Ascent - Descent

The next day, again, they go off on the hunt, and Garma is compliant. They get up early, they get dressed, Mai picks up her rifle, and Garma leaves some dishes and meat out for Charlie. After that, they leave, and head north, but not before Mai wraps that red rope around his neck and ties him to her.

(She doesn't think it's needed.)

(But it's to make a point.)

They walk that Earth and each time they do it's like coming into what feels like a lost civilization; the numbness that comes over the both of them walking along the dead and what was and never could be again keep their steps light and focused as they find a place for Mai to shoot, and wait until a deer finds itself before her. The deed is done, the catch is field dressed, and then it's back to the Conclave for deposit, for supplies, and then back home. Garma is her ghost, her shadow, and he is compliant to be it as Gearten seemed to be clairvoyant in his vision. He sees him and looks on from his place in the loading dock, at him.

Judgement. He can feel his judgement.

But that judgement is just another color of the numbness that came with the city. It covers him, binds him like the bandages he uses as disguise.

When they return, to the apartment, it's together, exerted for the day, Charlie happy to see them both as lunch is taken, and discussions are had about the war.

("Your offensives were entirely based on mobile suit movements?")

("At a certain point our troops were not comfortable progressing without them.")

Those discussions usually go their standard way, all the way up to their usual end:

("I hate you.")

("I cannot hate you, dear Mai.")

She toys with that forever disassembled storm rifle, and he reads from The Odyssey, and by the time dinner comes along, their shower and bathing squared away, it's back into bed with each other for warmth's sake alone.

The next day, they go off and do it again.

The day after that, she lets him carry some food. Breakfast, in his pockets. They eat from plastic bags, dried oats and cereals and fruit flash-dried.

She tells him places, neighborhoods, buildings that once were:

("There's an alleyway that people used to just like, put globs of gum on. The Gum Wall.")


("Yeah, just it was caked in people's stuff. Disgusting.")

All through Seattle they walk among a city frozen by battle and war and disaster, but even the recent earthquake had not changed anything substantially from its character. There were aftershocks, mostly in the night, and as Spacenoids they held each other tighter by instinct until those minute vibrations stuck and Mai had pushed it out of her head as it being a simple instinctual reaction, but Garma finds whimsy in it that even she can still be scared, grasping for any hold in the night and in that instance, it happens to be him.

Seattle is not New York City, and he realizes that every hour of every day he walks out through the world. New York City was sparred the devastation in, at least, Manhattan, the outer boroughs where most of the fighting took place. It had been the local populace, however, that won the day in the end after weeks of fighting: locals forcing Federation troops from their positions to keep their homes undestroyed by any fighting. A majority of those Federation prisoners taken had still been in Ontario's holding facilities.

It's hard, not thinking about Icelina as he walks with Mai out to where the wind guides her. In the mornings, on Sundays, he would take the time and walk with her in New York City mornings out on Central Park. Autumn in New York City was gorgeous, and further still when his troops had made sure the only ones who walked the park had been him and her. It was a privilege afforded to them, and one they used for reasons peaceful and romantic. Any time to get away, in a place cut out of the world around them was one he would gladly wake early mornings for, to see sunrises and golden leaves amidst one of the greatest cities of Earth. And yet, in the end, it would be Icelina leading him through the city as she, a native, could only do. She would wear a hat and put on a jean jacket, and he a wind breaker, and they would pretend to escape from the ever watchful body guards of both Eschonbach and Zeonic origin and go visit hole-in-the-wall establishments and friends of hers that lived along Central Park West.

Once, and only once, in July, during a particularly humid day when the Americans celebrated some long, now vestigial holiday, one of the Eschonbach house servants who had been on the grill on the great lawn for festivities had a portion of the grill set asides for meals for the staff that day not on holiday. Icelina had noticed it, and with much haste, summoned Garma to her.

"If you will, Daevon, may I have that?" She gestured to a long sandwich roll that had been face down on top of a mass of beef and cheese. The servant, Daevon, his dark skin glistening between the grill and the sun did not protest. It had been an item that hadn't been on the menu, but now it was on a paper plate as Garma himself sweated, having decided to take the holiday off himself.

Ushered away by her to the side of a pool, of which he had been partaking himself, down to only swim shorts, Icelina had hoped on his sun chair even as her father looked on disapprovingly across the vast pool.

"They call this a "chopped cheese", Garma." She offered to him as if he had never seen ground beef, cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, and a sandwich roll together before. Granted he'd never seen it arranged like this, as if a hamburger but elongated and crispy like an Italian sub, but he could imagine the taste of it before Icelina had, having brought along a knife and fork, started cutting out pieces for herself and skewering the vertical sections with it to eat herself. The other half of it was left to him, and he did, taking the sandwich and biting it as if just a regular sandwich. It was good, as anything that combined grilled meat and cheese usually did, and Icelina seemed so amused that he had been eating it. "You can only ever get these in the city, but it's certainly not our type of food, is it?"

He quite liked the chopped cheese, and Icelina had been right, that it hadn't been the type of food common in his diet, but there was a seed of thought there that he had put asides for a long time, for he had wanted to not think any odd thoughts of his beautiful fiancé.

So far away however, the seed is observed: They, ours.

He trips, for the first time, thinking about Icelina, and his body hits the concrete on his good side. It's a simple trip over some rubble, but what Mai had forgotten in her rope to him that where he was going, she was too, and as he went, she was brought down on her ass.



Brought down to the Earth together, her ass stings and his side is sore.

"What the fuck-?" She asks.

"It's dark." He makes excuses, and with his other hand he raises himself up shakily.

Her eyes in that morning bleakness he finds and centers himself on as he stands. They're annoyed with him, obviously, the sound of her groaning and snarling not subtle but they tamper down and stand up. She faces him, and his arms are then patted down from debris.

"Don't look." Her pistol is out, and he momentarily panics, but it's not a fast, aggressive move as she drops a mag into her hand and into her dump pouch before ejecting a round into her palm. The flashlight on the gun is used, pointed up at his face. He shuts his eyes before he is blinded, and that leaves feel alone to him. He feels her fingers reach up to his face on the edge of the bandage above his left eye, her thumb grazing his skin before drafting her item of concern: his hair, disheveled and brought down from the wrapping. She tucks it back up, beneath the bandage before tightening the affair all the same, flashlight turned off as she does her work. "We've gotta do something about this hair of yours."

Not that she is free from the same, her hair is getting long, and when she does bother her low chignon is only getting bigger and bigger.

A haircut is due, now, for both of them.

"Was it your mother, or your father, you got your height from?" He asks as flattens out his bandages. It's not a common question, but one she's still familiar with all the same. In the Academy, she had been taller than him she remembered, and nowadays that had grown to an unusual 5'11. It had been odd then besides Garma's 5'8, a height that had seemed a little below his stature as a grand man, even to her perception.

