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Air, Fire, Water & Earth

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The birds were chirping outside just like they have done every other evening the past one and a half years. Slaine laid face down on the bed hugging his pillow, tired and worn from the restless day which he had spent on pondering on the life he did not have. A dead man walking, that is what he was and felt like. His life in the prison made exclusively for him had nothing to offer other than Orange – or should he call him by his name Kaizuka Inaho now? – visiting him and the bullying from the guards. The bullying had calmed down considerably now after time had done what time does best; left most of the interest in bullying the hated young man behind. Slaine figured the guards did not find it interesting enough anymore to constantly breathe down his neck and comment on whatever he did and shove him around. It was too old and same now. Of course, that had not been an everyday occurrence and most of his days he had been left alone in his cell.

The more time had gone by the more freedom Slaine had gotten. He had no idea if Orang-, no, Kaizuka – got orders to slowly free him from his miserable days or if he did so on his own. He had gotten a little library where to pick whatever books he wanted, and if there was a book he wished to read Kaizuka would first approve it and then bring it with him during the next visit. Slaine got to visit the small atrium together accompanied by guards whenever he liked between the hours of 10 AM to 6 PM. Out there he had a small flowerbed where he grew flowers of different kinds. He avoided certain flowers though which would remind him of old joyful memories that now hurt enough to make his chest feel like exploding. The prin… He could not even think about her old title, even if she went by the title of empress now. She would always be the princess to him. Well, it was January now so the flowers would have been dead anyway. Whatever the reason for this freedom was Slaine figure he should not complain. At least it gave him some sort of relief from his exhausted mind which had the tendency to start spinning and coiling around the memories of his sins.

Now that he thought about it he had not seen Kaizuka for a several days. The young man would always visit him once per week, always the exact same hour. Punctuality seemed to be one of his strong sides; he was never too early and never too late no matter what the conditions outside may have been; may it be a typhoon or the hottest day on the year, he always made sure to visit him. So where had he gone now? Slaine almost regretted he had not played as much chess as they could have when Kaizuka visited. He had joined him a couple of times in a match and managed to win twice, but mostly he let Kaizuka update him on what had been going on outside whether Slaine wanted to hear it or not. Slaine listened halfheartedly to whatever updates Kaizuka brought with him, not paying too much attention since hearing about the conditions outside always hurt in some way or another. The recent update had been about difficulties with the people on Vers who still lived in the same conditions which Slaine had wanted to change by winning the war. He had for a brief moment felt adrenaline and disappointment well up in his chest and brain, and thought ‘I could have changed it!’ but then quickly hidden that thought deep inside his mind. He was sure Kaizuka had caught onto what Slaine had been thinking since he continued to mention that a meeting was to take place in February with all the big shots of both nations and come up with a plan.

A few hours went by and Slaine felt the drifting of sleep catch him slowly. Finally he would have a proper night’s sleep. It was unusual for him to actually get sleep during the nights since he slept most of the hours of the day to pass time with no goal ahead; nothing to look forward to. The days had blended into a big pile of nothingness and he was unsure of what day it was. He knew it was January from the New Years Eve rockets he had seen outside just recently. He cursed that evening due to the bangs and echoes. They had made him anxious and he had almost lost himself in panic due to flashbacks from the war he so eagerly had fought in. ‘It’s my 20th birthday soon’ he thought but then wondered if his birthday had already been. Not that it mattered, he was “dead” anyway and only a handful of people knew about him still being alive. He did not exactly expect to get any congratulations or birthday cards or presents from anyone, not even the princ…

“Damn it…” he sighed and frowned. His chest hurt again. He wished he could stop thinking just for a little while. This was exhausting him. “Stop and go to sleep,” he told himself with a whisper and pushed his face against the pillow. After a while of fighting back the thoughts he finally fell asleep.

He woke up with a start and sat up in the bed. He noticed his hand held someone else’s. He had no memory of that, and as he followed the navy blue sleeve up to the familiar face he let out a relieved sigh and let go of the hand.

“I see your reflexes are still on top,” the monotonous voice said. Kaizuka stood next to Slaine’s bed and he had clearly been trying to wake him up for a short while. “Get up.”

“What are you doing here?” Slaine mumbled and rubbed his eyes, annoyed. He had been sleeping so heavily and now that well needed sleep had been interrupted. “Get up? Why?” Without waiting for an answer he got up from the bed anyway and waited for further instructions. He had learned it was useless to argue with the young man in front of him.

Kaizuka held out a black military bag to Slaine and did not let him go with his gaze. Slaine stared at the bag and then at Kaizuka’s eye, switched over to the man’s eye patch and then back to the bag again, and took it.

“Change. We are heading out,” the young man said. Slaine stared at him in confusion.

“Out? Now? Why do I need to change if we’re going to the atrium?” Slaine asked. His voice was hoarse from the heavy sleep and dryness in his throat.

“We aren’t going to the atrium. We don’t have much time, so get changed. You can’t go out dressed like that,” Kaizuka answered and turned his eye toward Slaine’s blue prison clothes.

Slaine stared at him for a while, not sure what he meant. ‘Go out to somewhere that’s not the atrium?’ he thought and suddenly realized what Kaizuka meant, and his legs began to tremble beneath him.

“W-what!? Are you taking me…!?” he began but then lost his voice. He was in such shock he almost dropped the bag to the floor.

“As I informed you just now, we don’t have much time, so you should get changed now,” Kaizuka insisted without blinking.

Slaine took a deep breath and quickly opened the zipper to the bag and look inside. It contained black clothes and a cap and a pair of simple sneakers – also black. He put the bag onto the bed and was just about to pull his shirt off in a hurry, but then remembered…

“C-could you wait outside the cell?” he asked quietly. The tone in his voice sounded more hopeful than he intended it to and Kaizuka blinked the way he always did when he caught onto something that Slaine tried to hide. This time he nodded though and did not begin a session of questions and stepped outside the cell and turned his back to Slaine.

‘I guess that’s good enough’, Slaine thought and hurried to change his shirt into the black one. He had not revealed the scars on his back and chest to Kaizuka yet even if he had been locked up in this prison for almost two years now.

As he had finished tying the black sneakers he picked up the cap and stared at it.

“You got to be kidding me,” he said and stared at a little image of a cartoonish bat on the front of the cap.

Kaizuka turned around and looked at the cap in Slaine’s slender hand while Slaine stared at him with a frown.

“I thought you would appreciate a little harmless irony as a joke but I see you are not as open to it as I thought.”

“A bat? Really?” Slaine asked and pointed at the little bat. He had to admit it; he did appreciate it in some weird way. Without questioning Kaizuka’s choice of a joke he put the cap on and then stood ready for further instructions.

“Give me your hands,” Kaizuka said with his usual monotone voice. He picked up a pair of cuffs from the leather pocket strapped onto his belt and waited for Slaine.

Slaine was so used to the cold metallic cuffs that he automatically held out his wrists to the young man and let him cuff him. What surprised him was the other pair of ankle cuffs the young man pulled out. ‘So we are going out for real?’ he thought. Those were the same kind of cuffs that he had worn as he had been taken to this prison almost two years ago. He did not know if he should laugh or cry to the high security measures he had to submit to. Was he considered that dangerous still?

When Kaizuka finished he called for the guards who had the night watch, and they emerged from the dark corridor to grab Slaine’s both arms and move him out of the cell. The unfamiliar low thumping sound from the sneakers felt nice in Slaine’s ears, and the soft feeling of each step felt so different to the usual shoes he wore along with his prison clothes. Kaizuka walked in front of them and unlocked the door on their way out.

The moment Slaine saw the door to the outside world he stopped walking. Suddenly his heart jumped in his chest for a different reason than when Kaizuka had revealed they were heading out. Why were they heading out? Where would they take him? What would they do to him? Why now in the middle of the night? Suddenly the suspicion engulfed him and he bored his heels to the floor and stopped the guards. Kaizuka turned around and a slight questioning look crept over his expression.

“I… I can’t…” Slaine said quietly. He was afraid. He had not been outside ever since he got locked inside the prison. He had no idea what waited out there or what Kaizuka’s intentions with this outing were. A small voice inside his head screamed at him that he had turned pathetic because he found the prison to be a comforting place that protected him. Not until now did he realize what the prison had done to him, and now he was too scared to do anything about it. He shook his head and stared at the door behind Kaizuka and tried to back away from it. The guards forced him forward as Kaizuka continued to open the door and when the snowy and still night met Slaine’s eyes he panicked.

“No!” A few months back he had wished to die and had asked Kaizuka over and over again to let him, but since Kaizuka refused and reminded him of the empress’ wish for Slaine to stay safe he had given up on it. Now that the realization that he could be taken to a place to executed hit him the pulse beat hard and angry in his ears.

“Troyard,” Kaizuka said. “Don’t waste whatever little time we have.”

The guards forced him outside into the snowy landscape. They had to drag him in order to get him to the military van which waited outside, and he was forcefully shoved into the vehicle. Both guards sat down on both of his sides to prevent him from running and keep him in check if he would try anything, and Kaizuka took the seat in front of the wheel and started the van with a surprisingly low roar.

“Where are you taking me!?” Slaine yelled and pulled at the cuffs. The chain rattled violently and the guards had to grab his arms again to keep him still.

“Calm down, Troyard.” Kaizuka made a pause and looked at him through the rearview mirror. “No one will harm you.”

Slaine stared at the young man in the mirror and lost all his strength. He slumped against the seat and felt his mind go blank. He knew Kaizuka gave him that empty promise to keep him calm. Tears sprung to his eyes. He could not bother to wipe them away. He felt as small as when he had been taken in by the late Count Cruhteo as a child to become a servant after Slane’s father had died. ‘The time has come. Has the princess changed her mind?’ he thought and stared blankly at the floor of the van between his feet.

The drive took about an hour or so and Slaine spent the entire time in silence. He had nothing to say, and neither did Kaizuka. Slaine had come to the frightening conclusion that he had to accept the punishment for the sins he had committed. He had to accept that the princess had no reason to keep him alive anymore. She had changed her mind about him. Now he was truly dead to her. As he accepted it he looked out through the window and saw a barren landscape covered with snow. He had been taken to a rural place. Would that be his last resting place? The bed in his cell had never felt as welcoming as now. In just a little while he would be lying in the cold ground or be burned into ashes – whatever Kaizuka decided would be the best way to get rid of his remains. He took a shaky breath and surrendered to what would happen once he was taken out of the van.

Kaizuka turned off of the main road and onto a smaller one that took them deeper into the rural area. A building and fences came into Slaine’s field of view and some bright lights lit up something that looked like an entrance into whatever was contained inside the fenced area. Kaizuka pulled down the window and exchanged some papers and words with a guard at the gate, and then he drove into the area. Slaine lowered his gaze and closed his eyes. It was time. He prepared himself best he could; picked up the little pieces of courage he had left as the former Count Saazbaum Troyard, and the van came into a halt.

“We’re here,” he heard Kaizuka say from the driver’s seat.

Slaine opened his eyes and looked out through the window again, but this time his mind came to a brutal halt. He forgot about the courage he had tried to collect. He forgot about what was happening. He forgot about all his sins. He stared at a small plane made for two crewmembers that bathed in the strong lights from the spotlights. They were on a small runway.

“Wha…?”

“Let’s go, Troyard,” Kaizuka said and stepped out of the van onto the plowed runway and opened the door to the back seat.

Slaine stared at him and then at the plane. What was happening? Why was he staring at a plane waiting ready on a runway? What was the meaning behind this?

The guards showed him out of the van and Kaizuka stepped in front of Slaine and picked up the keys for his cuffs.

“If you try to run or turn violent I have given an order to the guards to chase you and hunt you down, and if that won’t be enough they will shoot you in your legs to stop you. Understood?” he said and waited for Slaine’s answer.

“What are we doing he-?”

“Do you understand me?”

Slaine stared at him for a couple of seconds and then nodded with confusion washing over him.

“Yes.”

Kaizuka unlocked the cuffs and gave the guards the sign to back away slightly. Kaizuka studied Slaine for a few seconds before he stepped aside and motioned to Slaine to walk toward the plane. Slaine, with no understanding to what was happening and why, did as he was told. With insecure steps he came closer to the plane while Kaizuka followed him close behind.

“That is model Z-901.b, a successful prototype with aldnoah as its propellant, the first earth made plane driven by an aldnoah drive,” Kaizuka explained. “It was possible thanks to your father’s work and with some help from Empress Asseylum and her staff.”

Slaine stared at it and was almost too afraid to get any closer to it.

“Y-you took me out here to … to show it to me?” Slaine asked and finally took the last step which granted him the closeness to be able to reach and touch the hull of the plane.

“Yes, and also to let you pilot it until early dawn,” the monotonous voice said close behind him. And then the voice turned almost into a whisper and Slaine felt a breath against his ear and heard Kaizuka word: “Happy birthday.”

Slaine’s eyes widened and he spun around to stare at the younger male. Did he hear correct? Tears of relief that there was no execution to be taken place, and an overwhelming feeling of surprise, sprung to his eyes and his legs shook yet again beneath him.

“Wh-what did you just…?”

“We have exactly three hours and 38 minutes before I have to take you back. We should get going,” Kaizuka said while he checked the watch on his wrist. Slaine continued to stare at him and Kaizuka stared back, clearly waiting for Slaine to move. But he was completely unable to move. “You do remember how to pilot an aldnoah propelled plane, correct?” Kaizuka asked after a while. Slaine nodded entirely dumbfounded. “The steering is the same as to the Sky Carrier you have piloted before.”

“Is this s-some sort of test?” Slaine finally asked with a whisper and dried his tears from his now blushing cheeks. The winter cold had begun to bite at his skin.

“No.”

“Am I really allowed this?”

“The Empress of Vers wished to give you this as a birthday gift.”

“B-but you were the one to wish me happy birthday. You didn’t say it was from her.”

Kaizuka’s expression softened a little and blinked again like he had noticed something worth to register in Slaine’s reaction.

“She isn’t the only one who wants to remember you on your birthday. We should get going now and not waste your time.”

“But no one remembered me last yea-“ Slaine began but Kaizuka climbed up into the back seat of the plane.

“I will be sitting behind you and keep an eye on your controls. If you do anything that is against my orders I will immediately take control of the plane. Since this is a prototype it is intended to be used as a training aircraft. It was designed so that the second crew member could take over the controls if a student would do anything to endanger the safety.”

Kaizuka strapped himself to the seat and looked over to Slaine and waited, and Slaine understood it was his time to get into the pilot seat. He climbed into the aircraft with adrenaline pumping in his veins, and he strapped himself into the seat and put on the radio headset. The cockpit’s canopy closed and shielded them from the winter cold outside. Two runway crew members began spraying the aircraft with a liquid with high pressure hoses. The familiar monotonous voice spoke right into Slaine’s ear through the headset:

“They are spraying the aircraft with deicing fluids. Otherwise the cold and moisture in the air will begin to form ice on the aircraft.”

“I thought this was more advanced than that,” Slaine commented, butterflies beginning to flutter in his stomach.

“This is a prototype. No unnecessary resources can be afforded to be used on prototypes right now,” Kaizuka answered. “You will pilot according to my orders. I will report back to the tower every ten minutes and I will take care of the radio communication. Understood?”

Slaine put his hands onto the controls on either side of him, just like in the Sky Carriers he used to pilot. He relaxed and let the feeling of the pilot seat sink in, and the crew members outside hurried off of the runway with their equipment.

“Understood,” he answered with content in his voice for the first time in almost two years.

He heard Kaizuka call the tower and ask for permission to take off, and Slaine listened to the unknown female voice that answered him and gave him permission.

“Zulu, 9, 0, 1, Bravo. Start the aldnoah drive,” Slaine heard Kaizuka’s command in his headset.

“Zulu, 9, 0, 1, Bravo. Starting the aldnoah drive,” he complied.

The aircraft woke up with a soft humming noise coming from the machinery. It was like music to Slaine’s ears.

“Aldnoah drive running.”

“Aldnoah drive running, roger,” Kaizuka answered.

Goosebumps made him shudder for a moment. Kaizuka gave him the orders and Slaine complied and followed them. He could not wait to get into the air. He steered the aircraft to the referred runway and waited for the permission to push the aircraft up to speed. After a short communication exchange with the tower the air space was clear and Kaizuka ordered Slaine to takeoff.

The ground was a bit unsteady from the ice and made the aircraft vibrate in protest, and for a moment Slaine doubted himself. Did he truly remember how to fly? He pushed the doubt back with the memory that air was his element and always had been the moment he learned how to pilot a Sky Carrier. He pushed the drive into proper speed and felt the wind tug at the wings. In two seconds the aircraft took the right amount of wind under its wings and the wheels left the ground. Finally.

“Ascend to altitude 900 meters,” Kaizuka’s calm voice spoke in the headset.

“Ascending to altitude 900 meters,” Slaine complied and did as he was ordered to.

He could not even begin to explain how wonderful this felt. Freedom was never as palpable to him as up in the air.

“Altitude 900 meters,” he said, and Kaizuka complied and gave the next order:

“Route 1-7-5.”

Slaine felt a pang of déjà vu, but complied and navigated the aircraft to route 1-7-5. They were going slightly in a south south east direction. He had the feeling he had gotten the same order from Kaizuka before. That is when Kaizuka continued:

“Back at the island of Tanegashima, when one of the Hellas’ fists came toward us… You remember that?”

Slaine was taken by surprise by the sudden change of conversation topic. How could he forget that tense moment?

“Yes. Why?”

“1-7-5 is the route that I asked you to take when one of Hellas’ fists were chasing us.”

Slaine smiled with a frown.

“I thought I remembered that from somewhere.” The aircraft had taken the turn and the instruments showed route 1-7-5. “On route 1-7-5.”

“On route 1-7-5, roger.”

Slaine was slowly getting back the sense of life he had been without for a long time. For the first time in a while he smiled and chuckled.

“Remember when Hellas came toward us after we destroyed its fists, and you panicked?” he said with a grin.

“I panicked? You yelled at me to shoot it down with rounds that couldn’t even scratch it since you couldn’t dodge.”

“You were too heavy!”

“You dodged anyway.”

“That was a crazy emergency stunt. I barely got us back up.”

“Show me.”

“What?”

“Show me that same stunt again.”

“But it’s too dangerous to…!”

“It’s an order.”

Slaine held his breath. What was Kaizuka planning to accomplish? They could die if Slaine tried to take on the difficult stunt he had made in a stressed situation years before. Slaine had not been in a plane for years, and now he was ordered to make a dangerous stunt?

“It might get us killed,” he finally said.

“I know you are capable enough to follow through with the order without killing us.”

Slaine envied Kaizuka’s ability to be perfectly calm when he himself was stressed out and nervous. It seemed like it had always been that way; Kaizuka was the calm and reasonable one while Slaine was the one to react with passionate emotions.

“You trust me that much? If I would let the plane free-fall to low enough altitude not even you would be able to pull it up,” Slaine said with a lower tone in his voice, almost threatening.

“I can determine from your reactions earlier that you wouldn’t throw this moment of piloting a aircraft made possible by your father’s research, away.”

Kaizuka’s words hit as sharply as the lashes from the late Count Cruhteo’s cane and whip. Slaine felt how his heart squeezed tightly in his chest. He knew Kaizuka was right. Slaine could not even dream of throwing this moment away like that.

“Okay,” he breathed. “I will act in accordance to your order.”

He stalled the engine and the g-force acceleration hit their organs while the plane fell freely from the sky. Slaine counted quietly in his mind and kept an eye on the instruments, and once he felt the plane had free-fallen long enough he pulled the plane up. The plane vibrated and protested violently – just like the Sky Carried had done – and Slaine got it up by force. And so he had replicated the stunt from years before and it had left his heart beating like a sledge hammer in his chest.

“You did well, Troyard. Thank you. We have lost a lot of altitude. Make an Immelmann turn back up to 900 meters. Route 3-5-5,” followed the next order.

“An Immelmann? You are testing me, aren’t you, Orange!?”

“Once you have done the maneuver I want you to show me, I will let you stretch your wings the way you want,” Kaizuka said with his usual emotionless voice, but then he continued to say with a voice that sounded like he was smiling: “… Bat.”

For some reason Slaine found Kaizuka’s smile contagious because now he was smiling too. Suddenly the cap he wore radiated more irony than earlier and he knocked the cap back a little with his finger and smiled brighter.

“An Immelmann turn to altitude 900 meters, route 3-5-5,” he said and slowed the speed, lifted the plane’s nose up toward the starry sky and ascended again, and once he was up at the proper altitude he made a half loop which resulted the plane flying upside down, and then made a half roll back to normal and leveled out perfectly onto the route Kaizuka had requested.

“Thank you. As I promised you get to do whatever you want now for the remaining of the time. I will give you routes you will relate to, but anything else is up to you, Bat,” Kaizuka’s voice said. It felt like a tantalizing whisper in Slaine’s ear.

Slaine made a double barrel roll and smiled until his cheeks ached. He felt so free. So happy. He wished he could stay in the air for the rest of his life. Having lost everything and not had anything left to fight for had dulled his mind but now he was bursting with life.

“Orange… Why did you make me do those maneuvers?” He had to ask the question.

“Because I can’t recreate them myself,” was the answer.

Slaine was surprised.

“You can’t fly?”

“You are quick to react properly while in an aircraft even if it might be considered dangerous. If we would have fought in Earth’s aerospace where I had to worry about gravity I probably would have lost to you. It’s not the same thing as maneuvering in space.”

Slaine was taken aback.

“Really?”

“The way you maneuvered at Tanegashima proved your capability as a pilot. I am a decent pilot, but not as skilled as you.”

“Is that why you asked me to recreate the emergency stunt earlier? To prove a point?”

“It worked, didn’t it?”

“Worked how? By boosting up my confidence?” Slaine chuckled.

“Exactly,” came the bluntest answer Slaine had ever heard.

“An Immelmann turn is an easy maneuver. Let me show you more difficult ones, Orange.”

“Go ahead, Bat.”

The hours reserved for Slaine to stretch his wings went quickly by. Slaine mastered the sky with flawless maneuvers and proved again and again that the aircraft was like an extension of his body which he controlled with an iron grip. He lectured Kaizuka in piloting and how to work with the machinery and momentums – showed him and let him try them out himself from where he sat behind him. When the time was up and Kaizuka ordered him to descend onto the runway Slaine’s heart grew heavy. When would he be allowed to do something as risky as this? He got to taste freedom for a little moment but once they landed he would be taken back to his cell again with not freedom at all.

The aircraft kissed the runway gently as its wheels hit the ground during the landing; it made the aircraft bounce slightly off the ground, and then it finally accepted the touch and the wheels planted themselves onto the ground. Slaine slowed the engine down and activated the braking system, and then steered the aircraft back to where it had been waiting for his arrival. The canopy opened and Kaizuka climbed out of the aircraft first, and then waited for Slaine to do the same. Slaine took a moment to let the recent hours sink in and caressed the interior of the cockpit before he finally managed to say goodbye and climbed out into the chilly morning. The guards were walking toward them and Slaine figured he had one chance to thank the younger man according to his raging emotions before they would cuff him again.

“Orange…” he said hesitantly. Kaizuka looked at him with that blank stare, but before he had the time to blink Slaine threw his arms around Kaizuka’s neck and pulled him tightly close to him. The guards were quick to react but Kaizuka signed for them to step back.

“Bat?”

“I’m still taller than you,” Slaine said quietly with a smile.

“Is that why you hug me – to make a remark of my height?”

Slaine chuckled.

“You know it’s not. I just had to point that out. Thank you… Inaho.”

Slaine felt the other male’s arms coil around his waist and hug him back.

“As to your question earlier,” Inaho said quietly, his voice muffled against Slaine’s shoulder. “I asked the Empress to let you fly.”

Slaine felt his heart jump for short second and he could not stop himself from hugging him tighter. From being a dead man he felt slightly more alive after the night.

Chapter Text

Slaine held his breath where he lay on the bed beneath the duvet in his cell. He heard the guards talking further down the corridor in the staff room. The night watch had come to switch the shift with the day personnel and a report about Slaine's status was being held. They always did that and Slaine wondered what they actually said about him. What did they report? Was it true or false? According to Slaine there was nothing to report from today. He had laid in bed all day just like every other day after the little night outing Inaho had taken him on. That had been wonderful. He could still feel the smooth motions of the little aircraft he had had the pleasure to pilot for a few hours. He remembered how alive he had felt that moment; how free he had been. Now he had been back in his cell for about a week and he felt terrible. It would have been easier on him if that outing never had happened, no matter how wonderful it had been. It was because it had been so wonderful that he felt depressed, and he knew it showed on him clearer now than before. He missed the taste of freedom even if he were afraid of it. He especially missed it now after how the night personnel who had accompanied Inaho and Slaine out to the runway treated him. He let out his breath as a depressed sigh.

He owed Inaho a lot for taking all those risks for him. Slaine knew – even without the right to listen to news on the radio or TV – that he was hated by both Earth and Vers, and if it would come out that he was still alive who knew what would happen to the peace which was as fragile as a new born. All the blame had been put on him, even the assassination attempt which he had had nothing to do with. To the outside world he was the villain, and after being treated like one for so long he had slowly become more and more sure that he actually was. He knew all too well about what people thought about him and what they said; the personnel taking care of him had violated their protocol of confidentiality and made sure to let him know how hated he was even if it was forbidden for him to know anything about the outside world. Prisoners of war were denied that luxury. Slaine could not really care though. He had no interest in listening to a tiring voice on the radio or TV which enjoyed spreading hate propaganda about him. He knew why they did. It was a genius move, he had to agree to that. Making two worlds unite under the hate for one dangerous man was one way to achieve peace. It was risky but that is how UFE and the Empress of Vers had done. There were simply no other way after all the sins Slaine had committed toward both worlds. Slaine did not consider himself dangerous though, but he had always been like that; always thought less about himself than others. Maybe that is why he believed the personnel that he was dangerous? Maybe a life forever in prison was proof that he was dangerous?

He could hear slightly agitated voices from the staff room but the voices got enough lost between the stone walls for him to not be able to hear what they said. His heart skipped a beat and his entire body tensed up. He bit his lower lip and then took a deep breath and hugged himself tight. He hated this and yet he could not blame the personnel. He could understand them; he deserved their hate. He had not asked anyone for forgiveness because he truly believed he had no right to. He heard the day personnel's steps disappear down the corridor. Now there were only two night watch personnel left. Slaine knew from keeping track on the guards' schedule that the two who would watch him this night as well as tomorrow night were the ones who had followed him and Inaho to the runway that night one week ago. Slaine had learned that these two were the ones in the entire staff who hated him the most; the night after the outing Slaine had been forced to taste their hate, and he knew this night and probably tomorrow night would end up just the same as last week.

'Please, don't come here,' he prayed silently under the duvet. Maybe if he pretended he was asleep they would leave him alone?

He could hear them talk calmly and laugh about things while they had their coffee, and they sounded like they were on a really good mood. Slaine hoped they would continue having that good mood throughout the entire night, even if it was not a promise that he would get spared this night.

Just as he predicted he could hear the guards put away their coffee cups and then come walking down the corridor to check on him. Slaine lay absolutely still and held his breath while he listened to their footsteps like an wild animal trying to hide from a predator, but listening was hard due to the aggressively frightened pulse beating away in his ears. He could hear them talk. They spoke about him in voices filled with haughty disdain, hating him for being alive, wondering why he was alive, what they would have done if they were in charge of his life. The things Slaine had to hear around these two were ruthless and inhumane. If they would have gotten what they wanted Slaine would hade been tortured to death publicly – and yet Slaine believed that was what he deserved.

... And yet again, he was afraid of it.

The footsteps stopped outside the cell and someone unlocked the door. Slaine's pulse began beating harder and he swallowed a lump in his throat which felt dry. He lay completely still hoping they would not bother him due to thinking he was asleep but to his despair someone pulled the duvet off of him and a bright flashlight against his eyes blinded him. His heart felt like beating itself out of his chest.

"Get up!" a brutal voice yelled at him.

'Of course they wouldn't leave me alone', he sighed and pushed himself up from the bed.

His body felt heavy and exhausted. His mind slowly dulled and shut itself away somewhere safe deep inside of him. After what he had gone through in the late Cruhteo's care his mind would sometimes go numb when he knew physical pain was on its way. As he got up from bed while still being blinded by the flashlight something hit him in his abdomen and he lost his breath. His legs was about to buckle beneath him but someone pulled him up by the collar and forced his face against the bars to his cell. His hands were cuffed to the bars. Slaine grabbed the bars desperately and gasped from the ache in his stomach.

"You think you are something, don't you?" he heard the same voice say and his hair was grabbed by a forceful grip to pull his head back. Slaine stared up at the dark ceiling with vacant eyes. "Being protected by Mr. Kaizuka against everyone who would love to put their hands around your throat is nice, huh?"

Slaine would not answer. No matter what they threw at him he would not give them a sound back. He knew they would lose interest in him soon enough if he kept being boring to them and would not react on anything they said or did.

"Giving us the silent treatment again, I see," a second voice said. Slaine leaned his forehead against the bars in front of him and bit his lower lip.

A belt rustled and Slaine knew what that meant. He grabbed the bars tighter and closed his eyes. In a couple of seconds the all too familiar feeling of a belt lashed against his back and made him lose his breath a second time. It stung. It burned. It hurt – but not as badly as the late Count Cruhteo's practiced lashes. His lashes had been far more painful than these guards'. These lashes felt more like a joke and it irritated Slaine. If they hated him then why would they not show it and be as cruel as Cruhteo had been? He held his breath as a second lash stung his back and then said quietly:

"May I ask you something?"

The guards stopped and stared at him a couple of long seconds. It was unusual for Slaine to speak to them, he knew, and being the one to initiate a conversation was even rarer.

"What is it, brat?"

"Did you lose any family or friends because of me?" Slaine asked bluntly and no words were said as an answer. Maybe they were even more lost because of the sensitive topic, or they were not allowed to answer such private question. Any kind of information was scarce in this place. Instead of waiting for an answer he continued: "Because if you did, are these meek lashes what those people are worth?"

Without warning a much stronger lash than the previous ones hit him and this time he let out an unwilling groan. 'That's it,' he thought with a painful satisfaction spreading from the aching lashes, which eased his guilt. 'Avenge them.'

When the morning personnel came to switch the night's shift he lay in bed with an aching back and heard the breakfast tray being placed onto the table through the small opening in the bars. He stayed in bed, refusing to eat it. He did not bother to even look at it. He was tired.

***

"He has refused to eat two days in a row now," said a male nurse during report when Inaho came to visit almost two weeks after the outing he had taken Slaine on. Inaho stood in the staff room after just have arrived. He had not had the time to sit down and for some reason he felt too restless to sit down. He wanted to get the report on Slaine's condition done with as quickly as possible so he could go and meet the young man after two weeks of absence. Work had piled up out of nowhere and it had taken time to go through everything, so he had not had time to come and visit.

"So he has reverted to the same pattern as when he was taken here," Inaho noted more to himself than the others in the staff. "What about sleep?"

"According to the night watch he isn't sleeping well either."

"Hygiene?"

"He asked for a shower in the middle of the night four days ago, but after that he has refused to let the day personnel take him to the shower."

"Anything else?"

The nurse seemed nervous and slightly knitted his eyebrows before answering while staring into the report paper:

"He has been violent during the nights and has slight bruises on both arms and his left cheek. The night watch had to restrain him for four hours and 15 minutes two nights ago."

Inaho stared at the nurse with his emotionless face but something in the way he stared at him made the nurse lower his eyes and not look directly at him. The entire staff in the room sunk into an awkward silence. Inaho stared at the doctor, then at the nurse, then the two guards, and lastly at the warden.

"Over four hours is not acceptable," Inaho finally spoke. "Does anyone know why he has turned violent?"

"No, he won't speak about it."

"Does he speak anything at all?"

"No."

'So he is back to the same pattern as before', Inaho sighed mentally, his expression still not revealing his emotions of anger and disappointment. "Give me the keys," he said to the warden, who quickly obeyed the order. "I will speak to him. In the mean time I want you," he stared at the doctor, "to prepare an psychiatric examination of him. The MADRS-S assessment will do. We might have to put him on medication if he really is violent and has become clinically depressed again."

"Yes, sir," the doctor answered and sighed; her expression revealing it being a tedious and pointless task for her. Inaho knew the rest of the staff felt the same way and he had no right to blame them considering what kind of prisoner they were dealing with. As long as they kept their professional duty at higher value than their personal feelings and thoughts of Slaine, Inaho would not reprimand them.

Inaho left the staff room and decided to walk down to Slaine's cell and talk to him there. If he was violent then it would not be advised to let the angry bat out of its cage, and it would be less stressful to let him stay where he were if he was sensitive to his environment right now. He arrived to the cell and saw a messy blond hair peek from underneath the duvet on the bed. Inaho knew the man was not asleep due to the quiet breaths which barely were audible. People breathed heavier than that while they slept.

"Troyard," he said and waited. The duvet moved slightly but no answer came. "I have gotten reports that you have stopped eating again." The duvet moved again and this time the messy blond hair disappeared underneath it. Slaine really did not want to talk. "I'm coming in. Excuse me," Inaho said finally and pushed the key into the lock, not letting the duvet out of his sight to prepare for an possible attack. He opened the door and walked inside and stopped at the end of the bed. "I have also gotten reports that you have turned violent. Is that tru-?"

Inaho did not have the time to finish his question before Slaine threw the duvet off and stood up from the bed. His eyes flared with anger but something made Inaho realize it was not due to raw anger or hatred. He looked worn and stressed out with dark circles under his eyes and his skin was pale.

"Stop pestering me! Why won't you people leave me alone!?" the blond yelled and immediately running steps echoed down the corridor and the guards came running. The moment Slaine saw the guards the fire in his eyes faded slightly and instead it seemed like he tried to keep up an act of anger. Inaho figured it was best to order the guards away but recorded Slaine's reaction into his memory.

"Everything is in order. Go back to your work," Inaho ordered them without letting his eye of Slaine, and the guards stared at him and then at Slaine, hesitated for a second and then did as they were ordered to.

Inaho stared at the angry bruise on Slaine's left cheek – just like the nurse had reported – and it was a few days old according to the color of it. 'Left cheek,' Inaho thought quickly. 'A right handed person has done it.' The bruises on his arms were made with blunt objects, and they were as old as the bruise on his cheek.

"What happened to your cheek?" Inaho asked with hit usual monotone voice.

Slaine averted his eyes and stared at the floor.

"I fell," he answered. In this state he was a terrible liar, but only to Inaho who had gotten used to the man's voice patterns. If Inaho had been neurotypical he might have not noticed the small variations which revealed a lie in the man's voice. Besides, Inaho had heard how Slaine's voice sounded when he was lying through those broadcasts during the war.

"I see," Inaho said despite knowing it was not true. "You look exhausted."

"Thanks for the obvious remark," Slaine spat and sat down onto the bed. "So you're here because of my condition?"

Inaho nodded with a slight "Mm" and then continued: "You don't sleep, eat, shower or speak. Why?"

Slaine's lips curved into a cynical smile.

"You always cut straight to the chase."

"I don't like wasting time."

