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In a Distant Life

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Lantis couldn't stay in Cephiro. After all that had happened - all that had been lost. After Eagle. He was glad that Cephiro had a new beginning, new hope - but it wasn't for him.

Why Geo took him, he never asked - if it was pity or guilt, or just an attempt to honour Eagle's memory, Lantis didn't want to know. But he accepted passage on the NSX, and an introduction to the people researching ways to stop Autozam's slow death - it seemed a worthy kind of penance, trying to help give life to the land Eagle had been trying to save. After all, it was Lantis's fault Eagle wasn't here to do it himself.

Years passed quickly on Autozam. The people didn't live so long, but they lived a lot in the time they had. Lantis didn't let anyone too close - he was too bruised, even if he had wanted to, to forge any kind of connection - and let the people move on around him while he became a fixture, slowly coaxing life into a small patch of dirt, a couple of plants that would have been considered weeds anywhere else. A few flowers, a straggly bush. One tiny, stunted tree, which was the biggest break through the project had had in more than a century.

Everything else flowed by without him caring to much. He lived in quarters he was allotted by the government in return for his service, ate in the canteen, walked the same three roads through the dome to his workplace every day. He fell into a pattern, let it take over; he didn't have to make anymore choices.

Until the morning a high-pitched, oddly familiar voice stopped him in his tracks, half-way to work, and he looked down at the boy who'd accosted him with "Hey, Mister, do I know you? You're real familiar", looked into eyes the wrong colour, but instantly recognisable all the same.

Lantis rocked back on his heels. He'd never asked Eagle what he believed would happen after death, but the look he was getting from this kid - in a school uniform, he couldn't be more than fourteen, maybe fifteen - well, it was Eagle all the same.

"I - don't believe we've met," he got out, half-choking on the lie, but what else could he say? 'Were you the person most important to me in your past life, or am I imagining him?' wasn't appropriate to ask anyone, least of all a kid.

"No, I think I knew you once, somehow," his accoster said, slowly, and Lantis stared at him, mesmerised by the familiar frown creasing his forehead.

He was saved any further interaction when a group of passing kids in the same uniform called out to this not-Eagle, and he turned away with one last suspicious look.

The next few months, Lantis hesitated and looked around every time he approached the same part of his walk - he saw the kid three times, and stepped out of sight every time, waiting until he had left.

A week after the last sighting, he made his checks and then set out to cross the road swiftly - and was accosted by a shout from behind and then a hand on his elbow, and looked down with slow sinking inevitably into the kid's terrifyingly familiar eyes. "I knew it," he said, with a certainty that never boded well for anyone. "You're avoiding me. That means you have to know me. You're going to tell me why."

"No," Lantis said, and pulled sharply away, walking as fast as he could - fleeing, really - his heart pounding and his head aching. (Or the other way around.)

His legs were long enough he managed to get away before he could be caught again, barrelling into the safe haven of the locked-down government complex where he worked.

He changed routes, after that, and then changed barracks too for good measure.

He felt bad even as he did it, but there were some things Lantis was not prepared to face. The school-aged possible reincarnation of the man who had meant more than he could explain asking him about his previous self's sacrifice to save Lantis was one of those things.

Maybe, he thought. Maybe, in twenty years, when he's older - maybe I could find him then.

He never got the chance. The news coverage of the fire down the street from the school building was everywhere, for week, and focused on the brave foolhardy child who had been passing, and run into the building with all the engines for the dome shielding in the area even as the fire spread, and had locked it down - saving a three mile radius from the explosion which would have occurred, but never making it out.

Maybe it wasn't him, Lantis tried to think, to believe. He didn't know if Eagle had even believed in reincarnation. The kid probably just recognised Lantis from the footage of the nature programme that went out to schools.

All the time those unyielding eyes stared down at him from the news screens he had not choice but to pass.

It was seventeen years before he met the next one - a little older, and he didn't accost Lantis, just gave him a strange look from further down the carriage for a two-hour journey by magnatrain.

Lantis didn't know what happened that time, but seven years later he was invited to the home of a college for a celebration of a recent break through, and their three-year old stared at him from behind a door most of the evening.

That time, he went to the funeral with the rest of the team.

It happened a fourth time, and a fifth - the oldest he met Eagle was nineteen in a military entry-level uniform, but he only made it to that age once.

Geo had kept in touch, through the years. He and Zazu had been touched a little too much by Cephiro, neither of them ageing as fast as they should; Zazu, in the excitable science-filled messages he dropped Lantis every few months, didn't seem to notice. Geo got in touch once or twice a year; they didn't say much to each other, the shrieking absence of Eagle too loud for either of them to break through, but Geo always seemed content Lantis was still there.

He didn't ever mention Eagle, and the possible delusions he was having. Not until the very end, when Zazu called and Lantis took a leave of absence to stay at the hospital for the end.

The doctors had no real idea what had finally given way - they were more confused Geo had lived this long (Over three times the normal lifespan. Twenty times Eagle's average.) than that old age was finally catching up with him. But he wasn't in any pain - he wasn't even in bad spirits, pleased to see Lantis and reminisce about the days before the invasion of Cephiro.

Lantis turned to stare out of the window, the day before Zazu's ship was due in. "Do you believe in reincarnation?" he blurted, suddenly, looking back at the bed.

Geo eyed him, eyes clearing from the vagueness that kept creeping in. "Why?" he asked, blunt and not, actually, answering.

"I keep meeting - people I think are - Eagle," Lantis confessed, pinned by the stare. "But they all keep dying before they reach twenty, and-"

Geo snorted, closing his eyes. "That sounds like the right twit," he said. "He's bound to get in trouble without us looking after him. Well, I'm taking a break before I start babysitting him again - you'll have to look after him yourself for a while."

"You really think it's -" him, Lantis would have said, but the influx of a set of nurses for the afternoon checks-and-pills interrupted, and that always wore Geo out, more and more each day. He didn't go back to it again, let Geo stay wandering in a happier past.

But afterwards - after the funeral, and he was so tired of funerals - after that, and the private wake he and Zazu held (and the day-long hangover from the wake, which he wholly deserved) he came to a decision.

The next time he met Eagle, he would do all he could to safeguard him from a distance, to make sure he got a chance to grow old.

Maybe, if he recognised Lantis still - maybe he would reward him for surviving into his twenties by letting him remember, letting him yell at Lantis for what happened in a distant life.

And when Geo came along - because he would, whatever he said; his sense of duty was too strong not to - Lantis would watch over him, too.