"Mother. I think. My grandfather was a tall man, she tells me." She tells him quietly. "Mom's not tall, though."

She sees the older photos, screen captures of digital photos printed out that was all that remained of her family lineage. Her parents were born on Earth, a fact that she had never forgotten, and she, born in space on Grenada. Her mother had resided in Jordan, and her father, from Pakistan. She had been a true daughter of an Arab world and she had no qualms about it. She had long had that look about her, and one even yet to be fully made: a woman of the old world, and yet she had been born into a new one.

"What are you, again?" he asks, as he tightens his bandages on his own.


"Your heritage."

"Spacen-" She catches herself, and the small grin on Garma's face is not hidden by the bandage as she gruffs and corrects herself. "Palestinian." She answers. It's a learned response, one taken on since she came to Earth and these last three years. As she had, she would've never answered as billions in space did: Spacenoid, but now her race on Earth had been more important, and perhaps better oft said, than where she had come from. Only in Garma's presence does she recall other truths about her.

"I'm afraid I'm not quite familiar." Garma stares at her in the dark, trying to recall the name past her small trifle. She's said it once before to him, describing the scarf, the keffiyeh, she wears now as a neck gaiter, but it is a place that escapes him.

"I'm not surprised." She breathes deeply, looking up at the stars still existent alongside the colonies. She belonged to a group of people who had been destroyed so thoroughly that even in a frontier of new starts and new lands, her people were not allowed to create a new homeland. On Side 3, the furthest from Earth, people of her genetic memory remained, not as a tribe, but as just one long group of families that barely knew each other from Adam.

It was the story of a people beat down, and how the world was happy to just let it happen.

She lingers in front of him, hand still drifting by his cheek and the bandages there, the scars of his burns and his dead eye.

"Think an eyepatch would help?" He wagers, letting her linger. She chortles once.


She brushes her own ass off, and they're off again, just a little slow, and he still on his leash.

"What's more important to you, if I can ask?" His voice is just a little bit louder over Seattle air as they make their way through to another spot. Mai never tells him where she goes, or how she does so, the trails she follows are wordless to her and she is wordless to him in their nature. "Where you were born, or where you came from?"

Her family is perhaps the only people she's known that look like her, and although there had been a small minority of those of Arab descent in Side 3, the colonies there had still been predominantly white. Seattle hadn't been much better. Though race, ethnicity, it hadn't mattered to her until she had gotten rid of, or at least tried to cast aside that overarching title of Spacenoid upon herself.

One's of the past, the other is of the future, and neither seemed to have her.

"It doesn't matter to me unless someone makes it matter." Her voice drops into a certain sharpness, one hinted by the city at large. It's a tone that Garma knows well. Unity and identity are not more powerful and realized when there was an enemy out there. Out there, Spacenoids were Spacenoids, and nothing else mattered. She was a native of Side 3, and yet here she had been walking as if she had known the heart of this place all of her life. And yet Mai was not a native, despite her familiarity with the land she led them on.

In dark shapes, Seattle still is there for Garma, and he thinks this long in he has become slightly more familiar with it, but the thought of it is beat down when the errant thought of him being able to make his way back to the Elysian Condos rises up. Just one glance back, and he knows that without Mai, without the leash, he is lost in this dark world.

Mai finds another place, on the slant of a building that has toppled over, and the two of them sit, and wait, and munch on breakfast and speak idly of themselves as they usually do, of the world around them. He is compliant, and she is complacent, and together they are tolerable as the dawn comes and the rifle rises and another deer is put to ground and skinned as an offering to her of her own volition.

On the way to the Conclave, she says this, even with a deer across her back:

"The Federation made it matter to me." How easy the scorn that follows the Federation exists. "I tried my best to put it away, after I came to Earth, but the Federation authorities made it matter."

"Hm? How so?"

"It was one day, on campus," She speaks of her higher education and the place not too far away from there. "They found out I was a Spacenoid, right in the middle of lecture. Some cops came by from the federal authorities and patted me down, checked my residence permit. They didn't look close enough to find out what I was up to on Banchi, but… it only ever happened to me, and those like…" She lingers, but relents, "Us."

She knew she was, by some definition, a criminal, but her case had been the exception to all those innocent around her. She was not the only Spacenoid in Seattle, or that school, but she had become the last, at least as far as those who fought for the Earth there. The rest had gone, died, or, because of the Federation, joined Zeon when they came. In those moments before the war, when they were outed as Spacenoids to the wide eyes of those born there, the demeaning procedure had bound them again, because sometimes it wasn't her. Sometimes it was another student whom she did not know was a Spacenoid as well, revealed only then. Sometimes it was an Earthnoid who had spoken too much about the rights of Spacenoids.

All those moments she is reminded of that day, after a field exercise: a Federation commandant striking a Spacenoid for wearing sunglasses, unaware, or uncaring of his condition. She bore witness to it all the same.

It was Garma, however, that rose up to meet the prejudice then, and she had watched.

That same Garma had been here with her.

Inside Garma, the belief, the feeling, that Mai was still a true believer rises, but that was supplicant to the overwhelming fact of the Federation, corrupt and rotten as it was. An absolute democracy, a bureaucratic mess, who listened only to those in power, and had been in power for decades.

Seattle's many hills had made it a popular destination for skaters, for those who hill bomb, send themselves down those slopes with nothing but board beneath them and no care for where they were headed. If Spacenoids wished to be freed from Gravity, maybe skaters on Earth would understand that yearn to be free as well.

It's not surprising then that of all those skaters, Win Nguyen is among them.

They found themselves on the downward slope of a hill in the middle of exchanging the deer on their shoulders for a respite, and he had no problems, gruesome as it was at first, hauling the body. As far as he had known, she'd done the same for his own body that night she brought him home, so a dead deer was nothing. The roaring and ripping sound of skateboard bearings and wheels approaching them from their side as they crossed the hill laterally was unmistakable in the morning light. Mai knows who it is, but Garma does not.

"Hi Mai!" Win screams and he is faster than the wind as he rolls down the hill past them. Mai is not alone however, and as he passes a rather harrowing close distance to them on the way down, he realizes that she is not alone. Garma is with her. In slow motion as he hill bombs, the two of them lock eyes, and Win is quiet, if not fleetingly fast past them, his oversized army coat like wings.

He disappears at the bottom, his wheels taking him to parts unknown. Mai pauses, listening for a crash, but there is none, and that satisfies her for now. She does not know how Win Nguyen will die, but it would probably be violent and entirely preventable. The most she can hope for is that she dies before him.

"Friend of yours?" Garma heaves once, remembering the image of the boy in his mind.

"Something like that." She huffs, but there is fondness in it. "Be glad that it was me, and not him, that found you."

"I think that'd be the case for about everyone in Seattle, isn't it?"

