Title: Limbo

Chapter: 1/12: The Dirt in Your Eye

Pairing: Past Treize/Zechs

Spoliers: Series, EW

Warnings: Death themes, intoxication, male/male sexual situations (none terribly explicit), swears, grief, angst, debatable sap, and flashbacks throughout.

Notes: This story is inspired stylistically, thematically - really, in every way - by the beautiful and brilliant Lightening Arc by LoveyouHateyou (you can find him in my Favorite Authors section). I love his stories so much, and Limbo is, in a small and humble way, a sort of tribute to them. Limbo takes place in the same story line as my first fic, "Traitor (Breaking Up is Hard to Do)," though it's not a direct continuation. Every chapter is from Zechs's POV; most of the story takes place between the end of the series and Endless Waltz.

Also, on a technical note, GW officer ranks are insane to me, so I'm using the standard Army ranks closely shared by the US, Canada, Britain, and Australia. I also don't believe that somebody like Milliardo Peacecraft could stay 'dead' forever. People are too nosey, especially the press.

I hope you enjoy.

Limbo 1: The Dirt in Your Eye

There was seething, my blood boiling, my attention utter…data and images integrated seamlessly with my body…the gritting of teeth, the cruel bite of defeat, one last desperate gesture, a brief relapse of sanity…A fireball, deafening, white light and heat…I'm burning, crumbling, screaming…

The sound died in my throat, eaten up by a nothing, or a vacuum, or a tube…I clawed at it, but only feebly. I felt a warm hand that harshly grabbed, making me stop. A ripping sound and then I couldn't move. My mouth opened in a soundless cry that would have been pitiful if heard. I was blind. Bound. I swore I heard a voice. A blackness swallowed me head first…

It was hot in my nightmare – stiflingly so. It wasn't like the soaking damp heat of Africa or the arid parch of the Gobi. It was more unreal than that. It was a caricature of heat, an obscene exaggeration from the mind of a lunatic. It was a blistering hotness in waves and waves, like an infernal ocean washing over me. I was trapped in the cramped confines of an oven, a crush of metal and glass. I pushed against it with my hands and my insides twisted. Panic. Every breath agony. My head was wrenched at an angle, held inextricably by a smashed helmet. I pushed until I screamed, a wet and wretched sound. I tasted metal. It was dark. So dark….

And then very suddenly, like some divine explosion, there was a light. It was a yellow light, a yellow reflection off of yellowed squares with wavy rings of amber and black mottles. Speckles. Flecks. Dots. Spots. Dapples. Words, descriptive, trolled around in my brain. This wasn't an apparition from my psyche. There was a real smell, musty and dull, like an old mop head. My eyes were receiving real light, for they burned from lack of use. I could hear a rush of successive beeps marking a rhythm that quickened by increments as my alertness returned to me. No, this was no dream. It was wisdom out of madness. Something out of Nothing. My nightmare, it seemed, was over.

My head lolled to the left, where I saw a man seated in a chair against a white wall. He was looking at a folder, scanning it diligently. And then, sensing that I was watching him, his eyes met mine. They were brown, like dirt. He stood and walked to my bedside, toting his reading. Out of his pocket he pulled a pen which lit up when he clicked it. He held that intensely bright light up to each of my eyes, and a pleased look crept onto his face as I tried to turn my head to avoid it. His heavy hand came down on my forehead to keep me still. I had felt this hand before.

"Blink twice if you can understand me."

He was probably in his mid-thirties, with light brown hair and a five-o-clock shadow. He wore an un-tucked polo shirt and a pair of wrinkled slacks. He looked average. Not ugly, even with dirt eyes. From him emitted a faint waft of cologne that had gone stale.

"Blink twice if you can understand me."

I blinked once, which took an inordinate amount of concentration. I blinked again and he nodded.

"Good. Fine." Then with the pen again. "Follow the light with your eyes."

My performance appeared to please him, which he indicated with a small sound – a tiny "hm." He opened his folder and wrote in it. I watched his thick eyebrows furrow, two caterpillars edging closer, maybe for a fight, maybe for love. What did it matter? He checked the flow of the two IVs next to me and glanced at the monitor that displayed my temperature (101 degrees Fahrenheit/38 degrees Celsius) and heart rate (68 beats per minute). The date was January 21st, 196. More writing.

"How do you feel?"

How. Did. I. Feel. Question mark. Was I on fire? Was I writhing in agony? No, and that was progress. I felt like…what? High? Yep, that. I was high as a bloody kite, like I was floating in a warm bath, my body heavy but somehow still buoyant on a sea of…white sheets.

