear, guns and quarry, Treize had gone inside to make sure nothing was left behind, the fire dead and the hearth clean. The rest would be done by the groundsmen later. Zechs tethered the horses to the front door and stepped inside, meeting Treize who came out of the bedroom. For a moment, they stood still, looking at one another.

"We're not coming back here." Zechs did not make it a question.

Treize's eyes narrowed, then closed for a heartbeat before meeting the pale gaze again. "After the war," he said softly.

"Tre-"

"I will be waiting for you. I will always be waiting. I will always be with you." A smile, a passing shadow of melancholy, before casting a quick glance through the window. "We must reach the manor before dusk. We should hurry."

xxx

The rode back in silence, the horses having tostruggle through snowdrifts up to their chests, the two men with their faces deeply in their fur collars and arms kept close to their bodies to preserve warmth. It was difficult to see through the veils of white that turned the entire world into an amorphous mass of cold and wet, but the animals followed their instincts and just after the shift in light before the long winter night would obliterate any trace of life, they reached the great house.

They could see the upheaval before they emerged from the forest into the park: the yard flooded with light, half a dozen gleaming four wheel drives on the alley leading up to the main entrance, and an unmarked jeep painted the military blue of the OZ Specials. People were scurrying back and forth between the house and the cars that stood bumper to bumper as they tried to cram as close as possible to the wide staircase to the main door.

Treize lifted one hand, signalling Zechs to keep behind him, and took a few moments to watch and assess, then he turned, his face dark beneath his fur cap. "The press have arrived. Plus a couple of gentlemen sent by the Foundation."

Zechs breathed out sharply. "Treize..."

Treize shook his head. "This is it, my friend," he said, his voice rough. "I suggest..." He broke off and turned away to stare at the scene before them. "Go to the hangar. The jet should be ready; I asked my men to check it over. It is no flying weather, but you know that. I trust your skill. You can leave the horse there; I will send someone to collect it. You have the guns. Use them if you must." He paused, before turning back and looking at Zechs once more, for a long time, drinking in every detail. "This is all I can give you," he then said. "Our memories. A few peaceful days. My..."

"What, Treize?" Zechs ground out.

Another tense silence, broken by the snarl of an engine on the driveway. Treize leaned forward to gentle his fidgeting horse by patting its neck with his gloved hand.

"Treize? Your what?"

"Please go now," Treize said quietly, his tone utterly void of expression, his face pale and blank, eyes hidden beneath the rim of the cap and the deepening shadows. "It will be dark soon, you must reach the hangar. I will deal with everything else."

The press. Rumours. Slander. Threats. Pressure by the Foundation.
Loss. Pain. Betrayal.

The end of everything they had been for one another.
The end of everything.

xxx

The runway had been cleared of snow, the plough still flashing orange lights at the edge of the airstrip that was lit brightly and walled in by snowdrifts twice the height of a man. The gate of the hangar gaped wide open, the jet had been pulled out and was running, men bustling about, driving the tanker lorry away, removing tools and gear.

When Zechs rode onto the heaving, light-torn airfield, he had to lift his arm to protect his eyes from the blinding glare of searchlights, and a moment later, a jeep lumbered to a growling halt by his side. He kept a firm hold on the reins of the tired, nervous horse as the door flew open and a man in the winter uniform of an air force mechanic stuck out his head and touched his temple with his fingertips in a swift salute. "Colonel? We were getting worried, sir. Everything's ready."

Zechs slipped off the horse. "Thank you, lieutenant."

The man got out of the jeep and reached out. "You may want to take the car, sir. I'll take care of the horse."

Minutes later, after feverish activity and another flurry of movement around the aircraft, Zechs was in his pilot suit, helmet in place over the mass of hair wound tightly around his head, oxygen mask over his nose, and the cabin sliding shut with a sharp hiss as the engines powered up with a piercing whine. Unthinkingly, he slid his hands one last time over the harness to check the fastenings, looked over the controls, checked his seating position. Routines, ingrained beyond conscious thought. Men were running towards the hangar, and the intercom crackled to life as he set the plane rolling.

The double strip of blazing fires that marked the runway, the cluster of floodlights atop the hangar, the dark silhouettes of men and the spiderfingers of searchlights that cut into the drifting snow, all sinking away, shrinking into slivers, sparks of yellow on black, and then melting into nothing as the plane blasted into the night.

He stared at the pale green and blue screens that glimmered at him, his eyes in the snowbound darkness, the blinking of the controls and the feeling of the machine surrounding as familiar as always. A fake world to replace the real one he had left to fly towards the secret base, a place that was non existent to all but a handful of chosen people.

He reached into his flight jacket to adjust the intercom, and paper rustled under his gloved fingers. He touched again the webbing pouch that held the piece of equipment on the left side of his chest, and his heart beat faster. Perhaps one of the mechanics had forgotten to remove the nonsensical leaflets that always came with new equipment. No pilot worth his salt needed any instruction leaflets by the time he was harnessed to his seat, but sometimes... He pushed his hand into the pouch, found the paper and pulled it out slowly, never leaving an eye off the controls.