She smiles at him with his acceptance that the city hated his guts, and the pat on his back is a little rougher than usual, but it's as good jest as she can garner, and it was better for her to be in a good mood than not.

One week straight Garma goes with Mai into the wilds, seven days more he pulls his weight and carries the deer until they can find a cart or they hand on and off until they deliver. On the last day, as they come back home and Charlie yaps and fusses over their arrival, Garma stops her before she goes into the shower, his hair has gotten long, and it pokes out from the bandages in purple whispers.

There's an argument to be made that he is healed, that he was as healthy as he could be, but it's not an argument that Mai would hear yet. It was too soon. He speaks up, she pauses, but any words he has is put away as the two of them silently move on, and go back to the Conclave, one last time, the next day.

For one week, he goes to the Conclave with her, beneath Gearten's watchful, but quiet command of the place, and for one week, he sees deeper into a hospital, not of soldiers, who had been well aware of the risks of war, but civilians, citizens of the Earth, put upon by war.

His war.

It's not his first time, being this close to the injured, the refugees, wading into those centers that Zeon had set up to process them through. He had been there, arm to arm, chest to chest with them listening to their ails, their displeasures, their silence as Zeon welcomed them. But there had been a barrier there that went beyond physical.

He had been Garma Zabi, and them, refugees.

Now he had been someone else. A no one. An imagined figure and name that, even now, had been a secret man. He was Garfield Sune, and as he walked among the injured, the beaten, the militia and the guerilla, they did not hide from him, they were the same as him, now, utterly, and completely, without the barrier of his identity.

He sees a man, tending to the horses of the Conclave as they get sunlight, brought out to bask and to take a walk around the parking lot of the place, the reins of them held by hands, as the man approaches, shakily, ceaselessly tremoring.

(Shell shock).

A woman cuts carrots from the Conclave's gardens as Mikita runs a saw through deer bone. She is unbothered, humming a tune that can only be heard by her.

(She is deaf by an explosive that had taken out her hearing).

Others like him, broken in arm or leg or hand, and they walk along on prosthetic, nubs where hands would be, scars and stitches where bullets and shrapnel had landed. He dares not ask if they were fighters, for in the end, there was no discrimination in the collateral of war.

A boy, a young child, six years old, is like him but worse, he has no legs.

These are not the first times he's seen these type of injuries among civilian or military personnel, and he has long detached himself from them out of his own sanity. Mai, even, is not the first mother he's known to lose a child because of this war. The feeling of tragedy is not lost on him: it never has, but he could not linger, not while he had the position he did.

All he can do now is linger as Mai stays in the Conclave, half-hour at a time, after their deer deliveries, as she checks in with Pavilion leaders that were present and is given status updates by people who still saw it fit to give her status updates.

It is not despair, however, that fills his heart, sitting down, and being among the downtrodden, and the victims of this war that he now can be counted a part of.

To say they are ghosts would be a disservice to Seattle around them, for they who lived and served at the Conclave very much were alive, and sometimes being alive was a different type of death.

He would know.

For all his life he would speak of being among Spacenoids together, he was, in the end, the first among those equals. Now he had been equal in the world with no pretext to it not known to others. He would end his life, by all accounts, amongst those who had been born, lived, and died having never known escape from Gravity save for one who sought to escape to it.

The six year old child comes to him as he waits in the loading dock for Mai and Gearten to finish talking for the day, speaking of a silent war and higher tensions that feel like they're building, and he does not want to take part in that. He walks with a practiced, slow, gait, so unlike a child should be: he moves rigidly, his small arms used to balance and to shuffle along the floor, and Garma looks and stares until he realizes that the child approaches him.

"Hi mister." They say, bright blue eyes burning up at him, he who had barely come up to his waist with dirty, shaggy brown hair and a small hoodie too big for him.

"Hello." Garma says quietly, and he cannot look away from the boy, too small to be given the benefits he had: There were no prosthetics for the boy. The boy could only move by scooting along, his jeans well-worn and dirtied from how he had to go.

"How'd you lose your leg?" The boy asks, and Garma is confused, looking down at his jeans, unsure of how he had been found out. To all appearances he had both legs. The boy tilted his head back and forth, staring at his right leg.

Garma liked to consider he had been a man that was fast on the verbal draw: it was a necessity of, which he at least became a teenager, that he had been deemed worthy of being hounded by press for statements on the affairs of his family and Zeon. A damnable thing, that he had been harassed when left alone for something far grander than he could account for at thirteen, but he had his lot in life in that regard, and if Gihren had not been present to speak, he had to speak the line. So here and now, he had a proper answer for a curious child. "A big monster ate it up." A big, red, horrible monster, that is. The child seems to take it as a proper answer nodding along, but it was his turn to ask a question that dawned on him. "How'd you know?"

"I'unno." The boy muttered. "I just know." They explained innocently. "I lost my legs when a big rock fell on me!"

Garma cannot look away. "Is that so?" He said uneasily. The boy nodded with enthusiasm.

"Yeah! It came from space."

This boy's life was forever changed because of-

Because of the war.

Nothing more.

"Ryuichi!" A familiar voice. In from the doors that had led into the Conclave from the loading docks had been the form of Doctor Hale Candy, and when he says the name, the boy turns. "What did I tell you about coming out here to dirty places?" Candy cocked his arms at his hips, appearing in the door, not recognizing at first the man which stood beside Ryuichi as he approached. "This person isn't going to help you escape from your shots." In his hand had been a syringe of cortisone, meant for pain.

Candy had approached, and Garma wanted to take flight, but it was too late by the time Candy had come and looked from the boy who had pouted, grabbing upon Garma's leg in fright. "He can't help you-" Candy said with joviality as he had been known to when applying vaccinations and inoculations to those young, but it had turned to quiet shock as he closed the distance and saw a face beneath bandages. "What."

Garma licked his lips as the boy hid behind his leg. "Hello, Doctor Candy…" Candy had struggled to speak as before him stood a man.

"Wh- what did you do to Mai." The syringe in his hand had been of threat more, but Garma had taken a sharp intake of breath. Any assumption that he had been out here it seemed without Mai had only meant something for her.

"She's fine." He nodded, gesturing at Gearten's prefab and the back of her head seen through shuttered windows. Candy had turned, and saw her, and in that a great square to his shoulders settled. "I'm just trying to make myself useful, while I can. Cabin fever is its own ailment."

Candy's face had tightened along its older lines, the great beard that had put him in the league of Santa Clause or Marx well kept, trimmed, hiding his mouth from the way he had bit his lip and tensed his jaw in consideration. "Is that so, Mister…?"

"Garfield. As I am now, my name is Garfield Sune." The more he spoke it, more it settled within him, for what good it did: taking a name he used to lie on, and a name he had stolen, together. Ryuichi had held onto his leg harder as he spoke his name.

"Mister Garfield. That needle will hurt." The boy explained in a low whine, a low fear.

