Author: KhalaniK
Title: Limbo
Chapter: 2/11: Meeting My Pretend Grandfather
Pairing: Past Treize/Zechs
Spoliers: Series, EW Warnings: Death themes, intoxication, male/male sexual situations (none terribly explicit), swears, grief, angst, cynicism, debatable sap, and flashbacks throughout. I'll rate it M, mostly for the cursing. And the sexy bits. Unbetaed.
Archive: Fanfiction.net under the name KhalaniK
Disclaimer: I don't own any part of GW. No monies have been or will be made off of this thing.

Please see Limbo 1 for very important notes.

Limbo 2: Meeting My Pretend Grandfather

"So, where do you think you want to go?"

What a ridiculous question. Where did I - the international war criminal running from the law - want to go? What the hell did it matter what I wanted? Of course, I didn't say this. After all, this man was trying to help me for some reason I couldn't fathom.

I remained silent. My voice had fully recovered, and my face was more or less back to normal, minus a couple of new, faint scars, but still I kept my comments to a bare minimum because I found it exceedingly difficult to say anything that wasn't absolutely cruel or blatantly nihilistic. I was in pain -- miserable, flat, invariable -- and every room seemed so unrealistically small, like I'd swallowed some sort of potion that gave every office, hallway, and hangar the claustrophobic, cramped feeling of a coffin.

"There's a transport leaving from here in a few days bound for Bastion-Elise Space Port. Maybe we could find something for you near there."

Gosney, whose first name I didn't know, was an older man with the sort of dignified and well-manicured beard of a Russian tsar. He was the "associate" that the nice doctor told me about the month before, the one who decided that my life was worth saving. In that regard, I hated him. Aside from that, he was so much more than I deserved. He was the operations manager for the resource satellite we were on, which was temporarily defunct due to funding shortages. He still kept everything square, hopeful for the day when mining would resume again.

Life in space had paused, held its breath as it navigated the viscous murk of cleanup and reconstruction. Space was a mess, a literal mess of scrap, and everyone in space was expected to pitch a hand - even at the expense of the economy. That's where the rest of the satellite crew was. That's where the money was. That they alone had to clean up their back yard after their neighbors' drunken night of debauchery was something they dared not openly resent.

"You can speak French, I assume?"

"Well enough," I said, shifting uncomfortably in my chair. They took away my bed a week earlier, stating that they had to remove all traces of their makeshift hospital before the big inspection.

The inspection was the reason that Gosney was rushing to find me a place to stay. The newly installed federal government had determined that there were 157 mobile suits unaccounted for after the war - more than enough to wreak insane havoc on the fledgling ESUN. In response, they decided to inspect all of the colonies and resource satellites in Earth orbit for rogue suits. Gosney wasn't supposed to know of his satellite's upcoming inspection, but he claimed that he "knew somebody" in the government who notified him in advance.

Favors. Closed-door ass-kissing. Quid pro quo. "Knowing somebody." This was the stuff that Romefeller, OZ, and The Specials were made of. I had hoped, with the tiny part of me that was still capable of such things, that people would have changed -- if only by the smallest of measures. What a stupidly naive thought, even for me, Prince of Stupid Hopes. How could I have expected one war to rewrite millennia of social conventions?

"Where, exactly, do you think I should go?"

The silent subtext of my question was: "Who would possibly be insane or misguided enough to rent, lease, or sell any property to me?" It wasn't as though a six-foot-one Scandinavian with over two feet of white-blonde hair and one of the most loathed and distinct faces in recent memory could easily blend into a crowd. I'm not an egomaniac, but I did have some grasp of the enormity of what I'd done on Libra - even if I chose to ignore the event or drown the memory of it in pain killers.

"Honestly," he said with reservation, scratching his beard, "I would look for somebody elderly. Somebody who might not recognize you or, frankly, might not care." He turned his computer around so that I could see the monitor. "Like this ad: 'Older gentleman looking for a tenant for a guest house on his farm. Private quarters, kitchen and bathroom with shower. Fully furnished. Month-to-month. Cash only.' Cash only. That's not something you see every day."

That was one of the biggest hurdles facing my exile from MO-VIII: I had no official identity. (Please - spare me the rolled eyes and groans; I'm aware of the obnoxious recurrence of this theme in my life.) The man dually known as Zechs Merquise and Milliardo Peacecraft was, according to Gosney, declared dead after an "exhaustive" search. I couldn't access any of the large sum of money I'd saved from lifelong lack of expenditures, and I couldn't even open up an electronic bank account without an officially sanctioned ESUN identification number.