"Hmph! Well, you're certainly wasting it with these visits."

"What makes you say that?" Inaho stared at the blond man whose brain went into overdrive to find some kind of answer but then decided at last to stay silent. "You will be taken to the doctor today for an psychiatric examination. I will visit you again in a couple of days."

The moment Inaho said that Slaine looked up at him. For a slight moment Slaine's expression seemed to beg him to stay, but he quickly lay down on the bed and pulled the duvet over his head again, flashing a rebellious stare before he disappeared under the fabric. Inaho waited for a while to see if Slaine would say anything more, but in the end the older male kept his silence and Inaho decided to leave it at that.

As he walked out through the entrance his mind ran over the possibilities to why Slaine had made a turn for the worse. He knew it was not because of the outing and letting him taste freedom. Something was going on in the mansion which put stress on Slaine's already fragile condition, and it seemed to have to do with the night guards. He would have to go through all the logs and reports made throughout the past two weeks tomorrow. He opened the door of the military car and sat down next to the drivers seat.

"Got your work sorted?" his sister asked him from the drivers seat. Inaho gave her a soft smile and nodded.

"I'm done for today but there will be more tomorrow."

"What is it you're doing in there? I know it's top secret but why do you have to do it all the way out here?" she asked and Inaho stared out the window to his right.

"I'm sorry, Yuki-nee, but I can't tell you due to confidentiality. We'll be late for the meeting, so you should get going."

"Fine," she sighed and started the car. "Just be sure to not overdo it, Nao."

"Don't worry, Yuki-nee. Everything is fine."

"If you say so."

Chapter Text

The clock on the wall in the office showed 09:42. Inaho stared at the patient record of Slaine's psychiatric examination from yesterday on the computer. He felt tired and frustrated but kept his expression and body language calm and collected as usual.

January 25, 2017. 14:30.
Patient does not respond when asked questions from the MADRS-S assessment. Unable to evaluate patient's self-assessed psychological status. Stares at the floor with no eye contact during the entire visit and seems somewhat apathetic. When asked to remove his shirt for auscultation patient pulls his shirt further down, refusing to remove it. Treatment for patient’s sleeping problems has been recommended to patient since a mood disorder is apparent, but patient does not respond to the recommendation. Compulsory treatment may be required.

Inaho scrolled through previous patient records and the longer he scrolled through them the more he realized Slaine had never gone through a routine or comprehensive physical examination. No auscultation had been made. No HEENT examination had been made. No laboratory tests had been made. Inaho was certain he had told the doctor to do these kinds of examinations, but apparently Slaine had been difficult to deal with and so no examinations of him were possible. Why had no one told him about this? Inaho had to decide after a consultation with the doctor if a compulsory treatment should be taken as a measure to get the examinations done. He did not like the idea but if he was to keep his promise to Seylum and save Slaine from misery then what else was there to do? He had gone from having to save Slaine from an execution to save Slaine from himself.

Inaho continued with checking the patient records from the night shift for the past two weeks and found a annotation from the day after the outing, saying:

January 12, 2017. 01:11.
Patient's behavior has been agitated. He expressed threats and flipped his bed upside down in a rage fit. Night personnel had to restrain him and he is under constant supervision until morning. Patient has not given any explanation to his agitated state.

'It doesn't say what kind of threats he expressed,' Inaho thought and began reading all the reports from that day and forward.

***

The sunlight from the window in the corridor outside his cell indicated that it was midday. Slaine lay in bed – like he had done for several days now – and sighed. Lunch would be served soon but he did not feel like eating. He had a terrible headache and his ribs hurt from the previous night's visit from the guards. The visit at the doctor yesterday had resulted in what every such visit ended up in; Slaine refusing to cooperate with her and her getting tired at his persistent silence. He hated to show his scars to anyone. He could not handle showing them to people. Not now. Not when he was here. Not when the entire worlds of Earth and Mars were against him. He did not want to expose himself to such a horrible feeling of vulnerability. The life he led now made an exceptional job at that already. The bruises and scratches from the beating he went through during every other night gave him another reason to hide his skin. He closed his eyes and thought back to the aircraft's smooth motions. He could still feel them in his body. It filled him with such comfort, such gentle calm, such … longing...

He heard the familiar sound of the guards' steps outside his cell. He recognized the steps. He liked these two. They were gentle in handling him; probably the only ones who were gentle against him in this miserable place even though they disliked who he was. It made him feel sad. They were supposed to hate him, so why did they treat him so gently? It was unfair. How was he supposed to be able to keep up with the role of a fallen tyrant that everyone else treated him as? It felt confusing.

“You have a visitor,” one of the guards said gently, almost like he was afraid to wake Slaine up from his sleep.

'You're too nice,' Slaine thought and slowly sat up in bed and let the duvet fall off of him.

“Can you come over to the opening?” the guard then continued and took out the cuffs from the little leather pocked strapped onto his belt.

'You shouldn't ask me. You should order me.'

Slaine did as asked and got up from the bed and sluggishly walked over to the bars and placed his hands through the opening where the food tray would be inserted. His body felt heavy from all the sleep during the days, but also from all the beating from last night. The cuffs were tightened around his slender wrists and the door to the cell was unlocked.

“Come this way,” the other guard said and opened the door, and Slaine walked over to her and let her grab him by his left arm. The first guard did the same on the other side of him and they walked him through the corridor and all the way to the room made of armored glas...

No, they turned off from the corridor that led to the glass room where he usually met Inaho, and they headed for the treatment room.

'Again?' Slaine thought and let out an audible sigh, and once the door opened to the room he met the emotionless stare from the younger male who had put him in this prison.

***

Inaho felt a discomforting feeling in the guts the moment he saw the blond young man step into the room accompanied by the guards. His hair was a mess from not showering for days and his skin seemed even paler than yesterday. The dark circles under his eyes had become deeper and the look in the man’s eyes was even more exhausted.

The guards showed Slaine to the hospital bed and removed one of the cuffs around his wrist to cuff his right wrist to the steel bars on the bed in order to prevent him from attacking Inaho if he would try. Slaine sat down obediently on top of the bed and then let his stare fall onto the floor and kept it there. Inaho ordered the guards out of the room and asked them to wait outside and then studied the blond a while. His posture was slumped. He was clearly weak from not eating or sleeping properly.

“How are you today?” Inaho asked but Slaine did not answer. Inaho waited for a while anyway to see if Slaine would change his mind and speak to him but that did not happen.

“You look even worse than yesterday.”

Still Slaine did not answer; not with words or with body language.

“I have talked to the doctor about your examination yesterday and you didn't cooperate. You haven't cooperated during the entire time you have been here. Why is that?”

Slaine did not answer.

“Since you refuse treatment and examinations, and won't cooperate, I have decided that you will be treated under compulsory care.”

This time Slaine gave a reaction. He tensed up and seemed nervous but his eyes did not lift from where they were locked to the floor. Inaho wondered how he would react if he continued explaining the situation, and said:

“That means you will get sedative medication every evening to help you sleep, and you have no right to say no. If you refuse to take the medicine orally you will get it as an injection. Understood?”

Slaine slowly looked up at him with a slightly shocked expression, but then slowly his lips curved into a cold smile and his stare sharpened, and he let out a cynical chuckle.

“Why? You never tell me why. Are you always like this? Were you like this out on the battlefield during the war too?” he said and chuckled again. “I know I have the right to know why you will force me to take medication in order to sleep according to your schedule.”

Inaho stared at him and the room turned quiet. Inaho knew what Slaine meant; whenever he had had plans he never explained his reasons to anyone if he was not forced to.

“It's not optimal to spend time on explaining when you have things to do,” Inaho answered. “But I agree with you having the right to demand what the purpose is behind the medication.” Slaine's expression softened slightly but he still threw daggers at him with those piercing blue eyes. “The doctor has concluded you have a mood disorder; depression, and wants to medicate you with sedatives so you will get a better sleeping cycle, and by that she hopes your mood will stabilize.”

Slaine's sharp stare fell and so did his gaze. It landed on the floor again, stared at the tiles tiredly. The young man seemed to hesitate about something. He had developed the habit of discreetly chewing on his lower lip when confronted with something that was troubling him. Inaho could remember him succumbing to the habit more and more during his visits. Why did he hesitate and about what?

“I see...” Slaine mumbled and sighed. “Whatever...”

“So you will take the medication?” Inaho wanted to confirm.

“Yes.”

“To prevent you from hiding the pill under your tongue or behind your teeth the nurse will check your mouth and have you drink a glass of water to ensure you have swallowed it. If you still manage to fake swallowing the pill you will be put on the injection instead. Understood?”

Slaine sighed again and shook his head like he was tired of Inaho's constant questions to ensure that Slaine had understood him.

“Do you understand me, Troyard?”

“Yes, yes... I understand you.”

“Next I have to inform you about the missing of physical examinations and laboratory tests. You haven't undergone any kind of examination since you were placed here.” Inaho stopped as he saw Slaine stiffen again. This time he looked clearly worried.

“What?” he asked with a shaky breath.

“I want to have you go through a standard physical examination as well as give blood samples to the laboratory so your physical health can be assured,” Inaho explained and kept staring at the blond, keeping a carefully observing eye on his reactions. “That is also under compulsory care.”

Slaine looked up at him with wide eyes. He began trembling. The room had a perfect temperature so the trembling could not be explained by the room being cold. The man's free hand grabbed the hem of the shirt and pulled it down, almost like he was afraid of Inaho walking up to him and pull his shirt off.

'Just like in the patient record from yesterday,' Inaho thought and decided to keep that reaction in his memory.

“Understood?” Inaho pushed. He had the feeling the blond would begin protesting.

“I-I'm fine,” Slaine's uneven voice said quietly. “I don't need examinations.”

“I can't be sure of that since I have no records proving it,” Inaho pushed again. Slaine looked like he wanted to run. He was hiding something and Inaho pondered on how to make it easier for the man to come clean with whatever he tried to protect. “I will stay and observe the examination so I can be sure it has been made properly if you want me to.”

Slaine shook his head desperately. The man was terrible at hiding his emotions and probably always had been. 'What an unnecessary quality to have,' Inaho thought, but still a jealousy over the passionate feelings the other had been blessed with ground in the back of his mind. Why he did not know.

“No, honestly. I feel fine,” Slaine tried but Inaho would not have that.

“The way you look right now proves otherwise, Troyard.”

“It's … just because of my mood disorder, or whatever you call it. I do feel fine!”

“You have lost weight recently. It shows and that is why I have to have an examination of you made. I promised Seyl-”

“Don't call her by such an informal name!” Slaine yelled. Inaho stared at him; he was getting tired and slowly lost his patience.

“I promised Empress Asseylum Vers Allusia,” he corrected himself to calm Slaine's reason of outburst, “to keep you alive and protect you. It has come to me having to protect you from yourself, Troyard, and I will take whatever means I have to in order to follow through my promise.”

Slaine stared at him for seconds that felt like hours. The look in his eyes was desperately begging him to not force him into a physical examination. Inaho wanted to know why – badly. The slowly growing interest in the former Count Saazbaum Troyard had baffled him. He had no memory of when this interest had began to grow and he only recognized it from once before. 'He's growing on me, just like Seylum,' he thought silently.

“Before the doctor can perform the examinations we have to get you cleaned. You haven't showered for five days and that might be a contamination risk when taking the blood samples,” Inaho explained and checked his wrists watch. “The appointment is in an hour, so you should get showered before that. A guard will accompany you.”

“No!” Slaine yelled and stood up and tried to walk over to Inaho, but the cuffs between his right wrist and the bed reminded him he was not free enough to get any closer to the younger man. Instead he threw a glance at the cuffs. “Tsk!” he spat and tugged once at the cuffs, and then returned his angered but desperate glare to Inaho. “I will take a shower but I don't want anyone staring at me!” he barked.

“Why?”

Inaho's blunt question took Slaine off guard and the older man stared at him for a moment before answering:

“At least give me some privacy.”

“You don't have the privilege to privacy right now considering you have tendencies to result in violent behavior.”

“You can't do this!”

“I can.”

Slaine stared at him unable to move or say anything back. He slowly adopted the behavior of a cornered cat and Inaho had the feeling the blond would have to be restrained within minutes. His behavior became unpredictable due to the violent emotions which stormed inside him for – for Inaho – unknown reasons. Slaine knitted his eyebrows and sighed while staring at Inaho without blinking:

“... And you will...?”

Inaho nodded, expressionless as always, but this time he had to be careful. He felt like he was about to lose to the man's pitiful eyes, and if he showed one small crack in his determination the other would most likely catch onto it and try to exploit it.

Slaine slowly sat down on his knees on the floor while his cuffed arm hung in the restraints, and then coiled his free arm around his waist and squeezed the shirt in a tight grip until his knuckles went white. His face hid behind that dirty blond hair and his breath shook. He was crying. Inaho had to ask him the question that burned in his mind.

“Why do you refuse to remove you shirt in front of other people? Is that the reason you have become violent?”

Slaine hugged himself tighter.

“Please...”

“What are you hiding?”

“I don't want to answer that.”

Inaho finally but secretly lost his patience and he ordered the guards in. Slaine looked up at them and a terrified expression spread across his face. He shook his head and squirmed the moment the guards grabbed him under Inaho's order to take him to the shower. As his cuff was released from the bed he made an attempt at running and struggled against the guards' grip, but to no avail. The guards were stronger. He was weaker. Slaine was pulled out of the room and taken to the shower room further down the corridor, and Inaho went back to his paper work.

This time he had a bad taste in his mouth from how desperate the young man had become from being forced to perform such simple tasks. Inaho did not understand him and it excited him somehow. Even if the other was easy to read due to his emotionally based expressions and behavior he still kept delivering surprises that Inaho could not foresee. That was an unusual trait and the former commander and leader of the enemy forces could have been likeable if the situation was different. 'And yet he still is becoming likeable the more I learn about him,' Inaho mused as he sat down next to his desk to check the shift logins of the night personnel.

A couple of quiet minutes passed before one of the guards who had taken Slaine to the showers emerged with heavy breaths. She had been running. Her uniform was wet and water dripped heavily from her skirt.


“The patient...! He...! You have to come!” she panted and tried to catch her breath.

“What is it?” Inaho asked, this time not being able to conceal his surprise. 'Another unpredictable turn-up from Troyard,' he though.

“He has terrible scars on his torso,” she said and Inaho stood up from the chair immediately and together they hurried to the shower room.

As Inaho came into the spacey shower room, which resembled a public shower, Slaine sat in a corner only dressed in his blue trousers and hugged his body protectively while water dripped from his hair. He looked so small and slender, like a frightened child. His shirt lay on the wet floor and the guard who had stayed with Slaine picked it up slowly while not letting Slaine go with his eyes. The guard was wet from head to toe, worse off than the guard who had come running to Inaho. What on earth had given Slaine such strength to overpower the guards like that?

“Troyard?” Inaho asked and took a step closer, his shoe splashing against the wet floor.

“DON'T!” Slaine yelled in desperate anger. “Stay where you are...”

Inaho stopped and then ordered the guards out of the shower room to wait outside, and then he made a new try.

“I was told you have scars on your body,” he said with his usual tone and took a careful step closer. Slaine curled up even more. “Is that what you were hiding?”

“Just leave me alone...!”

“I can't do that.”

“Why are you so persistent!?”

“Because I promised Seyl-” Inaho stopped himself. There was no point in agitating the man more by calling the woman he adored too casually. “I promised her.”

“You promised her to treat me like an animal!?” the young man yelled to the even younger man. “Why do you do this to me? Do you enjoy it!?”

Inaho held his breath and stopped in his tracks. Did he seem like such a tyrant to him? Had he abused his position so recklessly? He stepped slowly closer again.

“No. I don't enjoy it.”

“Then leave me alone!”

“I won't.”

“Why!?”

“I don't know yet.” Inaho figured he had to be honest. He had no idea why he could not leave Troyard alone. He cared about him, but why?

Slaine slowly lifted his head to look at him with tears running down his cheeks. He looked surprised at the answer. His raised head gave Inaho a chance to look at his bare chest and saw old scars which looked like the result of deep cuts. Some of them were still healing; they had not turned entirely white yet. He had fresh bruises along the scars which gave Inaho an unpleasant feeling. They could not have been self-inflicted. Someone else had to have made them.

“Who gave you those bruises?” he asked with his usual tone. Slaine frowned painfully and tried to hide his chest from Inaho's prying gaze.

“I told you... I fell.”

“That is a lie.” Inaho said objectively, and Slaine went quiet. “Has someone abused you here?” Slaine did not answer. “They have,” Inaho noted out loud to himself while expecting Slaine to back it up with a positive answer, but that did not come.

Inaho was lost for words. He did not know what to say or what to do. He thought about how his sister would have reacted if Inaho would be in a similar situation. She was better at these things and would be a good source of learning how to comfort someone. What would she do? Suddenly he felt a laugh well up in his throat and his expression slowly softened before he cracked a smile and chuckled. Slaine looked up at him with a detesting stare, clearly misunderstanding Inaho's reaction. Inaho calmed himself down and then gave the pitiful man a reassuring smile – something he had learned to do years ago.

“I'm sorry. I didn't laugh at you,” he said and squatted down a few steps away from Slaine to even their levels. “It was inappropriate of me. I just thought about what to do to calm you down and reassure you that no one will get away with hurting you here, and I referred to what my sister would do if I was in your situation.” Slaine blinked confused while he tried to make out what Inaho was getting at. “She would skip the comforting part first to hunt those people down and kick them in their groin and – if they're lucky –she would throw them into prison. Then she would come back to hug me and tell me everything will be okay.”

Slaine stared at him in silence for a long time. The gears in his head turned and creaked, trying to understand what Inaho meant, and Inaho kept smiling back:

“I'm not good at comforting people, so I have to make someone else into an example. Do you want me to do what my sister would if I was you?” he asked with that calming smile on his lips.

A couple of more seconds passed in silence and then Slaine's eyes softened and he gave a weak smile back.

“She sounds like a nice person,” he said quietly, relaxing somewhat.

“She can be hotheaded at times; sometimes too hotheaded for her own good but she is a nice person,” Inaho answered, still smiling to keep the relaxed atmosphere alive. He knew he was not supposed to tell his prisoner this. Slaine was too dangerous and all the little information he got could be used as some kind of weapon. Inaho was cautious of underestimating the man. He had not climbed to the Martian top in just two years time without smarts. Inaho knew the danger of telling him about personal information like this but the man seemed harmless in the long run. It relieved him that this kind of talk made Slaine relax. Maybe he had been too strict with the protocol? The blond had the tendency to sympathize with people and so Inaho figured he should stick to that topic for now.

"My sister is really friendly and has a warm personality, and she's attentive with people. I usually have no problem keeping my feelings hidden since I have an - according to others - emotionally dead expression, but I can't escape her sharp eyes." Inaho pretended to sigh like he was really tired of his sister but still kept that smile on his lips to make Slaine understand Inaho cared about that quality of hers. "It's annoying but I'm stuck with her nonetheless. She is my sister after all."

Slaine's body had relaxed more and more and his weakly smiling expression softened further. Inaho found that he himself smiled not because he forced himself to but because he liked seeing the other relax around him. 'He needs this,' he thought.

"I didn't know you have a sister," Slaine said quietly and dried the tears from his eyes with the back of his hand. "I must have caused her a lot of worry while fighting you. I'm glad I didn't hurt her."

The last sentence took Inaho by surprise. He had never heard the man speak so empathically about others than Seylum, and even while speaking about her he had been on the edge of being fanatical about her. Slaine's relaxed expression began slowly changing to a depressed one again. Inaho's heart jumped out of dismay. He would not lose the little positive bond he had managed to get with the man. He wanted to see him smile again, to hear his voice be filled with life like during the outing. It suited the man better, he thought. 'For the sake of my promise to Seylu...' His thoughts trailed off for a moment when he realized it. 'No. Not for her sake, but for mine.' He felt confused.

"Don't worry. She is a strong person. Not even I who am her brother can stop her once she sets her mind into things. Not to be disrespectful but you would probably have no chance against her either," Inaho told him.

"Suddenly she sounds scary," Slaine finally chuckled, and Inaho let out a quiet laugh.

"She can be. Sometimes I get scared of her too." Inaho made an attempt at closing the distance between them by shuffling his left foot discreetly closer, but immediately Slaine tensed up again and his smile disappeared in an instance. 'So he is still as sharp as ever?'

Inaho felt his own face frown slightly. He felt frustration well up inside him again. He wanted the other man to relax so badly. He wanted to know why he had hidden his old scars so desperately, and he wanted to know why he had hidden the fresh bruises and not told anyone. In the end Inaho got up and walked over to the wall left to Slaine and sat down next to him on the wet floor and looked up at the ceiling. Their shoulders brushed against each other for a moment before Slaine tried to slightly move away from him, almost like Inaho's touch had scorched him.

"The reports about you being violent isn't true, am I correct?" Slaine stared at him like a wild animal and Inaho turned his eye toward him. "It's the night watch who has been abusing you. To explain the bruises they lied in the reports and claimed you became violent. You went along with it. Why?"

Slaine got back that frightened expression to his face and chewed his lower lip again. Inaho determined what he had said was correct.

"I..." Slaine mumbled but stopped.

"You what?"

Slaine kept staring at him without being able to answer. He curled up further and hid his face against his knees.

"I can't help you if you won't tell me," Inaho pushed.

"... Because, I don't deserve this. I should be punished for what I did," a quiet voice finally answered.

"Don't you think being locked up for life like this is enough?" Inaho asked.

"No... I deserve more than this. I have felt so numb lately that I need to be reminded of what I am. It's the same thing day in and day out with me doing nothing but sleep. It's comfortable in its own way but I was reminded of why I am in a place like this after you took me out on my birthday. I realized I don't deserve that kindness when there are people who hate me so deeply that they are willing to break laws to get to me."

Inaho's heart sank. The way he seemed to think – based on his actions and words – was either a pure but a clumsy attempt to take responsibility or an act to win Inaho over for personal gain. If it was the first then Inaho could understand why Seylum had spoken so fondly of him when they had met at the start of the war. Slaine was solely passionate and let his emotions guide him. That had later been the reason to his fall, but something in that kind of character was beautiful. Inaho envied him. 'I am tactical and thus cold. He is passionate and warm,' he thought and sighed exasperated.

"Her highness has forgiven you by keeping you safe under my supervision. I have failed her, and you should treasure her gesture after all that you have done. Is this how you thank her?" he said. He hated to pull the "her highness"-card against the blond but right now it seemed like that was the only way to turn everything right.

Slaine did not look up at him but kept hiding his face against his knees.

“… So what do you want me to do?” he asked finally and Inaho felt relieved that he got an answer which sounded more positive than negative. The “her highness”-card always worked somehow.

“I will remove the night guards from their duty and deal with them myself. You will accept the medication as I told you earlier and cooperate with the doctor so we can get your mental health stabilized,” Inaho recited while he stared at the other’s neck. “So will you take a shower now?”

“I really can’t get any privacy in the shower?” Slaine looked up at him with exhausted eyes.

Inaho figured he should respect Slaine’s reasons – whatever they were – to hide his scars even if people now knew about them. If he pushed too much the little bond that he had with Slaine could break. He thought for a little while and then got up and walked over to the door, opened it and asked the guards outside bring the moveable partitioning curtain from the treatment room. He waited at the door with his back against Slaine to give him some kind of relief from the constant supervision and kept his ears open to Slaine’s movements just in case he would try something. Slaine sat there quiet. He did not move or say a word. When the partitioning curtain was brought to the shower Inaho ordered it to be placed in front of the single showerhead in the room and then ordered the guards out again.

“I will stand at the door. I won’t turn around or peek while you shower,” he said and turned his back to Slaine.

He could hear the blond sigh heavily and move after some minutes toward the shower. Clothes were thrown on the wet floor and the sound of water filled the otherwise empty room. He wondered what was going through Slaine’s mind while he stood there in the shower. What secrets did he nurse? Inaho realized he had little information on the man. He had not spoken to Seylum that much about the blond’s past because he had not had any interest in knowing before. All Inaho basically knew was that Slaine was the son to Dr. Troyard and had been a dear friend to Seylum, and was later adopted by the late count Saazbaum as his son. He was a good pilot and had gotten military training, was a splendid pilot and had a mainly timid personality. The quality of a leader had developed on top of the main personality according to Inaho’s observations; Slaine seemed to fall back to his original personality the moment he lost control of his emotions. That is how far Inaho had understood Slaine’s situation but who he truly was, was a mystery.

He can’t be the tyrant we have come to know him as,’ Inaho thought. He smelled the familiar scent of the soap used in hospitals drift from the shower. ‘Why would he – who adores the empress so much – try to assassinate her?’ Inaho pondered and thought back to how Slaine had used Seylum’s bastard sister as an impersonator to help Slaine take control of the Orbital Knights and rise in the power hierarchy, while Seylum had been in a coma. Something did not add up. If he had been involved in the plot to assassinate her, then why would he keep her alive if his objective had been to use Seylum’s sister as a copycat the entire time?

“Troyard?” Inaho said and a plastic clattering noise was heard from the shower behind him from the soap bottle hitting the floor. Inaho could not help himself from smiling slightly at the man’s reaction.

“W-what?”

“What kind of relationship did you have with the empress before the war began?”

Silence. Then:

“Why do you ask?”

“She seemed so fond of you when I first met her. I’m simply curious.”

“You should speak to her about that…”

“I can’t.”

Silence again. Then:

“Why?”

Inaho felt the urge to turn around but kept his feet planted to the tiled floor, not moving.

“I won’t give you the reasons to why I can’t speak to her about you.”

“Because I’m a prisoner and am dangerous?”

“That is what I have come to believe.” Inaho felt like provoking the man a little for an unknown reason. He knew he should refrain from doing so because the man was already mentally exhausted, but he was painfully curious to how Slaine would react.

“I would never hurt her.” Slaine had begun to sound angry.

“You tried to assassinate her.”

The moment Inaho had uttered the words he regretted them. That had gone too far and he realized it a little too late. The same second those words had landed in Slaine’s ears the partitioning curtain was thrown aside and clattered violently to the floor, and wet stomps approached Inaho faster than he could react. A strong hand – boosted up by adrenaline – grabbed his shoulder and Inaho was turned around and pushed against the door hard enough that the door rattled. Slaine stared down at him. Inaho would normally not care about him being shorter than Slaine, but in this position he had to admit he felt a bit intimidated for a slight moment due to the level of Slaine’s eyes, before the shock settled.

“I’m so tired of hearing that!” Slaine growled and glared at Inaho with eyes burning with rage. Inaho stared at him and felt the door shake behind him when the guards tried to open it in a hurry, alarmed by the sudden noises in the shower. “I did no such thing!”

“Can you prove it?” Inaho asked calmly and stared up at Slaine’s icy eyes. ‘They’re beautiful,’ he spontaneously thought.

Slaine grabbed Inaho’s shirt collar and pushed his fist against his throat. Inaho instinctively grabbed his wrist to try and prevent the man from pushing harder against his windpipe, but Slaine was unexpectedly strong right there and then. He was so close to Inaho’s face that the dripping water from Slaine’s newly washed hair landed on Inaho’s cheeks.

“I tried to protect her but you got in my way!”

“By shooting you down at Tenagashima?” Inaho asked with a slightly strained voice.

Kaizuka! What is going on in there?” he heard the female guard yell from the other side of the door.

Slaine kept staring at Inaho but hissed quietly: “Tell them to back off.”

“You’re in no position to threaten me, Troyard,” Inaho shot back, slightly agitated.

“You are in no position to refuse me,” Slaine whispered and pushed harder against Inaho’s throat.

Inaho stared at him and thought of what to do, and that is when he realized Slaine was completely naked and the floor was wet beneath his feet. Without hesitation he hooked his right leg behind Slaine’s left knee and with a determined motion managed to pull his knee forward so the taller man lost his balance and slipped on the wet floor. Slaine grabbed Inaho in an attempt to break his fall and ended up pulling Inaho with him, and they hit the floor together with a loud thump. Inaho had no time to register the pain in his left shoulder which he had slammed against the floor and instead grabbed Slaine’s wrist, forced him face down on the floor and pinned the arm behind the blond’s back. Slaine let out a hissing voice of pain and immediately calmed down and lay still.

The door was opened and the guards came in running, but Inaho did not hear them when they tried to speak to him. Their voices were distant. Inaho’s entire attention was welded to the sight in front of him: Old, thick, and angry scars - looking worse than he had thought now that he saw them in full light – crisscrossed on Slaine’s pale skin.

Chapter Text

Minutes passed, but for everyone in the room they felt like years. Inaho was slightly out of breath due to the adrenaline rush from Slaine’s attack, and his attention for the scars on the blond’s back was disrupted when Slaine made an attempt to pull his arm free from his grip. Inaho tightened his fingers around the blond’s slender wrist and pushed the arm harder which made Slaine grit his teeth and huff from the intense pain in his strained joints. One of the guards had drawn a gun against him while the other was ready with the handcuffs.

“Get off of me,” Slaine hissed from between his teeth. He sounded like he was in a lot of pain.

“Not until you tell me about your role in the assassination attempt,” Inaho demanded in his plain voice. He really wanted to know. For some reason he was selfishly captivated by the mystery since he had trouble understanding who and what Slaine was. Slaine did not answer and tried stubbornly pull his arm free again, and Inaho pushed it even harder until Slaine let out a muffled cry. He waited patiently for the answer but the other kept silent. ‘How obstinate,’ Inaho thought. ‘A true soldier; not like the Martian lords I have met before.’ “Why won’t you tell me?”

“Why would I?” Slaine growled and huffed.

“You have nothing to gain from your silence.”

“And I have nothing to gain from telling you either!”

Inaho sighed. He was so frustrated. No one else had been able to make him feel this deep frustration before. For the first time ever since the war had ended he felt thrilled about something, and that something happened to be this blond former enemy.

“If you tell me I would be able to understand you better. Isn’t that what you want?” he finally said and stared at the man under him.

“I don’t need your understanding!”

Inaho sighed out loud this time. He realized he had become angry at the man.

“Fine.” He looked up at the guards. “Cancel all the medical examinations that were planned for today and take him to his cell.”

Inaho had to admit it even though he did not want to; Slaine had won this round. He was too frantic and furious that nothing could be done for him today. He had to calm down before Inaho could make a second try. ‘At least he got to shower,’ he thought somewhat satisfied; he had not lost entirely.

Slaine’s wrists were cuffed behind his back and he was pulled up from the floor by the guards. His mind seemed off enough that he had not even realized he was completely naked, and Inaho felt bad for him. It was his fault Slaine had turned so angry that his mind seemed to burn. Inaho took the towel which hung on the wall next to the door and put it around Slaine’s shoulders, but the blond tried to pull away from him, glaring at him with daggers in his eyes.

“He will begin the compulsory care right away and eight o’clock in the evening he will take the medication which has been prescribed for him,” Inaho said after he had managed to put the towel around Slaine’s shoulders.

He watched as Slaine was dragged along out of the shower room. He would make a second try tomorrow but a little differently than today.

***

Slaine felt humiliated beyond anything he had ever experienced before. From been accused of the assassination attempt to be forcefully medicated made him feel so offended and violated that he wanted to act out on something. On top of that his well preserved secret had been revealed. His scars had been completely in the open for the younger man to see. Why was Inaho the only one to make him this angry? Why did the brunet manage to push all those wrong buttons to make him this way?

He was shown into the cell and got clean set of clothes to put on. He pulled them on in a frustrated hurry and then threw himself on top of the bed. He buried his face into the pillow and wanted to scream out his anger on Orange but decided not to give the man the pleasure to hear how much he managed to affect him.

He spent the entire day in bed, boiling with anger, and refused to touch the trays of food that were placed on the little table next to the opening in the bars. He wanted to childishly throw the food at the guards but getting up from the bed and deal with all the hassle that would follow would be too troublesome. Instead he let the food stand there on the table until someone came to take it away after he made it clear he did not want it.

Then evening came and steps echoed once again in the corridor. Slaine knew what time it was and by the time he looked up at the door he saw a nurse which he had never seen before and new guards stand on the other side observing him, probably being cautious of his movements. The nurse held a little medical tray made of cardboard and in it laid a small plastic container, a little bottle with a milk colored liquid, and a syringe. One of the guards held a plastic glass of water and a plastic bowl with some fruits in his hands.

“It’s time for your medication which has been prescribed to you,” the nurse said. “Will you cooperate?”

Slaine stared at them but decided not to answer. He remembered he had promised Orange to take the medicine willingly but now he was irresolute of what to do. A juvenile pride tickled in his mind; he wanted to break the promise just for the sake of irking the other man.

The nurse tried again:

“If you won’t cooperate we will give you the medicine by force. Don’t make it harder for yourself so just take it, okay?” the nurse sighed.

“What is it?” Slaine finally asked as he sat up in the bed. Not that it mattered since he had no choice but to take it but at least he wanted to know what medicine it was.

“The active substance is diazepam with a 5 milligram dosage. As Mr. Kaizuka has informed you earlier today it is a tranquilizing medicine. You are prescribed it now in the beginning of your treatment until you have calmed down and decided to cooperate with us, and then the doctor will prescribe a less heavy drug for you.”

“What are the effects?” Slaine felt a little worry flicker in his brain. He found this kind of medicine creepy.

“You will feel tired and calm, and most likely fall asleep within an hour.”

“Side effects?”

“The most common is drowsiness the day after. It is habit-forming, so that is why you are prescribed to take this for no longer than a week. Any more questions?”

Slaine dawdled while he tried to decide. He wished not to take the medicine at all, but then again he had to. They would be in control of his sleep and temperament; the medicine made it feel like he had a leash around his mind. He was surprised he had not been forced into medical treatment earlier throughout his stay during his rage fits but he figured that it had gone on for too long and Orange had decided to do something about it.

The nurse nodded to the guards and the glass of water and bowl with fruits were placed on the table through the little opening, and then one of the guards unlocked the cell door and the three men stepped in.

“I assume you won’t cooperate, so we will have to…”

“I will take it!”

Slaine’s voice was hurried; the words almost stumbled over one another as he made a hasty decision. The moment the staff members had stepped into the cell Slaine had felt frightened for the possible violation they would submit him to in order for him to take the medicine if he refused to take it willingly.

The nurse and guards stared at him in surprise and then the nurse cleared his throat with an awkward smile and picked up the little plastic container. It contained one single white pill. Slaine found it a little ridiculous that such a little pill could feel so threatening. As the nurse stepped closer to give him the container Slaine hesitantly accepted it and heard the pill rattle inside as he opened the lid. Suddenly everything felt hopeless and heavy. It felt like he stared at another prison cell small enough that it could be contained in a little plastic container.

The nurse picked up the plastic glass from the table and held it out for Slaine as he looked at him hesitating.

“Don’t worry. It’s not dangerous. People all over the world use this and finds it helpful. Sometimes that little pill can be a person’s last hope to survive, and to me you look like you want to survive,” the nurse said gently.

It surprised Slaine and he stared at the nurse dumbfounded. Where was the usual night shift nurse? Had Orange removed him from his duty along with the night guards who had abused Slaine? The new nurse had a kind tone in his voice. He could not have been older than 30 years old but the expression the man wore gossiped about a gentle state of mind which was not stigmatizing at all.

