29 Seconds to Drown

Chapter One

Decimals

"Victim right behind you, Zero!" Kizna's shrill voice yelled in his ear.

"Gotcha!" he confirmed. Thrusting his hips forward in the antigravity, and ignoring the rising nausea in his stomach, he sent the Ingrid into a carefully controlled head-over-heels motion, executed in a neat two seconds flat. His gun was at the ready when he turned--the Victim was right in front of him--

"You're too close! Evade! Evade!"

He obeyed her like a puppy, just this once, and it served him well--he got out of the dangerous and armed Victim's way just in time. It passed over his head like a manta ray in the airless darkness--a harbinger of death in the windless sky.

In that instant, he hated it.

With unearthly speed, he turned on it, and fired the Ingrid's weapon three--four times. There was an explosion of gold and black. It was finished.

With a whirring sound and a distinctive sinking feeling, Zero found himself back in the simulator. The claustrophobic top lifted automatically away from him, and he wiped a few stray beads of sweat from his brow as he got to his feet.

"Whooohoo, Zero!" his cat-eared technician yelled to him through the plate-glass observation panel, and he waved cheerily at her as he stepped into the lift and rode quickly up to where the rest of the candidates and technicians waited.

"A good job, Zero Enna," the instructor said impassively as his student stepped out of the lift, beaming.

Kizna ran to Zero and gave him a huge, crushing hug. "Oh yeah! That was five minutes and two seconds for four Victims! We're the best!"

The instructor chose to ignore her rather obsessive enthusiasm as he looked over to the other teens in the room: "You are all dismissed to your quarters; the examination is finished."

"Hey, Clay! Yamagi!" Zero called, abandoning Kizna as he raced out the door after his two male friends. Clay stopped and waited for him while he caught up, but Yamagi plowed on down the hall, taking no notice of his shout.

"What's up with him?" Zero asked quietly after he had approached his roommate.

"Aw, he's just mad you beat him, the big bad thirty," Clay said with a soft laugh. He readjusted his glasses compulsively. "I am, too, but at least I don't act like a toddler about it." He laughed again.

"I think we're all a little mad," a cool, disinterested voice muttered a few feet behind Zero, making him turn quickly. He was immediately pinioned by a pair of dark, wine-colored eyes, staring into his own.

"Oh, Hiead!" he exclaimed. "You scared me. Didn’t know you were there."

No comment from the ever-silent one. Big surprise there.

The three of them were just approaching the minimum seconds of silence before the moment legally became an uncomfortable one, when Yamagi mercifully poked his head back around the corner and said, "Hurry up, Clay! I'm hungry!"

"Coming, coming," Clay said. He looked expectantly to the dark-haired boy beside him: "Zero?"

"Um," Zero took in the semi-homicidal look on Yamagi' face--god, that guy was such a sore loser! "No, I think I'll stay. I…left something down by the simulator."

And, without further excuses, he ducked back into the classroom.

"Okay!" his friend said loudly after him, and made off.

Zero leaned against the inner wall of the classroom for a moment, waiting for Clay to walk off, and for his quiet conversation with Yamagi to fade into nothing. Zero glanced momentarily around the room…there, the technician's console; below, the simulator.

The simulator. He laughed to himself, thinking of how much trouble the damn thing always used to give him. Anti-gravity used to be a major obstacle, not a few weeks ago...now, it meant nothing but the occasional tendrils of nausea which would sometimes assault his stomach, and leave him an instant later.

He could no longer hear Yamagi' complaining now; they were gone. Nonchalantly, he stepped out the door and headed off down the hall.

Zero stopped dead when he realized Hiead was still leaning against the side of the corridor…waiting for him?

He got a nasty thrill up his spine as the other boy's eyes locked carelessly with his own. Hiead did not bother to break the stare. It was simply not his style to put effort into anything--even antagonism.

Zero managed a weak smile in Hiead's direction. No response to that. Big surprise there. He just kept staring.

"Hi," Zero offered, not expecting a response to that either. He was pretty sure he wouldn't get one, too, until--

"You beat me by twenty-nine point five seconds," Hiead said suddenly, and an unexpected droplet of expression bleeding in to his face.

"Oh!" Zero said. "Yeah." And then, not wanting the tiny flame of conversation he had just miraculously lit to go out: "Point five?"

"Never forget a decimal," Hiead said sagely, and turned to walk away.

Something, some strange flicker of friendship or perhaps insanity, made Zero trot after his usually ice-cold roommate.

"Why a decimal?" he said rather pointlessly.

Hiead looked over at the boy walking beside him, feather-like eyebrows raised. "You are treading water when it would be easier to drown," he advised.

Okay, now Zero knew why Hiead was always so damn quiet. Because he was a fucking lunatic when he talked! "Um, okay," the dark-haired boy said, exhaling softly.

Hiead was smiling. Smiling. Zero blinked--oh thank god, that was just the simulation's after-effects making him hallucinate. Hiead never smiled. The only time Zero could imagine Hiead smiling was…well…erm…okay, forget that. Hiead never smiled.

"Where are you going?" he asked the pale-haired boy at his side.

"Back to our quarters. And yourself?"