I shrugged with my left shoulder, the one that didn't hurt. "I'm a bit short on cash these days."

"Well, don't worry too much about it. Let's see what the guys can scrape together."

Everything about me at that time had been scraped together: my body, my wardrobe, and suddenly, my future. That vicious doctor hadn't gone back on his Hippocratic Oath, so, medically, I was functioning as well as could be expected for the damage done. I also had a small wardrobe of hand-me-down clothes, not one article of which fit well, all of which had a strange smell that I couldn't place - something between grease and sickeningly strong fabric softener. I was at the mercy of the crew of that satellite, all of whom had decided to either actively protect me or, as the doctor did, not kill me. It was all one in the same, really, each option pissing me off equally. I despised myself for being so ungrateful, but I couldn't stop. I don't even think I cared enough to want to stop.

I didn't have the will or energy to argue with this man about where I should go. I'd survived this long as his charge, but moreover, I didn't want to be in control of my future. I wanted to be pushed away, kicked out, forced and judged. Cursed. Damned. Exiled. In my mind, it was the most appropriate perspective I could have, one that I hoped would let me sit back and get punched in the face like I deserved.

With a grimace of discomfort, I closed my eyes and let my head fall back against the wall. "I'll leave it to you."

Later that week, the transport bound for Earth docked in hangar two. The waiting captain, knowing nothing more than that I was a person of interest to the ESUN government, wanted as little to do with me as possible. He asked Gosney to tell me to bang on the cockpit door twice when I was ready to leave. When we landed in the space port in Paris, I was to once again bang on the door twice before exiting immediately thereafter. That, it seemed, would be the extent of our interaction, and that suited me just fine.

"I can't believe we're just letting him go like this," I heard the doctor say to Gosney as I was packing my few personal effects. He didn't even attempt to keep his voice out of my earshot. "Somebody should call someone."

"Why haven't you?" Gosney asked.

Yes, why hadn't he? What about being taken into custody in shackles? Certainly the doctor would have taken great pleasure in witnessing that. What about the big, burly inmate who would make me his bitch? What was it that he said? Oh yes, that I'd like it like that. Because I'm a filthy fag, you see, and God hates fags. He explained that to me one day when he was changing my bandages, so very gently cleaning my wounds, his hands warm and cautious.

"Damn him," was all the doctor said in reply, the snarling curve of his lips audible.

Minutes later, he and Gosney were escorting me to the hangar. Initially, I wondered why the doctor was bothering to see me off, considering his open and shameless contempt of me, but I figured that he probably couldn't pass up one final opportunity to sling what were now accustomed insults at me.

"You look like a serial killer," he remarked, giving my apparel the once-over with his dirty eyes. "I guess that's not too far from the truth."

I caught my reflection in the darkened glass of the hangar's control room. One of "the guys" had given me a black hooded sweatshirt that ended up being perfect for concealing my hair, which I tied back in a low pony tail. Another generous donor supplied the aviator sunglasses, eerily similar to the ones I used to wear in OZ before my mask was made. I was told by a young, sloppy mechanic with a skittish smile that they were quite fashionable. These two items, coupled with a pair of too-baggy cargo pants and a well-worn pair of utility boots, made me look very much the part of the shady drifter. In my mind and theirs, this was preferable to looking like Milliardo Peacecraft or Zechs Merquise, both of whom were as real to me as a phantom.

I set my bag on the floor of the hanger, cringing as I bent over. I was really only in serious pain when I moved - which was not often. I had scarcely done more than walk to the bathroom a couple times a day since they took my bed away. The rest of my time had been spent lying on the green couch in Gosney's office, sleeping or wishing for sleep, staring at the ceiling, eyes and mind blank as if in shock. Perhaps I was in shock...

The doctor pulled out four prescription bottles from his pockets and gave each label a cursory, confirming glance. "I know you won't exactly be able to go into a pharmacy and get refills, so here's enough Tetracontin to last you for a while. It's wicked stuff, so no more than two a day. And don't take it for more than a month straight, or you'll regret it."

He tossed the containers at me one at a time, and I caught them only by the grace of resource satellite physics, where partial gravity made everything seem to move in slow motion.

"Thanks." I tried to say it earnestly, but it came out flat and sarcastic.

"Fuck you."