"Fine" is what I tried to say, but what came forth instead of a voice was a crackling whisper, like the crinkling of a paper bag. I tried again with no better result.

"Oh," the man said, "hold your hand below your Adam's apple – like this." He demonstrated on himself.

I lifted my unreasonably heavy hand to my neck and pressed down on a gauze bandage. This time, a deep, staticky rumble approximated the words "I'm fine." The man smiled softly.

"So, you're not in too much pain? Good. I was a little worried. I can't guarantee that you'll continue feeling fine, though…."

He turned around and rummaged in a drawer. He pulled out a cord and attached it to a machine on the table next to me. I could see that one of the IV cords ran through the unit. He then gave me one end to hold in my left hand, a large, red button comfortably within thumb's reach.

"This is for your morphine. You can press the button when you feel pain. It'll only give you a dose every two hours, so keep that in mind. I can't give you any more than that. One click, though, and you should feel better almost instantly."

Morphine. I wondered why I needed morphine. I played a game of Guess the Injury. I gazed down and to my sides to find all of my limbs in place. My arms were scraped up, but I didn't appear to have stitches. I bent my legs enough to judge that I wasn't in a cast.

'Great,' I thought, because that left internal injury, the kind I was always best at inflicting on myself, the kind that loves bleeding without symptom and throwing blood clots into brains and lungs.

The man picked up his folder and scribbled more notes in it. I do mean scribbled. His pen wagged furiously, like that notebook was an outlet for intense and explosive creativity. "You were hurt badly. You primary injuries were internal, which I corrected to the best of my abilities with surgery."

Neat, I won, though the 'to the best of my abilities' part seemed like a strange conversational insertion. Was this guy a doctor? Maybe a physician's assistant? A nurse? An aide? A humanoid robotics mechanic with a very good sense of anatomical analogy?

"Unfortunately, you suffered from a massive infection after the surgery. You had a fever of 104, so I gave you a large dose of pantezomycin, not knowing that the resulting allergic reaction was going to be worse than the infection itself."

That allergy was on my dog tags. Ah, but I'd stopped wearing those some time ago, hadn't I? He closed his folder again and began fiddling with the morphine machine. His shoulders tensed and released, and he shifted his weight from one leg to the other as he stood there, pressing buttons. Squirmy – that's what he was, like he was uncomfortable in his own skin.

"Your throat closed up and I had to give you a tracheotomy. That's why you're having trouble talking. Don't worry, though. It'll heal and your voice will return to normal."

He was pushing the up-down button that controlled the dose level. Up, up, up, down, down, down. Beep, beep, beep, squirm, squirm, squirm. Those thickish fingers of his were working hard on what appeared to be nothing at all significant, like he was just pressing the buttons for the sake of making noise. Medical Guy's Morphine Drip Symphony in Beep Major.

"You sustained what now seems to be only a mild head injury. I was afraid that it was serious and that your brain would swell, so I put you in a barbiturate coma. Not long ago I pulled that IV, hopeful that you would awaken on your own." A pause. "And you did."

He didn't sound especially pleased anymore.

The hurried button-pushing stopped and he turned back to look at me. There was a glimmer in his dirty eye that I couldn't place. He wore a tiny gold cross around his neck that nested comfortably on a bed of thick chest hair. He was quiet for a few moments, staring at me frankly, assessing me.

"Do you know who you are?"

I thought about it; focused my mind completely on the task. My brain felt full of sludge and garbage, and I waded through it, grabbing at the shiny things that seemed valuable. I got flashes, pieces, faces, names. It was on the tip of my tongue. The crux of this puzzle, the piece that would pull the scattered bits to it like iron shavings to a magnet, was just out of reach. I pressed my hand to my throat.

"I think I do, but not exactly…." I trailed off.

"Not exactly? Maybe I can help jog your memory. Do you recognize the name White Fang?"

White Fang. I could see the White Fang in my head. Dorothy, so enthusiastic, talented, and deluded. Quinze with his puffy vest and coffee breath. What a bunch of misfits we were. I could smell the bridge on my commandeered space station. From a kingly vantage point, a chair like a throne, I could see everything – my mother, Earth, who gave life to me, the bastard son who said he hated her…. But it was only a fight, wasn't it? Don't teenage boys do that sometimes with their mothers…?

"How about the Gundams? Ring any bells?"