Wow! A question, directed at him!? Best not botch this…shit, where was he going…um…okay, the dining hall was out…so… "The quarters for me, too, I think."

No comment. How predictable. Yep, he'd botched it.

They kept walking in silence, instinctively rounding the lefts and rights that would take them back to their shared home.

"Twenty-nine," Hiead mused aloud as the approached the room.

"Never forget a decimal," Zero quipped, and grinned. Hiead remained emotionless, but for no particular reason this failed to perturb Zero as much as it usual did.

"Point five," Hiead added, and opened their door. He did not hold it open for Zero as he passed through. "I really don't know how I let that happen."

"I had the highest out of all the eighties candidates," Zero pointed out proudly as he closed the door behind them.

Hiead lay down on his bed, rolling his eyes. "So I noticed. Please don't be a brat, Zero."

"Oh shut up," Zero snapped, flopping down on his own bed. "You're jealous."

"Of you?" Hiead snorted. "You wish, girly boy."

Zero stood back up, glaring at him. "Say that again," he said, brow furrowed.

Hiead stretched himself like a cat and yawned lazily. "Girly-boy. Kizna does all your work for you."

"Shut up, you know that's not true!" Zero exclaimed.

No comment.

Loosing his temper with his forever-apathetic roommate, Zero roughly grabbed Hiead's collar and pulled him upright.

"Are you going to beat me up?" Hiead sneered at him, as icy and imperious as ever.

"Yeah," Zero snarled, but he really wasn't sure he had…well, he wasn't sure he had the guts. It wasn't that he couldn't beat Hiead--far from that, but--

Suddenly, unexpectedly, violently, Hiead grabbed Zero's face and kissed him fully on the mouth, roughly pressing his tongue between the surprised other boy's thought-parted lips. Shocked out of his wits, Zero released his grip on Hiead's collar, freeing him to his own devices. With a dull thud, Hiead's feet were reunited with the firm ground.

"I've changed my mind--I'm rather hungry," Hiead said coolly, and smirking like a jackal, he stalked out of the room.

Quivering and revolted, Zero stood in the center of the room. He spat twice, and wiped his face with his hands. Then, recovering enough to reclaim his motor skills, he ran after Hiead into the hall. "WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT--

"…about…?" Hiead said as Zero ran into him headlong. "Well now…if I'm not mistaken, it was to get you to let go of my collar." He smiled brilliantly, and disappeared around a corner like smoke on the high wind.

Gone.

Okay, now Zero knew when Hiead smiled. When he made someone want to puke, then curl up and die.

Damn, he didn't need anti-gravity to make him nauseous anymore….

 

Chapter Two

Angels

Zero hated him, and if he hadn't always, he certainly did now. Honestly, Hiead didn't know what to think right now as he sat over his evening meal, a few feet away from Clay and a few of the other eighties.

He'd kissed him. Just like that. And he wasn't dead yet.

It was all a miracle.

Hiead wasn't hungry. He hadn't been hungry at all; that was just a ruse to get himself out of the room, and fast. Lest Zero came to his senses and went on a killing spree.

He fully admitted he would deserve that. They'd fought so often, bled so often, but that had been really, seriously crossing the line.

Hiead smirked to himself. A job well done. Zero wasn't going to live that defeat down for quiet a while.

God damn, his head was spinning. A perfectly normal reaction after kissing Zero Enna, of course, but it was still spinning like a top.

That was it. He wasn't eating anymore. Nodding goodbye to Clay and the others, Hiead stood and walked away with his half-consumed tray of food. He dumped it in the trashcan by the door, and then was gone from the dining hall.

He walked quietly down the corridors, humming to himself. This was strange. He was smiling and confused, two very uncommon emotions, and at the same time. Hiead still had no idea what do think. All he could see was Zero's shocked face…

And then, there was Zero's face, but it wasn't surprised. It was pissed off. And it was real.

Hiead cursed himself--caught off guard in a deserted hallway with two hours until lights out--two hours until someone would come looking for his broken body. He was slammed against the wall by Zero's hand at his chest.

"I'm fucking sick of you," Zero swore vehemently in his face, and slapped him roughly across it.

That brought Hiead back into reality. Quick as lightening, he thrust himself forward and down on top of Zero, pinning his adversary to the ground. Zero tried to punch him, but Hiead quickly dodged the blow and landed one of his own in Zero's stomach.

"Ah!" the other boy coughed in pain. Then, using his superior weight, he rolled Hiead over on his back and held his wrists at his sides.

"Get…off…" Hiead snarled, struggling furiously. Zero sneered at him, and viciously kneed him in the groin.

With an agonized exclamation, Hiead recoiled. Ohgodohgodohgod…that hurt. He was on fire. There was condensation on his face…tears…tears…Zero had let go of his wrists…ZERO!

He jumped to his feet with unprecedented speed and kicked the crouching, dark-haired boy in the side, sending him flying against a wall. This time, it was Zero's turn to scream. He fell on his side, clutching his mouth. A trickle of blood ran down his cheek from where he must have bitten his tongue.

Drained by the pain and exertion, Hiead fell to his knees and groaned heavily, pressing his legs tightly together to try and quell the agony. He finally exhaled heavily and collapsed against the opposite wall of the thin corridor.

