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A Going Concern

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Don't laugh, Garma says, the men are watching.
Someone's always watching, Char wants to tell him. He doesn't need to look around the bridge to know. It's been like that for a while now. Surely even someone like Garma must be aware.

Long gone are the days when they were shielded from the eyes of others. Tucked away, far on some distant corner, are Garma's hands trembling above his own, clinging, pleading, inside the room they used to share when they were best friends. Sometimes even Char forgot it wasn't true. Sometimes in that room they were neither Char nor Garma.

When Garma leaves Char behind to chase after the white demon and talks about how he does this to prove himself in the eyes of his sister, dear sister Kycilia, something Char would never understand, for a moment Char sees him as he saw him back then, a child trying too hard, falling asleep at his desk with his back uncovered in the cold of night, never really reaching the end.

In those moments he forgets things he shouldn't.

Garma comes find him at his hotel room while he's taking a shower, almost as if he'd planned to. He doesn't even seem surprised when Char turns on the video comm. How long has it been, he wonders idly, since Garma last entered a room and only the two of them were in it. He'd sometimes forget himself, focus only on Garma, as if they really were the only people, in that room, in that world. As if they were neither Char nor Garma and their lives could be long and peaceful and they'd die in their sleep, Zabi and Deikun and Zeon just names on the history books of some distant colony they might have never visited. And how long has it been since Garma pretended he'd barged in on Char in the shower by accident, bumbled his way through excuses and apologies, sneaking glances his way and never catching onto Char's grin, not any of its meanings.

Garma has the habit of clicking his tongue when he says Char's name. No one else says it like that, as if there were a secret T in there somewhere. Char's thinking of it, of the first time he noticed Garma did so, when he walks out of the bathroom, towel over his head, and Garma says: Let's have some fun. No longer bumbling or stuttering or looking away.

I'll kill him soon enough, he'd thought to himself the first time he noticed the strange way his name sounded on Garma's voice, like no one else's. Told himself the same thing once he'd gotten to hear it repeatedly, echoing against the walls of that cramped room of theirs. I'll definitely kill him, he kept thinking, having heard his name whispered too many times to keep count, as he walked towards Garma, standing there by their bunk beds, and pulled him close by the arm, holding onto his forearm so brusquely he was sure it'd bruise. Garma probably liked that, it was what he deserved. But he forgot all about it, and himself and his goal and other things he couldn't possibly recall, when Garma's thigh was between his legs, when he awkwardly tried for an open kiss, closing his eyes as if he trusted Char completely, arms around Char's waist, body leaning against Char's. He'd hated it, he told himself later, lying on his side, back turned away from Garma in the lower bunk, hated it as much as he hated wrapping Garma's sleeping form in blankets, having helped him finish his mission despite a broken leg, forgetting how much he had to wish for Garma's death.

At some point wrapped in the coils of days and months and years separating them from that first kiss at the academy and the room where there were no names and they died in their sleep in their old age, his thought had curled and folded. It'd suddenly gone from the urgency of killing to the wish of sparing Garma the grief and mourning of his siblings and father by killing him first and then had warped itself into saving his death for last, later much later when he finally deserved it, if only because he wanted to see what'd become of a Garma who'd lost all his precious loved ones. What would he had done if he'd been the one in Char's shoes. In Casval's.

Probably nothing.

It's probably nothing he thinks when Icelina comes into view. Trust Garma to find romance in the midst of conflict, it's happened before, and Icelina's probably just a distraction. Another one. Not thirty minutes earlier, Char was straddling Garma on the couch of his hotel room, Garma's gloved hands sliding down Char's spine, soft and smooth, before Char had mumbled into Garma's mouth Take them off, rough and low. His hands don't tremble anymore when they touch Char, fingers pressed against the curve of his back. He wonders if he used that expertise to charm her, if that's what did it. She's never seen him falter, doubt himself, curl up small in some corner out of where Char, only Char, can pull him. If it's you, surely, he'd whisper into Char's ears, clinging to his back, it can only be you.

You should know by now someone's always watching, Char wants to tell him, but Garma's so far, out on that balcony with Icelina in the middle of a pointless party, the middle of war, and he's making promises he has no place making, assuring her he'd cast away all of Zeon for her sake, the sister he's been trying so hard to prove himself to, and all the things Char has done for him, every single one of them, along with his name and status, all the things that tie him to Char. Just for her.

He'll forget himself and his goal and all his desires just for that. And in that moment he means it. He must believe it.

What a child, to let go of himself, even if just in the spur of the moment, to forget his real goal, the reason for his entire being, imagine another life of peace far away and shielded, just because he's fooled himself into somehow believing this is love, even if only for a moment.

The longer he lets this go on the harder it'll be to break it all off. He'll keep postponing it, over and over, clinging to the moment in which he said that because he believed it, until the lie doesn't hold up anymore. What'll he do then, when things fall into place.

The answer comes in the shape of a Trojan Horse. Over the line he can hear his name being said one last time in that peculiar way, the way he isn't going to miss, and hears the voice, that voice, burning, sizzling away along with all those moments and memories and all the things he forgot he shouldn't have. It's what Garma deserves.

He isn't planning on betraying himself later, as he watches the newscast over whiskey at some smokey bar, the kind Garma, the child that he was, would've pretended to love to impress him. Garma's portrait comes into view behind his brother Ghiren and Char isn't thinking about pretending to love. He's not thinking of anything at all.

And he isn't planning on betraying himself later still, when he launches a missile straight at dear sister Kycilia's masked face and promises Garma that's the last gift he'll ever give him, their parting memento, their valediction, when he sends with her, once more, all those moments he hasn't been clinging to, all those moments he burned on the funeral pyre that stalk his mind when he's alone in a room, which is too often and never often enough. He's never shielded from anyone's eyes anymore but at least he can turn his away from his own thoughts. They're barely memories now.

Later, much later, in a time he can hardly imagine ever happening, when he's become a parody of himself, old and weary, and the time he's known a ghost that comes to remind him of things that never happened, wrongs he never committed, is longer than the time he knew a living child with trembling hands who'd throw away himself and his goals and his life for a fleeting promise, he doesn't practice whispering his own name—not his own, really, not Casval's—as if there were a secret in there somewhere, listening to echoes of a life in which he was as naive and childish as Garma, stupid enough to cast aside all of himself for someone else. Someone who deserved it.