Five bells, to be exact. Five suits, five children. I had near encyclopedic knowledge of Gundam 01. And the Gundam Epyon, the devil itself. The mobile insane asylum. I remembered the explosion, my head in a vise, the crushing sensation. I touched my face. Beneath my fingers, my skin was full, lumpy in places, and completely smooth, like a balloon filled with liquid. The sharp contours I remembered were now dully rounded curves. I was wearing a bloated mask of blood and tissue.

Yes, I remembered who I was – even if this face betrayed my memories. It was a slow, sickening realization that the man must have picked up in my body language. He nodded and made that "hm" sound again.

"I helped you figure it out, didn't I? No need to thank me. I live to serve."

Whatever glint had been in his eye was now dripping from his words. I could practically taste the sweet reek of spite in the air.

"You have a few slight maxillofacial fractures - nothing that will permanently affect your facial structure. I wish I'd taken a picture of you two weeks ago. You barely looked human."

He leaned over to make sure I clearly heard what he was about to say.

"But don't worry, you'll be back to your beautiful self just in time to be taken into custody. I'm sure you'll make some big, burly inmate a very happy man."

His mouth curved into a crooked smile.

"I bet you'd actually get off on something like that. Am I right?"

Without sedation, I might have told him to eat shit, but as my current situation stood, I wasn't lucid enough to be really offended. I was more interested in the way his strange actions were suddenly explained – the violent scribbling, the ceaseless squirming, the little performance at the morphine machine. This man had been waiting for me to wake up, and not because he was rooting for me.

"As you might be able to tell, this isn't a hospital."

One glance around the room supported his words. From that nasty, water-stained ceiling to the cracks in the walls, the place looked like a well-used fallout shelter.

"This is a resource satellite. My associate found you in the Libra's wreckage and thought it would be a good idea to save your life."

I put my hand to my neck. "And you didn't."

The man sighed and ran his hand through his thinning hair. He wore a silver wedding band. I wagered that he had one, no, two children. Why, oh, why, was their daddy with me instead of them? I wondered if he was going to smother me with a pillow and go back to them with a huge bag of Balthazar's takeout, an apology for being away for so long, so sorry, kids, but daddy had important work to do, justice to serve, revenge to exact, and so on….

"I'm an idiot who would screw his strongest convictions for his Hippocratic Oath. Personally, I think you're a vile piece of rubbish." He snorted and shook his head. "You have no idea how close I came to not giving you a trache when you had that allergic reaction."

When our eyes met, I didn't look away. I couldn't, because this man was a wonder to me. His candor was remarkable, something too often withheld from me when I commanded the White Fang and before when I was in OZ. I wanted to hear more.

"Why?"

I wanted to know exactly what about me made him tick like a bomb. Was it my swollen face? My sandpaper voice? The creepy way my ice-blue irises looked surrounded by a red sea of burst blood vessels? Or perhaps it was all of the incomprehensively atrocious deeds I committed before I lit myself up in the ballistic firestorm that got me here in the first place? He answered quickly and forcefully, as though he had been waiting an eternity for me to ask.

"You are a miserable cretin who takes his personal problems out on every person in the Earth Sphere. You can't decide whether you want to be a soldier or a prince or a diplomat or a terrorist. Why are you so goddamn special? Everybody else manages their own problems in a sensible and private way. Instead, you drag your trash out in the street so that everybody can smell it."

He balled his hands into fists and his face flushed with rage. A vein on his temple rose, protruding like a twisted worm beneath his skin.

"And do you have any idea how many people died because of your little identity crisis? They haven't even been able to get a final count! They keep finding people here and there, floating, mangled, frozen in space. All because of you, Milliardo Peacecraft or Zechs Merquise or whatever the hell you want to call yourself. Not that it matters – I doubt anybody who cares about you is alive to give a shit."

It was the most unselfconscious rant I'd ever heard. What a perverse sort of honor, I thought, to have this display directed at me.

I did something unexpected then – I laughed. I let my hand drop to the bed and just let the air pass through my tracheotomy hole with a raspy wheeze. It was a pathetic sound, one that was obviously disturbing the man. His eyes pinched into two narrow slits.

"Why the hell are you laughing? What's so damn funny?"

I was laughing because I was wrong about that dream I had earlier. Like a blissfully ignorant fool, I thought that the worst of it was over. What I realized just then, in the middle of his speech, was that the real nightmare would be my waking life from that point until Hell finally accepted me.

I pressed down on the red button in my hand. The whitewash of euphoric warmth quieted me, lulled me, and vanquished the fearsome beast looming just beyond this bout of mania. It was so lovely that even Dr. Dirt looked pleasant as I faded into black.