Zero's head was spinning. He tried to stand, but it didn't work out, so he toppled against his wall with a barely-audible moan. Everything looked…funny. Christ, he'd hit his head hard. Or had that been his neck? Or his back?

He had no idea, and this frightened him.

He forced himself to his knees, and meant to say something about a head injury or the infirmary when a trickle of blood ran into his eyes from his cut temple--well, at least now he knew he had hit his head…

Again, he tried to speak, but all that came out was a very strangled and frightened "Hiead!" before he lost his balance entirely and fell forwards against the boy he had been fighting not five seconds earlier.

He heard Hiead's shocked gasp come from deep in his chest, right where his face was pressed. Get off him Zero, sit up, get away, he's probably going to kill you! He didn't seem to have any control over his motor skills anymore though.

"Zero?" he heard Hiead's voice, but it was very far away. He could feel himself crying. "Zero!" It was even more anxious now.

The world was growing black. Zero succumbed unwarily to the soft darkness of an unconscious mind.

Hiead wanted to scream.

<<<<some hours later>>>>

And from the velvet darkness, there came light. Hard, acrid white light. Whiteness and steel all around him. Something cottony and soft hugging his head. A bandage. He was in the infirmary.

Zero blinked, clearing his vision as the occurrences in the corridor came back to him. He licked his dry lips, and his tongue felt raw in his mouth. He had bitten it, and hard. He remembered the bloody taste.

The dark-haired boy wondered, momentarily, how much time had passed before someone had found him in the hallway. Who had it been? Probably one of the technicians--if he wasn't mistaken, that was their usual route back to their quarters. He shuddered, imagining how they must have screamed. What a shock for them.

Hiead, you asshole, I'm going to murder you for this. Murder you in your sleep.

Zero's entire body was warm, and he wondered why for a few seconds. Could he somehow have gotten sick, and developed a fever?

Stretching his arms, he experimentally propped himself up on his elbows, and was shocked to find there was a sleeping head resting in his lap.

My rescuer? Still here? He looked at the clock--it was well through the night now; in fact, a few hours into the early morning. Who would be so concerned…?

Then, the realization struck him like a brick between the eyes: the sleeper in his lap had silver-white hair. Breath caught itself in Zero's throat. Hiead!? What was he doing here…no, he couldn't possibly have…

But that was the only explanation. Hiead had taken his unconscious body to the infirmary, thus turning himself in. It seemed far too gallant, too sportsmanly an act for him…but he'd done it. And Zero was lying safe and warm in this bed, all thanks to Hiead. Even with the facts presented, it was hard to believe. Zero stared down at Hiead's peaceful face with incredulity, almost not fully convinced he was truly there.

Maybe this is someone else, someone I don't know…that sonofabitch couldn't possibly look like such an angel while he sleeps.

Heh…he wished things were that simple. Zero thought about jiggling his leg to wake the sleeping boy, but decided against it--they would most likely just start arguing again. Yes, he liked Hiead much more like this: in the pacific repose of sleep. He was so much more manageable asleep…

For a few seconds, Zero wondered if Hiead had thought the same of him, while he had been unconscious in his arms.

In Hiead's arms. God, I hope no one saw us. That could have looked really bad.

It suddenly occurred to him that Hiead's ruby eyes had opened, and were staring straight into his own. Zero got a chill of shock, and cursed himself for not noticing this earlier.

"So, you're awake," Hiead observed, sitting upright.

"Same to you," Zero said, and repressed a smirk.

"I was never asleep," Hiead told him icily. Zero ignored the urge to say something like 'Were too, you liar.' He sort of owed Hiead one, as much as he disliked that idea.

"Thanks for…bringing me here," Zero muttered, not meeting Hiead's eyes. He felt a little blush come to his cheeks.

"Less demerits for both of us since I outright confessed it was mostly my fault. It was just common sense." There was a moment's pause. "How is your head feeling?"

Was that CONCERN in his voice!? "Er…it's fine," Zero replied tentatively. "It hurts a little, but I'm not dizzy anymore or anything."

Hiead nodded. "Good. The nurse said I gave you a nasty concussion along with that cut, but she'd have to appraise the full damage after you woke up." Lifting a hand in front of Zero's face, he waved it back and forth. Zero followed it warily, and Hiead laughed at his confused look. "Not too much trouble keeping your eyes on my hand?" he questioned.

"A little. What are you doing?" Zero said, overly suspicious. Hiead put his hand down.

"Calm down. Just checking your vision. If your eyesight fails to reconcile, it's a sign of concussion. Since you're doing okay watching my hand, I'd suspect it's not that bad."

Even with the technical terms mixed in, this sound uncannily like something other than self-interest. "You should get some sleep," Zero commanded Hiead, wanting some time to himself to think.

"I'll get it here," the pale-haired boy told him rather factually, and leaned back in his chair. He shut his eyes.

Zero watched him for a moment, and then shook his head. "Well at least use the bed if you're going to stay," he said irritably, and laid back down himself. He saw Hiead sit up out of the corner of his eye, and shrug as he laid his head back down close to Zero's left leg.

"You like this or something?" he joked sardonically.