“It might make you feel nauseous if taken on an empty stomach, so eat some fruit after you have taken it,” the nurse continued. Slaine kept staring at him. Not even the gentle day shift guards from earlier today had ever spoken this kindly to him. The nurse chuckled at Slaine’s stare: “Come on. It won’t make you burp frogs or vomit rat tails if that is what you’re scared of.”

The bizarre comment took Slaine so off guard that he suddenly found himself smiling. He, for a slight moment, forgot he was treated under compulsory care and was forced to take a psychotropic drug.

“See? Feeling better already,” the nurse said and gestured to Slaine to take the pill.

Slaine’s smile faded and his gaze dropped again to the little container in his hand. ‘I might as well take it,’ he thought and took a deep breath. He felt nervous. He dipped the container against the palm of his hand and the pill fell out, and then he took the glass from the nurse. The pill felt like it burned against his skin. Threatening. Suffocating. He knew he had to make a swift decision and take it, and he counted to three.

One.

Two...

...

Three! He finally took the pill in his mouth and swallowed it down with the water hurriedly. It felt like he swallowed a dry paper button and he scowled as he felt the pill slip down his throat.

“That wasn’t so bad, now was it? Now, let me see that you have swallowed it. It’s not that I don’t trust you but I was told to do this,” the nurse then said and Slaine did as he was told.

As the nurse was about to leave Slaine had to stop him to ask him a question which would make him burst from confusion if he did not get an answer to it:

“Wait. Do you know who I am?” he asked.

The nurse smiled.

“Yes, of course I do.”

“But why … are you so kind to me then?”

The nurse pretended to think for a while and then answered with that gentle smile playing on his lips:

“I have taken the Nightingale Pledge. That means I will nurse even the Devil himself if I find him bleeding on the street, and you don’t look like a devil to me so it makes my job so much easier – because I’m lazy like that.”

The nurse left with a jokey wink and disappeared along with the guards. His words rang in Slaine’s ears and he stared at the corridor, completely blank in his mind. His eyes wandered to the bowl with the fruits. Suddenly they looked appetizing.

***

Inaho stood outside the cell and watched the blond sleep. The slightly older man was lying on his stomach sprawled out on top of the bed with one arm hanging down from the edge of the mattress, face snuggled against the pillow with a peaceful expression, even and relaxed breathing… Inaho noticed the bowl on the table inside the cell. It was empty. ‘Good, he has eaten something.’

He checked his wrists watch and it was almost nine o’clock in the morning. Today he had decided to make Slaine tell him at least something about himself and he had a perfect plan for that which hopefully suited the blond’s preferences of activity. He scolded himself for his impatience yesterday that had resulted in Slaine being furious. Today he would not do the same mistake. He had stayed up to early morning to study about how to handle mentally unstable people. He had learned that he had made a lot of mistakes yesterday.

“Good morning,” he said when the watch showed promptly nine o’clock, but he got no reaction from the other. “Good morning,” he tried again louder but Slaine was still fast asleep.

Inaho unlocked the cell door and stepped in and closed it behind him. He took the steps leading up to the bed and carefully reached out his hand to shake the blond by his shoulder.

“Wake up. It’s breakfast time.”

“Mm…” was the answer he got. Slaine did not want to wake up.

The medicine was more effective than I thought,’ he mused and felt relieved. Hopefully the man would be more reasonable today.

“Troyard. Wake up.” He shook him again and Slaine mumbled something in his sleep. “Slaine?” He shook him a third time. Slaine frowned and turned his head and huffed, obviously annoyed.

“Hm…”

Inaho sighed and finally shook him harder and said loud:

Bat. Wake up.”

Slaine opened his eyes with a start and took a deep breath. He turned his head to look up at Inaho with drowsy and wet eyes. Inaho felt his breath get caught in his throat at the sight. He had never seen the other so peaceful and … harmless. Slaine arched an eyebrow at Inaho’s stare. It was clear he was still on the border between awake and asleep.

“Inaho?” he asked with a voice husky from a deep sleep. Inaho felt the urge to smile when he heard his name being said so casually by the man who had threatened to strangle him the day before, but kept his expression in check. “What time is it?”

“It’s nine o’clock in the morning,” Inaho answered as Slaine rubbed his eyes. “It’s time for breakfast.”

“Breakfast?” Slaine yawned and let his head fall against the pillow again – slowly drifting back to sleep.

“Don’t fall asleep again. We have things to do,” Inaho said and shook Slaine’s shoulder once again.

“Yeah, I know…”

“You do?” Inaho got confused. Had someone told him already?

“I got the cleaning duties yesterday…”

Inaho stared at him. ‘Cleaning duties?’ What had Slaine been dreaming about? ‘His past?

“We won’t be cleaning. Do you want to do that instead of having breakfast?” Inaho asked.

Slaine sighed in a relaxing manner and hugged his pillow with both arms, but then he suddenly opened his eyes with a start and looked nervous.

“What time is it?” he asked in a hurry without looking at Inaho.

“I told you; it’s nine o’clock in the morning.”

Slaine hurried up from bed and had a stressful look on his sleepy face. He looked around the cell like he was searching for something with his eyelids hanging heavily over his eyes and his hair splayed in every direction. Inaho this time could not help but to smile.

“You’re not late for school if that is what you worry about,” he said while trying to give the other man the gentlest of smiles. ‘Such an innocent reaction…’

“School?” Slaine asked drowsily as he calmed down and absentmindedly tried to flatten his messy hair. “What school?” He looked up at Inaho.

Hasn’t he gone to school?’ Inaho thought. His goal today to make Slaine tell something about his past had already been reached. It had been easier than he thought.

“Why did you stress about then?” Inaho and checked his watch and saw that it was five past nine.

“I just … thought I was somewhere else for a moment,” the blond answered and let out a sleepy sigh.

“I see.” Inaho was disappointed that Slaine had not answered his question. It would have closed the lid on many questions Inaho harbored. “Let’s have some breakfast now that you’re up.”

“Huh? With you?” Slaine’s sleepy expression changed into a confused one.

“Pedagogical breakfast is what it’s called according to educational literature.”

Slaine scoffed.

“I know how to make breakfast, mind you. You don’t need to teach me.”

“Then breakfast with company it is. Make yourself ready and let’s go,” Inaho corrected himself and waited.

Slaine only ruffled his hair to make it messier and glared at the brunet.

“I’m done,” he said shortly.

Inaho knew it was a try to provoke him but he just sighed silently. Why did Slaine have to try and challenge him constantly? Why did he feel like proving himself so desperately and make Inaho lose his temper? ‘Not today, Bat,’ he thought and nodded.

“Then follow me,” he said and opened the cell door and waited. Slaine waited, and so did Inaho. The longer Slaine waited the more confused he got.

“What about the cuffs?”

“You don’t need those.”

“Why do we have to get out of the cell? I usually get my breakfast here.”

“You said you knew how to make breakfast. Then prove it.” Inaho thought that by challenging him innocently like this would have him behave and be amenable since Slaine seemed not to want to lose against him in anything. Maybe it was because he felt Inaho was a rival when it came to Seylum? ‘Childish,’ Inaho thought. ‘She doesn’t care about either you or me as much as you think. She’s just being nice because she pities us.’

Slaine kept glaring at him for a while and then sighed and nodded.

“Fine…” he said and followed Inaho down the corridor.

They ended up in the kitchen for the personnel. It was vacant of people and on the kitchen table laid various breads and other groceries. Slaine stopped at the door to the kitchen and hesitated to step in, probably unsure of if he was actually allowed in there.

“I don’t know what you prefer to eat so I ordered a little of everything,” Inaho explained. “You are allowed in here under my supervision.”

Without waiting for Slaine Inaho picked out some bread buns that had already been cut in half. He had been careful of locking everything sharp in the cupboards as a precaution if Slaine would attack again.

“Do you want coffee?” Inaho asked and walked over to the coffee machine to prepare it.

“The coffee here tastes bad,” the blond replied.

“So you don’t like coffee either?” Inaho asked and was about to register that into his memory when Slaine interrupted his trail of thoughts:

“I do. You don’t?”

“No, it’s too bitter for my taste.”

“Then you haven’t tasted my coffee,” Slaine said and walked up to where Inaho stood. “Are there any fresh coffee beans?” he asked and looked disapprovingly at the pre-ground coffee package in Inaho’s hands.

“There is, but no one seems to use them. They were bought about a week ago,” Inaho said and opened one of the unlocked cupboards and took out a grinder and a bag with coffee beans.

“No wonder the coffee tastes bad here.” Slaine took them briskly from Inaho’s hands. “You do the sandwiches, I brew the coffee.”

Inaho stared at him for a short while and was amused by Slaine’s determination to make the coffee. He let him and decided to observe him. ‘So he’s picky with his coffee,’ he concluded and started to prepare the sandwiches as he threw glances at Slaine grinding the beans carefully after he had put some water on the stove to boil.

“What’s the difference between using pre-ground coffee and grind the coffee yourself?” he asked. He might as well try to have a conversation that had no relations to topics that would rile up the blond.

“You get a better taste with grinding beans because the longer time goes between grinding and brewing the coffee the more taste it will lose,” Slaine explained and yawned. He was still tired.

“I didn’t know that,” Inaho answered and spread some jam onto one of the sandwiches. He then saw Slaine prepare the paper filter by taking the boiling water and poured some of it into the empty filter. ‘Did he forget to put the coffee in the filter?’ he thought and chuckled. Slaine must have been really tired. “Shouldn’t you have coffee in the filter first?” he asked and Slaine shook his head and yawned again.

“By doing this you wash away some of the taste of paper from the filter. I would prefer to use white filters with a porcelain filter stand instead of a plastic one but this will have to do,” he said and then took some of the ground coffee and looked around. “Is there a kitchen scale?” Inaho took it out of the same cupboard as the grinder and coffee and gave it to Slaine. “Seven grams ground coffee per cup with water heated to just beneath the boiling point,” Slaine thought out aloud, partly to stop Inaho from asking since he was sure he would. He wetted the coffee slightly. “If you pre-moist the coffee like this it will ensure that all the grains are moist. You wait for 30 seconds to let them swell a little. That way you get out most of the taste.” He checked the clock on the kitchen wall and after 30 seconds he began to pour the coffee in a circular motion, carefully.

Inaho observed his incredibly practiced motion of pouring water into the filter. To be of high rank as an Orbital Knight and a leader in war he sure had practiced on how to brew coffee.

“Why do you know all this?” Inaho asked when he finished the sandwiches and poured up some orange juice in two glasses.

“What do you mean?”

“Didn’t you have servants who did this for you?”

At those words Slaine accidentally missed the filter and poured water all over the kitchen counter. ‘Now he’s being interesting again,’ Inaho thought and stared at him. It was like Inaho was onto something but decided not to push it like he had done yesterday.

“Y-yes I did but…”

“You don’t have to answer that.”

Slaine looked up at him with eyes that were relieved of stress. Inaho felt like he had dodged a bullet. If he would have let Slaine continue or push him he was sure the man would slowly feel cornered again and the entire day would result in the same disaster as yesterday.

“And what do you do then?” Inaho asked and walked over to look at the coffee filter’s water level sink as the coffee was filtered into the pot.

“Y-you remove the filter before the filter is empty of all water. That way you won’t get a bitter taste to the coffee,” Slaine explained. “Maybe you think it tastes too bitter because if you brew it in a coffee machine the last drops from the filter will spread the bitter taste in the coffee.”

“I see. That makes sense.”

“I guess.”

Slaine proceeded to pour up the coffee into cups and then placed them onto the table. That was when Inaho realized Slaine had not had a high rank at all in his past. The way he placed the cups on the table was the way trained servants would. He had a far too steady hand to be without training. Inaho felt excited. He had not felt this excited for a long time. The idea to make breakfast with him and keep him company had been great. He learned more and more about the man for each minute that passed.

“If you don’t like the taste of black coffee then pour some milk in it,” Slaine advised and sat down next to the table. He seemed to prefer his coffee black.

Inaho thought of pouring some milk in it to make it drinkable. He did not want to be disrespectful for the tedious work Slaine had put into brewing the coffee. After pouring milk in it he tasted it and to his surprise it tasted completely different to what he remembered coffee tasted like. It did not have such a bitter taste and it had a gentle but – to him – striking flavor to it.

“It’s good,” Inaho said with a voice that told Slaine he was impressed. He took another sip. “You are skilled in making coffee.”

Slaine suddenly sighed exasperatedly and cowered like he tried to pull away from Inaho’s observing eye. He had a sulky look on his face.

“Why do you always analyze what I do?” he asked quietly. Had he misinterpreted Inaho’s words into thinking Inaho had been trying to analyze him while making coffee? It was not completely untrue, but Slaine had given Inaho the chance to do it unknowingly.

“I didn’t. It was a compliment,” Inaho answered truthfully.

Slaine looked at him with surprise in his tired eyes. Had he become so used to Inaho trying to pry something out of his behavior that when he did not analyzed him it made him stunned?

“So how did you sleep? Did the medicine help in any way?” Inaho proceeded to say and took a third sip of his coffee. He could grow used to have a cup of Slaine’s coffee every morning.

Slaine had some of his coffee too and stared at the sandwiches in front of him. He particularly stared at the ones with jam on them.

“Yes, it helped more than I thought. I slept well,” the blond answered without eye contact.

“How do you feel?”

“I feel kind of relaxed. More than I have done in a long time to be honest.”

“That’s good. It makes you easier to reason with than having you in a stressed out mindset. You have been stressed out for such a long time that I didn’t get surprised every time you went into rage. Will you accompany me to the gym facility after breakfast?”

Slaine stared at him again while holding the cup of coffee in front of his lips as he was about to sip it, and was unable to answer due to shock. Inaho explained:

“I thought of trying to spend some more time with you since you seem to enjoy it on the outing we were on, on your birthday – and I must say I enjoy it too when you’re not worked up due to anger toward me.”

“Why would you want to spend time with me? What is there to enjoy?” Slaine finally asked.

“Am I not allowed?” Inaho confronted.

“But I have committed serious crimes.”

“That doesn’t make you less enjoyable as the person you are now that you have been taken away from your position that allowed you to do those crimes. Besides, everyone who is involved in a war has committed murder in the name of their beliefs, if that is what you meant.”

The room fell into silence. Slaine’s shoulders slumped and he sighed. They spent the rest of their breakfast in silence. Inaho noticed Slaine avoided the sandwiches with jam on them and concluded he did not like them. After some persuasion from Inaho he managed to get Slaine tag along to the gym facility. Slaine had protested at first and claimed he was tired from the medicine – which might have been true – but Inaho had plans that would not let Slaine get away with an excuse like that. Inaho knew Slaine was conscious about having to shower afterwards, and to get him into the shower was a part of his plan. He managed to shoot down all Slaine’s excuses and the blond had no choice but to accompany him.

The treadmill seemed to strike Slaine’s fancy. He seemed more into cardeo workout than lifting weights and so Inaho handed Slaine a bag with proper clothes to use in the gym. Slaine changed in the bathroom in the changing room to avoid showing Inaho his scars, and Inaho let it slide. He would not let him hide later though. They decided to spend about half an hour on the treadmills. Inaho took the one on Slaine’s left so he could keep his right and single eye on him when they jogged if Slaine would open up for a conversation. It did not take more than ten minutes before Slaine seemed to almost topple on the treadmill though.

“Are you tired?” Inaho asked as he kept jogging and stared at Slaine who almost hung over the panel of the treadmill in front of him, panting violently.

“I haven’t … exercised for … years…” he huffed and dried the sweat from his eyes with the wrist band he had gotten.

“It can’t be helped. Can you go on for a while longer?” Inaho said it like a challenge and Slaine looked up at him and flashed that rivaling glare only he could muster.

“Of course … I can!” he wheezed and pushed himself up from the panel, took a couple of deep breaths and then began jogging again. He looked determined not to lose to Inaho’s challenge and pushed himself beyond what Inaho thought he was capable of. The brunet was impressed.

“For someone who hasn’t exercised for two years you still have a strong willpower to pull off 30 minutes on a treadmill. I must admit I’m impressed,” Inaho said and dried his face and neck with a towel and stared at Slaine who was lying down on a workout bench huffing for dear life. Inaho himself was only slightly out of breath. “Can you walk?” Slaine shook his head. ‘Good,’ Inaho thought and walked up to Slaine and grabbed his arm, put it around his neck and pulled him up from the bench. “Let’s get showered.”

“N-no…” Slaine gasped and tried to push Inaho off of him. “I can’t … stand up.”

“Then hold onto me. It’s fine. There is a bathtub which you can use.”

“This place … has a lot more than I … thought…”

“The personnel need proper facilities, especially those who work during the evening and then have a shift in the morning. They have sleeping quarters here,” Inaho explained and found Slaine’s heaviness over his shoulders pleasant. He put his free arm around the man’s waist and hugged him close to keep him steady. His waist was thin.

“W-what?” Slaine looked at him dumbfounded. “You certainly … have put a lot of work … into me.”

“It’s worth it.”

“Despite if people would … persecute you and hate you … if the word of you keeping me alive would spread?”

“Such things don’t concern me unless they actually happen. I keep faith in the personnel here. They know what it means to work here.”

Inaho managed to lead Slaine into the changing room and helped him sit down on the bench next to his prison clothes. Slaine leaned his head back against the wall and tried to catch his breath and Inaho offered him a bottle of water, which he accepted greedily.

“I think I’m … going to get sick…” Slaine panted.

“That is understandable since you did outwork yourself.”

***

Slaine’s breath was ragged and his body was hot and trembling from exhaustion. He was happy about managing to keep up with Inaho for the entire 30 minutes of constant jogging but his legs hated him for it. His muscles would be terribly sore later. He pondered on what Inaho had said just moments ago.

“By the way…” Slaine huffed and turned his attention to Inaho. The man kept his observing eye on him as usual. “What do you mean ‘it’s worth it’?”

“I told you earlier during breakfast that I enjoy your company when you’re not agitated. I don’t know why though since I don’t know you that well,” Inaho answered with a blank expression and removed the wristband from his wrist and walked into the shower room. Slaine could hear the water begin to fill up a bath.

“If I was a girl that would have been a terrible pickup line,” Slaine said and smiled tiredly.

“Is it a suitable pickup line since you’re not a girl, then?” Inaho asked and emerged from the shower room. Slaine felt his face turn more crimson than it already was.

“That’s not what I meant!” he hurried to say, still out of breath.

“Then what did you mean?” the other asked.

Slaine felt frustrated. Inaho had always been like this; taking what Slaine said too literally or understood things differently. It aggravated him at times but it also gave him a reason to keep correcting his speech which had faltered ever since he had been locked inside this prison. He could live without all the awkward moments though.

“N-nothing. It was just meant as a joke,” he finally answered.

“Very well then.”

Inaho began to pull his shirt off and Slaine averted his eyes. He got painfully reminded about his scars and anxiety bubbled up inside him. He grabbed his shirt unconsciously. He noticed the anxiety did not have such a strong effect this time as yesterday, probably because he was still affected by the medicine from last night and the exercise had tired him out further.

“Can you undress by yourself?” Inaho asked and Slaine looked up at him with a start.

“I… I don’t think I want to…”

“I won’t take no for an answer. You have to shower after all the sweating.”

“Inaho, I don’t…”

Slaine interrupted himself when Inaho smiled at him.

“I’m glad you are relaxed enough again to be causal and call me by my name,” the brunet said and Slaine felt a pang of embarrassment:

“Orange…”

“Bat.”

They stared at each other in silence, neither releasing the other with their stare in order to not lose the challenge. Minutes went by, and then…

“You win,” Slaine chuckled. The staring had become too intense in a not enough intense moment, and he could not help but to find it humorous. Inaho the other hand kept staring expressionlessly at him. “What? I told you you win,” he asked the brunet when he noticed he would not stop staring.

Suddenly there was a tension in the air Slaine did not recognize from before. It felt heavy and all of it radiated from Inaho. He swallowed hard and wondered if the brunet would without warning take out a gun from somewhere and shoot him. The man would not stop staring.

“K-Kaizuka…?”

“Inaho,” the brunet said still with his usual tone of voice, but something forceful hid behind it like he was trying to mask some kind of frustration.

“I-Inaho…” Slaine said awkwardly. “Why do you stare like that?”

“May I ask you a question?” Inaho asked, and Slaine hesitantly nodded; he was wary of the other man. “Were you a servant before you became an Orbital Knight?”

The blunt question shook Slaine violently. He kept staring back at the man.

“H-how did you know?”

“The way you made the coffee and the way you moved when you served it gave it out,” the brunet explained. “You don’t need to hide it from me. I want to know who you are.”

Slaine had no understanding to the other’s interest in him, but at least he did not seem to want to murder him, so he finally sighed.

“I was.” He hoped the answer would satisfy him and leave it at that.

“Thank you for your honesty,” Inaho answered and closed the distance between them. Slaine’s guard had dropped and he had not noticed it until now, and before he had the time to pick it up Inaho had pulled his wristband off of him with a gentle motion. “Let’s shower and then sit in the atrium for a while. You did well on the treadmill today.”

Slaine stared at him with a pleasant nervousness building up inside him. He thought about giving in to the other man’s request, and to be frank Slaine was tired of keeping his guard constantly up around the other. He had no idea what he tried to protect within himself and even if he had been stubborn about it this far it was probably due to the stress and anxiety he had been tormented with for a long time, even before the war began. He had already revealed his scars the day before. What use was there to keep hiding them now? Sure, it did feel uncomfortable but if he was going to be locked up in this place with only this former enemy as company…

“Sure,” he answered and smiled awkwardly and finally, after some hesitation, pulled his shirt off, exposing his scars to Kaizuka Inaho.

Chapter Text

A drop of water broke the surface but that did not wake him up from his gloomy thoughts. Slaine lay in the spacious bath, his legs still aching from the jogging on the treadmill. Inaho was showering on the other side of the half wall; he had a moment of privacy in the bath. The hot water felt wonderful though. He let his body rest weightlessly in the water and he kept his eyes closed to take in the nostalgic feeling. It reminded him of the moon base and Lemrina; how she joyfully had used the low gravity to her advantage and walked with her weak legs on her own. That had been her only source of joy. He wondered how she was doing after everything that had happened. Had she been executed for the crimes he had dragged her into?

Asseylum wouldn’t,’ he thought and frowned.

It hurt. So many lives he had destroyed; innocent lives which had been corrupted by his cruelty while he had chased for a dream he now had lost. It had been foolish and risky – he knew, and yet he had pushed forward without considering what happened to the people around him if the risks would have outweighed his capabilities. Sacrifices were a must, he had thought. Even if the thought had crossed his mind that he had been too greedy by not giving a damn about the unknown lives which were sacrificed for his goals, it still had not…

His mind came to a halt. His heart ached horribly and his eyelashes were wet with tears which he tried to bite back.

“Are you finished?” he heard that monotone voice ask from above him and when he opened his eyes he jumped. Inaho was leaning over the half wall right next to him with his wet skin still steaming from the hot water he had showered in.

“N-no,” Slaine said awkwardly and sat up in the bath and hugged his knees. He was conscious about him being naked in front of the man, and when he thought back to the day before when he had attacked the man in the shower he felt his cheeks grow hot from the embarrassment. He saw Inaho think the way he always did when he went over the options he had at hand before deciding on one of them, and Slaine decided to interrupt him: “A little while longer. Please?”

“Do you enjoy baths?” Inaho asked bluntly.

Slaine gave him a wry smile and answered the brunet’s question with another question:

“Doesn’t everyone enjoy them?”

“May I join you then?”

The heat in Slaine’s cheeks spread across his entire face and he unconsciously hugged his knees tighter while he stammered:

“I-isn’t it a l-little too small for t-two?” Even if the bath was big enough for three people it suddenly felt smaller than a one person bath.

Inaho did not mind his awkwardness and Slaine silently cursed at him. He watched as the brunet walked around the corner of the half wall and sat down in the bath in front of him; the bath was still spacey enough for two more of their size. Inaho brushed his newly showered hair back from his face and then fixed his eye on Slaine. Slaine wanted to hide from his prying gaze but had nowhere to go.

“When did you become a servant?” the other suddenly asked.

So that was what he was thinking about,’ Slaine sighed.

“Shortly after my father died…” He noticed his voice trembled slightly. Inaho stared at him with his mind going back to work again. ‘How typical of him,’ Slaine mused.

“How old were you?”

“14.”

“How did you meet Empress Asseylum?”

“Why are you asking this?” Slaine said with a slightly forced voice.

He felt uncomfortable talking about her. He had no reason to trust this man and yet he had no reason to mistrust him anymore either. The war was over. Inaho and the staff, along with Asseylum, were probably the only ones who knew he was alive. He had come to realize now after his frantic mind had gotten a night’s rest, that no matter what he did or said it would not affect the outcome of his imprisonment anyway. He would never be let out of there, and he had no place to go. He felt that same kind of helplessness as he had on Vers. Earth was just as hostile toward him as Mars. He had no world to belong to anymore. This prison was all he had now; he had lost Asseylum’s smile along with everything else. He had known all along she would hate him for what he had done. Even if he had prepared himself by trying to let everything he held dear go, the moment he raised the gun at her the feelings of comfort and safety he had felt with her when he had had nothing else lingered even today. It was a painful emptiness resembling the same kind of hollow feeling he had had when his father had passed on. He had no right to miss her and yet he could not help but to do just that, now that his life was over. Everything was gone.

… Except the man before him.

You are all that I have, Orange,’ he thought. It did not matter if he liked it or not; that was his reality now.

Inaho was about to speak but stopped the moment he saw Slaine’s sorrowful smile.

“She saved my life when I crash landed on Mars after I was separated from my father,” Slaine said as he had decided to bare his heart for the man. ”She was there for me on my father’s funeral as well.”

A tear fell and made a weak dripping sound against the surface of the bath water, and he continued:

“She comforted me when I had no one else.”

Another tear…

“She showed interest in a shy lowly Terran boy even when she was told to stay away from him.”

A third…

“She…”

Slaine’s voice was caught in his throat and his heart ached enough to make him feel like he was dying. He lifted his trembling hands to his face to hide the emotions from deep inside his heart and fell into an shameless cry just like the little Terran boy he once had been. He realized it now; that little boy was what he had been trying to protect all along during his time in this tormenting captivity.

It hurt...

It burned...

His heart was suffocating.

Gentle fingers grabbed his left hand and pulled it down away from his face. Slaine raised his head just enough to see Inaho’s emotionless gaze fixed on him. Something comforting was hidden behind that seemingly shallow expression. The brunet said nothing. He just held his hand and gazed at him. Quietly… Tenderly… He allowed Slaine to be tired and weak. It was a relief for the exhausted blond since maintaining the protective wall around him was tired work; the wall crackled quicker than he could patch it up. The other man gave him permission to be human and let that wall crumble without scorning the little boy who now revealed himself. This time the other did not turn his back to walk away…

***

The water had turned cold by the time Slaine had calmed down. The blond’s body hung heavily from exhaustion as he hid his face against his knees. He had cried for a long time. Inaho felt powerless against what the other went through, mainly because he had no idea what was expected from him in this situation. The pain the other had exposed just now had been the second time for Inaho to see; the first time having been just a few months after the war had ended. The first time he had had no interest in the former dictator’s emotions, but now his confusion of why Slaine had acted so cruelly behind Seylum’s back had blown up to a level Inaho had trouble comprehending. He could not leave the man the way he had done before; he felt pity and something more unrecognizable toward him. The objective Slaine had had with claiming more and more power was out of Inaho’s reach. He thought he had understood it before, but now he was sure he was completely lost. If such passion like what Slaine showed now had driven him to such lengths, then why had he been as cruel being Count Saazbaum Troyard?

“You’re brave,” Inaho said quietly and did not let Slaine go with his gaze. He spoke honestly. He was jealous. Such pure passionate emotions had always been incomprehensible for him. They were not logical. They were not measurable. They were not something to be reasoned with. They just … were there, painted on the blond’s expression and weighing down his quivering shoulders.

“No… I’m a coward…”

Inaho was not sure if Slaine’s trembling was due to the cold water or the emotional exhaustion but he would not take chances. He reached for the shower head and turned it on and adjusted the temperature and then carefully let the water wash over the other man’s neck to warm him up.

“You’re brave.”

“I’m not.”

“You are.”

“No!”

Slaine’s body tensed up again and Inaho heard the other bite back a whimper. Inaho continued with a gentler tone:

“You are. You did something many are afraid of doing, and some just simply can’t. You reasoned with yourself and tore all your emotional defenses down in front of someone else, all by yourself. That is considered difficult to do, but you were brave enough to do it despite knowing it would end up leaving you vulnerable and exposed in front of me.”

Slaine sniffled.

“That’s not bravery. That is being pathetic…”

“Pathetic.” Inaho made a pause and shifted the shower head a little to let the water wash down Slaine’s back and continued: “Pathētikos means ‘sensitive’ in Ancient Greek, based on the word pathos, meaning ‘suffering’. Pathētós means capable of feeling’ or ‘subject to suffering’.”

“What are you-?”

“It means arousing pity, especially through vulnerability or sadness. ‘Affecting the emotions’ was the original sense of the word ‘pathetic’.” Slaine looked up at him confused, knitting his eyebrows into heavy creases on his forehead. “In this day and age it is considered unsightly to affect other people with negative feelings, and so it has come to informally mean ‘ludicrously or contemptibly uninteresting or worthless’ because humans are afraid of unconstructive feelings. You were brave enough to let yourself be both definitions of the word; you allowed yourself to be weak.”

Slaine kept staring at him a while but then smiled:

“Thank you…”

***

After washing themselves and having some lunch – which Slaine ate with an appetite – Inaho asked him to brew some more coffee. They put warm coats on and brought the coffee with them in a thermos and sat down on a bench in the snowy outdoor atrium to enjoy the fresh winter air. Slaine smiled as he saw his own breath dance in the winter breeze.

“I was told I was born on a blizzardy night in northern Europe,” he said quietly and sipped on the coffee in his cup. It warmed his hands and felt nice in the cold. He noticed Inaho turn his attention to him. “I had no time to make my birthplace feel like home since my father moved away with me quite early in my life due to his work. I haven’t really had a place to call home ever since.”

It hurt to admit it but that is how his life had looked like; always moving away to new places; never having the time to make a place feel safe and secure like a home. The only place he could ever have defined as a home was when his tiny hand had been held in his father's.

“Have you moved a lot?” Inaho asked and sipped on his coffee too.

“All the time; all over the world.”

“Then you must have seen a lot of different cultures.”

“Yes, I did.” Slaine smiled while memories of the magical India and majestic Africa came to him along with other beautiful countries and continents. He had not cared to reminiscence about those kinds of memories for a long time. He had been too busy with the war and then too busy keeping his sanity in check in this prison. It felt nice to actually fall back into nostalgia and have someone listen and make him company throughout his travels across his memories – just like Asseylum had done once before. “I once got to pat a baby camel in Morocco when I was seven years old.”

He chuckled at that memory.

“Then what happened?” the other inquired.

Slaine chuckled again.

“It bit me. I cried a lot. Luckily it didn’t have any teeth yet.”

Slaine heard a little grunting sound from the other man and looked at him, and he saw Inaho laugh quietly while holding his hand over his lips like he was trying to hold something back in his mouth.

“Are you alright?” he asked and Inaho nodded and seemed to swallow and then looked up at him with a smile.

“I had some coffee when you said that. I wasn’t prepared for such an amusing answer.”

Slaine laughed and felt a small comfort spread in his being.

“As a child my dad and I sometimes made American hotdogs around a campfire. Then once when we were in Paris a five year old me told my dad I was hungry and he bought me this French hotdog. I cried at that and said I couldn’t eat it because it looked weird,” he said with a broad smile on his lips. “He took me to a burger restaurant instead.”

Inaho smiled warmly and sipped his coffee again.

“Have you always been picky about food?” he asked, and Slaine looked at him with raised eyebrows.

“Why do you ask that?” he wondered out loud.

“You don’t seem to like sandwiches with jam on them. You didn’t touch the ones I made this morning,” Inaho answered.

Slaine shook his head with a sad smile.

“I like them a lot, but my dad used to make us such sandwiches and take me out on a picnic. I cannot eat them anymore because they remind me too much about him.”

“Do you miss him?”

“A lot. He was a good dad, but then he…” Slaine sighed and looked down at the snow between his feet which were tucked in warm winter boots. “He became obsessed with Aldnoah, and slowly forgot about those sandwiches and picnics … and in the end he almost forgot about me too.”

Slaine wished to remember his father as just a father and not a researcher. He had trouble remembering his face and he had no memory of how his voice sounded. All he had were those glimpses of his father in his memories of the past, and the amulet which he held close to his heart even now.

“What about your mother?” Inaho asked. Slaine made a pained expression and shook his head. That was all he had to tell him about her.

They both fell into silence once again. Slaine thought of these moments as valued ones. It was so calm and gentle knowing someone sat next to him without having to speak. Silent company was precious when that company was someone you enjoyed. He had missed some relaxed company in this prison and at first thought he would not care who it was, but now he would prefer Inaho any day in this empty life.

The snow began to fall slowly. It was quiet and the little sounds that were was muffled by the snow – almost being canceled out entirely. Slaine raised his face to feel the snowflakes land on his cheeks. He did not know when he would be able to feel them again like this and so he savored that moment.

“My parents died in Heaven’s Fall. I don’t remember them since I was born the same year before it happened. My sister was six years old by the time so she remembers them and have told me about them, but for me they are people I never knew,” Inaho said suddenly and Slaine opened his eyes and turned them to the brunet.

“I… I’m sorry to hear that,” he said with honesty.

“I told you, I consider them as people I didn’t know,” Inaho pointed out once again without any sadness behind his words.

“But still…”

“There is no reason to feel sorry about that.”

Slaine gave him a wry smile.

“Are you always this objective about things?” Sometimes Slaine wished that he had the same ability as the brunet. Emotions could take their toll on a human being and Slaine had had to fight through many emotional battles throughout his life. To be detached to situations in a similar way as Inaho would have made many of his battles easier.

“Are you always this passionate about things?” Inaho asked instead.

Again Slaine got a question as an answer but that particular question made Slaine understand that just as he was envious of Inaho’s detachment Inaho was envious of Slaine’s passion. Suddenly they shared a common ground; they both wanted to have what the other had.

“I guess we are opposites of each other, just like I have always thought and felt us being,” Slaine smiled weakly and saw Inaho nod.

“It seems so. I have felt the same thing.”

Slaine sipped his coffee again. It had begun to turn cold and his fingers had begun to go numb from the chilly season’s weather. They made a pause for a while again; letting the silence engulf them once again, and Slaine was thankful for it. He wanted to remember this moment and let it sink in before he had to go back into the lonely cell. It was nice and contented.