The unspoken conflict between Garma and Candy was let down as they attended to who was, and had been, in the crossfire of that war that had gotten down, even to him. Garma had turned, putting his hand along Ryuichi's back calmly as he kneeled. Earthnoid parents had very rarely let him interact with their children as they passed by in parades or functions, and in Zeon, security presence had not availed him opportunities to interact with the young. He had hoped he had been a passable adult though, to this child who had suffered beyond years. "Well, Ryuichi, I think Doctor Candy here is doing as he is because, if you don't take it, it will hurt a lot more later." Eye level with the child, the child could not hold his eyes and looked down to the floor as they sat, the two nubs of what once were his legs pressing against folded jeans that he had worn himself.

"I don't want to hurt." The boy said quietly, and soon it was Candy kneeling as well, any discomfort that the good doctor had put away as, side by side, they spoke to him.

"Ryuichi. You've done this before." He had put the needle away for now and spoke softly. "You're a very strong and brave boy, and after this, Gearten, I'm sure, will take you up to the roof to go play with the chickens."

"Yes," Garma had followed up from Candy. "I wish I was playing with chickens right now. I'm quite envious of you."

There is silence between all three of them as the boy considers his words, considering chickens.

"One chicken is named Marybelle." He finally says.

"Oh yeah?" Garma goads on but knows not what he invites.

"Ryuichi-" Candy had tried to stop the boy.

"Mm." Ryuichi nodded. "She's named after my Mom."

"Oh, I'm sure she's quite pleased with that."

"My Mom is dead, Mister Garfield." Ryuichi had said with as much of a tenor as saying the color of the sky. Ryuichi, and all those young like him, did not know how to speak with the weight that it deserved.

(His parents are both gone).

In this, for Candy, it is enough, but Garma lingers, patting the boy's shoulder softly. "My mother… she's-" She was gone when he was born, and no memory exists of Naliss Zabi née Leitler in him. He knows not of any grandparents, or any distant relations that came from his mother's side. She had existed only to birth him, and after that, she disappeared from the world both forwards and backwards and all that remained of her, was him, and the middle name he bore that was in honor. "My mother is in heaven, too, and I think she would appreciate it still if I named her after something as cute as a chicken."

Garma Zabi had a mother, and that is something that Doctor Candy had realized as Garma's hand slid off the boy and the boy took solace in his words. "You think so?" Ryuichi asked, and Garma nodded once.

"Of course." He said it once, and then repeated. "Of course. Marybelle is waiting for you Ryuichi, so, get that shot, hm? In fact, I'll, I'll get a shot right here with you." Garma knows not why and how he would go about it, but he does, rolling up the sleeve of his right arm, disrobing himself of the canvas jacket. Here, he shows his wounds, his scars, and the boy is mystified and entranced and so is Candy. Good officers led by example, and here he had been a good officer still, his eyes locking with Candy in silent pleading, he offered up, his burnt arm now that like topographic maps in how they have worn over in medicated ointment and natural healing, still like jerky, pale and darkened splotches coloring it all. "Now you see, if I can take it on my arm, you can take it on your perfectly good one, don't you think?"

The boy, considerate as children are, nods silently as they both look to Candy for his part to play. He can feign the inoculation, let the needle pull into the syringe as opposed to actually inoculating, but in this role of farce he plays, he takes to Garma's body again in false procedure. As he had done thousands of times, Candy approximated where muscle is on Garma's arm, making a show, pressing his fingers on the site before he popped the cap of the syringe. All Garma can do is smile at the boy.

"Alright, I'm doing it." In practiced trick, Candy puts the head of the needle upon his arm, pulling the body of it forward while pulling the plunger back. The nub of the syringe sinks into him, and as far as the boy can tell, Garma too has gotten a shot.

It's over in a handful of seconds, and Garma, for his efforts as he rolls his sleeve down quickly, gives the boy a meaningful thumbs up. "Now your turn."

"Oh- okay." With a trepidation and a huff, Ryuichi sits and does the same, rolling his arm up as Candy wipes down the needle point quickly.

Garma doesn't know what he needs the solution in the syringe for, but it doesn't matter. Not as, idly, a hand of his reaches out to the arm getting used, and Ryuichi naturally holds his palm. His hands were small, and they were dirty, but they were young. This boy had been through worse, and as the needle found a home on his skin, he had been reminded of it as Candy gave the boy a real shot.

It was over in that same handful of seconds, Ryuichi looking away and Candy quick to draw a bandage from his pocket to put upon the site. "See?" Doctor Candy nodded at the boy. "All done."

The doors open to the prefab, and Gearten and Mai both emerge red in the face and poison on their tongues. Their command arguments are always fruitful, but they are both strong people believing in their theories.

Gearten, as he lived, thought to stand strong and still just as the many winters he had experienced in his woods taught him.

Mai on the other hand, Spacenoid as she is, advised a more proactive approach. Neither happens that day, but any further discussion is shelved as her time here is done today, and both of them emerge to a sight unexpected: Garma holding a boy's hand, and Candy by them both.

"Garfield." Mai is frozen by Gearten stuck in the doorway, both of them paused by the sight.

"Dear Mai."

Gearten unfreezes first, walking with a contained burst over to Ryuichi's side. "Doctor Candy?" He asks. "Ryu, buddy." Looking over to Ryuichi before taking him away from Garma into his arms, the connection between boy and prince of Zeon severed. Gearten had seized him as if Garma had been diseased, and for all that it mattered he might has well have been.

"Mister Garfield says Marybelle is a good name for a chicken." Ryuichi spoke to Gearten's face, and, if there was any danger, Candy did not pass on its warnings to him, or to Mai, her footsteps quiet as she approached them both. Gearten did not know how to respond directly to Garma, but nothing was good enough as he nodded to himself, looking to all those who stood, and excusing himself with the boy in his arms. "Well, let's go visit them, shall we?"

"Bye, Mister Garfield." The boy had said with a wave as Gearten moved into the Conclave quickly. If he had warned Ryuichi to never speak to "Mister Garfield" again, no one there would have heard.

"I'm sorry, Doc." Mai's apology is fast, and her hand is on Garma's side in seizing, but before Garma can wince in pain, Candy had shuttered, shaking his head.

"No trouble at all, Mai… Garfield was, is- That was fine. What he did. He helped me." Candy had trouble forming into words, genuine thanks being beat back in the cloud of skepticism. "What is he doing here, Mai?" As if he had not been there, Garma again receded to his place as intended: a witness only.

He knows her by now, the way she pivots between annoyance, between pain, between tolerance, and something more between them. She is his to navigate, and the waters now are unpredictable as her hand holds him there. All he can do is hold his head straight and true for what he did (which was, in a perfect world, nothing at all).

"Making him useful, for as long as he's on this Earth with me." She grated, but she had been unable to look at him. "Make him see what he's done, first hand, too."