"Shut up. I just…" he admitted it: "I owe you one."

Hiead sighed, his body relaxing. "You owe me nothing," he absolved quietly. He closed his eyes, signaling that the conversation was over, and he was going to go to sleep.

Zero watched him in silence as he breathing slowly descended into the peaceful rhythm of slumber.

A sonofabitch like you shouldn't look like such an angel when you sleep…but you do. You really, really do…

 

Chapter Three

Wasps

By next afternoon, things were almost entirely back to normal. Yamagi gave Zero a friendly smile when they saw each other in the dining hall, and no one seemed to know about his altercation with Hiead in the hallway.

Speaking of which, Zero hadn't seen much of the pale-haired boy much so far. By the time he'd woken up in the infirmary--at approximately 9 hours, to his great surprise--Hiead was long gone. He'd been at classes, but he had never caught Zero's eye, and he certainly hadn't been hanging around him during lunch.

For the last two hours, all the candidates and himself had been taking careful notes on a very dull bunch of videos on landing protocol. The only remotely interesting parts were when they showed landings gone wrong, but even these were sort of boring--a little scrape here, a little jostle there. No one was ever hurt; no Ingrids ever damaged.

We should be able to land any way we damn well please, Zero thought rebelliously as they were shown a cross section of the landing gear during the what-you-should-do-if-it-jams segment of the presentation. Oh god, as though they ever jam. Our Ingrids are good as gold…

Hiead kicked his feet up unexpectedly on Zero's chair, making him jump and throw a darting glance over his shoulder. Hiead didn't even look at him--he just kept on staring at the video, simply now in a far more comfortable position.

Zero's first impulse was to stand up and turn over Hiead's desk on top of his insolent head, but he forced himself to be calm: You owe him one. Calm down, you owe the guy. He's not so bad…

OH YES HE IS! another part of him screamed, but Zero forced himself to ignore it. Instead, he busied himself with looking ahead of him. Well…at least he could make himself more comfortable. He contemplated resting his feet next to Kizna's head where she sat in front of him, and then promptly remembered from medical training that a second concussion in too short a time period could be fatal. Scratch that idea.

Hiead shifted his feet, accidentally knocking Zero rather roughly in the ear, but the pale-haired boy made no attempt at apology.

Jerk's probably loving this, Zero thought bitterly, his resolve to remain civil waning. Loves seeing me all nice…I should really beat him up. I don't owe him… He was suddenly confronted by first a mental image of himself bleeding and alone in a corridor, and then by a wave of guilt.

Ah, who am I kidding? I'm such an ass sometimes.

The white-haired boy's feet struck Zero in the head again, and it was very lucky for Hiead indeed that their instructor chose that particular moment to dismiss them, or her very might have well received the desk to his head after all. Zero leapt up to challenge him, but no one noticed in the small clamor to get out of the room and back to the sanctuary of everyone's respective quarters.

Wait…Hiead was looking at him; taking in the half-raised fist, the angry glance. There was a minute twitch of the pale boy's eye, and of his lip--a smirk of sorts, almost imperceptible. And then he was gone in the rush, leaving Zero alone in the small projector room.

Forget 'no one noticed.' Hiead notices everything…jackass.

Quickly, Zero shook himself of the rage and left the classroom. The corridor had drained with its usual miraculous speed, leaving him to walk back to his bunk room by himself.

There was an inner conflict raging deep in Zero's body. One player was the obvious hatred he harbored for the antagonistic Hiead, and the other this strange new loyalty he felt for his foe. It was the crazy inkling of a feeling that somewhere inside, Hiead had something that Zero might value…some moral, some thought, some action, some thing.

God only knows where it came from. This wasn't like him. Sure, Zero was a nice guy, but he felt like he'd given Hiead chances enough in the past! Why this sudden change!?

The brown-haired candidate found himself at his room's door, and walked in to see that he was still alone. No one. Clay must have gone off with the other candidates--or maybe with Ikhny. The guy had been showing quite a bit of affection for Hiead's quiet and gentle technician as of late. But as for Hiead's whereabouts…they were a mystery.

A mystery quickly solved, though, when Zero noticed the faint sound of water running through the pipes in the ceiling. Oh, he must be showering. Further inspection of the room proved this hypothesis to be true--a clean set of clothes had been laid out carefully on Hiead's bed.

Always so neat, Zero thought scornfully, taking advantage of Hiead's absence to sit on the bed beside the clothes. He noted the protruding tag at the back of the shorts--man, Hiead was smaller than he looked. Well, thinner, at least…

Oh shut up, why the hell do you care how thin he is? That hit to the head killed a few brain cells.

Exhaling heavily, Zero collapsed back on the bed. Weird day. Weird last two days, actually. He clamped his eyes shut, and rubbed them furiously with the back of his hands.

And suddenly, he felt a knee bump rather ferociously against his own. He sat up to find a fully clothed and somewhat angry Hiead staring down at him, eyebrows raised so high above his ruby eyes that they appeared to be running into his hairline. Okay, Zero thought, Maybe these are the dirty clothes on the bed. And maybe he was just washing his face.

"What are you doing on my bed?" Hiead asked icily, staring Zero down.

