Author: Khalani

Rating: M for coarse language, 13x6 romantic implications

Warnings: This is an interpretation of events in episode 18 -- "Tallgeese Destroyed." I've added, omitted, and modified some dialogue and details. OZ angst ahoy. Zechs introspective. No beta.

Traitor: Breaking Up is Hard to Do (cont)

The cockpit of the Tallgeese smells like old leather and motor oil, lending a richness and antiquity that makes the newer units seem cold and antiseptic. Temporary. I feel at ease in the Tallgeese despite its legacy of pain and death. Otto died in this seat. Countless test pilots sustained permanent physical injuries. On my first flight I had a cardiac episode and broke three of my ribs. And yet, it welcomes me like an old friend. This is her lure.

Twenty minutes ago, the crew of the Eurydice boarded a different ship bound for the Okinawa base. Before departing, Captain Demetrius informed me that the attack force would be manned by some of the remnants of the Alliance, whose sole purpose was to garner favor with Romefeller by destroying me. This will definitely work in my favor. One thing that Zechs Merquise can always muster is rage against the Alliance, especially during his last stand.

I'd say that the Lightening Count put on quite a final show for the soldiers on the Eurydice. Like donning a habit or full battle rattle, Zechs Merquise slipped right back into character after being issued his sentence. His aura glowed no less brightly than usual when he stepped off of the bridge. No longer a prisoner of OZ, he once again became an icon, a symbol, an immortal phantasm. Soldiers on the ship cleared the way for him, crisply saluting their champion, hoping to be acknowledged and remembered.

And Zechs saluted back, the smallest of smirks on his face a familiar sight, his composure telling the lie of limitless strength, confidence, and grace. This is the image that will be burned into their brains, feeding them in their times of doubt and anxiety, inoculating them against dread and thoughts of failure. In this, Treize will get what he wants. I couldn't refuse him one last request.

There is a distinct unease that immediately precedes the first shot in any battle. It presents itself as a tickle at the back of the neck, butterflies in the stomach, or a minute hitch in the chest. It is a secondary sense that we share with other animals, not at all specific to soldiers. I felt it as a child before Sanc was attacked, just as I feel it right now. I clear my head and reflexively hold my breath.

Right on cue, my cockpit lights up and a staccato series of beeps informs me that this ship is about to be assailed by 25 air-to-surface missiles and 10 torpedoes. The coordination of it is something to behold; I don't think I've ever been simultaneously targeted by 35 explosive projectiles. I have just enough time to gun the thrusters and propel myself above what is about to become an unholy fireball.

My hands are shaking.

The first wave of the assault comes from the Aries' chain rifles. Though the Aries is a top-of-the-line unit, the force of each shell is not enough to pierce even the first few layers of my armor. Each shot rattles a few compartments in the cockpit, but everything holds together. I waste no time with my dober gun and instead pull out my beam saber.

It's very difficult to grasp just how large this weapon is. The pillar of light is nearly as tall as the flight-configured Aries, thick and concentrated enough to slice through the suit like it's no more than a child's toy. Like lemmings running off of a cliff, unit after predictable unit rushes towards me. Some fall to pieces and plunge into the ocean, others explode as I pierce their reactor. I wonder if I should expect anything more than these clumsy charges. I find OZ's gross underestimation of my abilities mildly insulting.

Fittingly, insult evaporates when my screen lights up dramatically. Multiple incoming. A finely targeted barrage of missiles is fast approaching me from all sides, leaving me only one way to go: up. My still-sore ribs protest fervently at the surge of g-forces as I push the thrusters as hard as I can. I climb sharply, my instincts fighting my brain over what to do next.

A pilot rarely prays to God in the heat of battle. Instead, he prays to his mechanic or his engineer. If he knows the name, he might even pray to the inventor of the suit. Right now I'm praying that Howard Keene designed the Tallgeese to survive the type of movement I'm about to attempt. It's bold and desperate, and I'm not even certain that the laws of physics will allow me to stay conscious during it. I quickly calculate my odds and decide that I can't afford not to try.

But before I can execute, my whole suit is jarred roughly. An Aries unit has physically grabbed onto me from behind, stalling my engines and effectively turning us into one giant stationary target. If that wasn't enough, another unit latches onto me from the front in a pincher move. I am suddenly intensely aware of my mortality and of the very real fact that I am about to die.

I think of my first battle with Heero Yuy, how I used a similar move on him. I then think about my fifth birthday party when I fell out of a tree and got a concussion. I think about the waste of life in this battle. I think about my last performance review -- good marks all around.

Life doesn't flash before my eyes in the face of imminent death. Instead, there is a lightning-fast succession of thoughts, disconnected, in no particular order and of no particular significance. I don't see my father's face or hear Treize's voice. Death, in more regards than one, is not romantic like that. I know because it's about to overtake me.

The explosion is unlike anything I've experienced before - a massive, near-deafening boom followed by a terrifying wall of shrapnel and MS parts flying against the exterior of my suit. I'm fully stunned and then I'm dead weight, falling, falling.

When Tallgeese hits the ocean, I'm violently thrown against the back of my seat. I hear a sharp crack, like the sound of an ice sheet breaking under a load. Warm liquid runs down the side of my nose from my head. My first thought, irrational, is that the cracking was my skull and the pain was from a shard of bone breaking through my forehead.

But I'm not dead.

In fact, after I pull myself together and check my monitors, I find out that the overall integrity of the suit has barely been compromised. One of the legs has been significantly damaged, but it's nothing that will keep me from fighting. One of my engines is showing red across the board, crushed by that single intrepid Aries.