The doctor, whose name is still a mystery to me, then turned and walked out of the hangar, back to his wife and possible children. That cruel man, my most enthusiastic and creative accuser, had taken nearly two months away from his family to care for somebody he despised passionately. I envied his dedication as much as I resented his vitriol.

I remembered being like that, a consummate professional. Principled, skilled, incorruptible. That man openly hated me, but he never let his personal feelings get in the way of the business of making me healthy. Even if he was a prick embroiled in ethical conflict, he still stood for something larger than himself, an institution, a tradition thousands of years older than him.

What did I stand for? Murder? Terror? Blind, agonizing despair? Surely not peace. Surely nothing good. I was certain that had nowhere to stand, no home to return to, no family who would accept me, no friends to support me, no other... person. ..that one person...

There was a sharp, prodding sensation in my chest, behind my broken ribs but not because of them - a stabbing, like an ice pick being driven through me by a hammer. Intense, nauseating hurt. I shook one of my new Tetracontin pills into my hand and swallowed it dry.

"I contacted the woman who placed that ad I showed you. It's her grandfather' s place. He's a 73-year-old retiree who, from what she told me, spends his days puttering around his farm. He's just looking for some extra income, she said." Gosney handed me a piece of paper. "Here's his information. "

Vadimas Kazlauskas. Definitely not a Frenchman. No matter, I thought, as long as he knew how to accept money in exchange for services.

"Oh, and one more thing," Gosney said, shrugging a small backpack off of his broad shoulder. "I think this should keep you afloat for a while."

He handed the bag to me and I unzipped it. Inside were bundles and bundles of cash. I estimated that there was about five years' worth of Zechs Merquise's quite enviable salary in there.

I looked up at him, incredulous. He must have been at least three inches taller than me. "Should I ask where this came from?"

Gosney chuckled quietly. "I sold that beast of yours for scrap after I gutted it. I had the onboard computer destroyed. Whatever was in that box was not meant to be tampered with or reproduced. Shouldn't even have been made in the first place, I think."

No argument from me.

The money suddenly in my possession was a small fraction of one percent of what Epyon's Gundanium was worth at fair market value. He probably got even more for it, considering the source. The rest of the money he no doubt deserved for his troubles - whatever one does with 270 million credits, give or take. Probably give.

"I don't understand this... " I muttered in lieu of thanking the man for keeping me alive.

"It's no more than what the Lord asks of every man," Gosney replied, offering his hand to me. I stared at the roughness of it, calloused with manual labor, doing the work of God or Jesus or Allah or whatever, and then I shook it.

"I wish you the best. I think this year will be good for you," he said, smiling.

Oh, how I wanted to laugh in his face, but I was so unamused and overtaken by bitter disbelief that the best I could manage was a small grunt. As I turned to go, he called out to me one last time, cupping his hands around his mouth to project his already booming voice:

"And your name is Erik Iversen now. Don't forget!"

I, the newly christened Erik Iversen, boarded the waiting transport and, as instructed, pounded on the cockpit door twice before strapping into a pull-down jump seat in the cargo bay. I was feeling the sweet effects of the Tetracontin even before the transport slipped out of the satellite's hangar. It was magnificent, putting me in a fine mood that would not be dulled even by the sight of so much mobile suit wreckage outside the port window. It was as though the drug crossed the wires in my brain, flooding me with ecstasy when I should have been hating every breath I took.

Still, I shuddered when I saw a disembodied arm float past and closed my eyes to stave off a sick sensation that was threatening to kill my buzz.

I was awakened an indeterminable amount of time later by the violent jostling of the ship as it entered the Earth's atmosphere. The landing was smooth, which was as much due to Bastion-Elise' s newly paved runways as it was the pilot's skill. When it came to space ports, B-E had a reputation as one of the finest.

Unlike space, the world was still working, ticking along as it always had. Construction was underway. Business was thriving. I felt that Earth shouldn't have been the same, like it should have collapsed in on itself a little, taken on a little humility, a little limp, a little sobriety. Just a little. But Earthers are industrious little monsters who balk loudly at defeat, and they take up their little shovels and their little day planners in a little show of "Fuck you" to whomever - maybe to nobody in particular, maybe to God, maybe to each other, maybe to an idea or an afterimage of crippling fear.

I don't think I was particularly pleased about being back on Earth. Upon returning from space, an Earth native will typically marvel at the crispness of the air, the fresh unpredictability of the breeze, and generally wonder how they did without such splendid things for so long. It was winter; I should have at least found the chill noteworthy. But instead I was numb, unimpressed, and single-mindedly fixated on finding a taxi to take me to the province of Picardy.