The dark-haired boy forced himself to ignore the rather cold feeling developing at the pit of his stomach as he immediately went on the defensive. "What did it look like I was doing? I was lying down!"

"As I recall, your bed is over there," Hiead sneered, pointing.

Angered all over again by Hiead's cutting sarcasm, Zero got swiftly to his feet, bringing his body menacingly close to the other boy's and staring him in the face.

"I'll sit where I want," he snapped, and refused to move away.

"Not on my bed," Hiead threatened, shoving him just enough to shake him. "Get out of my way. I'm not in the mood to kill you." He glanced over his shoulder, acting bored.

Oh, no way in HELL you're ignoring ME. Zero grabbed Hiead's shoulder roughly, suddenly not caring if he started another fight. Startled by this unexpected confrontational move, Hiead turned to look at him. Zero took another step forward, now so close he was touching the other boy. He stared him down, attempting to transfix Hiead on a gaze. His fingernails dug into the pale-haired boy's shoulder viciously.

"Am I going to have to kiss you again to get rid of you?" Hiead taunted at barely a whisper.

For about two seconds, Zero was frightened, and almost backed down. But just before he lost eye contact and retracted his previous step, he realized such a submission was Hiead's goal. The other boy had no actual intent of kissing him--just of getting away.

Hiead saw what happened next as though in several snapshots, for he kept blinking to verify that the moment was actually occurring. Zero smirked, triumphantly, coolly, and then--

In one impulsive, victorious moment, Zero Enna leaned in and kissed Hiead aggressively on his partially-parted lips. He grabbed the other boy's hands and pulled him cruelly close, leaving no room for a struggle. Here was a way he could satisfy both sides of his mental argument--

Zero jerked quickly away, the thought shocking and surprising him. He forced his face to remain in a hateful smile as he made to walk off past Hiead. Oh my god, what the hell am I thinking--I must be insane--

Hiead recovered sufficiently before Zero was even a foot away. The brunette knew the rough hands would be at his waist before he even felt them, but did not anticipate the words as Hiead whipped him around and caught his eyes:

"Oh, so that's how you want to play it, hm?" The crimson eyes glinted maliciously, challenging Zero's every breath as they pinioned him with their vast power.

It was only when Hiead shoved him down on the bed and laid over him, locking their lips violently, that Zero came to realize that he had just initiated a whole new level of fighting…a fight that he might not win.

Sure as hell, though, he wasn't through yet. He pushed up against Hiead, fighting off an attempted punch towards his gut and biting his adversary's lips as they kissed.

Kissed. Kissing Hiead was like frenching a whirlwind. This wasn't sexuality, it was warfare. Such an intimacy had suddenly become a fatal weapon in Hiead's able grasp.

IhateyouIhateyouIhateyou, Zero's thoughts streamed, and to his own horror he found that he was…well, getting hard. His brain screamed in revulsion, and he viciously scratched at Hiead's back, trying to drive the arousal from his body with a sheer flurry of activity.

Sensing the change in Zero's movement from aggressive to panicked, Hiead paused, staring down at him. The brunette was panting and red faced; Hiead was smirking like a dog.

With cruel and torturous slowness, he laid his body perfectly out against Hiead's, fitting their curves and contours together just the perfect way two humans are designed to be. Zero's eyes were wide, lost, frenzied--excited. He knew there was no way in hell Hiead didn't feel the bulge in his shorts--

"No!" he yelped in fear as Hiead bent to kiss his lips again. Hiead barely stopped--he just lowered his mouth further, to just next to Zero's ear, and whispered.

"You are treading water when it would be easier to drown," he advised coolly.

Zero opened his mouth, as though to speak words he had no mind for, but Hiead just took this as an opening and kissed him, slipping his tongue between the pursed lips--more gently than before. Zero's body was afire, and his stomach was full of wasps. He felt he couldn't even move for shock…terror…and worst of all, that something else.

One…two…

Forcing himself into action, he grabbed Hiead's wrist, but got no further. The pale-haired boy was carefully stroking his hair, running his fingers through the silky brown in an almost tender fashion.

Zero's heartbeat doubled and his body seemed to atrophy, his tense muscles going limp as he fell helplessly into the warmth of Hiead's body. Hiead, tender? Towards him!?

…three…four…five…

He fell out of the world for a moment, and opened his lips further, allowing his hot tongue to caress Hiead's for just one second. Only one, to see what it felt like with a boy--

…six…seven…

Zero couldn't stop. Whether Hiead had somehow nefariously brainwashed him into submitting to this or he had actually gone clinically insane he wasn't yet sure, but he COULDN'T STOP.

…eight…nine…

Feeling a response to his kiss at last, Hiead reached up and cupped Zero's trembling chin in his hand, pulling him closer, and thus deeper into the kiss. He was honestly surprised that Zero wasn't already fighting to get away--what, had the beautiful idiot actually listened to his advice for once?

…ten, eleven, twelve….

Compulsively, Zero wound his arm up around Hiead's waist, linking the two of them in an embrace he didn't understand but suddenly wanted.