"Is that so?" Candy asks, his hands pocketed.


"I'm sorry." Garma stirs, blurts, and then speaks no longer, looking at Candy, even with his head tilted down.

Candy's hand brushes his beard, his neck exposed. Garma's eyes linger, and for a moment, he is taken out of it by an errant observation.

"No." Candy denies. No one is in hearing distance, and they could speak his real name, but they do not even risk that, for all that the risk already exists with his existence here beneath bandages. "It's fine. It really is."

"Is it, Doc?" Mai had pressed, and her hand had squeezed his numb side tighter.

"Do you even know what he did, Mai?"

"No, but-."

"He helped Ryuichi Lang, you know, one of the orphans. Truly, he did." In Garma's heart is pride, simple pride to be recognized. In Mai's heart however, confliction. "Why is he really out here, Mai?"

Mai had told Garma and Gearten why: so he could see what was done, but not all reasons are complete within themselves, and Mai had always been chimerical in nature and in reasoning. Doctor Candy knew the truths of Mai deeper than perhaps even herself. The man had seen Mai before all of this, on the worst day of her life. If any in all the stars knew Mai at her barest, it was he, and he had seen through perhaps the indignation pressed upon her, by herself, and by the circumstances of the man that stood next to her.

She answers after a long silence.

Not to shame, not to let him see what he had done, though that had been part of it. No, she wanted him on the ground, following her, so that he would, in some aspect, become as she did.

"We're Spacenoids." She speaks. "To return to Earth is demeaning, and I want him to be as demeaned as I was, being here." She, who came here to hide, and he, who came here to die.

And it is Candy, who looks to him, and then to her, and then to him again that says this: "He does not look very demeaned, Mai Gul." Nor would his pride allow him to be, but that's not what Mai wants. By habit alone he leans his head over to allow his peripheral to see her, but his eye on that side is dead, and all he sees is the splotch of her before turning his head down. "What are you really doing with Mister Zabi?"

If Mai answers, none can hear, standing there in silence as her fists curl and she looks away after precious seconds.

She takes Garma's wrist, and, in that moment, he believes that his time is finally here, and that Mai has gotten to her senses. This was it.

But that wasn't so as Candy was left behind, and they walked that long path back to their apartment in the Elysian Condos tracing the long path of ruined streets in silence, she did not let go of his wrist until the building was in sight. After that long, Garma wants to ask the same question of her as well, but in all earnestly, another is more prescient for him, one that he asks as they round themselves up half-way up to the fortieth floor. It's a question he asks because of the child. Because of all like him, on Earth, and in Space.

He had been given back his leg, so why not his life?

He looks up at her as they walk up to the thirtieth floor, and he speaks:

"Mai, I want to live."

She stops at the top of those stairs, unturning, but frozen, hearing it, her rifle strapped across her back. Of all the ways she expected him to try for his life, this way: quiet, simple, was not what she had wanted. She turned over, looking over her shoulder. She knows what he said, and her eyes do not betray that they are looking straight into him. He freezes, stuck on the steps below, but his heart is not caught in his chest, and the words flow freely:

"I want to live." He says again.

There are many absurdities between them. The fact that they had gone to war years ago as cadets, that she, as a teenager, had shot dead dozens of Federation troops and he had been the prince that ordered her to do so. The fact that she had come to Earth to hide from its rulers; the circumstances of his life that made him a warrior prince and came to the Earth to liberate. The astronomical coincidence that, when he fell in battle, that it was she, and no one else of the billions who lived on Earth that found him.

Perhaps most absurd was the fact that she had brought him back to life, all to just kill him when he had been healthy.

To Garma, he was not sure how much healthier he could be, given the circumstances, and in any case, that definition was up to her to find. If her wish to kill him then was true, then he was going to be killed soon. If he was to be dead anyway, then there was no harm in just asking, saying outright, simply, that he did not want to die.

He knows why she would kill him, but so too, if he could, let her know why she shouldn't.

"I don't care." She says down to him.

"I've seen them before, you know. The people of the Conclave." His hand holds the railing tight, and his memories bring him back to when this war started. Before he came to Earth, the campaign of Loum that brought him to the colonies there had been his first taste of command proper since the rebellion. He had been in charge of the ridding the Federation garrisons there, and that had been expected. What he didn't expect was the efforts afterwards to stabilize the survivors and the civilians. For every hour of battle there had been days of recovery, where his troops would pick through the rubble and bring up the survivors, both Federation and civilian.

For every battle, there had been its aftermath, and as had it been in Loum, it had been on Earth as well. "Both in space, and on Earth, I've seen them. In every city we liberated from the Federation, in every colony. It's the same suffering."

"Garma." She says his name, to urge him to stop. His words are honeyed, and his words are imbued with the weight as imbued with him for his blood as a Zabi. She knows the dangers of his words because they are the words of the family that Zeon Deikun entrusted Spacenoids with. "If you've known since day one, you never stopped, and that's worse."

"There was no time for me to do so." He said, and his words are tense, but they are true in themselves. "We were at war. I… In this time here, with you, seeing them, it's provided me a certain clarity that maybe I've… overlooked."

He knows the Human cost of war, the innocent that got caught up in its storm. This, here, in Seattle did not reveal as much as it brought it to him. He had now been caught in a crossfire: betrayed by Char Aznable for reasons beyond him, but assuredly a part of a conflict that had been out there.

A scoff out of her mouth as she turns away, pushing up, pushing forward. "You want to not die, pick up a gun and we'll see what happens."

"Mai." He protests, and he follows her up. She does not run away, however. Not from him. Her eyes are shaded beneath the dark green boonie hat and the white of her eyes cut into him. "I have remembered more than anything what I'm fighting for now. I petition you, for this, for my survival."

"Which is what?" It's more scowl than word.

"For you." He says once, and then quickly follows up. "For that child, Ryuichi, for all those unjustly put upon both both the Federation and my disingenuous commanders. For my fiancé, whom I have missed greatly, and realize that I would live for her greater than I ever could than before I was shot down… and, for all of those unborn."

Her hands, they move on their own, but in a snap she stops them from going at his neck. He sees this as she resets, pulling back, putting herself down as she hides her eyes beneath her boonie. "No. It's too late for all of that. All you can do is die for me- be killed, by me."

It hardly affects him, not as he gets up to her level, the closest he can to standing eye to eye with her. "Mai. I must survive, because otherwise Spacenoids are finished." He pauses, considering it more, considering who all those at the Conclave were. "Otherwise, everyone is finished."

In his restless dreams, he hears a voice, someone's voice, and then his own. He has to change. As for what, he does not know, but the world would be a good start.

"If you kill me," he looks at her, in her face, and she flinches. "You'd be ridding the world of someone like me, who would give it a better chance than the Earth Federation."