The gravity killed my weakened knees with every step as I approached a line of eager, vacant cabs that lined the terminal's exit. Dozens of people moved with purposeful steps towards the vehicles, rattling off the important places they had to go, implying with their destinations their occupations, income levels, and personal habits. There was an electricity under that overhang, the thrill of being back home or of starting a well-deserved vacation. It seemed misplaced to me, that energy. Shouldn't there have been a slow drag, a trail of mourning, any indication at all that something substantial had happened - something immeasurably enormous and life-altering?

I walked to the nearest one and told the cabbie my destination through a crack in the passenger side window.

"Saint-Quentin? Are you crazy?" Crazy? That's still being debated. "That's two hours away. I'm sorry, sir," was the man's flustered response. Not only did he refuse, he rolled up his window and pretended not to see me. He did so with such agitation that I entertained a little fear that he might have recognized me.

But after accosting several more taxis and facing rejection after rejection, I knew that their refusals weren't because of my appearance as much as they were about making the 370 kilometer round trip to the middle of nowhere. Finally, a petite woman with short reddish hair and a strikingly colorful scarf around her neck showed a modicum of interest.

"Picardy? Oh, it's beautiful in every season. Why do you want to go there?"

I hadn't expected to have to explain myself. "My grandfather, " I lied.

"Well, I'm going to charge you extra!" she warned, pointing at the meter.

I pulled a thousand ESUN credits out of my sweatshirt pocket and held it up to the window.

"I think that will be just fine, sir. Just fine." The smile on her face told me that she was more than "just fine" with the arrangement.

As soon as we cleared the terminal, I crossed my arms and slumped down in the back seat.

"Wake me when we get there," I said, already well on my way to sleep.

"Of course."

It was dusk when we hit rugged country road. The rough ride made it impossible for me to stay even in a drug-induced sleep, so I sat up and rested my head against the window, staring out at the expanse of farmland that was wet with winter's showers. There were tall, green hedges along the road, much like I had seen when I was stationed in Great Britain for a few months of training. At that time, I was incapable of seeing beauty in anything, leaving my mind to process things in the antiseptic way that one learns the nouns of a new language. Hedge. Grass. Sunset. Road. House.

"Almost there," my driver said, alternately eyeing the road, her GPS, and the rearview mirror where she could see my obscured face. She smiled at me.

This woman, I could tell, had balls. She was alone in a cab with a suspicious-looking young man, driving out to some remote farmland where, for all she knew, I was going to rape and murder her. I wanted to ask what gave her any reason to trust me, but I didn't want to beg the inevitable follow-up question of "Why shouldn't I trust you?" Instead, I continued looking out the window and lazily debating whether or not I should try falling asleep again.

About twenty minutes later, we pulled onto a long, muddy driveway. It was dark, and I could see a house up ahead. Every light in that place must have been on, making it glow like a beacon in the middle of a black sea. The driver stopped, twisted around in her seat, and waited with a patient smile until I handed her the money I flashed earlier.

"I hope you enjoy visiting with your grandfather. "

"We'll see," I replied, grabbing my bags and shutting the cab door behind me. I walked slowly up the creaking front steps, took a deep breath, and knocked.

The house was in a state of mild disrepair. On the porch, the paint was peeling around the windows, and there was a hole in the screen large enough to shove an apple through. Suddenly, the curtains parted and the face of who I assumed was Vadimas Kazlauskas peered out at me. Just as quickly as they had opened, they closed again. I heard footsteps inside and the sound of two deadbolts unlocking. The door swung open and a delighted-looking elderly man took me by the arm and led me into the kitchen.

"Welcome! Welcome! You're Mr. Iversen, yes? I'm happy you found me," he said, pulling a chair out from a small table and gesturing for me to sit down.

He took his seat across from me, grinning in the way that only an old man can. His gray eyes glistened under the overhead lamp. I wondered if he had been drinking or if he was just senile.

"So! I will take you to the house soon. But first, let's get the bad business out of the way. I charge twelve-hundred a month. That is with everything, though."

His French was very heavily accented. Mine, by virtue of being highly sanitized by an aristocrat's education, was really no better. I pulled money from my sweatshirt pocket, enough to pay for six months of rent, and set it on the table. He took exactly as much as he asked for per month and pushed the rest back to me.

"I'd like to pay for six months," I said, swallowing back a rapidly rising and completely unwarranted impatience with the man.