…thirteen…

The entire world felt clear and hot, like stepping into a blistering shower first thing in the morning or throwing yourself into the hot beach sand after a freezing ocean swim. It was the fact that it felt nothing like a dream that captivated Hiead--this was real. He could sense Zero's fear, excitement; little mistakes occurred with each breath and passed into nothing with the next. A finger caught on a snarl of hair, making the second all the more delectable.

…fourteen…fifteen…sixteen…

Zero was starting to loose his thoughts. They scattered out his ears like cherry petals in a high spring wind. Funny thing was, he didn't mind. This was okay. His heart raced nicely. That was okay, too. He pulled Hiead tighter to him.

…seventeen…eighteen…

He was ignoring the fact that he was kissing a boy, and determined to remain in that mind frame.

…nineteen…twenty…

Zero let Hiead pull him halfway upright and push him against the wall, straddling his lap. They broke the kiss for a moment, still not meeting each others' eyes as Hiead's fingers ran slowly down his spine.

…twenty-one…twenty-two…twenty-three…

Like a strike of lightening, Hiead took Zero's lips all over again, pressing him gently to the wall and moving his hand to the back of the other boy's neck. Zero kissed him back readily and instantly now, no holds barred. Of course he was unpracticed, irrational, and moved his tongue in fast darting way that Hiead found impossible to follow, but it was perfect.

…twenty-four…twenty-five…twenty-six…

Hiead could have sworn on the corpse of every friend he'd ever had twenty minutes ago that he didn't give a damn about Zero Enna. But emotions changed fast…now they were…kissing…

…twenty-seven…twenty-eight…

"Zero?" Hiead suddenly asked, their lips still touching. The other made no answer, and Hiead made no question. They just sat there, poised, tense all over again, holding each other so close that their lips brushed, never looking one another straight in the eyes. Just holding…pausing…drifting towards each other…their mouths locked.

…twenty-nine…

The door opened, and with a whirl of panic, twenty-nine seconds of perfection were over.

 

Chapter Four

Mirrors

"I did not see that!" Clay yelped, jumping out the door and slamming it shut.

Completely devoid of his usual iceberg-esque grace, Hiead scrambled off of Zero and quickly stomped off to sequester himself in the bathroom. Breathless from various different varieties of shock, Zero leapt upright and charged after Clay.

"Oy, come back, you didn't! Clay!" He found the other boy standing outside, rather pale. Quite luckily, it didn't appear there was anyone else in the hall.

Okay, except for Ikhny. She was lurking a few feet away, watching the entire episode rather nervously. But seriously, no one ever noticed Ikhny. Even Hiead.

Aw shit, Hiead.

ForgetthatforgetthatforgetthatNOW. "Clay--we were--just--"

"You were--!"

"No! I mean--" Zero was struggling with words even more than usual. "We were--"

"Kissing!" Clay hissed, pulling close so Ikhny wouldn't hear too much. He looked slightly less revolted than felt Zero, and though this wasn't saying much, it was a small consolation to the semi-traumatized brunette.

"Maybe," he said angrily. OH CHRIST! "I'm leaving," he added very quickly, and ran very hastily away down the hall.

Several seconds of silence passed after Zero disappeared. Finally, Clay made a small "oof" noise and laid back against the hallway wall. He rolled his eyes up and shook his head.

"That was…strange," Ikhny said slowly, coming to stand beside him. She shook her head as well. "Who would have thought…"

"We shouldn't tell anyone yet…"

"Oh, of course not. I mean, if they aren't we shouldn't."

"Hiead's not ever going to come out of that bathroom."

"Oh, please," Ikhny said. "Don't exaggerate. How would you know that?"

Clay snorted, and took her hand to lead her off. "Because I wouldn't. Let's get back to the cafeteria--it's safer there…"

They started to walk, and then: "Clay?"

"Hm?"

"Why do you think…Hiead did that? Because it sure wasn't Zero's idea, by the look on his face."

"You're asking me to get inside your candidate's head, who just happens to be one of the strangest people who has ever lived." Clay laughed quietly. "Hence, I have absolutely no idea."

<<<<one hour later>>>>

It was quiet in the room he had taken refuge in, and it had been quiet for as long as he'd stayed. Zero had busied himself studiously with his lessons, but now they were done and his mind was drifting home…

Home to the dorm, brightly lit with halogen lights and laughter and arguments. He didn't know, yet, if Hiead had spoken to Clay, and if he had, he couldn't imagine what had been exchanged between the two. Something socially damaging, most likely.

Zero got to his feet, and took a deep breath. He knew he'd have to face his roommates sometime--now was as good as ever. Probably a very good time to do it, actually--a few more hours to himself and Hiead might start the official "Enna is a Slut" rumor. The brown-haired boy wrinkled his nose at the idea. Last thing he needed right now…

Zero left the isolated room and started back towards his shared quarters. He found the hallways were populated sparsely with small knots of candidates and technicians, all of them petering back to their respective rooms for the night. It was about three-quarters of an hour to lights out, he figured. Seriously, time to get home.

This didn't detract all from the steadily building dread and the furthest pit of his stomach.

Walking along the corridors, Zero realized he still couldn't get his head around what he'd done. I mean, for godsakes, it was Hiead. That was the last person he thought who'd end up on top of him, out of all the eighties--technician or candidate.