"What can you do?" she says lowly, a growl in her voice. "What could you have possibly done that you haven't done in a year already?"

She asks him, she doesn't deny, she doesn't immediately gun him down then and there for asking.

She asks, and Garma wasn't prepared for it. He wasn't expecting to be given a choice.

"I don't suppose fight harder would be an acceptable answer to you?" He answers, and the strength in his breath is down. He hadn't realized it was up, speaking from that familiar part of him that was reserved for grand audiences, grand people. He spoke to her as if she had been equal to them, and he hadn't quite believed that was what she wanted.

She scrunched her nose, turning away, going to the railing and looking out upon the inner cavity of their home. "Everyone thinks you're dead, Garma, you won't be able to do anything."

"But I have to do something." He stressed with his words, and he joined her at the railing. "I have more people to fight for now."

"You've put down in the ground more than you could ever know. More than you could ever make up for."

"Does that not mean that someone shouldn't fight for those who live on?"

"Garma-!" She barked, turning to him. "You can be a saint for the rest of your damn life, but you tell that to the billions dead already! You tell that to my baby!" She doesn't speak of her child often, directly, to utter the words of what she lost instead of the vague abstraction that she had suffered a loss so complete it had ended her life. When she does say that word, baby, her voice cracks, as does a part of her composure. "You can't even admit that you did that."

But if he admitted that, what she would do was justified, said out there, now existent in the world and the air between them.

"I can't let you live, because the dead are owed something." She told him, and her eyes dipped below the brim of the shape of her hat. Of all the calls of her life, only one remains, and it sounds of him.

"I thought I was alive only because I owed something to you."

She breaths out, deeply, coldly. Him being alive was as she was designed: only because of her. The responsibility of it was not something she took easily, but it was all means to ends; his end, specifically. "What you've taken from me, you can never make up for. The least I can do is just do it."

"Tell me, then, you, of all people, tell me what you think I should do."


"Impossible. I can't do nothing."

She clarified, specified, "You can sit your ass in my apartment, and wait like a good house guest." Her eye twitched. "Isn't any time at all better than none for you?"

Caged birds at least had an audience to sing to, and here in that place, he was already dead. He shook his head once. "If you were to die, if I did what you wanted you and fought for my life and I won, as you lay dying, Mai Gul, what would you want me to do. Please, tell me. I trust you, as I did once, and always will." The way he talks, the way he was raised, she is sick of it, but it beheld within it a power to his own source. This was a learned man, a man of royal decree on his holy crusade that, in every other world, in every other life, she had followed. And here he is, asking her, one to one. This man who commanded hundreds of thousands and held the hearts of millions more, asks her, for what he shall do. This man, who mattered far more than she ever would in every reading of history for as long as there was a Mankind, beholds himself to her on his destiny. Yet she had already revealed this, his destiny was, to her, to be ruinous. He speaks like a man who was speaking to History, not the woman before him.

No answer comes from her immediately, and he looks up at her unblinking until his eyes dry and nearly tears come out. In his dead eye, the bringing of tears gives pain, but he does not flinch.

"You, more than anyone, both in position and place, can tell me what I need to do, can't you?" He asks, and his hands fold into each other. He was asking not only for this life, but for what to do.

"Who do you think I am?" She asks instead, and there is scorn. "Stop this nonsense, come upstairs, or I'm locking the door behind me."

If she thinks the move to turn away would urge him to come with, it does not, and she knows it, keeping her eyes on him as she moves across the threshold to the lip of the next flight of stairs, but he does not budge, not as he curls his fists, and looks down.

"I'm leaving."


"You won't kill me, but you won't tell me what to do. I'm leaving, and I'll go east. On my own. Maybe I'll die, maybe I'll live, but I'll show you, I'll show you that things will be better."

The way her rifle slides along her back by its sling into her hands is practiced, slick, and louder than words. Louder still is her racking the bolt back. He freezes, not out of fear, halfway down those stairs and up at the visage he knew would perhaps be the end of his life anyway:

She stands there, looking down on him, her rifle tucked into her shoulder and the bore of it aimed down, right through his heart. She knows the point of her shot, and she won't miss. Not here, not this close, not with this target.

She's waited for so long, so why not today?

Why not today?

She wonders how he'll die, or how he'll, at the very least, react to being shot. Will he fall silently? Or will he be gasping for air the entire time? Will he not know he's died until his body gives out beneath him?

All he does is stare up at her. They wait, they are still in the world.

"You go out those doors alone, try and get your way out of Seattle, you'll be dead in a week. Maybe even by nightfall."

"And you are my safety from this?"

"When I kill you, it's going to be clean, it's going to relatively painless."

"So, you're not really going to pull the trigger now, are you?"

It would be a shame, after all this time with him, if this was how he decided to go out: on this rebellious whim. But this was his pull, and she had to pull back.

She always wondered what it would sound like if her rifle was fired in doors like this, and Garma had always wondered, in his more private thoughts, what a Federation firing squad would sound like on the receiving end. Both discover what the sound is like as Mai jerks her rifle off to the side with hardly half a second's notice, and she pulls the trigger.

He knows what her rifle sounds like. It's thunder and lightning, deep glass breaking; an audible kick to his bones. He knows it well now, having come with her in her hunting expeditions, having been there when she had taken those shots not too different from how she killed those of Zeon. But to be in front of her, firing that rifle, his heart had seized and in his mind alone did he see it all go black. There was no muzzle flash. Not like he thought he'd see, just the sound alone, the crack of a gunshot so close, so violently, he did not know where it passed.

She had shot him, he had sworn it, and the yelp in his throat follows the gunshot and it takes his body the rest of the way down the stairs in a tumble. The pain of his body tumbling down those stairs seems so small compared to the reckoning within him that he had just been shot with her rifle, with such a powerful cartridge there would've most likely been a cavity blown out his back and he had been moments away from the forever void.

When he settles with a crash against the mid-turn of the stairs, his back against railing, he screams, patting down his own body with such wild abandon that he had for that moment been crazed. Finding not the hole in his front, his hands go to his back, but he is stopped as she yells at him downward:

"Garma!" She shouts, long after he stops panting, patting his body down and assuring himself that he hadn't been shot. "I don't like fucking wasting ammo! The next one won't miss!"

"Come with me!" He pivots himself on with his arms, and he had hardly noticed that his leg had been left behind. He almost makes the mistake of standing again, but he stumbles instead, up against the railing. "Please, Mai Gul, come with me. I'm sure to still have friends within Zeon, and if not that, in New York City, Icelina- my fiancé, she can help us."

On that night, a long time ago, the word came down in her dorm from an older classmate, one year above her, banging on the doors that evening having been alerted by Garma that it had been time to "teach the Feddies not to mess with Spacenoids". She had risen immediately, putting on her field gear as dozens of the other female cadets went on, as the rest watched on as those who dared went on. If there were any doubts, any personal rebellious thoughts against those who rebelled, none had said a word. Whatever the plan that Cadet Garma Zabi had formulated, there was no doubt in him, and no doubt of what they were about to do.