Minutes passed. The snow had begun to fall heavier now and Slaine’s coffee had turned completely cold. He still held the cup absentmindedly in his hands and stared at the sky. He wanted to fly again and while sitting out there in the snowy atrium with Inaho he somewhat felt like he did. ‘Why is that?’ he thought. He was nowhere close to the sky, and yet he felt like he was. He was soaring through an imagined sky. He wanted to tell him everything and nothing at the same time. The way Inaho had let him be the one he really was in the bath had given him a feeling of freedom; he did not feel as weighed down by loneliness as he had done before. Inaho had not scorned him when he cried. He had not left him this time. He had stayed and held his hand, giving him comfort in the most terrifying time of his life. He had exposed his weak self to the man and he did not regret it, and he hoped he would never do.

He took a deep breath.

“I wasn’t involved in the assassination attempt,” he finally said. “I know why people think that. I got rid of the one who actually was been behind it. I didn’t realize it back then but I guess I wiped away the evidence by killing him as revenge for his deeds against the princ- … against the empress. Then I took his position as an Orbital Knight. No wonder people think I was behind the assassination attempt.”

He noticed Inaho stare at him again. His eye was fixed on him intensely, urging him to go on – and so he did:

“I learned about the corruption inside the Orbital Knights by the pilot of Nilokeras; the first Martian kataphrakt you managed to take down. I saw it all since I was assisting the pilot under the order of Count Cruhteo who I served at the time. The pilot confessed before I shot him in anger, and after that I went paranoid when I returned to the landing castle. I had no idea who was behind the attempt and I couldn’t trust anyone, so when I heard about your orange kataphrakt at the island I figured I would find her there. I tried to save her, but in all honesty I had no idea what I would have done after that. I was acting on my emotions and not thinking properly.”

Slaine paused and heard the other man say:

“And that is when I shot you down for thinking you were there to finish the deed and kill her…”

Slaine chuckled and looked at him.

“I don’t blame you. You couldn’t have known my intensions, and I couldn’t have known yours. We both tried to protect her.”

“What happened after I shot you down?”

Inaho had asked the question Slaine had hoped he would not, but he was prepared with determination of coming clean. No one would know about it anyway and so he thought he had no reason to keep secrets anymore.

“I was taken as a prisoner by Count Cruhteo and tortured for information. He wanted to know my objective for stealing that Sky Carrier and going to that island as well as who killed the pilot of Hellas. I couldn’t trust him and so I was ready to die in order to keep the knowledge of Asseylum still being alive a secret.”

His voice shook slightly as he explained. Suddenly his scars seemed to ache and he grabbed the cup harder with his hands to distract himself.

“Those scars are from that torture,” Inaho concluded with that same emotionless voice he always had.

“I didn’t say a word about it to him during the entire time and finally he knocked me unconscious,” Slaine said, voice trembling more and more. “But in the end I learned Count Cruhteo was as loyal to Asseylum as I was and I could have told him everything and hopefully prevented the war. He died the same day before I had the chance; killed by the man who was behind the assassination attempt.”

“Saazbaum.”

Slaine nodded. He could not continue anymore for the day. His scars ached far too much – or maybe it was his heart? He did not know and did not care. He was tired.

“I would like to go inside again. It’s getting cold,” he mumbled and stared at his cold coffee.

Inaho nodded and got up from the bench and took the thermos from the snowy ground where he had placed it, and Slaine followed his example and stepped in through the door and felt his cheeks tingle from the temperature shift from cold to warm.

As Slaine was showed back to the cell by the brunet he sighed deeply and stepped inside. He headed straight for the bed and sat down on it heavily. He wanted to lie down and sleep. His eyes were still irritated from him crying his heart out and he wanted a break from the melancholy emotions that had begun to warp the peace he had had in his mind for a little while. Inaho sat down next to him and stared at him again.

“What is it?” Slaine asked without looking up at him.

Without answering him he felt a hand behind his neck and he was pulled closer to the other; their foreheads touching one another’s. His eyes went wide and he stared at the closed eye and eye patch so close to his face that he could see every single eyelash on the other man’s eyelid. He felt the other’s breath against his cheeks and lips as the whispering words reached his ears:

“Thank you for telling me. I’m sorry I shot you down.”

Slaine held his breath in shock and his heart woke up from the slow rhythm of melancholy. Its beats reverberated throughout his entire body and if he breathed now he knew the beats would be heard in his breath. His chest felt hot. It was a feeling he knew he had felt once before but in that moment he could not remember from where and when, or why.

Chapter Text

A shoe tapped against the tile floor irritably, letting its sharp batters make anyone who passed by know that she was in a grumpy mood. She stared impatiently at the small screen which had a red light lit on it to indicate a meeting was going on on the other side of the door to the conference room. Her brother had been called in to a meeting by the higher-ups and she felt frustrated that now that the war had ended two years ago her brother still had not gotten the chance to live a life of normal 19 year olds. His teenage life was almost over and he would become a young adult. ‘Those greedy officers won’t let him be even now,’ she grumbled in her mind. Dislike was not enough of a powerful word, and so hate was what she called it. She could not blame them though when thinking objectively about the situation Vers was in now. A revolution in the kingdom was on the horizon and the Empress Asseylum along with the Emperor Consort Klancain were still turning a blind eye to the seriousness of it and tried to calm the oncoming revolutionists' anger with pretty words.

Finally the red light on the panel died and Inaho was first out of the room. The clattering and scraping sound of chairs welled out into the corridor.

“So how did it go?” she asked as she waited for Inaho to join her side, and then they continued walking down the corridor together.

“The Empress does not seem to understand the seriousness of what is happening in her kingdom. The video conference had no substance. If a revolution starts UFE has to be careful of how it will affect Earth. If the winning side turns their attention to Earth then the Hyper Gates will become a problem,” her brother explained and had a slightly worn posture.

Yuki knew he had been working hard at the other mysterious work he had taken on in that mansion which he visited frequently. He had begun to visit more and more often and for each time he seemed to change slightly. She was worried for him. What was he doing in there? Why was it top secret and – most importantly – why had she not been assigned to it since she was of a higher rank than her brother?

“Hmph! I like The Empress a lot as a person, but as a ruler she is completely clueless,” she complained and sighed. “I’m sorry, Nao. I know you like her but I just feel frustrated. What if Earth is pulled into a conflict thanks to the revolution?” She was honestly worried about that. If things got heated again like during the last war then her brother would probably die this time around, and Earth would fall to its knees once again. Inaho had already used up most of his luck, according to her.

“There is no constructive interest in her from my side. She was a friend back then but now she is strictly Her Highness and nothing more,” her brother answered. This time his voice had a hidden negative tone to it and she understood her brother had turned frustrated about The Empress too, but why this sudden change of emotion? Previously he had seemed to have a neutral tone when talking about her.

“Are you disappointed in her?” she asked with a teasing grin, proud to be able to read her brother’s emotions.

“Yes. She has lived a protected life and doesn’t seem to understand the situation of the people.”

“That’s called being brainwashed since childhood,” Yuki declared and frowned. “I wonder if her husband is as brainwashed as her.”

“That may not be completely untrue. They share similar ideologies but Klancain seems to be more forceful than Seylum with his ideology.” Inaho seemed troubled.

“What kind of ideology are you talking about?” Yuki asked and stared at him and Inaho finally frowned; it surprised her how openly he showed that particular emotion.

“I’m not sure yet,” was the answer.

Yuki made an exasperated sigh and pressed her lips together into a thin line before she said out loud:

“This is so annoying! Hey, what do you say if we go out for dinner somewhere? My shift ended an hour ago.”

Inaho opened the exit door as they had walked through the lobby of the headquarters and held it for his sister to go through first. The doors were old and heavy of armored glass and metal.

“I have things to do, so I can’t. Maybe next time,” her brother answered.

Her shoulders slumped in astonished disappointment and she gaped at him, not walking through the door just yet.

“But why!? You’re going to that mansion again?” she asked and pouted. “Recently you always go there on your free time. You don’t have to overwork yourself.”

Inaho stared at her with a slight smile hiding behind his expressionless eye.

“Don’t worry, Yuki-nee. It’s not as heavy work as you think it is.”

Yuki stepped through the door as she decided he had been holding it open for too long now, and then she waited for her brother to exit the building and they continued to the parking lot.

“We haven’t spent that much time together recently after you moved to your own apartment and we haven’t even had a housewarming party yet,” she complained. She felt ridiculous for being jealous of Inaho’s secret work taking up all her brother’s time.

“I moved there one and a half year ago. I think it’s a little too late for a housewarming party now,” Inaho answered and stepped over to his car.

“My point exactly! You’ve been so busy we haven’t been able to gather the gang and have some fun at all.”

“I’m sorry, Yuki-nee. I really have to go back to that work today,” Inaho smiled with a reassuring smile to lessen her worry about overworking himself. “I see you tomorrow.”

Yuki watched her brother open the car door and sit down into the driver’s seat, and as he started the car and waved at her for the last time before leaving the parking lot she pulled a strand of hair away from her face with a disapproving look. She really wanted to know what her brother was doing in that mansion and why. It irked her that she was not allowed to know.

***

O madman, for my madness
fool, for my manhood!
Once I had a mind
and thought was given
a great heart crammed full––
that was long ago.
But now, nowadays
in this evil age
this life running short
All my mind is anyhow
my thoughts are priceless
all my sense is somewhere else.
She I waited for always
and half my lifetime
the Water-wife’s watery maid
the water’s latest daughter
to be a friend forever.

Slaine felt a pang of ache in his heart as he sat in the little room that had been made into a library. He was reading Northern European mythology about a brave man who had fallen in love with a young maid who had been promised to him as a wife, and the maid had hated him. She drowned in the sea while bathing and the brave man fell into despair. For Slaine it felt fitting; he felt like the brave man in the poem; he had lost his mind when Asseylum had been shot in front if his eyes – warping him into cruelty.

The part he had read just now had been after the brave old man had gone out to sea fishing for a meal. That was when he had caught a strange fish; the Water-wife’s latest daughter; the mermaid who lived under the sea; the maid who had drowned; the maid he had loved. The mermaid had declared her hate to the brave man once again and promised he would never get to see her again, and the man had fallen into an even deeper despair.

Slaine let his head fall onto the book which rested on the table in front of him. He felt like an idiot. There he was and connected his past to a silly old book with poems of an old man and his love for a maid who hated him. ‘Would Asseylum be my mermaid?’ he thought and smiled wryly at his farfetched thoughts. ‘I won’t be able to see her again, just like the brave man won’t see his maid…’ he sighed out loud and heard a knock on the door frame. He sat up again to see who it was and saw one of the new guards stand there with an empty coffee cup in her hand.

“Would you mind brewing some of that coffee?” she asked with a relaxed smile.

“I will, ma’am. Can you give me a moment to finish this chapter?” Slaine said and pointed at the book.

“No problem. I will wait out here in the corridor,” she said and disappeared behind the door somewhere, probably to go and sit down on one of the armchairs which had been placed there so the guards who guarded Slaine’s time in the library would have something comfortable to sit on during the long hours.

Slaine continued reading the last few pages:

Nor do I know at all
how to be, which way to live
in this world to dwell
in these lands to roam.
If my mother were alive
my parent awake
she would be able to say
how to stand upright
unbroken by griefs
unstricken by cares
in these evil days
in these low spirits!

Well I know how you feel,’ he thought to the brave man’s pleads and cries for his mother’s advice. He knew all too well how it felt like when having lost what was held dear. He had cried for his father a couple of times during his time in this prison when he had felt small; when that little boy inside him came forth when all his defenses had been peeled away. He thought of it as funny how a grown man never would outgrow that little boy inside the heart. When he had had no one else to cry for he had cried for his father. ‘I guess no one will be fully outgrown from their parents’ protection, not even the hero in this story,’ he mused and smiled tiredly. ‘What a comforting thought.’

He kept on reading and in the next verse the brave old man’s mother heard his cries in her grave and told him she was still enough alive to tell him how to stand upright and not be broken by griefs or stricken by cares. Slaine smiled with his aching heart slowly going warm. ‘How beautiful…’ he thought, but then his smile faded. The mother told the brave man to go to North and find a wife twice fairer, five or six times livelier, who were pretty-eyed, were fair to look upon…

“So if I were to listen to that advice I would have to forget about Asseylum and find someone better than her?” he whispered confused and then laughed quietly; he would feel too embarrassed to let the guard hear him laugh to a silly old book, and making noises would be without manners and respect for the others. He had still not forgotten a servant’s art of silence. ‘Who would that be? There is no one better and I am imprisoned here for the rest of my life,’ he thought and his laughter calmed down. ‘Well, there is always Inaho.’

That though was meant to be a private joke but he realized it felt too serious to be considered a joke. His cheeks got flushed and he closed the book carefully and stiffly set it back down onto the table while he stared emptily at the wall in front of him. His mind had gone haywire; he remembered the feeling of Inaho’s breath against his cheeks and lips as he had held his forehead against Slaine’s. He had been so nervous. His cheeks could not contain the blush and he felt his entire chest area together with his entire head go warm and red. The man’s breath had smelled of coffee; Slaine’s coffee. Inaho, who said he normally did not like coffee, had liked Slaine’s. He was afraid to explode out of embarrassment right there in the library; his stomach tingled pleasantly and he got slight goose bumps at that memory … and he hated it. He had no right to feel this way. He should not feel this way – especially since he adored Asseylum.

It had already been a week since Inaho had comforted him and listened to him talk. Slaine had undergone the physical examinations which Inaho had requested without a fight and accepted his psychotropic drugs without complaints. After that day the brunet had come back two days later, and then been away for a while. He wondered when Inaho would come back and he looked forward to when the younger man would.

He sighed and took a couple of deep breaths to calm his nerves and got up from the chair and walked to the door to peek out into the corridor. The guard was sitting and reading a fashion magazine in the armchair, and she looked up at him as she noticed him.

“Ready?” she asked with a friendly tone.

“Yes. Thank you for your wait, ma’am,” he said and cleared his throat which had gone dry from the embarrassing feelings he had had in the library.

The word about his coffee had spread in the prison and he had been allowed to be in charge of brewing coffee for the new staff, who openly appreciated it. The kitchen cupboards were still locked and anything sharp – like scissors and pens and knives – had been put away so he would not be able to use them as a dangerous tool to attack someone with. He did not mind since he had no reason to do so; he would only have minded it if he actually had been planning something.

The entire staff had been changed to new ones. Slaine figured the old staff had grown so tired of this prison for working there for two years that they were more than happy to change to other workplaces. He could not blame them; he had been difficult and unreasonable in many ways. Besides, along with the new staff he had been given a chance for a new start; a better start to get along with the personnel somewhat easier than the previous ones. The new personnel was friendlier, some more friendly than others, and Slaine figured Inaho had handpicked them himself to make Slaine’s imprisonment less tedious and stressful. He was grateful for it because it had worked; Slaine did not feel as cornered as he had done with the old personnel.

The medicine he took had made him calm down considerably and soon the treatment with antidepressants was scheduled to start. ‘Tomorrow,’ he reminded himself about it. He wondered if the new medication would help as much as the one he had taken until now, but instead ease his melancholy thoughts. His storming anxiety had become easier to handle after a week’s medication. He had been warned by the doctor that he could come to feel even worse during the first weeks with the new medicine but after that it would begin to take effect and his mood dips would get less deep than they were now. He was not as afraid of the pills as he had been a week ago but he still disliked them. He wanted to be able to feel alright without them.

They came to the kitchen and the evening personnel had already arrived two hours earlier than usual and sat around the table along with the day shift nurse and guards. Slaine greeted them with a slight bow before stepping in through the kitchen door and they nodded back to him. He walked over to the kitchen counter where a new bag of coffee beans had been placed along with proper paper filters and a porcelain filter stand – just like Slaine had requested.

“How many should I brew coffee for?” he asked with a slightly nervous voice as he washed his hands. He had not gotten used to being in the kitchen along with the personnel. The room still felt forbidden and he was uneasy about if the staff would bully him like the previous staff had.

“Eight I think,” the female guard – who had been waiting for him at the library – said and seemed to count the amount of people in her head before nodding. “Yeah, eight people all in all.”

Slaine took the new bag of coffee beans and began to open it. He felt surprised. Why eight? Normally he did coffee for six people – himself included – at that time of the day.

“Eight, ma’am?” he asked and the female guard must have understood his confusion of why so many cups of coffee had to be prepared.

“Well, Mr. Kaizuka called and said he would come to visit today. He should be here soon,” she answered and Slaine suddenly remembered what he had silently tried to joke about in the library minutes ago. The memory felt like a horse kick of embarrassment in his chest and he accidentally managed to tear the entire bag in two and the coffee beans rained over the kitchen counter.

“W-what? Now?” he asked shocked and felt the blush spread on his face again, and he quickly began to gather up the beans into the coffee container where the beans were stored to keep them fresh.

“Are you okay?” another guard asked and chuckled. “Getting nervous when the big boss is coming to inspect?”

“I-I am sorry, sir,” Slaine stammered and managed to gather all the coffee beans into the container. He filled up the grinder with beans and began to carefully grind them. “I was just surprised, that is all.” He tried to hide his bright red face from the staff by not turning around to look at them. He felt that he was being rude, but then again the staff had not shown any kind of care to such trivial manners.

“It’s fine, kid. Relax,” another guard said. That particular guard was a laid back individual, never taking anything too seriously and always teased Slaine in a joking way. Sometimes he had taken the teasing a little bit too far but then immediately apologized. Slaine was not sure if the apology had been sincere or not because the man had always worn a slight grin on his face but the guard had not been outright mean to him yet, and so Slaine had decided not to think about it too much.

“Yes, sir…” Slaine mumbled.

As the old personnel had been replaced with the new, and Slaine got to interact with them more, he had fallen back onto the role he had had as a servant on the Versian landing castles. He spoke and behaved more politely since he did not wish to fall onto bad terms with the new staff. He acknowledged their ranks and respected them in a different way than he had done when he first was locked up in the prison. Six days ago he had given up on building defenses around him in this place, and Inaho had been there to hold his hand which had made it feel alright. He had no reason to be unreasonable or difficult anymore, and so he tried to keep the staff on good terms partly by brewing them his – inside the prison – famous coffee. It felt more comfortable and easier that way.

***

Inaho noticed the guards at the entrance were gone. He wondered what could have been the reason for it and hurried inside. They would only leave their post if the panic alarm had gone off inside the building – which would mean that Slaine had turned violent. He hurried down the corridors and then heard Slaine’s nervous voice drift from what Inaho realized was the kitchen. The nervous voice said:

“… she ran away from him in dread and begged him to stop chasing her, but he was afraid of her tripping on the uneven terrain. Instead he told her that he would slow down so she wouldn’t need to run so recklessly and risk falling and scraping up the beautiful skin on her legs.”

“Damn, those crazy Greeks!” a man’s voice said.

A laugh reverberated from the kitchen and Inaho’s worry calmed down. He walked up to the kitchen door and looked inside and the entire staff was sitting next to the dining table, each with a cup of coffee in front of them. Slaine held his cup tightly in his hands as he sat among them and looked nervous. He had a blush on his cheeks as the others laughed around him but he also had a slight smile on his lips.

“Am I interrupting something?” Inaho asked and everyone looked up at him with surprise.

The guards who should have been positioned at the entrance stood quickly up from the kitchen table while the others were not as fast to get up from their chairs to do the same. Inaho figured the entrance guards were more nervous about being caught with leaving their posts, and they had a right to be; it was unacceptable.

“At ease,” Inaho said and watched the staff sit back down onto their stools while the two entrance guards hurried back to their posts. Slaine got up from the table to walk over to the pot on the counter with newly brewed coffee. Inaho watched Slaine pour up a cup and added some milk to it before he walked over to Inaho and offered him the cup with a slightly lowered head, as if he was avoiding looking at him directly. ‘So he has gone back to an old behavior pattern?’ Inaho thought and accepted the cup. “Thank you.”

Slaine seemed to blush even more and took a step back before he turned around on his heel with a practiced motion and went to fill up the staff’s cups some more. The young man seemed conscious about Inaho being there.

“The kid here just told us about…” The guard who balanced on the back legs of his stool made a pause and frowned as he looked at Slaine. “Who were they? Apollo and … Daisy?”

“Apollo and Daphne, sir,” Slaine answered politely and filled up the female guard’s cup.

“Greek mythology,” Inaho said and looked at Slaine. “I didn’t know you read Metamorphoses by Ovid.”

“I am trying. It is a difficult piece but the stories are beautiful,” Slaine said with a wry smile.

“And crazy,” said the guard with the laid back attitude. “Was it Athena who was born from Zeus’ head after she caused him a literally splitting headache?”

“That is not entirely correct, sir. Hermes told – by some sources – Hefaistos to hit Zeus on the head with a hammer to open it up to see why he had such a headache, and Athena emerged from there fully grown and dressed in battle armor.” Slaine’s smile got a little wider but he looked more worn than happy.

The guard grinned and chuckled:

“Either way, it was hilarious. I laughed hard at that. She sounds like a badass.”

The others around the table laughed again but Slaine had an expression which told Inaho he was tired and wanted to leave the kitchen. Inaho felt that interest to the other man perk up again. Seeing him interact with other people was a first, and the blond seemed to enjoy it but got easily exhausted. ‘Could be due to his mental health,’ Inaho thought.

“Oh, but you have to tell Mr. Kaizuka about that romantic and sad story about Echo and Narcissus!” the female guard said and her eyes seemed to tinder.

Slaine nodded stiffly and forced a smile onto his lips but Inaho saw that he simply wanted to sleep. ‘Does he exhaust himself by reading tragic stories?’ Inaho caught himself feeling annoyed. Was it due to Slaine’s affection for the Empress that he read those? Did he try to identify his own feelings with those kinds of stories? Inaho really did not like it, especially since ancient stories like that were heavy with emotion and tragedy, and would be highly unhelpful for his mood. He looked at the blond and said:

“You can tell me on our way to the conference room. I have things to discuss with you.”

Inaho noticed his voice sounded a little harsher than it was intended to. Slaine’s shoulders tensed up and he nodded without looking up at him. Inaho felt like he had done something to hurt the blond’s feelings but he would have to scold himself later; he had more important things to talk about with the blond, and worrying about emotions was not optimal for the moment.

Slaine followed Inaho down the corridors obediently but silently and held his head down. They both had brought a cup of coffee with them and as they stepped into the simple and scaled down conference room they both put their cups onto the table. Inaho sat down and waited until Slaine did so too. The blond hesitated for a moment but then carefully and slowly pulled a chair out and sat down on the edge of it – probably a habit he had learned in Vers.

“I have to ask you a straight forward question and I’m sorry if it is of a sensitive topic, but I need you to answer it,” Inaho said and looked at the other man’s lowered eyes and waited for them to look up at him, like he expected them to. And so he did; Slaine looked up at him with a slight uncertainty expressing itself in his ice colored eyes. “What was your objective with taking over Saazbaum’s role in the war?” Inaho asked bluntly.

Slaine’s expression went from tired to anxious and he looked like he was ready to get up from the chair and run. Inaho had to know. The revolution on Vers was worrying not only Vers but Earth as well. Why he asked Slaine about his old objective he could not tell. The man was not supposed to know.

Inaho waited patiently for the answer. Slaine had given up on hiding whatever he had been hiding that day when they had shared the bath together, and Inaho knew it would not be that easy for the man to just tell him straight away. He let the blond accumulate his courage and willpower until Slaine’s expression turned sorrowful and he lowered his eyes again. His shoulders slumped further.

“Oxygen and water is scarce on Mars. The growing population slowly built up a problem of poverty. The system of Vers was cruel. The rich dwelled in luxury while the poor screamed for rights and necessities to life. To change such system you need to be a determined and cold leader, but also fair. I thought Her Highness would never have been able to do that. She was too pure and I didn’t want to see her dirtying her hands and become like that,” he explained quietly. “What her father had done was…” Slaine hesitated.

“So you did it instead, for her?”

Slaine nodded with a gloomy look.

“Humbleness has never built or changed a nation – nor has beautiful words.”

Inaho let those words sink into his mind. He agreed with the slightly older man and yet he felt an unreasonable anger well up inside him. He did not like Slaine adoring her to such lengths. He disliked the thought of him willingly crumble under such pressure for her sake. She was not worth it.

“Saazbaum was dangerous,” Slaine said and frowned deeply. “He was greedy. I agreed with him about Vers but not in the way he did things. He wanted to kill Her Highness and conquer Earth to build a new nation while I wished to fulfill Her Highness’ dream while she was in coma. I wanted to give her a world where both Earth and Mars would prosper together when she woke up.” Slaine’s voice turned almost inaudible. “I would do the work and then hand over the throne to her even if she would hate the way I did things. She would never have understood what it would have taken to fulfill her dream. I was ready to die and repent for my sins after my work was done.”

Inaho felt like slamming the table with his hands. He wanted to be angry. He wanted to show Slaine he was angry. He was not angry for the man for leading the war; he had already passed that a long time ago. He was angry because the man had no self-worth.

“Have you always been like that?” Inaho asked, and this time his voice was slightly huskier than normally and he knew Slaine noticed. Slaine looked up at him unsure of how to interpret what Inaho had said or what the tone in his voice meant. “Have you always wanted to throw your life away for her?”

Slaine stared at him and searched for words and managed to say:

“What do you mean? I… I owe her my life…”

“And she threw you in here, not because she has forgiven you like I have told before, but because keeping you alive makes her happy even if you are suffering. To her death is worse than anything else, which is terribly naïve of her to think, considering you begged me to shoot you when you were locked up in here. That is not being merciful; that is being cruel – and yet you want to throw your life away for that kind of person!”

Slaine stiffened entirely, not being able to find words. Inaho’s voice had come out hard and blamed the blond for the jealousy that had infested his heart.

“She doesn’t care about you the way you think,” Inaho continued with forceful words. “Why do you cling to her so desperately and condone all the cruel things she has done to you?”

“H-how dare you say that…!?” Slaine got up from his seat and kicked the chair aside. “I was the cruel one! She’s humble and has a beautiful ideology! She is pure and fair!”

Inaho got up from his seat too. He was so angry he found himself being ridiculous and childish, but he could not stop himself. It felt too good to vent his unexplainable emotion like this.

“Her ideology consists of nothing but sheltered ideas. You were the one to give her the ideology to unite Earth and Mars, were you not? She couldn’t have come up with it by herself. That is why she isn't the beautiful one. You are! You fought for it!”

Slaine went quiet and held his breath as he stared at the brunet. Inaho felt the frustrating feelings boil which made them hard to contain. He felt ashamed of his outburst and yet he felt good about it. Why was the other man so blind? Why did he accept whatever the Empress did or said? Why did he give all the praise to her for things he had done while trying to fix her broken ideals for her? Why would he not acknowledge his beautiful mindset and instead thought higher of a foolish woman? Inaho had never met anyone so loyal as Slaine before, and Inaho selfishly though that the loyalty Slaine was capable of was directed toward the wrong person.

Why is he the only one to make me this angry?’ Inaho finally thought and calmed down for each second that passed. No one else had managed to make him lose his control. No one else had made Inaho this passionate. It had always been no other than Slaine.

Inaho sighed out the last of his frustration. Slaine took a step back the moment Inaho made a slight move with his hand to grab the cup of coffee, and watched him with watchful eyes – uneasy and taken aback from the man’s reaction. Inaho sat down again.

“I apologize. I have had a long day,” he said again with his usual monotone voice. “Thank you for answering my question.”

Silence fell into the room; it was not unusual for the two men to find themselves in quietude. Inaho could feel the blond’s stress radiate all the way to the other side of the table where Inaho sat. Then…

“Why … did you ask?” Slaine hesitated at speaking to the brunet and Inaho felt slightly bad, and yet he also egoistically thought Slaine had deserved it.

“I can’t tell you,” Inaho answered and Slaine’s expression went from uneasy and cautious to downcast. 'I'm sorry, Slaine, but it would destroy you.'

“You never tell me anything,” the blond said quietly.

“I simply can’t tell you.”

“I can’t hurt anyone from in here. You have made sure of that. You have updated me on trivial things before but the moment you ask me about my role in the war you start keeping secrets. Is the peace wavering?” Slaine asked tentatively. “Is Her Highness alright?”

“Stop asking about her,” Inaho said monotonous but stubbornly. He had to direct the topic to something else. Talking about sensitive information like the revolution was dangerous with the blond; especially with him. “Sit down,” Inaho asked him but Slaine seemed to take it as an order, and slowly did as ordered. Inaho paid no mind to it. “So you have read Metamorphoses. Why do you read such tragic stories?”

The blond had realized Inaho deliberately changed the conversation into something else and gave up about asking more. He sure had begun to give up more and more often according to Inaho.

“I think they are beautiful," the other said defeated. "Earlier today I was reading Kalevala, an internationally not known folktale from Northern Europe,” Slaine answered tiredly. His voice was empty of the passion Inaho had grown used to during the past week.

“Is it tragic too?”

“Yes. It’s about an old man who is born from the sea and goes through difficult trials,” the blond said. “The Northern European tales are very different from the ones from southern Europe. They are far more melancholy and dark, and they tell heartbreaking tales about humans and their fates rather than reckless and tragic gods. Both are beautiful in their own way. I like how you can emotionally connect with the heroes from the North, and I like how the tales about the southern gods flatter your human fragility.”

“I see. I haven’t read any of those in detail but I know about some of the stories”, Inaho said honestly.

“Like the Deucalion?” Slaine asked and smiled wryly. “I guess you have read about the inspiration source to the Versian kataphrakts’ names?”

“I have stumbled upon them, yes,” Inaho answered and thought a short while. “Deucalion; the son of Prometheus, am I right?”

“Yes. He was the progenitor to the people of Greece, and in Christianity he is equivalent to Noa.”

Inaho felt a little impressed of Slaine’s knowledge of the mythology from the western culture and he could understand why the staff would want to listen to him retelling the tales of brave heroes and reckless gods going through tragic misfortunes. He had a certain air to the way he spoke about them. Inaho knew reading was all Slaine did while he was awake and did not brew coffee to the personnel, and so it was natural for the blond to know about mythologies since they struck his fancy.

“What about the kataphrakt I used to fight you?” Inaho asked but Slaine shook his head.

“Sleipnir was it? I haven’t read about Norse mythology yet.”

“Then you probably will find the character Loki interesting once you do,” Inaho said and Slaine arched an eyebrow.

“Why?”

“You have some things in common with him.” Slaine stared at Inaho confused but Inaho continued before Slaine had a chance to speak: “But you should probably wait reading such tragic tales for a while and read this instead.”

Inaho pulled a little book from inside the coat’s pocket and held it out for Slaine.

“What is it?” Slaine asked and accepted the book from Inaho.

Peter Pan, by Barrie. It’s about a boy who can fly because no one told him he couldn’t.”

Slaine looked at the book’s cover of a boy dressed in leaves who – with nothing but a knife – fought a menacing looking pirate who had a hook instead of a hand.

“Oh, the pages have golden edges,” Slaine said with a weak voice and smiled as he examined the book carefully with his slender fingers. He looked peaceful while holding it. It suited him.

He should always carry a book,’ Inaho thought spontaneously and found the thought ludicrous – but he could not help it. He found the other gorgeous holding a book in his hands while smiling that peaceful smile which made Inaho unexpectedly want to reach out a hand and touch him; gently not to break him.

“I thought you would like it after reading it so I decided to buy the one that looked the most exclusive,” he said instead.

Slaine chuckled softly.

“Thank you. I think I like it already.”

Inaho knew the conversation was over at that and yet he did not want to let Slaine go. He wanted to force the conversation to continue but he had no idea how to. He wanted to stay like this for a while; be with Slaine who was sitting there with the book looking so striking in a gentle way that Inaho had an urge to steal all the attention the blond gave to Seylum and direct it at himself. He knew his thoughts and feelings were absurd and probably unreasonable but he did not care. Slaine had slowly begun to teach him how to be passionate and Inaho was only capable of being that with him. He wanted to learn more. ‘Show me,’ he thought silently but could not voice the thought out aloud.

In the end not another word was said and Inaho showed Slaine back to the cell. Slaine sat down on the bed with his back turned against the door like usual and opened the cover of the book while Inaho turned the key in the lock. Slaine had grown so used to the locks that he did not react on it like he had done early during his captivity, and Inaho found it sad. Instead the blond smiled as he read the forewords of the book Inaho had bought him. Inaho’s heart grew heavy. He did not like the feeling of leaving the other inside that cage. He wanted to leave the door accidentally unlocked and give the melancholy bat a chance to fly away – but that would only end up getting him killed. Murdered … by people who did not see what Inaho saw; a tragic tale in the flesh that needed compassion, and hungered for it; a lonely tale who only saw comfort in equally tragic tales like him.

Chapter Text

“Yuki-nee.”

“Yes?”

“You know about music, right?” Inaho asked and looked at his sister as they ate early breakfast at a little restaurant by a cozy street. They had decided to meet up for breakfast before work and this particular restaurant was always open during all hours of the day. They used to sit there from time to time and have breakfast together since Inaho knew how lazy his sister could be with preparing food; he had been the cook for them both when they had lived together before the war.

“Of course I do, Nao,” she smiled and then yawned with her mouth wide open with her laid back attitude. “Why you ask?”

“I need a playlist,” Inaho explained and Yuki stared at him with a wry smile asking him silently if he was serious. “It’s not for me,” Inaho proceeded to say and placed a MP3-player on the restaurant table in front of his sister.

“It’s for someone else?” Yuki asked and looked surprised. “What kind of music do you need to be in the playlist, and most importantly why do you want to give a playlist of music to someone?”

Inaho took a sip of his morning tea and said:

“I need some music that is generally liked by most people. It is supposed to be a gift for someone.”

Yuki stared at him in shock for a while before a teasing grin spread on her face. She leaned over the table and looked at him with eyes that told him if he tried to lie she would force the truth out of him one way or another.

“Have you found a girl?” she whispered excitedly.

“Are girls supposed to be hard to find?” Inaho asked with that blank expression on his face.

“Oh, stop flattering yourself like that!” she said and then grinned even wider.

“That isn’t what I meant, I-“ Inaho began to explain but was interrupted by Yuki’s bright smile and words:

“Okay okay, you don’t have to tell me if it’s such a secret! Sheesh! Teen boys…” she said and arched an eyebrow teasingly. “I will fix a playlist for you that she will like. Leave it to me. I’m an expert at these things!” she said and grabbed the MP3-player and squeezed the hand into a fist around it. She looked like she would explode from excitement. “My Nao has found a girl!” she whispered excitedly and proud.

“Don’t jump to such conclusions,” Inaho tried to calm her. “I have not given you any reason to-“

“I have seen you change recently. I knew there was something going on but I could never have imagined my Nao had fallen in love!” she giggled. “Is she pretty? What’s her name?”

“I told you I have not given you any reasons to believe I have a-“

“Fine!” she sighed and interrupted him yet again. “I will make a playlist during lunch. Don’t worry about it, you can keep her a secret for a while longer – but don’t hog her all to yourself.”

Inaho sighed and gave up.

“Thank you. I need it after work.”

“Leave it to me!” Yuki said and waved the MP3-player in front of her. “I will make a great playlist!”

***

”Good morning,” he heard the melodic voice say from somewhere far away as he lay in a restless slumber. He took in a sharp breath as he woke up and then bit his lip. He had not gotten a proper night’s sleep even if he had taken the sedative medicine as he had done for seven days now. “Wake up, it’s breakfast time.”