He's playing with your head, Zero told himself very firmly. You can't take notice of this. I mean, he can't actually…you know, like you. It's Hiead…

He tried his best to reinforce this idea in his head, but there were too many rebuttals against it for it to actually take hold.

Hiead liking him wasn't that far past the end of reason, was it?

Damn, it had better be.

Zero came to the dorm room door, and stopped. He shook himself, mentally preparing for what was to come. All his more cowardly instincts were telling him to take a trip back to the infirmary on complaints of headache, but this really wasn't an option.

Finally, after compulsively straightening his uniform and running his hands through his hair, he forced himself forward, and walked in.

Clay was stretched out on his bed, reading. He looked over to Zero, regarded him for a moment, and then nodded amicably in his direction.

"Um, hi," Zero said, quite relieved that Clay didn't seem mad or disgusted or anything to that effect.

"Where've you been?" the recumbent asked, going back to his small digitized reading tablet as though no one's mental health was being flushed down the plug hole by anyone's kisses.

"Oh…studying." Zero shifted where he stood, still uneasy, and glanced around. "Where's Hiead gotten to?"

Clay chuckled, looking up for a moment. "He's not locked in the bathroom anymore, if that's what you mean."

Zero laughed too, but it was rather forced. "Yeah…that's good. I think I'm going to take a shower."

And then, as quickly as he could, he walked away into the bathroom and shut the door.

All right, Zero thought, that didn't go badly. I mean, it could have degenerated into incoherent babbling.

And then:

I'll bet Hiead's off with the rest of the candidates, spreading "Enna is a Slut" a little earlier that I expected.

Too exhausted by the day's transpirings and the returning ache in his injured head to think about all of it anymore, Zero stripped off his clothes and stepped into the shower. The small, robotic sensor that controlled it was triggered instantly, and he leaned eagerly into the broad stream of warm water which poured down over him.

Zero lazily scrubbed the day's sweat and anxieties in silence, eyes closed gently and face pointed straight into the water. Dimly, from far away, he heard the dorm door open and shut. Either Clay leaving, or Hiead turning back. Or maybe, if he was to have worse things happen to him yet, both of these things were occurring at the same time.

My, that would be uncomfortable. The way being uncomfortable is suicide fodder.

Zero suppressed the urge to drown himself in the shower, and stepped out. It turned off with a sort of hiss-click, and he shivered a little from a cool draft that swept his body. Snatching one of the thin regulation towels from its rack, he made quick business of the sheen of water that coated his skin.

He looked up to the small mirror as he toweled off his thick mass of brown hair. The mirror was rimmed in steel and barely large enough to see his entire head with--whoever made the GOA satellite he lived on hadn't put much stock in interior decoration.

His face looked somehow older, today--more tired than usual, he supposed. Softly, he traced his own features with a damp finger, and shut his eyelids over his aching blue eyes.

When he opened them, he stared indolently into the mirror noted the tiny flicker of a face in the far corner.

A face. He only had one face. There were two faces. He froze, almost thinking it was a hallucination.

But it wasn't, he was sure of that. Directly behind him, someone was standing in the door. Someone with pale hair that fell into ruby eyes that threatened to asphyxiate you. Or something. Zero didn't even known what asphyxiate meant, really. But it seemed like something Hiead would do to you.

"What do you want?" Zero muttered, firmly clutching the sink to prevent himself from whirling around and punching Hiead in the face.

No answer. As always.

He tried again. "Why are you fucking with me?" the chilly, impassive red eyes just stared at him through the mirror, conveying no emotion. The lips were twisted grimly upward in what was either a thin smile or a half-concealed grimace of pain.

"God damn it!" Zero yelled, and turned around.

The bathroom door hung open, swinging slightly like the dead mouth of a zombie. It was empty as a dining hall at midnight. Shivering from the draft, Zero quickly wrapped his towel around him and slammed the door shut with his foot.

He leaned against the wall in the bathroom, holding his breath until his lungs burned as a diversion from the burning in his brain.

Some five or twenty minutes after the lights flicked out for the night, Zero left the bathroom. He bumped into Hiead's bed rather clumsily as he made his way into the room, and froze in horror until he heard the other boy simply shift harmlessly in his sleep. A good thing Hiead wasn't awake, otherwise Zero might have had to commit homicide just to rid himself of all the untrustworthy swirling feelings of guilt and Something Else inside his head. Clay's slim silhouette was also visible, covered in blankets.

Zero laid down and watched his two roommates sleep for a while, but couldn't seem to find respite in his personal mire of mental turmoil.

"You're keeping me up, Hiead," he whispered half-aloud, and lay alone with his eyes open until his mind at last couldn't take it anymore, and plunged him into unconsciousness.

Even his dreams were strange.

 

Chapter Five

Numbers

Hiead found himself slowly drifting back into consciousness at around four hours. It was early morning yet, while the entirety of GOA was still asleep. He lay in silence for three quarters of an hour, lazily making out phantom shapes on the darkness-shrouded ceiling.

As the minutes ticked endlessly by, however, his mind eventually migrated across the room to where he could hear the soft sounds of Zero tossing and turning in his thin cot. Whether the other boy was awake or not remained a mystery, but even if he slept, it could not be in peace.