They were all soldiers then.

Garma calls upon one of them now; one of his first, to go and fight for him again.

Instead, she gives him his own means: Out chasing down him on the stairs is that same pistol she had, again and again, offered to him, pointed to him, as a dare, a challenge, for his life. She throws it at him, and it impacts his chest with a hard thud. The miracle it hasn't gone off apparent between both of them as it clatters down to the floor. He looks down to it, its shape burning a hole in the carpet below, and then back up to her, her eyes, burning into him.

"I don't want to fight you, Mai."

"You don't have a god damn choice."

"I do."

"Not really." She racks her bolt, ejecting hot brass and loading in cold lead.

"You have me dead to rights. I don't have a choice."

She snarls in her breath, "You say that you living matters! So fight for it! If you think that you can do anything to put us on a better way, then do it. Pick up that gun and kill me if that's what you really fucking think!"

He would've done anything for Icelina, this, in midnight pillow talk, he had told her many times, and meant it true. He would've cast asides Zeon, and destroyed all of his enemies if it meant living a life with her, that was a good and honest life. The thought of killing a comrade, a fellow Spacenoid, one that had been a part of his very ferment, was not of those paths he foresaw.

He could not have foreseen any of what had happened to him.

"Pick it up." She tells him, gesturing with her rifle at her pistol.

"I won't. Not against you."

"Pick it up."

"Mai Gul."

"Pick it up!" He stays silent and still then, his mouth closed into a thin like as he straightens his back, his leg cast asides up a few steps, and left only standing on one alone. In that interior space of muted colors, daylight filtering in from above, it is cold, and the particles of dust that flow out errantly in that great cavern have again taken their perpetual float from the concussion of Mai's gunshot, and her yelling. His fists curl, and so does her trigger finger, slowly.

"I know you can kill me," he says, hard as stone. "And that you may very well do so, but I also know that, if nothing else, you can tell me what I can do to avoid it. Is that not fair of me to ask? Even if it is an impossible thing."

"I can't tell you shit."

"Yes, you can. You, of all people, can." She, who had known him before, and known him after. Who stood for him, against him, and lost because of him. He knew that if there was a judgement, it would've very much been from someone like her. "If you think myself guilty of everything that has happened to you, then what, my judge, my jury, my executioner, do you think I can do?"

"Die." Her words were more like feral sounds.

"We all die, Mai." He narrowed his eyes at her. "I can do more. And you know it so."

Conviction, belief. It drips from his teeth, and it melts her. How dare he, of all people, broken and burned, still stand as he does, talk as he does. The fire in her mind is like the fires that surrounded Seattle as the colony dropped and poured its debris on the Pacific North West, Hell itself visiting on its way to Sydney. He spoke with his grace, to a woman who had all of hers taken away, and if he spoke of that level, she wanted to drag him down. So, she went there, descending down those steps like the cryptic beast that Seattle called her. Her footsteps don't make a sound, but she moves with such presence and smoothness that Garma doesn't see her as Human until she is upon him, on the floor, mounted on his stomach as her hands roam up to his neck. She holds his neck with her hands, but does not press down, not yet. Again, as she had found her, she had done this before as well, holding him like this.

"How easy it must be for you, who has been held for all of his life in victory, to think that's all that awaits you out there." She spits at him, she barks, she yells down those stairs. "There's no victory out there for you! Not for any of us Spacenoids!" Her voice is hoarse, and she yells out what they are. "This world was never made for us! We're not supposed to be down here!"

I want him to be as demeaned as I was, being here.

There is no promise in Mai's voice, no resolution. Only her pain. "You think that there is a way to fix any of this?! You think that- that- that-" She stutters, her rifle had been tossed to the ground in her flight as her boonie hat goes with it, following down those steps. "You think that there is a world that is right, waiting for us out there?! Do you think that you can bring us there?"

She lets him speak, only her touch on his throat, the pressure of her on his midsection, is there. She does not stop him. "Not alone." He says just enough so his throat can move and feel her fingers on the skin of his neck, both on his scars, and the skin of it that has been spared from the burns. "Could you not really imagine yourself the same as my other officers? Could you not, had history turned out a certain way, be in my position? We are the same. We are Spacenoids."

They are the same, he supposes, and the fire in her burns her down, right down to her cold core. She wishes that her fingers could let him know what she feels, but she can't bring herself to close her fingers and put that pressure that she has not felt in years on his neck. So, he looks up at her, her hands around his neck, as she breaks down and reforms herself before him. His right hand rises, putting itself on the side of her right knee, and he too grips her there.

"Just because we breath the same air, shit the same shit, the fact that the both of us were born in space… it doesn't mean anything to me anymore. Those are excuses. At the end of the day, it boils down to me, or them, or you." She chose herself, even after all this time. Or rather, she chose their deaths. "I'm choosing you to die, so I can live with myself."

Garma knows lies, he was surrounded by them, and a liar had sentenced him to death. When Mai Gul lies, it is a lie about her life, and it hurts him to see her do so.

"But is that what you think is right?" He whispers up.

The average population as designed by the Colony Corporation for many "open" colonies had been one million people, with provisions to up to three million, however by UC 0079 many colonies had ballooned to populations upwards of ten million per. In Side 3, and the closed-type colonies there that both had called their homeland, ten million had been the standard, and of all Zeon, three hundred million people lived in its 40 colony cylinders. Over nine billion Human beings had called the Sides their homes, and in that year half of them had been killed, both on Earth, and in space above.

How many bloodlines lost? All Mai Gul had known was that hers was among them, and all of them could be pinned on many shoulders in Zeon. From the naval captains to the logistics crew to the lawyers and the bureaucrats and the sympathizers. But of those people who bore the burden of this war, Garma Zabi was burdened with more than most. He was, in the end, a Zabi.

"My father told me something once, during the Battle of Loum." He's quiet- quiet because he knows she can hear him, or rather, knows that she is the only one who might ever hear him again. "In this world, there are those whose deaths do not matter, and to those whom death is not permitted."

To whom he refers, to what he can apply that to, the anger that ignites in Mai as she bears down on him. "You piece of shit."

"No. Wait!" Her fingers dig into his flesh and she is just short of choking him. "I never agreed with it! This I swear to you!" The hand on her knee squeezes and another goes to his neck, wedging his fingers beneath her own as he speaks. "The technicalities of war! The systematic viewpoint of it! I detest it! I do! I really do!" And he fights. He really fights, hands clawing at her fingers. This is the first time he fights, and it surprises Mai, gives her pause, enough that she doesn't catch his one remaining foot catch her midsection and send her back in a kick. It's a kick that she had not thought he had the strength to do, but it's one that sends her to the stairs behind her. It makes the back of her jacket dirty all over as the angle prints itself along her back painfully before she slides down again. Her rib had only just recently healed and there is a piercing pain that goes through her like a memory. Peering through her legs on her back, there's nothing but horror on Garma's face. She knows why: She might've killed him for it. She might as well.