Slaine sat up slowly. His body was heavy and stressed out and the frontal lobe of his brain felt like it was filled with lead. The duvet fell off of him as he sat up and looked up at the gently smiling day shift nurse at the cell door. He had an unpleasant feeling spreading in his chest. He felt sorry for the nurse who stood there with a little plastic container and a glass of water in his hand and probably looked forward to Slaine’s morning coffee – just as he usually did when he had the shift; just as the entire staff had done the entire week.

“It’s time to start the new medication,” the nurse said and unlocked the cell door to step in and hand the container with a pill over to Slaine. Slaine stared at it without taking it. It was a different kind of pill than the others he had taken. It was small, white and oval in shape. He felt bad for the nurse. He silently whispered sorry to him in his mind. The nurse waited but when Slaine did not make a move to take it he frowned at the blond. “Are you okay?” he asked with a worry. “You look pale.”

“I don’t want it,” Slaine said quietly. His voice was thick with exhaustion.

The nurse stared at him in a confused shock, probably because Slaine had never refused to take his medication before during this nurse’s time working at the prison.

“You don’t want it?” the other finally asked and Slaine averted his eyes and hung his head. He was so tired it hurt.

“No…” he said quietly in an apologetic tone.

The nurse stared at him for a short while again, seeming not to understand what Slaine had said.

“Why not?” the nurse finally asked after a pause. “It was scheduled for you to start this new medication since the other did not give any effect on your depression despite proper sleep.”

“I know…”

“Then why won’t you take it?”

Slaine went quiet. He had no wish to say a word. There was nothing to say anyway. He had made up his mind. The nurse tried to ask if something had happened, if Slaine felt ill, if he was afraid to take it. Slaine did not answer to anything of it. No, he was not afraid of taking it. At this point he did honestly not care what kind of pills they wanted him to take; it would not matter anyway since he just simply refused. As the nurse understood that nothing he would tell the blond would have an effect he sighed heavily.

“You do understand that you’re under compulsory care, right?” he asked, and Slaine simply nodded as an answer.

He felt so sorry for the nurse and the entire staff that he wished he actually was mute to have an excuse to not make them disappointed in his silence. Every word he would say would be too heavy to voice. ‘I’m sorry,’ he thought.

“Take the pill, Troyard,” he heard him try again. Slaine did not answer. “I will have to inform Mr. Kaizuka about this sudden change.”

Do that…,’ Slaine thought tiredly but did not answer.

The nurse sighed: “Why are you doing this? We will have to force you, you know…”

Slaine nodded again and the nurse stared at him probably with a disappointed look on his face; the stare burned against Slaine’s lowered face.

“Then we will have to do that…”

The nurse disappeared with those heavily disappointed words ringing in Slaine’s ears after locking the door after him, probably to get the guards if Slaine would turn violent. Slaine felt a hot feeling of shame in his chest. It felt like his heart vibrated quietly. It was an unpleasant vibration; it made Slaine feel like he was slowly withering from the vibrations; lost pieces of himself slowly but steadily. His breath was shallow and no matter how deeply he tried to breathe his lungs still felt tight and he felt breathless. He was too determined and exhausted to cry from the fright that begun to build up. What would they do when they came back? Would they force him down? ‘If they have to…,’ he thought determined but his anxiety threatened to go out of control. He forced it down by sheer willpower.

The steps from three people were heard outside the cell. The steps sounded threatening. He began to tremble and it escalated slowly the closer the sound of the steps came. He heard whispers being exchanged between the guards and the nurse, probably planning on what to do if Slaine would turn violent – but he had not planned on becoming that.

As they appeared outside the door and unlocked it to step inside Slaine hung his head lower. He was so ashamed, so sorry for his sudden change. The personnel would hate him after this, just like the old one.

“You haven’t changed your mind?” the nurse asked and Slaine shook his head. The nurse put a plastic glass onto the table next to Slaine’s bed with water in it. “You won’t get anything else than this to drink until you have emptied this glass. It contains 10 mg with the active substance escitalopram, an antidepressant. We will wait here.”

Slaine kept quiet. He painfully waited for something else to happen. The nurse and guards stepped out of the cell and left the glass on the table and instead sat down in the corridor and waited. Their stares felt suffocating but Slaine was grateful they at least gave him some space and did not corner him to force the liquid down his throat; they left the end decision for him to take and drink it.

“Mr. Kaizuka is being informed about your sudden change. It might be that he comes to pay you a visit, kid,” the guard who usually teased Slaine said with a surprisingly gentle tone.

Slaine had nothing to answer him and instead lay down onto the bed and let out an exhausted sigh. Refusing to drink had also been put on his list of things to reject. The nurse tried to communicate with him and ask what was going on and why Slaine suddenly had changed so drastically from having been somewhat relaxed and social to completely shut himself into his world of depression. Slaine never gave the nurse a reaction and the hours went by. He got hungry and thirsty and at one point one of the guards had gotten him some sandwiches to go with the glass of water with medicine mixed in it – but Slaine did not touch it. All three tried to talk to him at times but mostly they gave him space and silence not to agitate or stress him in any way. To Slaine it was excruciating; he was ashamed of himself and what he was doing, but he had to do it.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity, some steps were heard from the corridor and Slaine knew whose steps they were. He had come to recognize them right away the moment he heard them from a distance during his two year time in the prison. Inaho had come back. The nurse and guards greeted him and updated him on Slaine’s status and then Inaho asked the guards and nurse to leave. Slaine’s heart raced as the cell door was opened and the brunet stepped inside. He was nervous and somewhat scared.

“Why won’t you take your medicine or eat or drink?” he heard the monotone voice say and Slaine sat up in bed.

He cleared his dry and thirsty throat as he hung his head.

“Tell me what is going on out there,” he said quietly with a raspy voice. He was so exhausted his head hurt.

“Is that why you refuse to cooperate; because you threaten me with this in order to know?” he heard the other ask, and Slaine directed his eyes to the man and nodded. Inaho looked slightly angered. “You have no position to give ultimatums, Troyard.”

“I need to know… Is she alright?” Slaine whispered.

“I have no obligation to answer your questions about her.”

“Please…”

“No.”

Slaine swallowed hard in order to ease his dry throat and weakly grabbed the duvet with his hands. Inaho kept staring at him and waited. Was he angrier than he let Slaine know?

“Is she alright?” Slaine asked again.

“What gave you the idea she is not?” Inaho answered and observed him.

“Your question yesterday about my involvement in the war gave me a reason to think something is happening out there that you needed that information for. Normally you update me about trivial things from the outside world but lately you haven’t updated me on anything,” Slaine explained and let his gaze fall to his hands which were grabbing the duvet in an attempt to find comfort. The grip tightened. “Please, tell me.”

“If – let’s assume – there was something going on out there, what would you be able to do from here?” Inaho asked.

Slaine bit his lip.

“I can’t do anything.”

“And so you have no need to know.”

The vibrating feeling in his chest began to grow and suddenly it felt like his chest was about to burst. He wanted to scream. He felt so helpless and everything was Inaho’s fault for keeping him locked up in the building. If the Empress was in danger in any way he would have no way to help her – and yet he wanted to know what was going on out there. Was she alright? Was she in some kind of danger? In what state was Vers in? He remembered Inaho mention something about the people on Vers being in the similar situation as before the second war. Had this secrecy something to do with that? Was Vers on the verge of civil war or was Vers threatening Earth? ‘No, Asseylum wouldn’t do that. She cares about Earth too much to do something like that,’ he thought and sighed. He wanted to cry this time. He had begun to crumble from the vibrations; he slowly felt his frustration build up.

“Please!” he yelled and bit back the tears.

“No.”

“Orange! Tell me!”

“I won’t, Troyard.”

Slaine felt a pang of aggressiveness hit him and he took the plastic glass from the table with a quick action and threw it to the floor; it clattered and rolled away.

“Why do you keep me in the dark?! Is she alright?!” he yelled loud enough that his voice resonated from the walls both inside and outside the cell.

“You have no right to know,” was the monotone answer but it was drowned out in the hurrying steps from the guards and the nurse. It agitated Slaine on multiple levels; he began to feel cornered again. The vibration in his chest got more and more intense.

“I NEED TO KNOW!” he finally yelled and got up from the bed to take the small chance of grabbing Inaho by his collar – just as he had done in the shower – but his arms were grabbed by the guards before he had managed to take a hold of the other man, and they held him back from the brunet. Inaho had taken a step back but observed Slaine with that expressionless eye.

Slaine fell into a cry and while the raging emotions inside him gave up now that he realized he was being held under control, his body went weak. He hung in the guard’s grip and whimpered. The vibrations were torturous; they made him anxious and scared.

He heard the heartbreaking order from the nurse to the guards to lay him down on the bed and hold Slaine still. He could hear the nurse say something about an injection. Slaine knew, as the guards moved him to the bed, that the nurse and guards were sorry for having to do it. They were too kind to not feel that way, Slaine thought somewhere in his mind which was spinning out of control. Inaho on the other hand did not seem to care at all.

Slaine was pushed gently down against the bed since he made no resistance. They were not as forceful as he had thought they would be. He found himself lying face down on the bed with strong hands holding his arms and legs down against the mattress. It hurt slightly but Slaine understood they had to make sure he would not try to move when he would get the injection. He heard the nurse prepare the syringe and shortly after that the edge of his pants was pulled slightly down and a stinging feeling in the right muscle of his backside made him bite back a gasp of the unpleasant surprise. It felt slightly hot and then cold, and after a couple of seconds he felt a relaxing feeling spread throughout his body as the injection had been emptied into him. Suddenly he felt the urge to sleep and the anxiety and vibrations slowly drifted away. It seemed to be the same medicine he had been taken during the week in a pill form, but this time it gave a stronger effect much faster.

“Rest a while. I will come back with a new glass with medicine,” the nurse said somewhere behind Slaine and the guards let him go. Slaine did not move or answer.

He felt a hand be placed on his back and he felt the urge to jerk from the touch, but his body was too tired to do that. The hand felt warm and comforting and he heard the guard who had been jokingly teasing him during the entire week say with that surprisingly gentle voice:

“Hey, kid. Honestly… What’s up?”

The words made Slaine heartbroken; he hated himself for doing this to them but he had to. He could not answer the man no matter how much he wanted to. The hand rubbed his back slightly and the more the gentle motion stroked him the more Slaine was giving up about trying holding his tears back. That tender gesture made him feel weaker in his determination; it was a gesture of pity which told him it was alright to be weak and say what was going on in his mind. ‘I’m pathetic again…,’ he thought silently to himself and remembered what Inaho had said about the word. ‘I’m not brave… I’m foolish. I don’t deserve your pity…

The guard kept caressing his back gently until the nurse came back with another plastic glass of water mixed with the medicine. He heard the nurse say something to Inaho but Slaine could not comprehend the words. His mind was exhausted and tired and now drowsy from the drug. Inaho answered the nurse and Slaine heard the mention of a doctor, and then the nurse and guards left again. Inaho’s presence remained and the presence moved closer and the brunet finally sat down on the bed next to Slaine.

“Have you calmed down?” he heard the other man say.

“I’m tired…”

“Yes, that is the effect of the medication.” There was a pause and a little thump was heard from the table. “I brought you some music. I thought you would want to stimulate your mind with something more relaxing than always read heavy books. I read that music can sometimes function as a therapeutic medium when feeling depressed.”

“Why won’t you tell me…?” Slaine asked and ignored what Inaho had just said. His words were slurred and he had trouble phrasing them.

“It won’t make a difference even if I tell you.”

Slaine took a deep breath as the tightness in his chest had been relieved. He sluggishly pushed himself up from bed but he had trouble coordinating his movements, and thus he felt unsteady and had to move slowly. He turned around toward Inaho and looked up at the man. He wanted to threaten him. He wanted to strangle him in order to get information from him.

“I need to know…”

“No, you don’t need to know anything about what you have asked,” Inaho answered and kept eyeing him expressionlessly.

Slaine managed to grab Inaho’s shoulders but the moment he tried to exert his muscle power his mind began to spin even more, and he shamelessly fell against the other man from exhaustion. Inaho did not try to stop him.

“Why are you…?” Slaine whispered and forced himself up. His cheek brushed against the other’s as he tried to sit up taller than Inaho to win some higher ground, but he had no strength to do that and leaned against the other man. “… hiding it from me…?”

“There is no reason for you to know,” he heard the man repeat again but a shiver ran down Slaine’s spine as he felt the breath of the other against his ear as he leaned against him.

“Why…?”

Inaho grabbed Slaine’s shoulders and pushed him slightly away from him to be able to look Slaine in the eyes, but Slaine – in his blurry state of mind – could swear he did not meet the other’s gaze; it was directed somewhere else; Inaho was staring down at Slaine’s lips.

“Because…” he heard the man say quietly and slightly distracted. Their breaths mingled; Inaho’s breath tickled against Slaine’s lips and cheeks. It felt … pleasant. “… you are…” Slaine stared at him with a hazy sight. Inaho leaned slightly closer; their lips brushed against each other’s as the brunet finished: “… a war criminal…”

Within a second Slaine’s breath was caught in his throat as Inaho had leaned in and pushed his lips against Slaine’s. They were warm and soft but also bold – almost like the man had been hungry for Slaine’s lips for a long time. His stomach tingled slightly but not nearly as strong as it would have if Slaine had not gotten drugged minutes ago. He wanted to push the other back from shock, but Inaho refused to let their lips separate and grabbed Slaine’s protesting hands. Slaine wanted to fight back and yet he found himself giving in to the kiss more and more; he responded to the uneven pattern of lips meeting lips over and over again by joining the man in the kiss; he gave Inaho permission to take his breath away each time their biting lips united.

Their lips got wet and met again and again and the both men slowly grew greedier. Inaho pushed Slaine back and without strength in his muscles Slaine closed his eyes in surrender and fell back against his bed. Inaho followed in the fall, refusing to let Slaine go and pushed him into the sheets. Inaho’s heaviness felt pleasant and comforting – it was a completely new sensation for him. Slaine was not sure what made his mind spin anymore. Was it the drug or the kiss? Gasps filled the cell in between the wanting kisses. The moment Slaine’s hands were freed from Inaho’s warm ones he slowly lifted them to grab the man’s suit. He pulled at the thick fabric almost in desperation to hinder the man pulling away from him, but Inaho did not seem to have any plans on doing that. Instead one of the brunet’s hands grabbed Slaine gently by his hair; buried the slender fingers into the fair hair and affectionately pulled at it, while the other fell down to Slaine’s waist and caressed it in a way that sent a sudden electric pulse through Slaine’s entire being. At that moment Slaine was thankful for the drug; his heart did not threaten to explode from the nervousness that coursed throughout his body.

Their kissing slowly calmed down and they both found themselves out of breath. Slaine’s cheeks had grown hot and he kept his eyes closed as the other pulled slightly back from him; he was afraid to see the look on Inaho’s face. It felt too embarrassing and awkward.

“Forget about her,” he heard the man whisper close to his lips with an out of breath monotone voice, and again their lips met for a brief moment. “You don’t need her…” Again their lips met for a couple of kisses.

Slaine frowned as the man pulled back again.

“But I-”

“No.” The voice that interrupted him was forceful. “Forget about her.”

“Inaho… She-”

“No.”

“But-“

“No. Say only my name.”

Slaine hesitated. How could Inaho expect him to let the feelings to Asseylum go like that? She had meant, and still meant everything to him. Before he had the time to answer he heard a slight rattle from the table next to the bed and he heard Inaho say:

“Take the antidepressant.”

Slaine shook his head, still afraid to open his eyes.

“Not until you tell me wha-“

Slaine’s words were interrupted as wet lips pushed against his again. A hand pulled his chin down while the two men were joined in the kiss, and a liquid with a bitter taste poured into Slaine’s mouth. He swallowed it from the surprised shock and frowned as he coughed slightly; his throat had been dry for too long.

“Take it.”

Slaine shook his head again, and again lips met his and that bitter liquid was forced into his mouth – and he swallowed.

“Inaho…”

“Please, take it.”

The voice that filled his ears was desperate. Slaine hesitated and frowned deeper for a moment as he pondered on that desperation in the other man’s voice. Why did Inaho sound like that? He had not cared about him moments ago when the guards had forced Slaine down on the bed. Then, as he decided that maybe the man’s reasons were of a warmer variety than he had expressed earlier, he smiled slightly:

“Then give it to me…”

“Are you saying I should taste the bitterness of it too?” Inaho’s words asked slightly less distressed.

Slaine nodded, and after a couple of more kisses the glass had been emptied.

***

Inaho gazed at the blond who lay beneath him on the bed exhausted and with a blush on his cheeks. The brunet’s heart raced violently. It had only raced like this twice before and the first time had been when his kataphrakt had been carried by Slaine’s Sky Carrier on the island Tanegashima years back when they had first met. He thought of it as interesting and funny how he reacted the same way now four years later but for a different reason. His heart had always reacted that way only around Slaine. The last time had been on the moon base two years ago when he had met the former dictator for the the time in person. Back then he had been angry and frustrated over the blond’s persistence to hate him and keep the war going. Now his heart beat the same way but for a different reason; it was a pleasant reason.

He had felt a thrill the moment Slaine had clung to him desperately to pry information out of him and he had not been able to stop the impulse of touching him the moment he had felt Slaine’s heaviness against his shoulder and cheek. Now the blond lay there on the bed obediently and had been calmed down from their lips connecting for a while, almost like they both had gotten some hidden frustration out of themselves while doing that. The drug in Slaine’s system probably had done a lot to Slaine’s obedience and, to not step over any more borders of violations on Slaine, Inaho had calmed his greed and pulled away from the man.

“I’m sorry,” he said quietly and got up from the bed. Slaine opened his tired eyes slightly this time and looked confused. “I did not mean to violate you like that,” Inaho continued to explain. “You might be in a confused state due to the sedative medication, and I should not have forced myself on you like that.”

Slaine stared at him with a slight frown and shook his head.

“I’m fine … with it…” he whispered with an ever growing blush. Even the tips of his ears had a tint of red.

“You may not agree with that when the effect of the medication has subsided.” Inaho got up from the bed to leave but was hindered by something tugging on his coat. He looked over his shoulder and saw Slaine weakly hold onto the hem of the coat.

“Stay … and wait until I’m clear in the head then,” the blond hesitantly said and then frowned deeply. “I feel sick…”

“It may be because you haven’t eaten anything today, and that medication has that kind of effect if your stomach is empty when taking it,” Inaho reminded him and walked up to the table where the sandwich lay and moved the plate to the bed side table. “Try and eat a little. I will ask someone to bring you some fruits and something to drink. Your mouth was dry from not drinking anything today.”

Slaine blushed into an even redder shade.

“T-thank you…”

Inaho nodded and was about to leave when…

“Are you … leaving for today?”

“Do you want me to?” Inaho asked as he stopped and looked over his shoulder again, and waited as Slaine seemed to gather his sluggish thoughts.

“No…”

“Then I will return after I have had a meeting with the staff about today’s events.”

Slaine smiled weakly in an apologetic way.

“Orange…”

Inaho pulled his lips slightly into a smile too.

“Bat.”

They stared at each other for a little while in that all too familiar silence before Inaho turned around to walk out of the cell, lock the door and then walk to the conference room.

***

Slaine listened to Inaho’s steps fading away as he left for the meeting. He still had plans to ask the other man about Asseylum; he had not given up about getting information on her and her kingdom’s status. Since he had lost to the man in a very ... unusual way, he found himself much calmer than earlier, but he still felt the need for information of Her Highness. He would not give up; if he had to he would continue refusing the medication until Inaho told him what he wanted to hear since Slaine knew that if he was persistent in the long run Inaho had to abide to him eventually. But then again... 'What if he does ... that ... again?' he thought and sighed heavily. Somehow he found himself not wanting to resist the brunet if he would do the same thing over and force Slaine to swallow the medicine like he had done minutes ago. Slaine covered his face with his hands in embarrassment.

His stomach was in an uproar and within minutes the guard who used to tease him came with a bowl of newly made fruit salad and a glass of juice.

“Hey, kid. Feeling any better?” he asked with a weak smile as he unlocked the door and stepped in to place the fruits and juice on the bedside table. He was about to remove the MP3-player Inaho had placed there earlier to make room next to the plate with the sandwich.

“Can you … give me that?” Slaine requested lethargically as he saw the black little player.

“Of course.” The guard handed it over to Slaine and placed the bowl on the table, and then looked somewhat sympathetic as he watched Slaine examine the player and headphones which came with it, with clumsy fingers. The headphones were brand new. “Hey… What happened earlier?” he asked and Slaine looked up at him.

“I’m sorry…” the blond whispered with honesty. “Can you … help me with this? I don’t know how it works really.” Slaine avoided answering the man’s question intentionally. All he could do was to apologize.

The guard took the player from him and made a quick glance at it.

“You didn’t have these things on Vers?” he asked.

“I never had.”

The guard took the headphone package and opened it and then connected the plug into the MP3-player. He held them out for Slaine.

“Put these in your ears. This is the right one,” he instructed and showed the right side of the headphone pair, and Slaine did as he was told. “You push this button here to play a song. This one changes the volume. And with these buttons you either go to the previous song or then skip over to the next.”

Slaine tried his best to take in the information but his head was not cooperating properly, but he was sure he would manage somehow as long as he knew how to play the songs. The dosage must have been strong this time. He had never felt this out of it before because of the drug.

“Thank you…” he just said and took the player.

“I have to go for the meeting. Will you be okay, kid?”

“Yes, sir… Thank you.”

“Stop with that ‘sir’ thing. You don’t need it here. We’re not that picky,” the guard said with that teasing smile again. “You’re a good kid despite of what you did earlier in your life. Everyone here agrees on that. See you later.”

Slaine felt guilty at those words but knew the guard only meant well. He thanked him again and as the man had disappeared he turned his attention to the player. He pushed the button the guard had told him would play the music, and immediately frowned at what he heard was contained on the player. Electric guitars, something he remembered hearing on the radio as a child while he still lived on Earth, played and then a man began to sing about not being able to last the night because of the strong love he felt for the one he sung to. Slaine’s cheeks began to blush again and his fingers almost dropped the player. It was a love song. Embarrassed and with a hasty push on the button another song began to play. Another love song. A third push on the button. A third love song. A fourth push on the button. A…

Slaine pulled the headphones off at the fourth song and stared shocked at the ceiling. What was Inaho trying to say with these songs? His face had gone hot and he trembled from nervousness. The fourth had been about pouring sugar on each other and… Slaine had read enough poetic stories in the library to know what the metaphors in the song hinted at. He was scared of continue listening to the songs on the player. ‘What are you trying to do, Inaho?’ Slaine thought completely red in his face and clumsily tried to turn the player off.

***

Yuki looked up at the setting winter sun from the car window. She had just shut down the engine of her car and stepped out of the vehicle. She turned her eyes to the door into the building.

No guards…,’ she thought and felt a relief. She walked determinedly up to the door and acted like she knew what she was doing to try and distract anyone who would try and stop her, but to her surprise no one stood at the door to guard the entrance. She put her hand to the old and robust handle and pushed it down to open the door. It was locked.

Damn it!’ she thought and rummaged around in her coat pocket for bobby pins.

***

“… and I would say he has traits of borderline personality disorder, the way he behaves,” the doctor said and looked at her papers. “I wouldn’t say he has the diagnosis, but his way of behaving with people seems to hint at him having traits of it. His attachments to people are based on idealization or no interest at all, and he has difficulties in handling his emotional impulses, especially anger which would mean he has a maximizing survival pattern. He has dysfunctional strategies of how to handle his affects; I base that on his violent emotional rollercoaster-way of behaving. He told me his father was busy with work when he was a child and they moved around a lot. It would not be completely unreasonable for him to have developed traits of personality disorder during that time if we consider Ainsworth’s attachment theory and base it on his ambivalent experiences in Vers after his father’s death.”

Inaho stared at the doctor for a short while in order to analyze what she had said, but he had to admit he just wanted to return to Slaine’s cell and be with him. He was desperate to return to him and could barely handle what the doctor said.

“So what do you suggest we do?” he asked.

“Medication with antidepressants and have him on mood stabilizers when he needs it. We don’t know how suicidal he might be and since that is a common trait in borderline personalities we should have him under observation especially now in the beginning of the antidepressant medication treatment. We need to minimize the space for his outbursts and impulses and help him develop inner resources to handle his emotions as well as get a stronger feeling of self. I also have to make an assessment of him possibly having some kind of post traumatic stress after the war,” the doctor explained.

Inaho nodded and was just about to say something when he heard a troubling noise from somewhere inside the building.

***

Slaine managed despite his drugged state sit up in bed and had a bite of the fruits, but he felt way too nauseous to eat more than just a couple of bites. Instead he slowly drank the juice in order to quench his thirst and get some sugar into his system. He was planning on going to sleep for a while to wait out the heavy tiredness that had spread in him after the drug but also give his mind a break from what had happened with Inaho. Just thinking about him and the music he had brought with him made Slaine want to groan out of embarrassment. He could not believe what had happened and somehow he still had not regretted it. ‘So I can’t blame it on the medicine,’ he thought and went entirely red in his face again. It felt like the blushing would never stop.

He sighed. He was exhausted. That probably explained why he and Inaho had… He shook his head in awkwardness almost like he tried to shake the blush off of his face, but it resulted in him almost falling over from dizziness instead thanks to his balance being disrupted.

Suddenly he heard steps in the corridor he did not recognize. They walked hesitantly, almost like they were unsure of where to go. Slaine got up from the bed on unsteady legs and had to grab the bedside table in order to not fall over and as the steps stopped in front of the cell, that is when he met the curious but somewhat familiar eyes of a woman with black long hair. She stared at him, at first with a generally shocked expression. Then it seemed to dawn on her that she was looking at a cell and a prisoner. Immediately after that she realized who she was looking at.

Chapter Text

“You…” the woman said and stared at Slaine with eyes wide from shock. Her eyes told Slaine she had trouble comprehending what she saw and that she was not happy to see him. Not in the slightest.

Slaine tried to gather his scattered thoughts to remember when he could have met her, but he was sure he had never seen her in his entire life. Why was she so familiar?

“Why aren’t you dead…?” she gasped as the first shock from seeing him began to settle.

“I should be,” Slaine mumbled and tried to shake the dizziness out of his mind.

“Should isn’t good enough!” she snapped at him and Slaine understood she was one of those people who had had no idea he was alive – and probably should have never been supposed to know.

“I agree…” Slaine whispered and tried to stand on his own legs but they shook beneath him. As he tried to let go of the table to stand strong his left knee almost gave way under him and he grabbed the table again; it rattled at his clumsy try to find support from it.

“Is Inaho behind all this?” she asked with a forceful voice, demanding an answer from him.

“I … think you should speak to him about it, ma’am…” Slaine mumbled and lifted his hand to grab his head which felt like it was spinning. He had trouble understanding the situation.

The woman stared at him for a moment in silence. She was probably trying to understand the situation herself. Slaine felt awkward. He wanted her to go. He was in no condition right now to take whatever she would throw at him. If she wanted to yell at him, scorn him, hate him and reprimand him for what he had done then she should come back at another time when he was clear in his mind. The drug was controlling him way too much to feel the mental beating she probably would give him; it was unfair she would be talking to a drugged man who had trouble caring about accepting her anger, because that was what he wanted; he probably deserved it.

Suddenly she slammed the bars to his cell with a surprisingly strong hand – or then Slaine’s hearing was too sensitive at the moment, since he jumped from the rattle and looked up at her.

“LOOK AT ME!” she yelled at him, and so that is what Slaine did – to the best of his abilities in the state he was in right now.

“Yes, ma’am…” he mumbled and locked his eyes to hers and waited.

“What have you done to Inaho?!” she yelled. Slaine was completely taken by surprise at her question.

What does she mean?’ he thought. ‘He is the one doing all this to me.

“I don’t … understand really,” Slaine slurred and decided to try walking over to the bars. She seemed to need to get rid of a lot of anger and worry inside her. Since Slaine was in no mental condition to accept everything through words and meaning he decided to walk over to her and if she wished to, he would let her take it out on him physically through the bars. The moment he took a step his balance wavered and he fell to his knees on the floor. The impact to his knees from hitting the concrete floor sent up a painful shattering feeling throughout his bones, and he groaned.

“What’s wrong with you?!” she yelled and seemed to get frustrated.

Slaine gasped from the pain in his knees until it faded away and he shook his lowered head.

“I’m sorry, ma’am… I can’t- I’m drugged right now,” he said quietly and tried to sound polite. “I can’t think properly.”

“Drugged? Why is he keeping you alive?! You’re a danger to us all!” she yelled and slammed her hands against the bars again. Slaine was somewhat grateful the bars were keeping her from getting to him, and he felt guilty for feeling like that. He was sure she would knock him unconscious and not stop at that.

“I should not … answer that,” Slaine sighed. “He knows it better than I do.”

“Then what can you answer?!”

“I… I don’t know…”

She slammed the bars again in frustration and as the rattle of the bars had calmed down a monotone voice said from somewhere in the corridor:

“You have violated paragraph 6 under chapter 4 of the Criminal Code of trespassing, and paragraph 5 under chapter 19 for illegally attaining information that is of high sensitivity for the nation’s security, Yuki-nee.”

Yuki-nee?’ Slaine thought. ‘So that’s why I recognized her… She’s his sister.

“Nao!” the woman exclaimed and looked at him. “What is the meaning of this?!”

“Calm down,” the brunet said and came into Slaine’s view from behind the corner.

“How can I be calm when Saazbaum Troyard is still alive?! Are you drugging him to control him? Why are you doing this?! He should be dead and you know it!”

“Officer Kaizuka!” Inaho said with surprising intensity behind his usually quiet voice. “Calm down.”

“Nao! You know he is dangerous, especially now!”

“Don’t-“ Inaho began somewhat on edge but the woman called Yuki interrupted him.

“There’s a revolution going on and his name is waved around like a banner by the revolutionists! If they find out about him still being alive, Earth will be targeted!”

That was when all the warmth and color instantly disappeared from Slaine’s body. What had the woman said? Revolution? On Vers? Was his name being used as the revolutionists’ cry for the revolt? Was Asseylum’s people crying for Slaine’s old ideology and demanded it from her?

He stared at Inaho. His eyes were wide from horror now that the truth finally had revealed itself. Inaho had kept a horrible secret from him; a secret he now wished he would have never known about his name being the people's weapon. The brunet met his horror washed gaze.

“No…” Slaine whispered. “It can’t be true…”

The woman turned her furious eyes from Inaho to Slaine and gritted her teeth for a short second. She detested the sight of the blond; Slaine understood it more and more clearly.

“Don’t tell me you didn’t know!” she barked. “You started all this!”

“But I thought…” Slaine cursed the drug now. He needed to get back his capacity of thinking but the blurriness had its grip around his mind and emotions. He wanted to get angry, frightened, frustrated, upset – but in the end, all he could do was cry. Tears began to fill up his eyes. “Is she alright…?”

“How dare you even mention the Empress after everything you’ve done?!” the woman yelled again. “And how dare you play the victim now?!”

“Yuki-nee. He is my responsibility and he is not to be blamed for being alive,” Inaho said calmly and somewhat tired. “I never told him that what is happening on Vers is based on his ideology.”

The woman named Yuki stared at him. Slaine saw she knew she had made an obvious mistake of talking so freely about what was happening in the outside world in front of the prisoner who was passively responsible for the revolution. Slaine made himself ready for the woman getting angrier. He had seen that kind of behavior so many times he could foresee it seconds before it would show itself; when a person with pride knew they had done something wrong they would direct the shame on another person in the form of anger and blame them instead. It seemed easier that way. That was why Slaine was battling himself over and over again; he had no pride like that to have the need to project the shame and guilt on someone else. That was why he constantly felt so emotionally exhausted. He had no inner personal resources to cope with the guilt, making him fall into an endless intrapersonal communication loop which wiped out all of his defenses and he would fall into a melancholy mood.

“Then why haven’t you killed yourself yet?!” Yuki blamed Slaine who wiped a tear from his eye and sighed.

“I tried… Multiple times…” he whispered.

“We had him on constant observation until his suicidal behavior had subsided,” Inaho explained frustrated.

“Inaho… Please… Tell me if she is alright,” Slaine demanded as his voice trembled.

“No. You are not allowed to kno-“

“PLEASE!” The other two went quiet and stared at him. Yuki did not seem to know what to say and Inaho was obviously going through his options of what to do or say. “Please… Tell me or I’ll die from worry,” he then whispered to the siblings. “Is she in any danger because of the revolution? Who are the ones leading the revolution?”

Inaho unlocked the cell door after exchanging a strict glance with his sister, probably warning her to not try anything when the cell door opened. The brunet stepped in and walked over to Slaine.

“You need to get onto the bed. You can’t sit on the floor,” he said and tried to lift him up by grabbing his arm and put it over his shoulders to pull him up but Slaine slapped his hand away.

“No! Tell me! Inaho – please! I’m not trying to join them if that is what you think! Are they threatening her?!” Slaine’s voice sounded more shrilling than he first had intended it to.

Inaho stared at him for a while but then grabbed the blond’s arm and forced him up from the floor. Slaine gave up. He was too exhausted to fight back and refuse. He noticed Yuki’s baffled stare as she saw the brunet help him up from the floor and put him down on the bed.

“You don’t need to know anything further than that she is alright,” the brunet told him and threw a meaningful eye on Yuki, but Slaine felt nauseous from the worry.

“Nao…” the woman said and both men looked up at her. She was staring at the little MP3 player on the table next to Slaine’s bed. “Is he the one who has changed you?” she asked.

Inaho followed her stare to the MP3 player and then back at her again.

“I tried to tell you earlier this morning but you would not listen,” he said factually.

Changed him? She is accusing me again,’ Slaine thought and felt confused over what change this woman was speaking of.

“So what will you do?” she asked worryingly – a worry that was directed at her brother’s wellbeing. “Will you keep him drugged up in this cell for the rest of his life? Have you realized that might be sixty years or more?”

Slaine looked up at Inaho. He had thought the same thing and wondered what the brunet’s plan for the future was. Would he keep him locked up like this and drug away the problem of Slaine’s deteriorating mind?

“A new treatment plan is being made for him,” Inaho answered calmly. “What will happen to him will be determined in the future, not now.”

Yuki’s expression changed from worry to desperation.

“Do you realize how cruel that is?” she asked. “Even if he deserves punishment for what he did, dying would have been less cruel than this. He isn’t an animal. He is a human being.”

A silent understanding was exchanged between the siblings; an understanding Slaine could not decipher. That was a proof of how close they were. Slaine wanted to feel jealous but it was impossible. That little exchange was beautiful to him; something he would never have with anyone.

The woman sighed in defeat. Apparently she had no way of changing Inaho’s mind.

“How many know about him?” she asked quietly.

“He is kept alive under the UFE’s and the Empress’ protection. Only the higher-ups know about him who also has provided this facility with supplies and equipment to take care of him,” Inaho answered.

“Then you are prepared that the way things are now you might get the order to execute him?” she asked and looked at the nauseous Slaine.