And felt as though he had received a blow to the heart when he glanced at the piece of paper that quivered in his right hand. A legal letterhead, addressed to him in the unmistakably neat, controlled handwriting. No more than a few lines, dated many months back, the day of the summer ball. Signed with a flourish, Treize Khushrenada, unbothered to write out his title, above the smaller, stiffer signature of Colonel Une and the firm one of Lieutenant Noin. A few dried rose petals fell into Zechs' lap when he unfolded the paper and smoothed it over his thigh. He could not afford to switch the jet to autopilot, not under those weather conditions, but he kept glancing, catching word by word what Treize had to say to him, until it began to make sense.

'I love you,' he wrote, 'but you know that. I intend to keep my promise – you recall that one? In case circumstances beyond my control should foil my plans, I have left instructions with my solicitor to transfer the deeds of the estate into your name. The transaction will be concluded by the time you read this. It is but a poor sign of my appreciation, but I have nothing else to give you. A duplicate of said instructions is with Noin, and another one with Une. I trust both of them explicitly. And now, Miliusha moy, it is time to say our farewells. The next time we meet, we will be fighting one another, and I know you will not disappoint me. Do you remember my birds? Remember, Miliusha, and soar.'

He could not hear anything but this howl that was like nothing he had ever heard from a jet engine. It drilled into his ears, knocked the breath from his lungs, and set him spinning, falling, diving...

...caught the nosedive...

...his own voice, screaming down the intercom for a connection to Treize...

...no answer...

...but static... and stillness...

xxx

Treize dismounted and handed the horse over to one of his men who hurried to assist him. He yanked the quarry off the saddle and stalked with long, angry strides towards the main entrance.

Without sparing anyone as much as a glance, he burst through the doors and tossed his cap on the floor. Snow fell off his coat and his collar as he let the bundle of frozen carcasses trail behind him, and he left melting boot prints on the polished marble floor as he marched straight across the vestibule into the salon and the commotion of voices, lights and flash photography that had invaded his home.

The fire was burning brightly in the cast iron fireplace at the opposite wall. The long table that stretched from the door to the hearth was cluttered with papers, pens, a laptop, and expensive cameras, along with a samovar and platters and plates with half-eaten sandwiches, fruit and biscuits.

For a moment, he stood by the door, surveying the mess, and the men who had made it: a television crew with soundman, camera and reporter, two newspaper hacks, a nervous butler, and two quiet, discreet figures in neatly pressed dark suits and precise haircuts. The TV crew scrambled to get close, the hack opened his mouth but then decided just to take notes as the TV reporter shot questions at Treize.

Who tilted his head, pushed his chin out and showed his brightest, most winning smile. "I was hunting, gentlemen." He lifted his quarry, then slung it onto the shiny table. The frozen flesh thumped hard onto the wood and made plates and cutlery clink in protest. "And I was not done."

They started yapping affronts at him even as he stalked to the head of the table to take his seat, and he smiled for the camera, answered, joked, charming, wily and resolute, playing them expertly at their own game, while the Foundation men watched in silence, patiently biding their time. It would be harder to deal with them than with slurs and insults.

The carcasses began to smell, oozing blood onto the polished table as they thawed in the overheated room. Treize's tone grew faintly edgy, though he remained polite and obliging. The veils of snow drifting past the windows became denser still until a flood of white floated in the darkness, unceasing, silent, and the pale mass began to pile up above the windowsill. Treize rose, shrugged off his coat and tossed it carelessly over the back of his chair.

He was about to place another log onto the fire as a shudder ran through the old house, the windowpanes sighed and soot rained into the fire in a shower of murky sparks.

And then a sonic boom tore through the winter night.

The silence that followed was complete. Treize carefully bedded the log into the ash-covered embers, grabbed the upper ledge of the mantelpiece and pulled himself up. For a heartbeat, he closed his eyes and bit his lip.

Before taking a deep breath and turning around briskly. He lavished his most brilliant smile on the baffled assembly, spread his arms, palms out, and said, "Gentlemen, I believe any questions you may still have can wait until tomorrow. Travelling will be difficult tonight; my house is at your disposal should you wish to stay."

He cast a long glance at the dark window, through his own reflection into the snow-bound darkness, "Now, if you will excuse me, the future does not wait. I have work to do, turkeys (1)to deal with and wild geese to chase (2). Have a good night." He nodded curtly at the perplexed men and stalked off, slamming the door behind him.

When the window panes had stopped rattling, one of the journalists cleared his throat and looked cautiously around. "He's gone nuts," he ventured.

The man with the camera shrugged. "Cut."

xxx

Treize walked out into the night, snow filling his boots, catching in his hair, soaking into his jumper that began to freeze and stick to his skin, but he walked on until the lights from the manor were a dull shine in the shifting darkness. The fountain was half-filled with snow and where the wind had blown it away, some ice gleamed faintly in the pale light that reflected from the whiteness.

He stilled and wrapped his arms around himself as he laid back his head and searched the shifting blackness above.

So barren, so distant. So very lonely.

He felt his heart leap as he spotted the tiny blot of light that was moving fast across the veiled sky. Rubbing his arms, he watched this tiny spark, bright and bold, fading quickly into the bottomless darkness. Only then did he finally make his way back to the house.

On his lips lay a true smile.

xxx

THE END of LA5

Notes:
(1) turkeys – false news
(2) wild geese to chase – a wordplay with a) the name of Zechs' gundam, the Tallgeese, and b) the phrase 'to go on a wild goose chase' – a fruitless undertaking; chasing after a fantasy