He saves himself by fighting still, not by force, but by word, his mind moving faster than his mouth as he almost spits trying to get words to flow.

"Victory defeated me!" She's up on one knee as he screams that at her. That word that she spoke: Victory.

Another thing his father told him: To be wary of being brash, and yet- he had been.

"Victory!" He spits out, and he crawls, pivots towards her, and again it surprises her as he does. What is he doing? "I know you know what it feels like! How it carries the Human spirit beyond what it should, it drove me- it drove Zeon forward!"


"We tasted what victory was like against the Federation and we saw an end, our freedom and liberty and it tasted so sweet that we forgot what it costed-" He is at her feet, fists curled, head almost on the ground. Prostration is not a form she would think Garma Zabi knows, and yet here he is, doing it for her, his voice run ragged, yelling a truth from within himself. "I've lost because of victory, and each loss became acceptable!"

Loum was sickly sweet: the cleanup operation in the local colony clusters was nothing but an affirmation toward the superiority of Zeon and its military. His Zakus and airborne forces making waste of the Federation-aligned forces there. It brought him his promotion to colonel, and the confidence that truly, on the ground, Earth would've been a cakewalk, only set aside by circumstantial setbacks that were easily accounted for.

And yet…

"In the name of victory, in the name of not being outdone by anyone, I lost sight of it: war and its tragedy! I beg you, please understand that I know what it means to lose!" Dozens, then hundreds, then thousands. Names became numbers, and those numbers became attached to battles. Analysts would tell him expected and accepted casualties, and he would think no further down of how those numbers were made because in the end it was all in the name of victory. Finally, in that night on October, failure came to him in the form of a man he had once held dear laughing misfortune at him."I know now that our mission on Earth was a false mission! And what we are here to do is meant for something else!"

Victory was his enemy, and when defeat came, it came from a place Garma could never anticipate. Complacency undid him.

"I know not how you feel, I know why you want to kill me, but I know what it means to lose, and I know that I have so much more to work for. If I can do nothing else, then at least let me mourn, and in mourning, I can find what I can do on my own."

Mai rises as his words become pants, and she, breathless, stands over him. Her pistol is picked up in her hand from its place on the floor, and she looks down at him, on him.

In his mind, he's back in the Academy, looking up at the one who found him: Char. His leg is broken, and he cannot move, stuck beneath the weight of his gear and the rain. How pathetic he must look- it made him wish for death, and, just for a moment, he thought Char was going to deliver as ordered. Years later and that look follows him on the face of Mai Gul. And just as it had been then, with Char plunging a stick downwards, seemingly at him, he had discovered he'd rather live.

He still does.

Her face is unreadable, her eyes deeply set in their sockets, but he knows them, he knows the small quiver in her lip, the slight narrowing of her eyelids down on him. The metal weight in her hand is heavier than a brick of gold, and she cannot move it in any way that matters.

In this man, Mai knows, lay a cauldron that can suffer, just as she had. Perhaps inaction, keeping him alive, was enough of momentary penance, but she would never let him know that. She would also never let him know that within him was the very frank, very stark possibility, that he was a good man.

Good enough to help a child take a medical shot.

How she wished that had been her instead, in his place, helping a child.

Of all the way she could put upon him right now, it is her turn to surprise him, for she reaches down, and he closes his eyes in reactionary fear. What he gets instead is a support, coming beneath his arms, across his back, and he is hauled up. She can't quite look at him in the face, and he doesn't let her find her eyes as he often does as she plops him down at the top of the steps, and she gathers his leg, her guns, and her boonie hat. She is silent as she holsters her pistol and then slung her rifle around, bundling up her boonie in her hands before stuffing it into a pocket as, for the first time, she held his prosthetic leg. It's light, and not damaged from his tumble. Without speaking, she kneels before him on a step below as he wordlessly settles, letting him roll up his pant leg until he had gotten to his stump, covered by a sleeve that she had motioned for him to move up. He does, letting her angle the leg onto the appendage, roughly rolling his sleeve back down before they both rise up. It is by the step difference that he stands eye to eye with her.

"Don't bring this up again. Any of it."

"But Mai-"

"Please." She begs him, her hands move onto him again, curling at his collar tight, and even though she looks down upon him, she cannot stare. "Either gun up, or just… let it happen." She holds him close, tight, and for his effort, he rises his hands up and grabs both of her wrist, to either release him of her, or to simply anchor her, he does not know.

This is the volume of their pillow talk he falls into, soft and gentle, but carrying words with such weight it's like iron on his tongue. "I think, deep down somewhere-"

"Don't talk- don't say it."

She says, and he can infer what her asks of him are, to not speak a specific set of words in her mind that she must know are coming. If the words are what he believes, then it is merely an extension of what she admitted earlier: They are Spacenoids both, and what that meant was… She questioned, the other day, on the hypocrisy of his family acting and being treated like royals, and he had answered that it was because of the people that they championed wanting it. But she was still correct in her skepticism too. It would be hypocrisy if the Zabis did not, in some measure, represent the will of the people.

She had been of that people once.

Once, long ago, and he knew it true, Mai Gul believed in him.

Perhaps she still did, in some part of her soul, now taken by gravity.

He lets go of her wrists, and all their arms fall to their side.

He can't leave her. He really shouldn't. For many reasons.

"I'm going to kill you, Garma." And this is the quietest she's ever said it, she looking down on him, but her eyes beyond. He pursed his lips, looking back up at eyes that were lost, that couldn't bear looking at him. With one small nod back, he affirms her, but even it is an answer he no longer believes as absolute.

His life was not yet absolute in its destination, and for that, he could hold his shoulders high, passing her by. He had almost begun to climb up without her, but as he raised his prosthetic leg to take that first step, it did not feel right. She had always been the one leading him here on these days out. All he can do now is wait for her. As he should've, for any and all those who came with him into the dawn.

He left her behind once. She had given up everything for him, for the cause of Spacenoids, and she had been left behind for it. Had he had known then he would've fought a war for her even if she had been a stranger. Nothing had changed then, and he had fought a war for his stranger brethren and sisters for all of Space in that time. If he returned to the war, he would fight it stronger still. For a second chance of life that would be given, for Icelina, for his father, and for her, Mai Gul.

He waited for her, and when she moved again, she moved like a ghost.

He followed.

At night, even in their turmoil, they still tangle with each other for warmth.

Two-past midnight, she groans into his chest, toward his heart. "I don't understand you."

Whether or not he is able to hear it, she doesn't care. It was enough for her, and then she passed out.