“Unlikely. The Empress doesn’t wish him to die.”

“Has she ever visited him – ever talked to him from since he was locked up in here?”

“No.”

“Then she won’t be able to figure out the higher-ups’ lies of him still being alive unless-”

“STOP IT!” Slaine yelled desperately. It was too painful to listen to. Why would they speak about the matter about him in front of him? He knew what she meant. If UFE decided he was too dangerous to be kept alive then he would be executed and Asseylum would be lied to that he was still alive. They knew she treasured the peace enough to be forced to look past their disobedience for killing him when they should have been keeping Slaine alive if it would come to that. “I need to throw up…” he sighed and tried to swallow down the nausea which built up in him slowly.

The woman went silent and Inaho picked up the plastic trash bin from beneath the table in front of the bars which the food would be placed on through the little gap at regular times.

“Here,” he said quietly and gave it to the blond. “I need to talk to Yuki-nee for a while. I will send a guard to take care of you. Does that sound acceptable?” Inaho then asked and stared at Slaine who gasped from feeling so sick he had begun to cold sweat.

Slaine did not want him to leave. He wanted Inaho to stay. He was scared and worried despite the medicine still keeping his emotions under control. He had an ambivalent opinion about the drug; he hated it for making him so weak and dizzy that he could not think straight, and he was grateful that it would not let his emotions explode right there and then. He would crumble completely without it. He wanted Inaho to give him some kind of feeling of security, no matter how small it would be.

“Yes…” he finally whispered between the gasps and Inaho nodded and walked out of the cell.

“I will come back later,” the brunet said after locking the door, and Slaine gave him a nod to make him know he had heard him.

As the cell door was locked again and he was left alone Slaine could not push the nausea back anymore and he vomited. His mind could not cope with his emotions correctly and so his body had to try and relieve the pressure in some way. He fell into a cry and whimpered. He dropped the bin in his hands to the floor and collapsed onto the bed. He cried and cried. Everything about the revolution was his fault. If he had not given the people on Vers any hopes of a better life then the Empress would not be in danger. Why was she in danger? Had Inaho not told him about a Hyper Gate being activated a while back? What about the resources that would be sent to Vers through it? Where had they gone? The people would not have begun to cry for a change if the nation’s situation had been stabilized.

If I only had succeeded…’ he thought while crying.

Steps were heard from the corridor once again and the guard who teased him at times opened the door and stepped in. He sat down next to the collapsed blond and put that familiar gentle hand onto Slaine’s back to stroke it.

“Hey kid. Heard you needed some company while the big boss is away talking to our little intruder,” he said. Slaine could hear a wry smile being expressed through the sound of the man’s voice.

“Kill me…” Slaine whimpered. “Please, end this…”

“What?” The guard’s voice was shocked and surprised. “No way, kid!”

“I can’t take this anymore…!” Slaine tried to yell but his voice ended up weak and trembling. “You can’t drug me and keep me like this. I’m already dead.”

Suddenly he felt his body being lifted gently by two strong hands and he was pulled close to the guard’s chest.

“Kid, listen. We are working on making things better for you. Don’t give up just yet,” the guard said quietly but with a stern voice – determined to not let Slaine fall into utter despair. “The big boss and doctor are pulling at all the strings they can find. I’m sure they’ll come up with something.”

Slaine shook his head and let his body relax against the guard. No one had held him like this for so long that the experience could almost be called brand new for him. He wished right now that the guard would have been Inaho but this man had to do for now. He was so weak he surrendered into the little inner boy’s wish for someone to hold him and protect him. Slaine could not cope alone any longer. He did not have the strength to stand on his own two legs after today like when he had been Lord Saazbaum Troyard. He was not the same man anymore; he was only Slaine.

“Now don’t get any funny ideas,” the guard continued. “No ideas about suicide, and no ideas about me coming onto you right now, okay?”

Slaine sobbed and smiled awkwardly, slightly relaxing from the joking man’s words.

“I’ll tell Kaizuka,” he whispered.

“You wouldn’t dare! He would whoop my ass.”

Slaine smiled a little wider and buried his face against the man’s chest as he remembered the kisses that had been exchanged between him and Inaho earlier. That little memory was worth gold and somehow it pushed away some of that melancholy inside him and substituted it with a little bit of warmth despite his grinding worry about the Empress.

“He would, indeed…”

***

”Nao...” he heard his sister say as he closed the door behind him to the conference room which had been emptied from personnel as the knowledge of intrusion had spread. Inaho had after looking at the security feed ordered everyone back to work. There had been no doubt or worry the moment he had seen the intruder being his sister. “You can’t keep him like this. He’s not a betty to be kept in a cramped aquarium.”

“Even a betty will get stressed out if the aquarium is too small,” Inaho pointed out.

“Exactly. You can’t do this to him or Earth. If whoever is leading the revolution would get knowledge about Saazbaum Troyard still being alive it would make the entire situation escalate into uncontrolled proportions. They would do whatever they can to take him back to lead them. You know that,” she said and frowned worryingly.

“Troyard would not cooperate with them as he is now,” Inaho said and stared at his sister. He knew she knew more about his reasons to keep him alive than he had told her. That silent exchange of understanding between them earlier at the cell had let him know what she knew. “And we are not allowed to execute him. The Empress is determined on keeping him alive and UFE has to oblige to her wish due to the peace still being fragile.”

Yuki shook her head like she always did when she was about to give in but still had words to say to her brother.

“Do you think they will care if the revolutionists win? The enemy would try to burst out through the Hyper Gate to take him back. You have seen them on the recordings from the disorder amongst her people.”

“If the Empress would be murdered then the Hyper Gates would be rendered useless,” Inaho pointed out.

“And then we would have only a few months to prepare before they arrive in landing castles to start a new war,” his sister pointed out. “Nao, you have to think about Earth first and foremost.”

“I will not go against the Empress’ orders.”

Yuki stared at him for a long time before she sighed:

“… Because you don’t want to.” She squeezed her hands into fists to contain her frustration and worry. “Are you confident in that you can take on the responsibility if things would go out of control thanks to you keeping him alive?”

“I am willing to do that, yes,” Inaho answered and saw his sister bite her lip. “Do not worry, Yuki-nee. I know what I’m doing.”

His sister’s eyes turned slightly angered. He knew why; she worried about him.

“Do you?” she asked and meaningfully stared at him. “You’re in love with him, aren’t you?”

“I believe you already know that answer.” Inaho knew he did not need to answer her question with more detail. She knew. She always knew. Even if the feelings he felt for the blond was still freshly understood by him she had still seen them coming long before he had identified them.

The room went silent. Yuki averted her eyes and sighed while Inaho sat down on a chair next to the table. He waited for her to do that too, and after a while she sat down opposite of him. She smiled wryly.

“Why?” she asked.

“Why what?”

“How can you love him? He is a dictator.”

“A former dictator,” Inaho corrected her. “He is not a dangerous individual right now.”

Yuki scoffed and her smile disappeared.

“Of course he isn’t from all the drugs you force him to take. He was totally out of it back there.”

“No, it’s because he has nothing to fight for.”

Yuki leaned on her elbows on the table and sighed even heavier while she pushed her fingers through her dark hair.

“You don’t think I just gave him something to fight for when I – in my uncontrolled state – revealed what you kept him from knowing?” she asked and knitted her eyebrows deeply.

“Perhaps, but then again he might change his perspectives considering what is happening between us.”

Inaho wanted to – for once without any hard facts to base his calculations on – believe that Slaine was harmless if he would give up on Seylum and see Inaho in her place. If a war would break out again Slaine would be a valuable asset if UFE would allow Inaho to give him a fighter aircraft. Earth had not been able to develop a properly functional Aldnoah driven kataphrakt yet; they had only succeeded in building a plane that would never need to land to refuel. He was confident in Slaine’s ability to learn the Terran aircrafts in no time but then again that was hidden in the future which he could not foresee right now. They still had no idea how the revolution would affect the peace. If Seylum would pull herself together and take responsibility and not listen to Klancain, then the revolution would be calmed down.

If that won’t happen then I have to look over what options the future situation would give me and determine a path from there,’ he though.

Yuki smiled that frowning smile again.

“You think such a cold person would do that?” she asked.

“I am confident Slaine would. He is not a cold person – not at all. He had a willpower that allowed him to do what he did as Saazbaum Troyard, but I have a feeling that during the entire time he was hurting and hated himself, as well as afraid of what would happen no matter what the outcome of the war would have been,” Inaho explained and Yuki looked puzzled.

“So you’re on a first name basis already, huh?” she sighed and sat up from where she had been leaning against the table. Instead she leaned back against the backrest of her chair. “So you say if you would give him a reason to build up that willpower again and use it for your sake then the possible future war would not be as damaging as I want to believe?”

“No, maybe the war would be damaging but you have seen firsthand what he is capable of. Even if we would execute him now there is no guarantee that it will have any effect on a possible war. If the revolutionists win they will target us no matter if their former leader is alive or not. At best they would get thrown off guard having Slaine on our side,” Inaho answered, fully determined on his resolution of keeping Slaine alive.

Yuki chuckled without joy.

“You’re cold, Nao. You want to make him fall in love with you to use him in a possible war?”

Inaho knew she did not mean it. She just wanted to scold him one last time. He knew she found the thought of him being involved with Slaine – someone who had pulled a gun at Inaho and tried to kill him multiple times along with other Terran soldiers – questionable but he would not stray away from the only source that made his coldness warmer and gentler. Inaho wanted the blond to affect him no matter how pointless he found it. If other people were allowed to be affected by others then Inaho wanted to be one of those people. He wanted to know why they were so happy about a useless little thing that had the power to delude them into something they described as heartbreak. Why would people submit themselves to such a powerful little unlogical thing that would make them risk their lives for the other, not because they had to but because they wanted to? Inaho wanted to know – first hand.

As Inaho made no attempt to answer – mostly because he found it a waste of words since his sister knew about his determination – Yuki let out a groan and leaned her head back to stare at the ceiling. She was frustrated.

“I wonder what he thought about the music I put into the player,” she said out of nowhere. Inaho arched an eyebrow.

“What kind of music did you put in it?” he asked.

“Music that would help your relationship grow,” she said and then turned her face to smile awkwardly at him. “I think I kinda made a mistake with helping your relationship without knowing about it.”

Inaho stared at her for a couple of seconds and then he chuckled.

“May I dare ask what songs?”

Yuki smiled slightly warmer.

“Oh, you know the old bed of roses thing.”

Inaho laughed quietly. He would have wanted to see Slaine’s reaction to the music seeing as the player had been used while he had been away on the meeting; he had noticed the headphones had been taken out of their plastic package. Somehow he found his sister’s clumsy attempt to unite him with his love interest – who she had thought had been a girl – satisfying and helpful.

“Thank you,” he said and smiled.

“Well… I guess I have to go along with this no matter how much I would like to strangle him,” Yuki sighed exasperatedly. “The way you laugh nowadays is different to your usual laugh.”

“What do you mean by that?” Inaho inquired to know, somewhat perplexed.

“Your laugh used to be forced; you laughed only when you knew you should have due to social codes, but now it sounds genuine.”

Inaho stared at her with a grateful feeling spreading in his mind toward Slaine, and Yuki pulled her fingers through her hair again while releasing a breath to relax the tension she had felt before – and probably still felt.

“So what happens to me now?” she asked and frowned. “I have broken some laws.”

“Do you want something to happen?” Inaho answered her question with another one. He knew he was taking the law into his own hands by not reporting her, but since there was no real reason to do so on a personal level he would let it go. Besides, his sister was good at what she did and if it would come out that she had done something as reckless as to trespass she would get severe punishment.

“Introduce me to him?” she suggested. “If you say he is what you claim he is, then I want to see it myself. Oh, how I wished you would have met a decent girl instead of a boy!” she grumbled frustrated.

“Why? Are girls better than boys?”

“Well, how the hell am I supposed to be able to borrow clothes from him and vice versa and go out shopping with him, and do each other’s makeup and things like that?”

Inaho smiled.

“Well, you two are about the same height and if you find prison clothes fashionable then you can borrow his clothes and go shopping in the storage room,” he said and Yuki stared at him baffled for a moment. He knew she was shocked to hear him joke like that. It was not like him at all and Inaho wanted to display the effect from Slaine in front of her to make her accept the situation easier. “I doubt you have the same shoe size though, and he would refuse to wear makeup – instead you should ask him about cooking and ancient love stories. He is good at both.”

Yuki looked like she was about to cry. She was in an inner conflict and it showed on her face as clear as the midday sun on a clear blue sky.

“You know, Nao. I hate him for what he did to Earth and you, and yet I like him already for making you like this even if whatever you are building together is dangerous and illegal in many ways,” she said defeated and Inaho nodded. He knew. “Be careful. Please, be careful.”

“I will, Yuki-nee. Don’t worry,” he assured her, and she nodded back to him. “Are you ready to let me introduce you two then?”

She stared at him for a while, but then nodded.

“I guess I have to do it sooner or later – even if he’s drugged right now but maybe that’s for the better,” she sighed and got up from her chair Inaho followed her example.

Chapter Text

Yuki followed her brother back down the corridor leading to the blond’s cell. She was worried and wanted to voice her opinions about her brother’s love interest in someone that had been – and maybe still were – a dangerous war criminal. How had it been possible for her brother to suddenly fall for such a man who had shot him in the head and brought a war upon Earth to claim the entire planet as his? She had to admit that maybe the analytical engine Inaho had had, had damaged his judgment but considering how well he still functioned; like nothing was wrong with him at all, she had given up on that thought. She wanted to believe her brother was delusional to explain this unbelievable situation but no reasons that sounded the slightest accurate came to her – and thus she had given up and went along with it to see what it was Inaho had concluded lovable in the former dictator.

Slaine Saazbaum Troyard,’ she thought and bit her lip. She hated him but then again the blond had given her brother a reason to grow and change into something she knew Inaho had wished for, for a long time. It was wrong on so many levels but she knew the only way she would be able to stop her brother from continuing with whatever he had in mind, was to report him and… ‘… and then he would be taken off from all his duties…’ she sighed silently. ‘Maybe he knows what he is doing?’ she wanted to hope.

They arrived to the cell and the blond came into her view. A guard was accompanying him by sitting on the bed next to him. Saazbaum Troyard had lied down and was talking with the guard quietly with a slight smile on his lips. For a moment Yuki was struck by the younger man; those gentle eyes fluttered shut as he chuckled tiredly to the guard’s story of how he had been turned down by a woman a couple of days ago.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” the boy answered with a raspy and weak voice.

“Thanks. She was this gorgeous chick with gazongas from the heavens!” the older man said and gestured huge womanly breasts with his arms.

“Did you tell her that?” Slaine said quietly.

“Yeah, of course. How could I not compliment her on those?!” the guard said and Slaine gave him a wry smile:

“Maybe that is why she turned you down so hard?”

The guard stared at him for a short while in bafflement and then sighed and scratched the back of his neck.

“Damn, kid… I suck at picking up chicks. You know about those romantic stories right? How about sharing some of the tricks you learn-“

“Excuse us,” Yuki heard her brother say next to her, interrupting the other two.

She had completely forgotten about everything else and focused entirely on the scene in front of her in the cell. It had been somewhat captivating. The former dictator who lay on the bed, exhausted but still made time and effort to listen to the guard talk about his relationship problems, had looked so gentle she had a hard time believing he was the same man as in the powerful broadcasts from two years ago. She remembered the man’s harsh and dedicated words of war and how he had managed to captivate more and more Versians with those cold speeches. He had had the rhetoric gift considering the way he had swayed people back then. Now the blond was weak and tired, looked gentle and harmless. ’Like a bird during winter,’ she spontaneously thought. Yuki began to believe that she could guess why Inaho had found an interest in the man. ‘Get yourself together! He’s a war criminal! He tried to kill your brother!’ she then tried to remind herself.

“Oh, boss!” the guard said and smiled and then looked at Yuki and gave her a polite nod. “Ma’am.”

“You can leave, Sakata,” Inaho ordered with a somewhat stern voice.

Yuki looked over to her brother. His expressionless face told her he was slightly jealous. She found herself giving the guard called Sakata a wry but polite smile as he left, and then her eyes met the young blond’s. The moment their eyes connected he averted his and lowered them, almost like he was afraid to look at her directly.

“Can we come in?” Inaho asked the blond, who nodded silently and looked awkward. “How are you feeling?”

As they stepped into the cell the blond made a try to sit up. Inaho ordered him to stay lying down on the bed to not push himself too much. Inaho sat down on the edge of the bed where the guard had been sitting and Yuki took the stool next to the little table and sat down on it and watched the two youngsters.

“I… I feel a little better,” Slaine said quietly and unsure if he was even allowed voicing a reply. He seemed insecure about Yuki being in there and she sighed.

“Sorry – about earlier I mean,” she said and somewhat pouted. She noticed the blond look up at her quickly before turning down his gaze again.

“You don’t need to say sorry, ma’am,” the boy answered unsure.

“I want you to meet my sister; Yuki,” Inaho said and looked at Yuki and then continued to her: “And this is Slaine.”

“Nice to meet you, ma’am,” Slaine said quietly and gave her a polite nod.

Yuki hesitated for a short while due to her worrying and disapproving feelings about what was happening between the other two, but as her brother’s stare burned against her face she sighed:

“You too.”

She still could not believe this was the same man from two years ago. She was perplexed by how different the man seemed now and it made her feel uneasy. How could someone change so much during a two year period? Which one was the real one; the man from two years ago or the man lying there right in front of her now? Both had felt equally genuine to her.

“So… What did you think about the music?” she asked after forcing her to try and have a conversation with him.

“Music?” the former dictator asked and threw a glance at the MP3 player on the bedside table. “Oh, um…” He seemed to quickly understand whose work it had been to fill the player with music. “T-thank you, ma’am, but it’s… I was slightly surprised since I thought it was Mr. Kaizuka who had picked the music.”

“Inaho,” her brother corrected him and Slaine looked quickly up at him and hesitated.

“I-Inaho…” the other whispered.

So Nao is the forceful and impatient one?’ she thought and sighed.

"Well I hope you liked it anyway. They are some classics in music history, you know." She heard how forced her voice was and she cursed herself for being such a bad actor. Troyard seemed to be good at it though considering the possible acting in the past and now. Which was the true Troyard Saazbaum?

"I appreciate it, ma'am. Thank you. I have not listened to music for a long time," the blond answered skillfully, dodging her question of what he had thought about the songs she knew he had listened to.

"Nao was the one to ask for them, so you should thank him," she said and watched the blond suddenly blush.

"It was you who put all those love songs in it, Yuki-nee," her brother answered directly.

"You didn't let me know what kind of music you wanted there to be."

"I did. I told you to fill it with music that was generally liked by people."

Yuki sighed. "Well that general group of people you refer to likes slimy love songs."

She heard a quiet chuckle come from the former dictator's direction and as she looked over to him he had a beautiful but tired smile on his lips. Her brother seemed to have noticed it too because he stared at the blond with hidden affection.

"Do you find something amusing?" Inaho asked and stared at the other man calmly, but for Yuki he was excited about the other laughing. She could not help but to sight internally; she wanted to tell her brother to just forget about the blond and give him multiple reasons to do so but at the same time she knew Inaho would not listen to her warnings. He had not listened to her about not getting engaged in the previous war, so why would he listen to her now?

"Forgive me," Troyard smiled. "I just think you two seem so close."

"So close?" Yuki asked. "What's funny about that?"

"It's not that, ma'am. I have never seen Inaho argue like that with anyone before," the blond answered and calmed down.

Yuki began to slowly understand that the Troyard Saazbaum she saw now was genuine just as the other she had seen and heard on the broadcasts two years ago. A cold person – like the one she had imagined him to be earlier – would not find such a gentle thing as siblings arguing amusing, nor would he point out a new side he saw in Inaho in the same breath. The two different Troyard Saazbaums were the same person but in different forms. Since she was good at reading people due to her earlier experiences in society and from her military training, it became slowly clearer to her that the blond young man was very different in every unique situation; he adapted quickly and had wavering character depending on what he needed to do. ‘Driven and dangerous at the right times and timid and harmless in others,’ she thought. She found it interesting and somewhat paradoxical for one person to harbor two such extremely different characters – and she was sure her brother had felt and thought the same thing.

Yuki sighed and straightened her back.

“Well, he can be a little too vague of what he wants or means at times. I bet he thinks others can read his mind,” she said and tried to give her tone a somewhat joking sound. She saw her brother narrow his eyes slightly toward her.

“And you seem to think you have to broadcast what you think to everyone around you,” Inaho answered rebelliously but made it sound objective. “Once you start talking there is nothing stopping you.”

“Oh shut up you!” Yuki whined and wrinkled her nose toward him in a childish manner.

That gentle chuckle was heard again in the tense silence between the siblings. She looked at the former dictator who had such a sweet smiling expression that the strong dislike toward him slowly began to melt away. ‘If he would stay like this forever then I won’t be able to hate him for much longer,’ she thought and cursed her heart for giving into that gentle expression. Had he swayed Inaho with the same expression? As she looked up at her brother he stared at the other man again with that excited stare only she could decipher. ‘Of course he has…

“Forgive me for laughing,” the blond smiled and opened his eyes to look at them both to address them directly before turning his eyes down again. “I didn’t mean to insult you.”

Yuki decided to take a long shot at giving the young man a chance and sighed exasperatedly.

“It’s fine. It’s not the first time it has happened. I honestly thought he had found a girlfriend when he asked about music. I decided to try and help him a little with filling it with that love themed music but I was surprised it was a man – and a former enemy at that,” she said and smiled while frowning.

“You jumped to your own conclusions about that matter,” Inaho answered. “The music was simply for therapeutic reasons.”

“Just be honest, Nao. I have seen you change a lot recently even if it’s not as apparent for others as for me. Why do you think I jumped to such conclusions?” she said.

***

Slaine felt his face turn hot and his heart began to beat wildly in his chest as he heard Inaho’s sister talk so freely of such an embarrassing topic. Now he understood what she had meant when she blamed Slaine for changing Inaho during their earlier encounter. He had not understood it before but now it was as clear to him as the crystal tableware in the royal palace on Vers; she thought they were in love. ‘Since when?’ he thought and suspected his heart would jump out of his chest at any time. The medicine did not seem to be able to calm it down; his mind had somewhat adjusted to it after it had gotten the effect it was supposed to have; just calm him down instead of drug him into senselessness. Thinking had become slightly easier and the realization of him and Inaho exchanging a thrilling heated moment earlier that day made him blush. Did she know? What exactly did she know? How much of it?

When did I begin changing him? Since when have we been in love according to her? Since yesterday? Since last week? Since a month ago?’ he pondered frantically to figure out since when had he himself begun to change; he knew Inaho was not the only one who had changed. A little voice in his mind told him: ‘Since you cried in front of him in the bath a week ago.

He wanted to slap his hands to his face and hide and groan from embarrassment. He adored Asseylum Vers Allusia, Empress of Vers – not his enemy! ‘Former enemy,’ he corrected himself. He could not consider Inaho as an enemy anymore. They had gotten on good terms and he actually enjoyed the man’s company; something you did not do with an enemy.

And you enjoy the kisses…’ that little voice said and his face got even hotter.

To his horror he heard Inaho’s voice ask: “Do you have a fever?”

Slaine looked up at him after having spaced out for a short moment during his episode of embarrassing feelings and thoughts, and met the brunet’s gaze. The attention was instantly pulled to his blushing face and he wanted to hide from shame. Inaho was about to reach out his hand and touch Slaine’s forehead – probably to check if Slaine actually had a fever or not – when the blond slapped his hand away from sheer defense reflex. He was too conscious about his reasons to blush to let Inaho touch him. The entire room went quiet and both siblings stared at him; Inaho with that blank expression like usual and Yuki with an arched eyebrow, wondering about what just had happened.

“I… I’m sorry!” Slaine exclaimed with the tired voice the medication gave him. He blushed even more at hearing how pathetic his own voice sounded. He wondered what the other two would interpret his reaction as. Would they get angry at him for offending Inaho’s kind gesture like that or not think much about it?

He saw Inaho’s sister look from Slaine to Inaho and back again almost like she was trying to read the situation. Slaine got the feeling she had a sharp eye when it came to people, and he could remember Inaho telling him about that quality of hers to calm Slaine down when he had cowered in the shower and tried to hide his scars. He hoped she would not be able to read why he had a terrible blush on his cheeks and why he had reacted the way he had by slapping Inaho’s hand away, but he saw her lips turn into a wry smile and she rolled her eyes. It felt like his heart thrashed around in his ribcage and mind.

She knows…’ he thought. ‘She knows!

“Okay, I think I should leave you two alone. I think I did the same mistake again and speak too freely about things I’m not supposed to,” she said and stood up to look at the other two. “Nice meeting you,” she said to Slaine and then looked at Inaho. “I will have to talk to you later about some matters – but we can do that another day. I have to get home anyway.”

Inaho nodded: “Of course.”

Yuki turned her eyes toward Slaine once again and Slaine felt like her eyes were boring into him, warning him of something. He knew what she meant. ‘If you hurt Inaho in any way you will deal with me,’ was what her gaze told him. Slaine could only stare back at her due to the confusion of the entire situation taking away his ability to answer. They were not a couple anyway and he adored the Empress! He could not possibly have feelings for someone else.

Then again, the more he thought about what he had thought the day before in the library and what had happened earlier today, the more he had to admit that no matter how much he adored the Empress there was someone else pushing its way into his heart – be it by force or that his heart was actually opening up to this intruder; it did not matter anymore. Inaho had begun to get under his skin. No matter what the truth was he still had problems with accepting it. His thoughts ran to Asseylum over and over again to try and find shelter in that familiar and safe place, but no matter how much he tried to see Asseylum in front of him the image constantly turned into Inaho. He felt guilt for letting himself betray his adoration for Asseylum. He felt embarrassment from it being so obvious to Inaho’s sister what both him and Inaho felt. He felt worry and fright for treading into an unknown territory; it had always been Asseylum and no one else. He knew her and where she stood which made him feel safe. He would never see her again but holding onto her memory was enough to make him survive.

Or that was what he tried to tell himself…

No it’s not…

As Yuki had left and her steps had echoed away, he met Inaho’s gentle gaze. They stared at each other for a while without saying a word. Inaho knew why Slaine had been blushing. He still did and he wanted to hide but he could not find the courage to move. Inaho had him locked in his gaze. All Slaine could do was to stare back at the man.

“Do you feel better?” the brunet asked. Slaine had trouble understanding how the other could sound so calm when he himself was fighting a violent conflict in his heart.

“Y-yes. I don’t feel as heavily drugged anymore. I’m calm but I can think slightly clearer,” Slaine answered with a husky voice; his throat had gone dry again. He had no idea about if it was due to the medicine or the embarrassment.

“Then do you feel like taking a bath?” the brunet asked bluntly. “You said you enjoyed them last week. I think relaxing in a hot bath would be good to relieve the tension from what you learned today from Yuki-nee.”

Slaine felt like he had been shot in the head at those words. Was it a hint for them to take a bath together or would Slaine get the entire bath for himself? His mind spun in a completely different way than when he had been heavily sedated before the medicine had leveled out to give the proper effect and let him think clearer.

“N-no, thank you b-but I…” he began but Inaho had already stood up from where he had been sitting on the edge of the bed.

“I will order the personnel to prepare a hot bath,” the man said and walked up to the cell door. “You have had a long day, so wait here until the bath is prepared.” He then disappeared after locking the door.

The minutes that passed were pure torment for the blond as he stared up at the ceiling. Not knowing what Inaho had meant with taking a bath – together or let Slaine take one alone – made him insecure and somewhat scared of the unknown. He had only felt adoration for Asseylum before, and he still did – but now that he knew she was not the only one, he began to feel insecure on many levels. It had always been so protecting and comforting to escape to the memory of her; remembering her voice, her movements and her expressions. All the little details of how her skirt had moved when she turned around to greet him, how her hair flowed when she brushed her fingers through it, how her dimples showed themselves when she smile to him… They all were still vivid in his memory, and painfully so.

I’m sorry,’ he thought directed to the girl he had known. ‘I can’t protect you anymore…

He got reminded by the revolution she was facing. He wondered how far everything had gotten. Was she in danger or could she and Klancain handle it? He hoped and wished they would crush his name for all eternity along with the revolution. He felt for the people but he knew nothing would happen to the feudal system on Vers. He had the feeling neither Asseylum nor Klancain had the drive to push beyond reason and change it, and so it would be useless to dream for a change from that little cell of his. As long as Asseylum was safe then he could give up on the rest; he had no power to do anything anyway. He was imprisoned for life.

But if I got back the power to change Vers then I would try again – all for her sake,’ he thought and sighed heavily. He would have been ready to take on the dirty work again if he had to. ‘That is nothing but a dream. I’m powerless and dead for the world,’ he then reminded himself in order to suffocate that little ember that still kindled in his heart when thinking about Vers. He knew it was useless to even think like that; he had to give up and believe in the Empress’ power – even if he doubted it. That was all he could do and he wished his hopes would reach her reality and by that give her support to handle whatever came her way. The talisman he once had given her to protect her had found its way back to him; she did not need his protection anymore and nor did she want it. ‘Then all I can do is to believe in you,’ he sighed and squeezed the talisman desperately, but then he let his hand gripping it relax as he thought about Inaho. He wondered if it was alright of him to let a new kind of ember begin to glow. Was he allowed to wish for a less lonely future in his prison? The new personnel were pleasant company and Inaho…

And Inaho…’ he thought and closed his eyes. ‘Have I really changed him? How?

He found himself smiling. It would be alright to glance at him at times. It would be allowed to talk to him and enjoy his company. He did not need anything else as long as he had the comforting feeling of having someone there to talk to and not be left alone for the rest of his life; someone slightly more special than others.

It was hard to pick up the pieces of who he actually was now that he had nothing that drove him forward. Earlier in the beginning of his life as the late Count Cruhteo’s servant he had lived solely on the adoration he felt for the girl who had given him a reason to stay alive. He had not cared about what anyone else submitted him to even if it had hurt; he had had Asseylum. That had been enough to keep him breathing. He had had nothing else to drive him forward until he learned about her assassination. That was when his little ember had turned into a flame that burned hotter than anything he had ever experienced before, and later to save her and give her the world she so wished for had been everything to him. Now, when he had nothing of that, he found himself being lost. Even after two years in the prison he had not managed to find himself yet. He had no idea who he was and what to strive for. Was he a servant or a dictator? How did a human being continue to live after what he had been through? Maybe the answer was not as complex as he made it to be? He decided to begin by apologizing to the staff after his rebellious and childish behavior earlier that morning. They did not deserve it; they had been nothing but good to him.

He heard Inaho’s familiar steps in the corridor and again that blush threatened to spread across his face – and he let it do so. It was time to be honest and not play tricks or react solely on violent affects. If he did not begin to accept that he had no right to know what he was not allowed to know due to his situation then nothing would get easier. He would probably always be worried about the Empress but sooner or later he had to accept things as they were. All he could do from the prison was to apologize to the woman for his name being used against her and believe in her ability – no matter how hard it would turn out to be.

As Inaho’s face came into Slaine’s view the blond sat up in the bed. He was stronger now even if his body still felt heavy. He tried to stand and this time his legs were stronger. Their eyes met as he looked up at the brunet.

“Is the bath ready?” he asked and Inaho nodded.

“Follow me,” Inaho said and waited for Slaine to walk up to the door. Slaine was slightly unsteady but managed to walk up to the door without much problem, and so they walked slowly down the corridor to the changing room of the gym where two white bathrobes hung on each side of the room on the hooks on the wall. “You seem stronger now and clear in your head,” Inaho said as Slaine hung his talisman on one of the hooks on the changing room wall.

“Yes, I feel a lot better,” Slaine answered and was just about to look up at Inaho when he averted his eyes again. ‘So we will take a bath together?’ he thought nervously and squeezed his hands into tight fists as he saw Inaho take off his blazer and hang it on the hook where he stood.

“That’s good,” the brunet said and continued with unbuttoning his shirt.

“Y-yes…” Slaine blushed again and awkwardly pulled his shirt off. Being honest was harder than he thought. “I’m sorry about earlier.”

He noticed Inaho look at him as Slaine folded the blue shirt to put it down on the bench in front of him.

“Are you sorry about your outburst?” the brunet asked and Slaine nodded in silence. “Don’t do that again,” he then continued and Slaine felt his heart sink in his chest. Was Inaho angry? “It’s not good for your health to work yourself up like that.”

Suddenly Slaine smiled. The man was not angry at him at all; he was worried about him. Was it due to his duty as the one in charge of Slaine’s imprisonment or was it something more authentic than that?

“I will try. Sometimes I have a hard time controlling myself when I get worried,” Slaine answered the man as they both kept undressing.

“That is because you are passionate about selected others.”

“Or then it’s because I am an imbecile,” Slaine said while wryly smiling.

“No, you are passionate. That’s what you have always been, am I correct?”

“I don’t know,” Slaine sighed and finally pulled the soft bathrobe around him. He saw in the corner of his eye that Inaho did the same and he made sure the man had pulled it closed before he dared to look up at him. “I guess.”

Inaho stared at him for a single long second before he walked toward the shower room, and Slaine wondered what that stare had been about and followed him. As they came to the bath where Slaine had cried his heart out just a week ago Inaho turned around with his back against him.

“What are you doing?” Slaine as surprised and got an answer which made him smile once again:

“I know you are conscious about your scars and especially being nude in front of someone, so I decided to let you get into the bath before me.”

“Thank you…”

Slaine took off the robe and sat down into the hot water. It felt wonderful for his exhausted mind and body and some small tensions freed his muscles. He hugged his knees and leaned his chin against them and let the calming feeling of the water engulf him. Directly after that Inaho slipped into the bath too and they stared at each other for a while. Slaine wondered what was going on inside that mind of the tactical prodigy in front of him. He could never understand what the man thought.

“Tanaka told me yesterday you told her a sad story about Echo and Narcissus. She asked you to tell me that story but we never got around to do that,” the brunet said out of nowhere. It surprised Slaine. Since when had Inaho had any interest in such stories? The man had practically told him to not read that kind of stories the day before.

“Echo and Narcissus?” Slaine asked and Inaho nodded. “I didn’t think you would care about hearing it,” he then smiled weakly.

“I have time and interest now,” Inaho explained bluntly and waited.

Slaine gathered the pieces of the story in his memory and told Inaho about the forest nymph Echo.

***

Echo had angered Hera – the wife of Zeus – while she had been searching for her cheating husband by hindering Hera in her search by talking to no ends. That was when Hera cursed her with not being able to speak anything other than repeat the words she heard someone else say. Echo ran away saddened and stumbled upon the beautiful and handsome young man Narcissus. The boy had been separated from his hunting group and was walking alone in the forest. Echo had fallen for him the instant she saw him. She wanted to speak to him but due to the curse she had to wait for him to speak. Narcissus noticed he was not alone and asked:

Is anyone here?’ and all Echo could answer was:

Here!

Narcissus tried to look for the source of the voice but saw no one and so he asked the person to come to him.

Come!’ was the answer he got.