Hiead stretching himself, and placed his hands behind his head. He wondered what Zero thought of him now.

It was all extremely impulsive, he mused, remotely annoyed at himself. But what can I say, really--sometimes, even I need to be an idiot.

Idiot.

Silently, the pale-haired boy rose from his bed.

It looked like it was idiot time yet again.

He crossed the room, and seated himself gently beside Zero's sleeping form. The unconscious boy shifted his weight almost constantly, seeming as though he were trying to evade some imaginary foe.

Hiead couldn't resist--he gently stroked his fingers over Zero's chocolate-dark hair, running a few strands through his fingers until they came to the end, and he had to let go.

Zero squirmed once more in his dreams, and in doing so brushed heavily into Hiead's warm side. He woke from his troubled sleep with a gasp, and sat half-upright.

Staring down at him were the impassive crimson gems of a certain someone's eyes.

Hiead gasped slightly himself as they locked gazes; the largest display of emotion Zero had ever seen out of him. He quickly recovered, however, and reached his nimble fingers down to reclaim a lock of the stunned other boy's hair.

He tugged it gently, eliciting another delicious gasp, and then wound it slowly around his index and middle fingers. Seconds later, he released it, and the piece of hair fell limply back to the side of Zero's pale face.

"Are you going to talk this time?" Zero asked quietly, the shock wearing off.

It was, of course, a most rhetorical question.

"I know you're not," he ceded almost instantly, his tone barely a whisper. "But…it was still worth a try."

Hiead just kept staring down at him, blank-faced, forever silent. It was like holding a conversation with a statue made of ice. The pale-haired boy's slim fingers fell to Zero's cheek, and ran along the contour of it.

"What do you want from me?"

Hiead's gaze was leaden, preying on Zero's eyes in the almost entire darkness of the room.

"Do you like me?"

As though in reply and yet so far from any attempt at communication, Hiead bent a few inches closer, seating himself more comfortably. His lips curved: a thin, pale crescent like the slimmest shard of moon seen in the Zion night sky.

"You don't," Zero admitted. "You couldn't like me. We're…night and day. Ten thousand light-years apart. We'd never be us, even if you did."

The smile was gone. The hand that gently stroked the curve of Zero's face brushed down along his neck, and then up again, sweeping a few stray locks of hair back behind his ear. His body begging for more contact, Zero submitted to an impulse and lightly grabbed Hiead's wrist. The other boy shook him off.

And so the dark-haired boy resigned himself to a painful silence, not allowing himself to even lean into Hiead's tender but measured caress. He looked away, refusing to meet the pale-haired boy's shadowed eyes again.

It wasn't god damn fair. Hiead lead him on; treated him horribly, and yet Zero still longed to touch him. To end an ache that was becoming such an intimate part of him.

In his heart, he had come to term with a fact that would not be avoided: Hiead was part of him.

A hopeless tear rolled down his cheek from his averted eyes, melting into the pillow. He tried to stop the second and third ones, but they came anyway.

It was the fourth that caught wetly on Hiead's index finger, making his hand stop, and slowly draw away from Zero's face. Assenting to the fact that he had been caught, the dark-haired boy looked over at his torturer.

And it was then that Hiead spoke.

"Life isn't fair," he murmured, his voice so soft it was barely even perceptible. "And no…we will never be what you would call 'us.'"

Zero seemed about to speak, but the look in Hiead's eyes silenced him.

The usually icy boy bent low, and in a gesture of complete tenderness anyone would have sworn was utterly beyond him, left a butterfly-soft kiss on the place just above Zero's eye.

"Goodnight," he said, and made to stand.

"Stay," Zero begged, sitting up fully and grabbing his arm.

"You really want to torture yourself?" Hiead said, his voice bitter and chilly.

"Torture would be to know I never asked that," Zero returned, matching Hiead's tone perfectly. He bored into the pale-haired boy with his eyes.

And Hiead smiled, completely genuine. He sank back to Zero's side, and slipped a gentle arm around his waist. Instinctively, the other boy moved into him, laying his forehead gratefully against Hiead's chest.

"I'll be trying to kill you again in the morning," Hiead warned, his lips hovering just at the other's ear.

"I'm not stupid," Zero said. "I know that."

He looked up to face Hiead, his gaze full of truth, and they kissed. There was no moment of hesitation, no trepidation: only friendship and hatred and honor and the lovely, perfect thing stirred in between the three.

Zero pulled Hiead on top of him, into a warm embrace. They never broke the bond twixt their lips…nor the one between their eyes.

Yes, they would be enemies on the morrow. Zero had no doubt--part of him wanted to kill Hiead, even now. Especially now, for that matter. But tonight, they were lovers, as enemies always partially are. Zero pulled himself deeper into the kiss, and let tomorrow trickle from his mind like water from a broken bowl.

Ten thousand miles all around them, someone had scattered a handful of giant diamond-hued stars into the endless night. The stars were numberless, but the distance between was so great that civilizations rarely came in contact with one another by any power other than chance.

And even when they did, there was war.

thirty…thirty-one…thirty-two…

 

Back to My Fanfics

Back to ECCENTRIC PURPLE SPACE PIRATES