This, however, is the least of my problems. The Tallgeese weighs nearly ten tons and is not designed for buoyancy. Cancers swarm like flies around a carcass. When their torpedo bays open, I'm pretty sure I'm fucked. My hands tighten around the thrusters and I clench my jaw. I curse Treize aloud. This is not how I want to die.

My sensors show the approach of an enormous underwater object. Exponentially bigger than my suit, my computer identifies it as an OZ sub transport. The little Cancers part to let it continue on its collision course with Tallgeese. I brace myself and get ready to grab onto the rounded bay door -- it's the only thing I can think to do. What else can I do in this impossible situation? I figure that at least we'll be moving away from the pack of glory-hungry mobile suits.

The impact is brutal and I hear myself growl against the strain on my body. Again I hear that gritty crackling sound. I know now what it is, and in those moments of realization, the cosmically ridiculous nature of the coincidence doesn't escape me. I'm then distracted by a distinct shift in my orientation, and I can't believe the cause--

Impossibly, idiotically, insanely, the submarine angles upward towards the surface. I can feel myself slipping off of the curved hull, but hold on just long enough to break the surface. With another prayer to nobody in particular, I throw my entire body weight into the thrusters. The verniers scream to life -- even the damaged engine is functioning at 60 percent thrust capacity. Now flying meters ahead of the breeching submarine, I fire up my beam saber and aim right between the swift-approaching bay doors.

The behemoth, towering and grand, is being sliced in two. It is utterly surreal. Like with the Aries, the thing bursts into an explosive super inferno when the ship's immense fusion reactor meets the hail of Minovsky particles emitting from my weapon. My head smacks against the head rest ... .

... and it happens -- one huge chunk of my mask breaks off, hitting my shoulder and landing on the floor of the cockpit with a metallic clank. I cock my head ever so slightly and the other pieces follow; shards of super-strong specialty alloy fall onto my lap and to my feet.

My naked eyes land on the monitor, the flaming wreckage of the submarine barely visible through the thick, black cloud of smoke it is producing. This is the first time I've ever seen the Tallgeese like this, unobstructed. I feel deliriously alive and, like a child, I take in everything I can -- the sound of the fried electrical system popping and hissing, the redness of the blood on my nose, the smell of burnt fuel and sweat.

Is this what Treize meant when he said I would be free?

I understand him now, in a way I never did before. This is his way of loving me, by destroying the facade that has choked nearly all of the goodness out of me. In this moment, I want desperately to thank him ... but I can't.

I can't thank him because in the same fell swoop that killed Zechs Merquise, Treize also killed Us. I can't be sad about it, either. It's too unreal, too impossible for me to comprehend. Something so constant and absolutely crucial in my life can't be obliterated so casually. Maybe after my adrenaline subsides, maybe after I sleep and wake up and process the reality of what's just happened ... maybe then I'll fall apart.

Or maybe I won't. I have no idea what kind of person I really am -- or what I'm really capable of.

Most of the remaining mobile suits are holding back, shocked by my massive display of destruction. The Lightening Count might stay to annihilate them all, but I couldn't care less about this fight. I can't let this gift of freedom, this second chance, be wasted on these pandering Alliance idiots. So I do what survivors do: gather my wits and beat a hasty retreat. All directions seem equal in my post-combative, indecisive mind, so I fly east. A few Aries units struggle to pursue, but Tallgeese outstrips them easily. She may be damaged, but she's still the queen of speed.

After flying for God knows how long, things start to seem ... not quite right. The words, statistics, coordinates, and visuals on my monitors are bending, swirling, blurring in and out of focus. Dark spots begin to pepper my sight and the cockpit starts shifting in unnatural ways. At one point, I look into my external monitor and see the moon liquefy and drip onto the sea below. It gradually occurs to me that I haven't slept in three days. I heard once that you're considered legally insane after being awake for this long. I laugh softly, a sound that's creepy and unfamiliar to my ears. I've been reborn as a crazy person.

I force myself to try to focus on my altimeter, which I think is plummeting. My heavy, unskilled hands miraculously guide the suit to the nearest patch of dry land. Impatient with exhaustion and thoroughly rattled, I set the suit down hard. The left leg buckles and we tumble face-first to the ground. I can't open the door and get out of my harness fast enough. I think I'm hyperventilating.

My legs, quivering with weakness, threaten to give out the moment they hit dry land, but I stagger forward. I see something ahead, between the twin creeping darkness looming from my peripheral vision.

I know I'm having a full-blown hallucination when the line of palms in front of me collapses, each trunk lengthening along the ground. I watch calmly, swaying like a drunkard, as though this sort of thing is quite typical. The downed trunks become the straightest rows of green banked by the blackest earth. Crouching there is a young, handsome man digging up a head of kale with a hand trowel. He looks up at me. He sweeps reddish-brown bangs out of his eyes with the back of his gardening glove. There's a smudge of dirt on his cheek. His smile is brilliant.

I collapse. Lying there, somewhere between reality and a dream, I feel the cold dew soaking into my uniform. Before I pass out, I have one last fleeting thought ...

... of Treize, his boots covered in muck, the ass and right leg of his riding pants filthy from being kicked half way across the stable by an unbroken horse. He's fine, he says, and I know it. He looks ridiculously happy. He sees me in clean clothes and grabs me around the waist. I tell him that he smells like manure and he laughs. Kisses me. I kiss back. I mean it. I want to tell him just how much, but I know he knows.

He knows.

The End

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