***

“He asked the voice why the person tried to run from him but got his own words as an answer,” Slaine explained and smiled saddened. “When he said that they should meet Echo couldn’t contain her love and she ran up to him to embrace him.”

“Sound like a passionate person,” Inaho stated and stared at Slaine – and Slaine blushed slightly and cleared his throat to continue the story.

“The moment Echo tried to embrace the youth he fled from her and yelled at her angered that he would rather die than have her touch him and give her power over him. She repeated his words while crying ‘I give you power over me!’. After that she ran away and dwelled in caves and cried,” Slaine sighed. “Her heartbreak grew so strong that she withered away and her bones turned into stone. From there on all that was left of her was her voice. She is the one who answers you when you hear your own echo somewhere.”

Inaho’s eyes averted from Slaine’s and that made the blond surprised. Inaho had never done that before. Why now?

“That sounds lonely,” the brunet then said and Slaine smiled wryly again.

“Her tragedy doesn’t stop there,” he said and continued.

***

Narcissus had mocked the other forest nymphs by mocking Echo and as another youth, who tried his luck with the beautiful Narcissus but was turned down cruelly, cried to the heavens that Narcissus would only be able to love himself and not gain what he loved. The avenging goddess Nemesis heard the youth’s prayer and cursed Narcissus and he was lured to a serene and beautiful pond in the forest. He lay down there next to the pond to have a drink and saw his own reflection in the water. Instantly he fell in love with the man on the other side of the reflection.

***

“He tried to kiss his reflection, put his arms around it, declares his love for it… He was afraid to turn around because then the object of his love would not be there anymore. With him it came, with him it stays, and it will go with him – if he can go. But Narcissus couldn’t go,” Slaine said and closed his eyes.

“Because he went mad with love?” Inaho asked and Slaine nodded and continued:

“In the end he killed himself when he realized he could never unite with the one he loved. There were no oceans between them, not mountain ranges or long roads. He couldn’t take it anymore and cried ‘Alas’ over and over again, and Echo saw all of this and repeated his words in dismay. She pitied him despite he had mocked her, and she cried for him. As Narcissus used his last breath to say farewell to his reflection, she too said farewell. She despaired by repeating Narcissus’ family’s cries and as they were to burn him according to customs they found a flower instead of his body, and thus the flower with the same name was born. That’s the story.”

When Slaine opened his eyes he saw that Inaho stared at his own reflection in the water and then looked at Slaine’s. The brunet was thinking something but did not let Slaine know what it was. Slaine decided not to ask. The story seemed to have struck Inaho in one way or another. The female guard – Miss Tanaka – had been crying and listening intently when Slaine had told the story. She ended up loving the story. ‘Did Inaho like it too?’ he wondered. Slaine himself held the story dear to his heart. He could relate to the crying Echo in a way when thinking about Asseylum. No matter what she submitted him to he could not hate her. He would gladly live a miserable life in his prison in order for her to be happy knowing Slaine was alive. He could turn into stone for her and cry for her. But then again, he would not refuse Inaho’s tries to make his life more enjoyable. The man had succeeded in many ways already in a surprisingly short time.

Something tickled his cheek and he realized a tear was slowly rolling down his flushed skin. He had not noticed he had begun to cry. He quickly wiped the tear away to hide it from Inaho but it was already too late. The brunet was staring at him with knitted eyebrows, pitying him.

“Do you still love her that much?” he asked and Slaine shook his head.

“I wouldn’t call it love. It’s more than that,” the blond answered awkwardly and rubbed his eyes in embarrassment. “Why do I always cry in this bath?” he asked with a slightly joking tone. He picked up the shampoo bottle in an attempt to distract himself and opened it. “I think I should finish up and go back to my cell already.”

“Already?” Inaho echoed and Slaine looked up at him.

“Y-yes. I guess the medication is still making me exhausted,” Slaine lied. “I’m sorry.”

Inaho reached for the shower faucet and grabbed the handle.

“I’m sorry,” the brunett echoed again and suddenly water washed down against Slaine’s face and he had to close his eyes to protect them from the water.

“Inaho!” he yelled and tried to move away from the shower water obscuring his vision but something warm and wet pushed against his lips before he had the time to get up.

He went stiff and felt the slightly biting motion from Inaho’s lips against his, luring him away from the sad story he had just told and the painful feelings of having been abandoned by the source of his adoration. The other kissed him again and again and little by little did Slaine part his lips to meet the man’s. A familiar tingle awakened inside his body and spread all the way out to his fingertips. It felt different now that he could think and feel clearer. The sadness left him slowly and that newfound weak ember inside his chest glowed warmer. He felt Inaho’s fingers grab the bottle which he still held in his hand; the other man’s fingers brushed against Slaine’s and made Slaine almost drop the bottle from the jolt that shot through his body at the touch. It felt like he had been electrified.

The other man let out a gasping breath as he changed the kissing angle, and to Slaine it felt like a warm summer gust of wind against his cheeks. Goosebumps spread over his skin and the tingling became worse. He wanted to lose himself in the moment, and so he kissed the other man back with equal forcefulness. He had no idea if he was allowed to but he could not help himself from not giving a damn. The hunger for someone else’s closeness was far too great for him to calm down. He had been lonely for too long.

“Slaine,” he heard Inaho gasp between their kisses. “Don’t worry about her.” The man kissed him twice before he continued. “Accept the treatment.” Another wet kiss. “You have to get better.” Another wet kiss pushed against Slaine’s lips. “Don’t fight back because you think that is your only weapon here.” Inaho kissed him three times before letting out a desperate gasp: “Don’t fight me…”

“I-Inaho, I-“ Slaine was not given a chance to either answer or protest. The man had kissed him deeply.

“Don’t become another Echo,” the brunet whispered and kissed him forcefully again.

“Inaho…”

The other man pulled away after a final kiss.

“I’m right here…”

Slaine swallowed. His breath was trembling. His heart was fluttering. Ah, now he remembered why he recognized the same feeling from before; it was from when he had fallen in love with Asseylum.

“Where?” Slaine asked and reached out for him while he was still blinded by the water from the shower head.

“Here,” he heard the answer close to his ear. “I’m right here. Seek me out.”

Slaine smiled slightly. Now the terms were his; Inaho did not force him like he had done in the cell. This time he let Slaine decide and by that get proof of if Slaine wanted the same thing as him. No violations. No drugs disrupting his mind and feelings to the point of haziness. No regrets to be made later and no apologies to offer.

“Am I allowed to?” Slaine asked unsure and hesitated.

“Yes.”

Slaine felt his hand touch the other’s shoulder and he grabbed it gently. He moved closer to him and out of the falling water. He opened his eyes to see; he met Inaho’s gaze right in front of him and their breath’s mingled once again. They stared at each other in their familiar silence and heard nothing but the falling water hitting the surface of their bath. Slaine hesitated once again. This was so new to him his entire body trembled despite it being soaked in hot water. He was scared, ashamed of betraying his affection for Asseylum by letting it find a new home. It was frightening because he did not want to get hurt. By closing the distance between them he would give Inaho a knife to stab his feelings in the back if the brunet felt like it, and he would be bound to be entirely vulnerable and accept the knife willingly even if it would destroy him. Would he be able to offer the man the same devotion he had showed for Asseylum? He wondered if it was as frightening as he thought it was. He had given Asseylum his everything and more. Why would he be scared of doing it now? He had nothing left to lose. If he wanted to allow his newly found ember to glow brighter he had to do something about it himself and not depend entirely on Inaho. Inaho gave him a chance to decide for himself now. He wanted to take that chance. And so – as he took that last frightening step out of his comfort zone – their lips met once again.

Chapter Text

”Vers’ debt is increasing for each day. We can’t keep sending them supplies they won’t pay for.”

“If we stop then the peace might be affected by it. The revolution will go out of hand if we stop.”

“But what will they pay us with? Earth is on its knees after the war too. Both nations are still suffering. We can’t build kataphrakts with Aldnoah at a faster rate because we are out of supplies too! We took tremendous material damage during the war. Vers doesn’t have anything else to pay with than Aldnoah and that is the last thing we need at this moment.”

Inaho stared at the two congressmen who were debating over what to do with the debt Vers had fallen into. One was still trying to convince the other to stop the supply line through the Hyper Gate to Vers, while the other disagreed and pulled the all too familiar card about the peace getting affected by the supply stop. ‘Seylum’s words lives on here on Earth too,’ he thought and tapped the button on his phone to check the time. The date showed 2nd of February, 11:46 o’clock AM. The meeting had dragged on for almost two hours now and they still had not contacted the Empress like they should have done 46 minutes ago.

He wanted to return to Slaine. Four days had passed since that fated kiss from the blond had landed on his lips in the bath. It had turned into a long kissing session where they got bolder for each kiss – until Slaine had suddenly pushed Inaho away with a heavy blush on his cheeks and asked them to stop due to him feeling too nervous. Inaho had not been able to see him again after that due to the work load at the headquarters but he had called to check on the blond every day. According to the personnel Slaine was calm and took his antidepressants without resistance every morning, and during the evenings before bedtime he accepted the hypnotics medication for his dyssomnia. He had begun to step down the anxiolytics treatment entirely but still had it as rescue therapy if he would get a panic attack due to his instability. The blond had – according to the nurse – been afraid to cut down the diazepam dosage and quit the anxiolytics medication entirely due to his constant worry, but in the end he had been persuaded to cut it down and get more activities to keep him distracted as well as try to get him into some kind of a routine. The personnel had been doing a good job this far.

He noticed vice admiral Häkkinen sigh during the intense debate as he tapped the notebook with his pen irritably. The congressmen kept debating for ten minutes more until Häkkinen stood up to interrupt them.

“Excuse me, gentlemen, but this is a meeting about the revolution on Vers – not how we will have to deal with the debt on Vers. I am fully aware of what that debt means for the revolution and Earth but that has to be discussed in another meeting, not now when Empress Asseylum Vers Allusia is waiting,” he said and stared at the other two, who stared back at him. The powerful stare of the experienced vice admiral forced them to sit down without complaints and Häkkinen sighed once again and looked around the room with the people sitting around the congress table. “We are here to get a clearer picture of the revolution. How we have to deal with the civil unrest on Vers is on the agenda today. Are we ready for the video conference?” he asked.

“Yes, sir,” another answered next to the control panel to the computer placed on the desk at the end of the room.

“Then call the Empress and let’s start the meeting.”

Seconds passed before there was an answer and the Empress’ face was shown on the projection screen. She stood in her royal conference hall and looked somewhat worn even if not even a single hair was out of place. Klancain was standing next to her looking equally worn but with a determined expression on his face.

“Good day, UFE and vice admiral Häkkinen,” she greeted through the speakers.

“Good day, Empress Vers Allusia. I have to ask for your forgiveness for calling this late as I know you have been awaiting this call since an hour ago. We ran into some difficulties,” Häkkinen said with his usual stern but negotiating voice. “Let us not take up more of your time than necessary.”

“Thank you, vice admiral Häkkinen,” the Empress said with her beautiful clear and melodic voice after a few seconds delay due to the distance between Earth and Mars. “There is no need to apologize,” she then continued, but it was clear on Klancain’s expression that he did not agree.

“Thank you, Your Highness. Now, would you mind giving me a status report of what is happening in your kingdom?” Häkkinen then asked, and she nodded.

“The revolutionists are led by someone who is called Soldier Red but we have not seen or heard him or her make any appearances yet which makes it difficult for us to find this person and arrest them for treason against the nation,” she explained skillfully with a hint of worry expressing itself on her beautiful face.

Treason against your throne, you mean,’ Inaho thought and made notes on the tablet he used during his official work.

“Then how do you know about him?” Häkkinen asked and stared intently at the screen.

“The people who have been riled up by this person refer to this Soldier Red during their demonstrations on the streets. We do not know how Soldier Red operates more than spreading the ideology of Saazbaum Troyard that is poisoning the nation. We do not know anything else about this person,” Asseylum said and knitted her eyebrows slightly – clearly worried about this unknown enemy.

“So he or she is a supporter to the former leader of our enemy troops as well as well hidden amongst the people,” Häkkinen noted out loud. “How is the status of the revolution? Have there been any kind of attacks yet?”

“Two of the judiciary buildings have been occupied by attackers. No deaths have been reported yet. The revolutionists have expressed threats to the royal palace and the nobility and asked for a system change on Vers which is not possible at the moment due to the financial situation Vers is in right now,” Asseylum continued and gave Häkkinen a sharp look. “We have not gotten any transports from Earth with supplies for the last two weeks.”

“I am greatly sorry for that, Your Highness, but Earth is facing difficulties as well with materials and other supplies, and as you may know I am not in charge of the transports,” Häkkinen dodged expertly.

“It has had a negative effect on the people of Vers,” Asseylum tried to guilt the man but to no avail. Inaho knew how strict and cold the vice admiral was and pulling the pity card against him was pointless since Inaho was sure the man had lost all of his empathy a long time ago. “The food storage is decreasing and it does not sit well with the people.”

Häkkinen gritted his teeth and no one else seemed to notice it except Inaho who always kept an observing eye on everyone in the room.

“I can only lament your situation, and I have to ask for your forgiveness to speak so freely but it is not Earth’s liability to feed the people on Vers. We have only a trade agreement with you which is based on a mutual need of trading for the supplies both nations are dependent on. Right now there is no further need of Aldnoah cores on Earth since we have a shortage on material and hands to build kataphrakts and our food storages are strained as well,” the man said with a slightly frustrated tone to his voice. “I believe you are fully aware of this. Our nations are not trading if there are difficulties with the amount of supplies.”

“I know that fully well,” Asseylum said and gave the man a disappointed look. She was frustrated as well and it showed more clearly for each conference she was involved in.

Inaho made notes by tapping away on the virtual keyboard on the tablet. He could foresee what direction this meeting was taking and all he could do was sigh.

***

“So how did it go this time?” Yuki asked him as he stepped out of the conference room. She quickly joined Inaho next to him on his way down the corridor, away from the room where the usual scraping of chairs against the floor was heard when everyone prepared to leave the room. Inaho was always the first to step out through the door.

“We got information of the revolution and it seems like things are getting heated on Vers, not only amongst the people but also on the nobility’s side,” Inaho said and looked worried. “Earth has cut down on the supply to Vers which is complicating the situation with the revolution.”

Yuki sighed and put her arms behind her head to relax her posture somewhat.

“So there’s a revolution breaking out officially any day now?” she asked and sighed tiredly. “I hope UFE won’t be pulled into it.”

“Vers is in deep debts with Earth right now. I doubt Vers would be able to pay back the costs of having UFE helping to deal with the revolution. Revolution or war – it’s expensive either way.”

Yuki frowned as well and stared at the ceiling as they walked toward Inaho’s office.

“So the regime on Vers can’t do anything? It’s a deadlock?”

“That is most likely the situation. There’s no money to neither buy supplies from Earth nor change the system of the nation fast enough to please the crowds,” the brunet said and opened the door to the office section of the headquarters. They stepped into Inaho’s clean office and Yuki slumped onto Inaho’s comfortable office chair in front of his desk. “Someone called Soldier Red is leading the revolutionists. The person seems to be well hidden by the supporters,” Inaho continued and sat down on the visitor’s chair on the other side of the desk and pushed the On button to his tablet.

“Soldier Red, huh?” Yuki said quietly. “The pet name sounds romantic somehow.”

“They follow Slaine’s old ideology and gains more supporters for each day that passes, it seems. Whoever it is the person seems to be a skilled rhetorician just like Slaine was,” Inaho continued and ignored Yuki’s comment.

Yuki let out a complaining cry and pulled her fingers through her black hair and sighed heavily.

“Speaking of the devil… Let’s talk about more enjoyable things!” she complained and looked at Inaho. “I have things to talk to you about that concerns the boy.”

“Technically he’s a young man considering his age,” Inaho remarked.

Yuki wrinkled her nose toward him.

“He looks like a boy to me from how he behaved when I met him, so I’ll call him that!” she protested. “Anyway, have you considered any other possibilities to his environment?”

“Why do you ask?” Inaho answered – like usual with a question.

“Are you going to keep him locked up inside that little cell? He’ll go insane in there. It’s so small and he has nothing to do there. Don’t you think he’ll feel better if you actually gave him a little apartment styled cell? I have heard it works like a charm in Norway,” she said and leaned forward to look at her brother with a slightly reprimanding stare.

“Apartment?” Inaho asked.

“Yes, you know: A kitchen, a bedroom, a living room and maybe a study? Don’t forget a bathtub in the bathroom since he apparently likes those according to you,” she explained. “Give him a TV and a radio or why not a computer with games or something – keeping them offline of course. He needs something more than medication and books. He looked like a corpse when I saw him the last time.”

Inaho smiled and said:

“I didn’t think you cared about him.”

“As a dictator and former enemy – I hate him. But as a human being – I think he deserves better. You can’t keep him caged like that; like a bird in a small cage. He’ll die from it,” Yuki said with frustration. “Besides, since I know what you two are doing, I doubt things will be easy with you two… Well, you know…”

“What am I supposed to know?” Inaho asked confused and his sister got a slight blush on her cheeks.

“W-well… That hanky panky thing!”

“We are not doing that,” Inaho said and tapped professionally on his tablet to arrange the information he had gotten during the conference. “He wants to keep a distance for now.”

Yuki stared at him for a while in dissatisfaction mixed with surprise and then sighed and ruffled her hair.

“Okay then! Whatever! Just give him an apartment and different media than books. The building is big enough for a two or three room apartment and he needs to let his mind rest,” she said. “Give him a blu-ray player and some movies to begin with. I don’t know what he likes. War movies?”

Inaho shook his head:

“I doubt that, and to give him movies about war could be problematic if they take his mind back to two years ago.”

“We’ll come up with something!” Yuki cried annoyed but then looked at her brother with a searching look and her eyes narrowed. “By the way… You guys have kissed, right?”

“Yes. Why?” her brother answered bluntly.

“Is he good at it?”

Inaho stared at her, wondering why she was interested in something as pointless as a simple kiss.

***

The raging sounds from construction echoed throughout the mansion and Slaine tried to concentrate on reading the book Inaho had gotten him, but to no avail. The loud sound echoed angrily in the corridors and he sighed and tried to block it out by putting on the MP3 player with the music Inaho had brought with him. That seemed to make his concentration worse due to the nature of the songs. A blush crept over his face as he involuntarily thought about Inaho the moment the first song played. He sighed and pulled off the headphones and put the player back onto the table. Every time he got reminded about the brunet he thought of what had happened in the bath a couple of days ago. Inaho had not been back for six days and the construction had started one day ago and was still ongoing; it disrupted Slaine’s thoughts due to the loud noise. The personnel would not answer what was being built and even if he trusted Inaho something gave him a bad feeling in his guts. Why was the construction being done anyway? Since it was kept a secret from him it surely had something to do with him – he was confident about it.

In the midst of the loud noises he heard sharp steps – produced by a higher heel than the heels on the shoes the guards wore – walk down the corridor along with the steps of a guard, and within seconds the face of Inaho’s sister came into his view together with the guard Tanaka’s. He stared at her, shocked to see her alone to visit him. She seemed somewhat grumpy and was carrying a grocery bag.

“Good evening,” Yuki said as Tanaka unlocked the cell door. As the door was opened the visiting woman stepped in and sat down onto the stool she had been sitting on the last time Slaine saw her. Tanaka let Yuki know that she would be further down the corridor and to call for her once Yuki was done with her visit. As the guard disappeared to sit at the end of the corridor Yuki turned her golden brown eyes toward him. “How are you?” she asked and lifted the grocery bag onto the table.

“G-good evening, ma’am,” Slaine said hesitantly but kept the answer polite as he got up from the bed and bowed. “I feel fine, thank you.”

“Good, good,” she said and looked around the cell for a while. She seemed unsure of what to say.

“Um… Forgive me if I ask, but what brings you here, ma’am?” Slaine asked quietly.

Yuki looked at him again and sighed tiredly.

“Nao is busy with work for now, so I decided to come and see you in his place since I also want to know who you really are when Nao’s not present,” she answered. “Is the construction sound always this loud?”

Slaine nodded and frowned from the awkward feeling he had about her visiting him.

“Yes, ma’am. No one tells me what they are doing though, but I guess I am not allowed to know,” Slaine said with insecurity and tried to force his sentences into longer ones than he normally would prefer. “I-is Kaizuka alright considering he has so much to do?” Slaine hated how desperate he sounded and gritted his teeth in embarrassment. He could not help but to miss the brunet after what had happened between them – especially after the bath.

Yuki kept an observing eye on him and nodded.

“Yes, he’s okay and working hard,” she answered and kept observing him.

Slaine bit his lip and turned his eyes to the floor to hide from the woman’s stare. It felt intimidating.

“I hope he doesn’t overwork himself,” Slaine mumbled since his vocal cords had trouble producing a voice. He was so nervous he almost trembled like he was freezing and his knees threatened by shaking slightly under his weight.

“Don’t worry, he won’t. He tries to get his work load done so he can take a few days off,” she said and picked up the grocery bag from the table and held it out for Slaine to take. “Here, I brought you something useful.”

Slaine stared at the bag and then looked up at her, then back at the bag. He grabbed the bag with great hesitation – unsure of if he was allowed to accept a gift from the woman who had been disapproving about Slaine being alive.

“Thank you,” Slaine said and gave her a polite bow of gratitude. He looked into the bag and then up at Yuki again with a great confusion spreading across his face. “Tomatoes, ma’am?” In the bag lay a smaller bag filled with tomatoes to the bursting point.

“Listen well now since I will only tell you this once. I’m doing you a huge favor here,” she said and looked determined. Slaine was unsure of if he wanted to hear what she had to say. Anxiousness began to build up in his chest. The woman would threaten him to stay away from Inaho. He was sure of it.

“Y-yes, ma’am…” he mumbled and stared at her, slightly frightened by her determination. He always felt intimidated by people who had such a strong confidence as this woman, and it did not make it easier on him when he was alone with her. It felt somewhat similar to how he had felt with the late Count Cruhteo.

“I heard you are inexperienced with kissing, so eat the tomatoes,” she said fast almost like she tried to end the sentence as quickly as possible.

Slaine’s eyes widened due to the bewildered surprise from the woman’s order. Why did he have to eat tomatoes? How did she know about Slaine not being experienced? Why did she care anyway?

“E-excuse me, m-ma’am?” he stammered and blushed terribly.

“I got the tip a long time ago by a friend of mine when I was in my teens,” she said and looked at him firmly. “If you want to practice on the art of kissing then practice by eating tomatoes. When you kiss your lips should move almost like eating a tomato, so here you have a whole bag to practice with.”

Slaine almost dropped the bag to the floor from embarrassment but managed to find strength to keep it from dropping. He wanted to run away and hide under the duvet on the bed. What exactly had Inaho told her? This was unbelievable.

“T-thank y-you, ma’am!” he forced to say and bowed once again. As he raised his head the woman smiled at him and he hesitated on what to do next, and so he waited nervously.

“Are you always this jumpy?” she asked and tilted her head slightly.

“I-I’m sorry, ma’am!” he hurried to say and bowed again.

“Calm down. I’m not going to bite your head off because you are inexperienced in kissing. I told Nao to practice on tomatoes too,” she said and arched an eyebrow playfully.

“Y-you did…?” Slaine asked quietly and got distracted from the politeness for a short moment. He somehow felt her helpfulness kind and gentle. “Thank you, ma’am…”

Yuki let out a loud exasperated sigh. She seemed satisfied with Slaine’s actions and smiled teasingly:

“I can’t change Nao’s mind about what you two are doing so I might as well give in and see what happens. He’s a big boy so he should be able to deal with the consequences by himself as well as be fully aware of them.”

Slaine felt his heart drop in his chest for a moment. He got reminded of how many risks Inaho was taking for his sake. If people would find out what was growing between the two former enemies things would turn out difficult for Inaho. Slaine on the other hand would most likely get a reprimand he would remember for the rest of his life, but Inaho would be stripped off of his position and probably be prosecuted for intimate relations with a war criminal. Slaine felt guilt. While he himself had nothing else to lose in his life – except Inaho’s warmth – Inaho had everything to lose. It was not fair.

“I apologize that I am not a proper partner for your brother. I know all too well how big of a mess this could become for him if the word got out,” Slaine said and bowed again, but this time as an apology. “I do not know why this is happening, and I feel guilty for putting him through it.”

He kept his head down in the bow and heard the woman sigh again. She sure sighed a lot. The chair creaked as she leaned forward to try and meet his eyes with her gaze.

“I doubt you’re the one making this into a mess. He got you into this, didn’t he?” she asked and Slaine looked up at her in surprise. She smiled wryly. “Something tells me he’s the one responsible for what is happening, and that you are simply pulled along by both him and the heat of the moment.”

Slaine was so shocked about her not blaming him. He had been so sure of her to blame him for whatever hardship Inaho went through that he had prepared his mind on the reprimand she would give him.

“Ma'am?”

“This doesn’t mean I approve of your relationship. He has been forced to endure a far worse scolding than I will ever give you, but he accepted everything with a straight face and determined enough to tell me I would not be able to change his mind. I don’t know what you have done, young man, but he’s head over heels for you,” she explained with that wry smile playing on her lips. “I thought I should let you know since he won’t be telling you that. Just promise me with a cross-your-heart-and-hope-to-die pledge that you won’t be playing with him or use him for your own purpose in any way,” she then asked and stared at him intently, her smile fading more and more as her eyes bore into Slaine’s.

Slaine did not dare to do anything else but to nod and say:

“I promise.”

Yuki seemed unsatisfied with the answer and narrowed her eyes.

“Say it.”

“S-say what, ma’am?”

“The pledge.”

Slaine did not know at first what she meant but then caught onto what pledge she was asking him to do. He smiled slightly and while he drew a cross on his chest over his heart with a finger, he said:

“I won’t hurt him or use him for my personal gain. I cross my heart and hope to die.”

Yuki nodded satisfied and put her fists against her hips like she was victorious and grinned.

“Thank you! Now, if you excuse me, I should leave you to your tomatoes,” she said and got up from the chair – still in her victory pose. Slaine blushed terribly again and pressed his lips into a thin line from the embarrassment. “Nao will be back in a few days so try practice before that. See you!”

She called for the guard Tanaka who came to lock the cell after Yuki had stepped out through the door, and before the sister to Slaine’s newfound source of adoration left she gave him a warmer smile than the last time he had seen her. The steps faded away into the loud sounds from the construction and left Slaine alone with the bag of tomatoes. He stared at them in the bag and had no idea if she was bullying him or actually giving him a great piece of advice.

***

Slaine found himself blindfolded and standing somewhere new to him. It had been three more days of constant construction and once the noise had quieted down and a couple of hours had passed Sakata had come to Slaine’s cell door and smiled with that teasing smile he always wore – but his smile had been wider than usual. He had held a black scarf in his hand and gestured to Slaine with his finger to come to the cell door.

“The big boss has a surprise for ya,” he had said as Slaine had walked up to him and waited. “Now turn around.” As Slaine had done as he was told the scarf had been tied over his eyes and the cell door had been unlocked. The guard had grabbed Slaine’s arm gently and showed him out of the cell.

“W-where are we going?” Slaine had asked nervously and slightly frightened. His heart had begun to beat harder in his chest as he took insecure steps with Sakata as a guide. They had slowly and carefully gone up some stairs – stairs that Slaine was sure he had never used before – and that had made his worry grow.

“You’ll see! Oh, you’ll drop dead from the surprise!” Sakata had told him and Slaine had stopped walking by boring his heels to the floor.

“N-no!” he had exclaimed; he had been sure Sakata had meant that he would get a bullet to his head. He had been worried about the revolution going on and after what Yuki had warned Inaho about – that it was possible that Inaho would get an order to execute Slaine to protect Earth – this blindfold and the guard’s words felt threatening.

On normal circumstances Slaine would not have been worried but since he had let his mind spin away uncontrolled to the worries about what would happen to him, he had jumped to the worst conclusions his mind could come up with. The doctor had told him the day before that he had begun to develop a delusion from all the stress and that he should try and calm down to not let him fall into a psychotic episode. Slaine had tried but he had no control of his mind. Even if he had been pulled into activities during the day with workouts, cooking and socializing with the staff he still had found time for worry. He knew he had not been thinking logically but there was nothing he could do to control his thoughts.

“Huh? Oh, come on! You won’t die for real,” the guard had sighed and had then forced Slaine forward. “We all put a little helping hand into this, so you better like it or I’ll hang you from your toes from the ceiling.”

“I-I’m sorry but… Where are we going?” Slaine asked with a trembling voice.

“You’ll see after a couple of steps more,” had the answer been, and just as the guard had said they arrived to their destination.

Slaine stood there now with great mystification coiling around his brain. The air smelled of fresh paint and wood work. The floor felt soft beneath the soles of his shoes and the temperature was slightly warmer than down in the cell.

“Mr. Sakata?” Slaine had asked as the guard had let go of his arm.

The scarf over his eyes was untied and removed. Bright light blinded him and he had trouble opening his eyes for a while, but when he managed to open them the first thing he saw was Inaho who stood in the center of a room with Yuki standing next to him. Around them the rest of the staff grinned wide toward him. Slaine felt his heart beat an extra time the moment he saw Inaho and a feeling of assurance spread in his being. Inaho had come back.

“Congratulations to your new place!” the crowd yelled – everyone except Inaho – and Slaine took a step back from the sudden surprise.

“My what!?” he blurted from the shock and Sakata stepped past from behind him to pull him along deeper into the room.

“It’s your new place. You know – an apartment,” he said and grinned.

“Everyone contributed to the building of the room in order to save on the expenses. We don’t have a big budget so everyone agreed to share some of their older furniture that they don’t need to give you a better place to stay than that little cell of yours,” Yuki explained and looked at the others who nodded.

“The only thing which is new is the bed,” Inaho said and stared observantly at Slaine. “It’s bigger than the one you have in the old cell.” There was a hidden meaning in his voice only Slaine and Yuki seemed to detect.

Slaine’s heart beat wilder and his face grew hot together with his chest. He looked around at the mismatched furniture; a small brown couch for two, a black bookshelf with slightly worn edges but still in good condition, a white living room table – it had been painted recently, a wooden desk with metallic legs, and a cheap looking TV-shelf. On the floor lay a blue carpet. He was standing in something that looked like a living room. The thing that caught his eye the most was the window. He stared at it for a long time. It was frosted so he could not see to the outside world through it and there seemed to be bars on the outside of the window – but it did not matter. He stepped forward and soaked himself in the clear daylight from the winter sun. Every cell in his body began resonating from joy.

“T-thank you…” he said quietly and trembled. He could not look at them so he kept his back turned against them despite knowing how rude it was of him. “I… I don’t know what to say…” He wanted to cry but he bit his tears back by gritting his teeth.

An arm coiled around his neck and shoulder and weight was added to his weak frame which almost made him fall over. Someone ruffled his hair playfully.

“Hey kid! Look at the couch. It’s from me,” Sakata said proudly and forced Slaine to turn around and look at the couch. “I have been planning on buying a new one for months but never got around doing it, so now I got a reason to do that.”

Slaine smiled and dried a tear from his eye before it had the chance to fall. He was about to thank the man but was interrupted by a female voice:

“Oh, you always have to compete with others and be the baddest, Sakata!” Tanaka grumbled and folded her arms across her chest.

“Well of course! I am the baddest!” Sakata grinned teasingly.

The day shift nurse stepped forward to relieve Slaine from Sakata’s weight as the older man leaned against him, and then he gestured for Slaine to look around.

“There is a kitchen, a bedroom and a bathroom too. Why don’t you have a look around?” he said and Slaine stared at him in disbelief.

Slaine nodded in silence and after exchanging a glance with Inaho he took the hesitating steps to the closest door on his left and opened it. It was the bedroom. The bed was queen-sized and had new pillows and a big duvet. The frame was white and made with plain wood. Next to the bed he saw a small bedside table with an old alarm clock on top. It showed 16:07. He had a frosted window at the end of the room too with a dark purple full length curtain – probably previously owned by one of the female staff members.

“You like it?” he heard Yuki’s voice from behind him.

“Y-yes,” Slaine answered and turned around to smile at everyone. “Th-thank you. It looks great.”

He saw the female doctor lean closer to Tanaka and he could hear her say quietly and relieved:

“He liked the curtains.”

Slaine let the door stay open to the bedroom. He wanted to let the sunlight in as much as possible to where he found himself in the rooms. He had not realized how much he had missed the light until now. He had had no windows in his cell and always stared at the daylight on the wall outside his cell. The only window that had been closest to him had been outside of his cell which he could not look through. Now he had two windows.

He explored the kitchen and found another window. In there were no real equipment since he was not allowed to have any sharp objects at hand and the stove had to be put on by one of the personnel. The switch for the stove was kept behind a little locked case which only the ones with a key could open. There he also found a little kitchen table for two with mismatched chairs, plastic plates and glasses in the cupboards, and he had a refrigerator. He had not dared to open it. Something told him Yuki had stuffed it with tomatoes… He continued to explore the bathroom and he could not help but to let out a quiet chuckle as he saw the bathtub. ‘Inaho, you!’ he thought and smiled. On the sink stood a blue plastic cup with a toothbrush still inside the package and next to it lay a tube of toothpaste. Two towels hung on the hooks on the wall next to the bathtub and he even had a mirror. It looked like it was made of plastic and he knew why; he was not allowed to have anything that could break and be used as a sharp object.

As the entire apartment had been explored he finally shook his head in disbelief and said quietly while smiling:

“Is this for real?”

The crowd confirmed that it was all his and Yuki disappeared into the kitchen and came out with a little cake just big enough for the little crowd, and carried plates in the other hand.

“Now, how about a housewarming party? Nao has not had one when he moved to his current apartment because he is a boring drag like that – so I decided we should at least celebrate your new apartment,” she said to Slaine and glared at Inaho.

“Excuse me?” Inaho asked and glared back at her as she put the cake and plates onto the living room table.

Slaine burst into a laugh at that. He was trembling from the gratefulness that coursed through him. It felt like his entire body had decided to burst with hormones that called for a joyful feeling to spread. His stomach tingled pleasantly and a indescribable warmth engulfed him which he could not remember he had ever felt before. He had been so lonely for so long; from the time his father had become obsessed with Aldnoah to become a servant to the late Count Cruhteo; from being a servant to become a commander in war, and lastly from being a fallen dictator and turn to a simple prisoner with nothing. Now, as he felt the smiling stares comfort him, he felt that he had people who had gone out of their way to give him something to hold onto whether he himself thought he deserved it or not. If they thought he deserved it, was he allowed to accept it and thank them?

“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you,” he repeated without knowing what else to say. “Thank you. Thank you… Thank…”

Finally his knees gave way beneath him and he was about to fall to his knees, but Sakata was quick to grab him.

“Whoa Nelly! Are you okay, kid?” he asked and Slaine covered his face with a trembling hand and nodded.

“Y-yes… Thank you.”

“Get a grip, brat. We’ll have some cake. Come and sit down onto my old and awesome couch!” the guard said and steadied him and sat him down onto the sofa.