"No, no. Month-to-month. Month-to-month! " Mr. Kazlauskas was highly emphatic. He reminded me of Vito, the owner of an excellent delicatessen in Corsica that used to give out freebies to all of the soldiers. He was loved by all ranks, from sergeants to colonels. He used to call me "Flash."

I stared at him from behind my sunglasses. He was balding, with a comb-over and a sprinkling of discolored spots on his head. His eyebrows were bushy and retained some of the hue of what had once been dark hair. These distinctly elderly traits amplified the gregarious warmth that effused from him. He was grandfatherly in a way that my grandfather had never been, with his tight-lipped severity and disapproving frown.

"Fine."

"Okay!" he said as he rose from the table. He walked to the kitchen counter and picked up a covered glass bowl. "Let's go to your new home!"

We got in an old pickup truck and drove down another long, muddy road to a modest and well-tended guest house. It was in so much better condition that I wondered why he didn't move there instead. The porch lights were on, waiting for me. I'd never lived alone before, always stuffed in a bay with other soldiers or conveniently next door to them when I was high-ranking enough to get my own room. The palace had always been filled with the quiet but constant presence of servants, and Russia...there was so much life in Russia....

"Okay, okay! This is the living area," he said, waving his arm theatrically at the tastefully decorated sitting area. There was a couch and chair set and a bookshelf packed with books. I didn't want anything to do with those books. Reading was something that Milliardo Peacecraft loved to do, a waste of time, a foolish hobby shared with children and shut-ins. I told myself that I wasn't either, not knowing quite how to classify myself without using abrasive insults and expletives.

"This is your bedroom - the bathroom is right next to it." A bathroom with no mirror. How very fitting. I had no patience for my once intractable vanity, something I once indulged simply because I could, because it got me places, because it made certain people happy, because it was what I'd always done. In that period following the war, vanity had become old and vestigial. Completely pointless. Laughable.

The bedroom was nice. When I considered the bedding and furnishings here compared to the old man's house, I knew that the guest house must have been decorated by somebody else -- maybe that granddaughter of his. Everything looked and smelled brand new, and it was clean to a fault. He led me to a small kitchen area, where he placed the covered bowl on the counter and opened one of the cupboards to retrieve a sauce pan.

"I made vegetable soup for you. You can heat it in this. Utensils are in the drawer."

I cleared my throat and looked at the bowl of soup. Carrots. Celery. Tomatoes. Some sort of withered, cabbage-looking thing floating at the top. Kale? Chard? Pressure hit me then, filling up my forehead and cheeks uncomfortably. My drugged mind fumbled stupidly trying to explain the encounters I'd had since awakening from my coma. Why were most of the people I'd met - Gosney, "the guys," the cabbie, and this old man - so warm? Not even specifically to me. Why were they kind at all? What made them radiate after everything they'd had seen, after everything I'd done to them?

These little monsters - persevering and pugishly tenacious - were the things I'd once had the gall to hate. I did hate them. I hated them all. It was no joke that I wanted to destroy them indiscriminately. In the end, my rage made me insensitive even to the colonists, who weren't peaceful because they were better human beings, but rather because they'd get sucked out into an absolutely zero, dead vacuum if they weren't.

Even then, standing in the kitchen of my new rental, I felt that old hate bleeding slowly through the dim haze of the Tetracontin. Swiftly overpowering that hate was a feeling of profound regret over what I'd become: a spiteful malcontent, a cold, bitter fucker not worth the frumpy clothes on his back, let alone warm smiles and vegetable soup.

'Go the hell away already,' I wanted to say to the old man. Get the hell out and leave me alone. Take your goddamn soup and your new bedspread and shove them up your kind and considerate ass. Shit.

"Well, you look like you could use some rest, so I'll go now. If you need anything, there's a phone in the sitting room and my number is here," Mr. Kazlauskas said, pulling a crinkled scrap of paper out of his pocket and setting it on the counter. "Anything you need, you ask me."

I nodded and stood there in the kitchen until I heard that noisy pickup drive away. I then put the soup in the small refrigerator below the counter and wandered to the bedroom, turning off lights as I went. My eyelids felt leaden, dropping with an increased frequency that disoriented me. Pain blotted out by the powerful drugs, I bent easily to pull off my boots before falling back on the bed, exhausted and empty.

Before I fell asleep, I admired a painting of a quaint farmhouse mounted on the wall. How funny, I thought, that I was in there...

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