Slaine felt his body sink into the softness of it. His smiling face began to ache. He was not used to smile like how he smiled now, and as he looked up at the people standing around the living room table waiting for Yuki to cut the cake he met Inaho’s eye observing him. Slaine mimed a silent “Thank you” to the man and Inaho nodded and gave him the first smile since Slaine had seen him after the blindfold had been taken away.

They sat on the couch and floor while eating their pieces of the cake that turned out to be a chocolate cake beneath all of the cream, and Slaine listened joyfully as the others told old memories that fit the theme for the day; embarrassing moments – but during the entire time Slaine and Inaho stared at each other from their opposite sides of the table. They refused to let the other go with their gaze. If they would have stared at each other with the same intensity two years prior the stare would have been of boiling hate but now it was boiling with something else. Slaine felt a gravity emit from the other man. He wanted to climb over the table and thank him properly but kept himself calm and collected for the meantime.

The moment Slaine got distracted by the others from staring at Inaho he felt childishly bothered but kept a genuine smile on his face as he answered their questions and told them stories they wanted to hear. He told them about Phaeton – the son of the sun god Apollo who had been too confident in his ability to drive his father’s carriage and had made the Earth burn and freeze by accident and had at the same time let the zodiac signs lose from their starry cages. He told them about Heracles’ birth – or Hercules as he was called in the roman and modern world – and how Hermes had taken the bastard son of Zeus to his wife’s breast while she had slept to make Heracles immortal by having him drink her milk.

“Hera awakened and pushed him away with rage from seeing the bastard boy that the boy sprayed her milk up to the skies and formed what we today call The Milky Way,” Slaine said and chuckled and the rest of the crowd laughed out loud.

“I keep telling you! Those old stories from the Greeks are insane!” Sakata laughed and slapped his thigh.

Slaine had noticed that Yuki had observed him with an impressed gaze the entire time he had told about the stories which he had read in the little library. He smiled to her brightly and she averted her eyes and blushed slightly.

“You sure know a lot about those old stories,” she said and turned her attention to the cake.

“Thank you, ma’am. I have read a lot during my time here,” he answered. “Even if they sound mad at times they are filled with moral and beauty. You should read them some time.”

The nurse chuckled.

“Why not just listen to you telling the stories? Your way of telling them is fun and interesting since you understand them. I heard the text was hard to read in those books,” he said and took a bite of the cake.

“Yes, but I am sure everyone here can read them if they want to try,” Slaine said and smiled. “Nothing can compete with the original stories.”

“No, no, no, kid! You’re not making me read any books!” Sakata exclaimed and people laughed again.

“If you did read the books Troyard refers to then maybe you would have better luck with women,” Inaho said suddenly and stared at Sakata with a stare that Slaine and Yuki both knew was out of jealousy.

Sakata smiled with a frown and scratched his neck like he always did when he was embarrassed.

“So you know about that too, boss.”

“The way you complain about your inability to get a mate has made it clear. I heard you and Troyard speak about it the last time I was here,” Inaho explained objectively and went back to eating his cake.

“You’re so cold, boss!” the guard complained and people laughed again.

Time passed and the sun had begun to set. The night shift staff came to have a look at the new apartment cell and greeted everyone, and the night shift nurse gave Slaine the medication for the evening. Once everyone had gone home or back to their duties Inaho and Yuki was left to accompany Slaine. The apartment was quiet now. Finally Slaine had some peace in his mind now that the construction was done. He was still smiling since he could not stop. He was happy.

“Okay, I have to head home now too. I hope you enjoyed the apartment we managed to pull together,” Yuki said and got up from the floor. “As you are the one living here now it’s your responsibility to tidy after the party,” she said to Slaine and smiled with a tired smile.

“Thank you again, ma’am. It feels like a home. I guess that leaving the responsibility of tidying to the host is one of the perks of being a guest,” Slaine answered and stood up from the couch too.

Yuki looked at both Inaho and Slaine; her eyes switched back and forth between them and for each time her eyes became sharper. Then she suddenly asked:

“Have you both eaten your tomatoes?”

She said it with such force and surprise that Slaine answered with honesty by reflex.

“Yes, ma’am!” he blurted from the stress of her sudden question while Inaho nodded calmly.

“Yes, Yuki-nee.”

Yuki grinned teasingly and wide and giggled.

“You two are idiots, you know that?” she said and left for the door. “Let me know if the tomatoes worked,” she then said without looking at them and waved her hand.

Once she had closed the door Inaho got up to walk over to it to lock it. Slaine found himself feeling dumbfounded. Had she made a fool out of them or did she mean that the tomatoes actually worked? Either way Slaine had done as she told him – mostly because having something to snack on while reading was calming, but he had been somewhat conscious while eating the tomatoes she had brought.

“I don’t know how to interpret what she means,” Slaine sighed and looked at Inaho as the man turned around to look back at him after turning the key in the lock. “Did she tease us or did she mean that her trick works?”

“Both,” Inaho said bluntly and caught Slaine in his stare once again, welding Slaine to the spot where he stood.

The room fell into that familiar silence which accompanied them whenever they were alone. Slaine had learned what that silence meant. It was a tension that slowly built up inside them. Once again he hesitated of what to do which left the entire control of the situation to Inaho. As Inaho took the first step toward him Slaine’s heart began to beat like a sledgehammer. He could hear the pulse in his ears and feel it in the tips of his fingers. His breath became rapid as he watched the brunet close the distance between them. As Inaho stood right in front of him the brunet reached for a plate that stood on the living room table and began gathering the rest of them.

“We should tidy this up,” Inaho said as he stacked the plates on top of each other. “Will you take the cutlery?”

Slaine woke up from that nervousness that had begun to build up in him and he stammered as he answered and began to pick up the forks and spoons from the table:

“Y-yes, of course.”

Slaine was slightly disappointed; he had been anticipating some kind of physical connection between them. Having Inaho so close but not available for whatever Slaine had anticipated was similar to torture. They gathered the plates, glasses and cutlery from the table and moved them to the kitchen counter, and as Slaine began washing them Inaho went out to the living room to pick up the napkins and other rubbish that was left behind.

Slaine stared at the water that washed away the sticky remains of the cake on the plates. He had his own place now even if he still was a prisoner in a cell. The cell had gotten bigger and more comfortable and he had no right to complain, nor would he complain. He smiled once again thinking of how everyone had gone out of their way for him. Whose idea had it been? Inaho’s? But the man had not cared to do any changes for the two year period he had spent in the prison. Was it his sister’s idea? Slaine smiled as he caught the culprit in his mind. He knew she held him on a distance and had a hard time accepting him but she had shown humility toward him. He was thankful. He wished he could reciprocate her gesture.

He heard Inaho step into the kitchen and place the bag of rubbish in the corner next to the door, and then after a short moment arms coiled around Slaine’s torso to hug him close. He almost dropped the plate he held and held his breath as he stared into thin air. He could feel Inaho lean his head against his neck and nuzzle it.

“I’m glad that you like the apartment,” Inaho said quietly.

“Y-yes, thank you,” Slaine stammered and tried to go back to washing the dishes. “No one has ever done something like this to me, so I don’t know how to-“

A hand grabbed his hip and turned him around before he had the time to finish his sentence. Inaho cupped Slaine’s cheeks into his hands and pulled him closer but stopped right before their lips would meet. Slaine’s lips tingled from Inaho’s breath tickling them. They longed for the other man’s whose lips were just slightly lower than Slaine’s due to their height difference. Both of them hesitated and Slaine grew frustrated. He battled his reasons in his mind before gathering his courage to push his lips against Inaho’s, and before anyone had had the time to think otherwise they were pulled along into a frenzy of kisses. Slaine noticed how different it felt now. Their lips met in a more relaxed manner which made the kisses more intense. Yuki’s advice had turned out to be successful. Both seemed practiced on it.

Just as Slaine’s heart had begun to beat harder again Inaho pulled away from him, leaving Slaine’s lips hungry for more. The blond frowned as he looked at the other man step back from him.

“I will leave you to familiarize with the apartment. I will come back tomorrow morning,” the brunet said and began walking toward the door.

Slaine stared at his back as he exited the kitchen. ‘No!’ he thought. ‘Don’t go!’ It felt like he would die if the man disappeared from his view, and so with a panic Slaine ran after him and stopped right when he saw Inaho turn the key to unlock the door.

“Stay!” Slaine said desperately. “Don’t go…” His heart beat angrily.

Inaho stopped and turned his face toward the blond and Slaine held his breath once again – hoping Inaho would change his mind and stay.

“Don’t you want to be left alone to take in the atmosphere of the apartment?” Inaho asked and Slaine shook his head so violently his hair swung along with the motion.

“Stay!” He was desperate. He yearned for the other man. He hated to see him go. “No one can hear or see us here…” he finally said quietly with a crimson flush spreading across his face. “I… I have felt nervous and scared that the staff would hear us before, but now…”

Inaho stared at him for just a single second before he locked the door once more and left the keys in the lock, strode across the floor to Slaine and, with equally desperate motion as Slaine’s voice had sounded, pushed the blond against the wall between the window and the door to the bedroom. Slaine’s head bumped against the wall and he groaned.

“Orange!” he yelled from the surprise, scolding the brunet for being so forceful.

“Bat…” Inaho whispered and locked their lips into a kiss.

Slaine could hardly breathe through his nose as the brunet kissed him so intensely. A frustration built up in both of them again and without hesitation Inaho pushed his hands up Slaine’s shirt to touch the scarred skin. Slaine kissed him back and tried to push Inaho’s hands away but the brunet refused to let his hands leave from under the blond’s shirt. After a couple of tries Slaine gave up and grabbed the shoulders of Inaho’s blazer tugging at it for a while before he unbuttoned it and pushed it off of the brunet’s shoulders.

“Slaine…!” he heard Inaho gasp between the kisses.

“Inaho…” Slaine answered and his face grew so hot he had to turn his head to the side and break their kiss. Inaho’s lips fell to Slaine’s neck instead and kissed it with equal force and Slaine felt a pang of embarrassment as he realized he had let out a moan. It had sounded sultry. “Inaho! Stop!” he cried out and the brunet pulled his lips away. For the first time Slaine saw Inaho wear a surprised look on his face. It was baffled and insecure. Guilt spread in Slaine’s mind instead and he frowned in an apology. “I-I’m sorry… I can’t… I mean....” He did not have the courage to tell the brunet that he was too nervous again. His entire body felt hot and weak.

Inaho’s confused expression turned into a slight smile.

“I understand,” Inaho said with slight disappointment in his voice which was not intended to be voiced. “Maybe we should start with going to sleep first?”

Slaine stared at him for a while, trying to confirm if Inaho was alright with him stopping their adventure so suddenly. Slaine had been pulled along and he admitted to himself he had enjoyed it – maybe a little too much. He had given Inaho some kind of hope of something more and then broken that anticipation.

“W-well, the bed is too big for me alone,” he said quietly and ashamed, and Inaho nodded and pulled him along to the bedroom. The brunet left his blazer on the floor in the living room – not caring about it lying there.

They got into bed after undressing. Slaine was too conscious of what was happening between them that he could only find courage to remove his shirt. He kept his blue pants on while Inaho calmly pulled off both his shirt and trousers. Slaine was the first one to slip to bed and he buried his face against the pillow with his back against Inaho and listened to the other man fold his clothes and slip into bed next to him. After a while he felt a hand brush his back and Slaine jerked before he threw a glance over his shoulder to see Inaho asking for attention with his gaze. Something in the man’s expression felt lonely and so Slaine mustered all of his courage from every nook and corner, and turned around toward him.

“Good night,” Inaho said quietly.

“G-good night,” Slaine answered with that cursed blush dancing on his cheeks. He glanced at the digital clock on the bedside table which showed 21:20. It was still early and he wondered if it was alright to…

Why do I give a damn?’ he thought irritated due to his insecurity. Instead he reached out his hand and grabbed Inaho’s gently, and their gazes met once again. Slaine bit his lip and then whispered:

“I’m sorry … for stopping you so suddenly.”

“It’s alright,” the brunet answered.

Slaine smiled weakly and sighed from relief. It was time to be honest again.

“I…”

“Hm?”

“I… Think I…”

“You think what?”

“… like you … too much.”

Chapter Text

The softness of the bed felt nice against his body. The pillow was softer than he remembered it to be. The duvet felt warmer and more inviting than normally. A comforting scent made itself reminded and he opened his eyes as he sensed some movement next to him. Light blinded him. It was a light he found unfamiliar to wake up to.

That’s right. I have windows now,’ he thought and smiled drowsily as he watched the brunet lie next to him, still asleep and buried beneath the big duvet they both shared. ‘So that is why it felt warmer than usual…

Slaine raised his head carefully to look at the alarm clock that stood on the bedside table; it showed 06:09 AM. It was still early. Maybe the unfamiliar feeling of having someone asleep next to him had made him wake up earlier? He leaned his head back against the pillow and turned to his side toward Inaho to watch him sleep. Slaine was still sleepy and closed his aching eyes to yawn. The bed was so comfortable it felt like he was sleeping on clouds. Or…

Is it because of…?

He opened his eyes and looked at Inaho again. The brunet slept quietly – almost too quietly. He looked rested and peaceful, much like what Slaine felt after the first night in his new cell. Slaine realized he had a slight smile on his lips while remembering back to the day before; how the personnel had surprised him and contributed to the new cell he had, how Inaho’s sister had been the one to persuade Inaho into making the decision, and how Slaine had had his first housewarming festivity and enjoyed the company of others. Most importantly – he reminded himself – was how he had come clean and accepted his feelings toward the man who slept next to him on the bed. He could still hear Inaho’s soft voice whisper a thank you to him and he could still feel the gentle squeeze Inaho had given Slaine’s hand; it had been just enough to ensure Slaine the feeling was mutual. To Slaine it had felt like a sin; an innocent and gentle sin which they both owned and shared with each other. It was a joyful feeling – fragile and frightening but joyful nonetheless.

Slaine was contented with the now. Yesterday had felt like a new start and even if he still felt guilt for what the personnel had done for him by sharing their personal possessions with him, he had debated with himself and come to the conclusion that if they thought he deserved it then for once he would accept their gift. He had to admit that a reason to why he had not argued about it like he used to do earlier in his life, was that no matter what he would have said they would not have let him return to the old cell. Besides, it would have been rude of him to not accept their gentleness and kindness.

Accepting gifts had always been difficult for him. He had never thought that he deserved any gifts or was allowed to be selfish enough to accept any. If he would have been forced to accept a gift he would have gotten anxious about how to repay their kindness as well as worry about if he had become selfish. If he was not worthy of a gift he would be forced to work harder to show his gratitude. That thought was what he had always lived by. It had always been tiresome since he exhausted himself by working so hard to not make anyone regret their kindness toward him, and so in the end he had hoped no one would give him anything. Working as the late Count Cruhteo’s servant had been a relief in a sense; no one had given him anything he was not worthy of; he had not been given anything to treasure at all back then. The only thing he had treasured had been the former Princess who now ruled a nation as its Empress – the same nation he had tried to conquer by foul play. Life had been much easier back then before the war; when he still had stood in his blue uniform, waiting for an order by someone who deserved to command him.

Now he had gotten something to treasure. Three things to be precise: A cell which allowed him to live a simple but enjoyable life, warm and gentle people who wanted to include him into their circle even if it was still on a professional level, and lastly the most important thing; Inaho.

The brunet let out a little huff but stayed in his dreamy world, and Slaine smiled broader. He felt how boldness grew inside him. It urged him to stretch out a hand and touch the other. Slaine had never felt such a feeling before; it was a completely different boldness than the one he had had as Count Saazbaum Troyard. With Asseylum he had been able to hold himself back from touching the girl back then. He had been afraid she would crackle from his touch but Inaho felt completely different. The man was sturdy, something their battles had proved over and over again. If one of them were to crack by the other’s touch it would be Slaine.

I would crumble,’ he thought and carefully stretched out his hand toward the brunet – ready to willingly let himself crumble the moment he touched the man. As his hand hovered above Inaho’s cheek he hesitated. Would it be alright to wake the man up like that? He pondered on what to do for a little while before making a decision of not letting himself hunger again the way he had hungered for Asseylum years before. Inaho would not break he reminded himself, and lastly Slaine let his hand touch the brunet’s cheek. He caressed it gently and remembered the story of Echo and her repeating the words of her beloved Narcissus. He understood what she had felt; oh, the power Inaho had over him. It was overwhelming and brutal, and yet Slaine was ready to face it.

There; I feel myself crumble. I would do it again…’ He saw Inaho open his eye drowsily. ‘… and again…’ The man’s gaze met Slaine’s. ‘… and again…

“Good morning,” Inaho said with a voice sounding husky from his deep sleep.

Slaine smiled. ‘…for you,’ he finished secretly in his mind. “Good morning,” he then replied and pulled his hand away from the other.

“Have you had a good sleep?” the brunet asked and Slaine nodded.

“I’m sorry I woke you up. It’s still early,” the blond apologized without regret. ‘I’m becoming selfish,’ he realized but did not think of it as threatening.

Inaho threw a glance over his shoulder to look at the time and then shook his head.

“I usually get up at five in the morning,” he said and pulled the duvet over his shoulder which had been bared while he had been asleep.

“Don’t you have work to do?” Slaine asked slightly worried but Inaho moved his hand underneath the duvet in search for Slaine’s, and found it. His hand was warm as Slaine felt the man's fingers entwine with his.

“I took three days off. I finished all the work I had scheduled for the rest of the week during the time I was away,” the brunet explained and Slaine got reminded of Yuki having mentioned it when she had visited him.

“Is your work hard?”

“No,” was the blunt answer that reached his ears as Inaho gently pulled him closer. Slaine followed his request and closed their distance until their heads rested on the same pillow. “The nurse won’t be here until nine o’clock, so we have time left to snooze.”

Slaine smiled again.

“I didn’t think of you as the one to care about such things,” he said and let his body relax. He had gotten tense the moment Inaho had grabbed his hand.

“Normally I don’t.”

Slaine closed his eyes and nuzzled the pillow. It smelled like Inaho; a comforting scent. So Inaho cared about snoozing with him? That thought alone made Slaine’s heart flutter. The weak morning light crept in through the frosted window and gave the room a yellowish hue. It was quiet and calm. Slaine had spent such a long time in the little cell and before that in the landing castles, that he had forgotten how charming a lazy morning could be. Earth truly had an enchanting air to it which was so much different from Mars and the cold and empty space. This particular morning was the first relaxing and truly enjoyable one he had had in a long time. The last had been just a couple of days before he had left Earth with his father. Just before he fell back to sleep he wondered for how long he would be allowed to have this newfound simple kind of life.

He woke up to a knock with a start. What an unfamiliar sound it was. He opened his eyes and sat up in bed just to hear another knock. Inaho was slowly trying to come back to life from the heavy snoozing.

“Open the door. It’s the nurse. Don’t let him know I’m here,” Inaho said drowsily and made no move to get up from bed.

“They don’t know you’re here?!” Slaine asked shocked but quietly, and hurried up from bed to pull a shirt over his torso.

“No. I was supposed to leave yesterday,” the brunet said and turned around to go back to sleep.

“B-but Inaho!” A third knock was heard along with the nurse’s question if Slaine was up. “What do I do? What if he comes in here?”

“He won’t. New routines,” Inaho answered. “But if you won’t open the door he will come in.”

At those words Slaine hurried out of the bedroom and noticed Inaho’s suit jacket on the floor where they had left it the night before. He picked it up hurriedly and threw it into the kitchen so the nurse would not spot it, and then he saw the keys in the lock. Slaine could not remember if Inaho had locked the door last night before leaving the keys in the lock. ‘What do I do?!’ he thought panicked as a fourth knock was heard.

Slaine?” he heard the nurse say from the other side of the door.

“J-just a moment!” Slaine answered and decided to remove the keys no matter if the door was locked or not. If it was unlocked he would put the blame on Inaho and tell the nurse that Inaho must have forgotten to lock the door after he left. ‘But he hasn’t left!’ he thought again with worry and then bit his lip as he carefully pulled the keys out of the lock and hoped the nurse would not hear it.

He managed to get the key out of the lock and shoved them beneath one of the couch’s cushions, and then he ran to the door.

“Y-yes! I’m ready!” he said and waited next to the door as the nurse inserted the key on the other side of the door.

The door opened and he met the kind eyes of the nurse. The man held a plastic glass of water in one hand, and in the other he held the little plastic container with the pills.

“Have you slept well?” the nurse asked as he gave the small plastic container to Slaine. “It must have been a new feeling to wake up in a proper bedroom.”

“Y-yes,” Slaine said and took the container and then opened the soft plastic lid of it with practiced hands. “I slept really well.”

“That’s good to hear,” the nurse said and waited for Slaine to take out the pills from the container.

Slaine put the two pills – one antidepressant and one of the anxiolytics he had started with – and placed them between his lips like usual and then took the glass of water from the nurse’s outstretched hand. The pills tasted horribly if the thin film coating them began to melt before he had swallowed them, and so he never took them directly in his mouth. He let the water wash them into his mouth and then quickly swallowed them to prevent the bad taste to spread over his taste buds. Slaine then continued to empty the glass and then handed it back to the nurse and thanked him. The blond was relieved the nurse did not check that he had swallowed them anymore and placed trust in him. It felt less stressful and controlling that way.

“So what will you do now? Have you checked the wardrobe and the cupboards on the TV-shelf yet?” the nurse then continued to ask.

“N-no,” Slaine blushed. ‘I was quite busy after all of you left,’ he thought and remembered the heated kisses that had been shared between him and Inaho.

“You should,” the nurse then said with a bright smile and winked. “Those blue clothes doesn’t really suit you, you know. Have a good morning and I see you for lunch.”

Slaine got confused as he saw the nurse begin to close the door.

“What about breakfast?” he asked and the nurse chuckled:

“You have a fridge and a pantry, don’t you?” Slaine blushed again. He had forgotten about the kitchen. The nurse continued: “If you need to use the stove just give us a call on the intercom in the kitchen and someone will come and put it on for you.”

“O-oh! Um… That won’t be necessary, but thank you,” Slaine said and gave the nurse a slight bow. “A-and thank you. For the apartment I mean.”

“No problem. I hope the kitchen chairs are useful. I have a request from the staff though. Do you mind it if we make you company during coffee hours?”

Slaine smiled happily.

“Not at all. If it’s alright with you I would like to be alone today and properly make myself at home but you are more than welcome tomorrow,” he answered. He found it awkward to welcome people into a home. He realized he had never done that before.

“That sounds great! One of the guards can bring you your lunch so you can eat it here instead of eating with us if you want – but only for today.”

Slaine nodded.

“Thank you.”

The nurse closed the door at that and locked it, and Slaine let out a relieved sigh. He returned to the bedroom and saw Inaho sitting up in the bed tapping on his phone. The moment Slaine stepped into the room Inaho pushed the standby button and thus locked the phone to prevent Slaine from seeing whatever he was doing. It felt a bit saddening for the blond.

“Work?” Slaine asked instead and climbed back into bed and lay down on top of the duvet.

“I got some updates – that’s all,” the brunet answered and put the phone on the bedside table.

“You can’t tell me what you work with, right?” Slaine tried.

“No. It’s classified,” Inaho answered and Slaine’s heart turned heavy and he closed his eyes.

“I see…”

“I can’t tell you because of reasons which you already are aware of,” he heard the brunet say. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Slaine sighed. “I know.”

The mattress next to him was pushed down and as he opened his eyes he saw Inaho lean over him from his side of the bed and his lips hovered above Slaine’s.

“I-Inaho?”

“You won’t start asking me questions anyway?” Inaho asked.

Slaine frowned slightly at the man.

“I have no reason to ask. I know your answer and I will gain nothing by trying,” the blond answered.

Inaho frowned back at him with a pitying gaze. He lifted his hand to cup Slaine’s cheek with it and brush his cheekbone gently with his thumb.

“I’m sorry. I know you are worried,” he then said quietly and Slaine gave him a weak smile.

“I am but … I’m trying not to. I want to trust Her Highness’ abilities,” the blond whispered. “And right now, I have something else to concentrate on,” he continued and lifted his head slightly from the pillow to make their lips meet just briefly before he let his head fall back down onto the pillow. “I can’t help but to worry but I know my own situation well enough to adjust myself to it – at least for a while.”

Inaho gave him a weak and tired smile.

“You won’t let go of her?” Inaho asked with a slight hint of jealousy in his voice. “All you think about is her.”

Slaine realized the man hated hearing about Asseylum. Slaine could not blame him but then again, the blond was already trying the best he could to accept that he would never see her again. He had a hard time tearing himself loose from her leash – mostly because he was scared to let go of such an old and familiar place of safety and change it into a new one. He had tried but without him noticing his mind had always slipped back to Asseylum. An apologetic frown crept over his face as he stared at Inaho.

“I’m sorry. I am trying,” he said quietly.

“You told me last night that you liked me. ‘Too much’ was how you put it,” the brunet continued with a voice that grew thicker with jealousy, and the blond understood where the conversation was going. How would he deal with it? No one had ever been jealous over him before. How did others deal with it?

“Y-yes,” Slaine said quietly and blushed slightly. “I do.”

“It’s not the same as love?”

The man’s question was mean as well as hopeful. A string in Slaine’s heart tightened and another vibrated with joy; Inaho was picking and pulling at the first by forcing Slaine to answer such a direct question, and Inaho also played the other gently by wanting to hear Slaine confirm his hopes. ‘So he really loves me?’ Slaine thought and blushed even redder while guilt pulled at a third heart string; making his heart play an awfully out of tone melody. Was he ready to answer those feelings? Did he feel as deeply for the brunet that his feelings had gone from just liking him a lot into loving him?

“No…” Slaine answered and almost instantly regretted his reply since it sounded so off in his own ears. “Or- I’m sorry, I don’t really know. You asked such a straight forward question,” he then hurried to say.

Inaho just stared at him for a while, trying to figure out what was true and what was an excuse. ‘I honestly don’t know, Inaho! This is too new!’ Slaine thought desperately. He was so unsure of what was happening. He did not want to let Inaho go and yet he was afraid of keeping him.

“Alright,” Inaho said shortly and moved away from Slaine to get up from bed.

Slaine raised himself up on his elbows to watch the brunet dress himself with the navy blue trousers and white shirt. Suddenly he felt lonely and a fourth heartstring sent his inner melody into a symphony of ugly sounds. ‘Have we just argued?’ he wondered.

“Will you leave?” the blond asked with a trembling voice.

“Yes,” the brunet answered and then looked around. “Where is my suit coat?”

“I-in the kitchen… I had to hide it from the nurse,” Slaine said quietly and watched Inaho walk out of the room. His eyelashes became wet as his tears threatened to burst out. He got up from bed and saw Inaho button the suit coat with experienced hands. “Don’t go…” he begged quietly.

Inaho did not look up at him as he walked across the living room floor and over to the door. It hurt. The man had not even acknowledged Slaine’s pleading. The man stopped there and stared at the door for a second before looking over his shoulder to ask:

“Where are the keys?”

Oh, he doesn’t know where I hid them!’ Slaine thought somewhat relieved. At least Inaho’s leave was delayed a while longer.

“I won’t tell you,” Slaine said boldly. “I had to hide them from the nurse too.”

“Where are they?” the brunet asked again with that monotonous voice and turned around to look at Slaine. Slaine knew Inaho tried to read his body language to figure out where the keys were, and so he kept his eyes fixed on Inaho’s to not reveal the hiding place by instinctively look toward the couch.

“Nowhere,” Slaine answered. Inaho’s expression did not change.

“Where are the keys?” the brunet tried again.

Slaine bit his lip as he kept his gaze stubbornly locked with Inaho’s. He felt nervous about Inaho bursting into anger due to Slaine’s childishness but Slaine refused to let Inaho go. Instead he sighed:

“I won’t tell you because I don’t want you to go.”

“You are aware that you are breaking the rules by hiding the keys from me?”

“You’re breaking several laws by being intimate with me, which is worse,” Slaine answered and broke their eye contact and lowered his gaze to the floor. “I don’t want you to go, so I will not tell you where the keys are.”

“So you are encouraging me to keep breaking the law?” Inaho asked and kept staring at him. His voice had become slightly frustrated.

“Would you like to stop breaking them?” Slaine answered and looked up at him quickly before turning his eyes back to the floor. He found it silly how they threw questions back and forth at each other; answering one another with new questions. The blond waited for a reply which did not come and so he continued: “Is what I feel not enough? I like you – too much. I stand by those words but I am not ready to say I love you.”

Inaho stared at him with a blaming eye. It burned against Slaine’s face – much like earlier during Slaine’s captivity; Inaho’s stern stare always felt like fire against his skin.

“Is it because of Seylum?” the brunet finally asked and Slaine knitted his eyebrows and grit his teeth before he answered:

“No. I respect her but whatever I feel for you is different. You are too impatient with me. I’m not sharing your eagerness because I need time to let her go.”

“How much time do you need?”

What a selfish man,’ Slaine thought. Inaho was too impatient and did not seem to fully understand the concept of Theory of Mind. The blond was not able to answer him. It was impossible since he did not know the answer.

“You can’t stress with feelings,” Slaine explained and sighed with desperation. “Inaho… Stay with me. You took days off to spend them with me, didn’t you? If you run now whatever is building up between us might die and I don’t want that.” The blond lifted his gaze to stare at Inaho and try to convey his desperation to him. “Do you?”

This time he would wait for as long as it would take for Inaho to answer him. He would not accept a question as an answer, nor would he accept a ‘yes’ as an answer. If Inaho would not answer him properly with a straight ‘no’ he would get angry. If Inaho truly loved him he would not play with his heart strings this way. He would let Slaine adapt to the situation in the pace Slaine needed and not stress things through. That is when he realized he was selfish too for thinking like that.

Finally he saw Inaho decide and watched his lips move as his voice reached Slaine’s ears, which told him:

“No. I don’t want that.”

Slaine let out a relieved breath and gave Inaho a weak smile.

“Then stay, will you? We can do whatever you want.”

He instantly felt how wrong the last sentence felt and he blushed terribly.

“Anything?” Inaho tried and Slaine’s blush got slowly worse and worse.

“N-not anything as in a-anything you want!” Slaine stammered.

“What were you thinking when I asked 'anything'?” Inaho’s inquiring voice teased Slaine’s embarrassment.

“You’re cruel,” Slaine whimpered embarrassed and hid his crimson face behind his hands. “I didn’t mean that!”

“What do you mean with ‘that’?”

“Stop asking me!”

“I am not entirely sure I understand what you are-“ Inaho began but Slaine interrupted him.

“Copulation!” the blond squeaked and trembled – which made him fall onto his knees on the floor in an attempt to try and hide from the brunet’s prying gaze. He heard the brunet’s perfectly calm voice start to explain:

“Technically we would not be mating so copulation is the wrong term for-“

“I don’t care about the technicalities,” Slaine groaned from both frustration and mortification. He wanted to run and hide from Inaho. “You know what I mean.”

“Sexual relation?” Inaho asked and Slaine nodded again. “I wasn’t referring to that when I asked ‘anything’. You are the one to make a big thing out of it so I will have to ask you to calm down.”

The level of mortification leaped several levels higher and Slaine could barely handle it. He had no idea what to do. Should he run and hide? Should he panic? ‘What do I do?! This is so embarrassing!’ His heart was beating wildly like a stampede and his entire body felt hot from making a fool out of himself in front of the man he had strong feelings for.

“I-I’m calm,” Slaine said quietly after a while of silence. He did not lower his hands from his face though. “Will you stay then?” he continued to ask and waited somewhat impatiently for Inaho’s answer.

“You won’t tell me where my keys are, so I can’t leave,” Inaho said.

Something in his voice told Slaine not to reveal where the keys were hidden, and so Slaine kept his mouth shut. The brunet surely worked in mysterious ways at times. The blond wondered if the other was still slightly angry but wanted to stay at the same time, so letting Slaine keep the keys as hostage worked as a relief for the man. As Slaine had figured it out he slowly lowered his hands from his face and placed them neatly on top of his thighs.  He looked at Inaho through his bangs which hung heavily over his eyes due to his lowered head. It felt intimidating to look directly at him since Slaine was not sure of how angry Inaho still was.

“What ‘anything’ did you have in mind?” Slaine asked quietly and still blushed from previously reading too much into the word.

Inaho walked toward him and Slaine held his breath. He was nervous of Inaho getting closer to him and yet he was dying for the distance between them to shrink. Inaho did not stop in front of him though and instead he continued into the bedroom. Slaine heard a door open and he looked over his shoulder to see what Inaho was doing. The brunet pulled out something that looked like a cardigan in a light beige color.

“I want you to change into these,” Inaho said and tossed the cardigan on top of the bed and continued to take out neat dark blue plants, and then a white t-shirt. He threw everything on the bed and then looked at Slaine. “If you change into these I won’t leave for the rest of the day.”

Slaine arched an eyebrow in confusion and got up from the floor to walk up to the bed and look at the clothes. They looked neat and almost brand new but something told him they were used.

“Why?” Slaine asked and instinctively looked down at the blue shirt and pants he wore. He had grown accustomed to them.

“Because they are my old clothes, and I want to see you in them,” the brunet explained frankly and kept that observing gaze on Slaine.

“W-what?!” the blond exclaimed and went back to blushing again. “T-they are yours? I’m taller than you!”

“So? These were just slightly too big for me, and they are standard sizes and should fit you perfectly since there is only six centimeters of difference between us.”

“Why would you like to see me in your old clothes?” Slaine asked and knitted his eyebrows along with a smile. “I-I mean, I find it somewhat awk-“

“You said ‘anything’, and so I ask you to do this,” Inaho pushed forcefully and Slaine figured he should abide the brunet’s childish wishes for now since Slaine had told him they could to anything.

He sighed and walked up to the bed to pull off his blue shirt and pull on the white one which Inaho had picked from the wardrobe. After that he pulled the cardigan over his arms and shoulders and buttoned it. Then he resumed changing the pants he wore to Inaho’s old ones. Inaho had observed him the entire time of the changing and Slaine felt awkward about the entire situation. Why was the brunet so keen to dress Slaine in his own clothes?

“Done,” the blond said and corrected the cardigan by pulling at the hem of it.

“Wait.” Inaho stepped forward and gently – almost affectionately – took hold of the silver chain around Slaine’s neck to pull the talisman out from underneath the white t-shirt. The brunet’s fingers felt electrifying against Slaine’s skin as they touched him. The blond shivered slightly at the other’s touch. Inaho placed the talisman gently on top of Slaine’s chest and then took a step back to look at him. “There. You look more human now.”

Slaine looked down at the clothes he wore and felt the new kind of fabric against his skin. The clothes were slightly heavier than the prison outfit, and much more…

“They are cozier than the blue ones,” Slaine said and smiled warmly. “I am confused of why you were so intended to make me wear your old clothes, but thank you. Are there more in the wardrobe?”

Inaho nodded and turned around and opened the door to the wardrobe. It was filled with clothes, some with the tag still on them – meaning they were new – and others which Slaine suspected were Inaho’s. The blond was overwhelmed at how much Inaho and Yuki – along with the staff – had tried to make the new apartment cell feel like a real home. Slaine had not had such a warm and simplistic place for so long. It felt brand new to him even if it should have felt familiar; he had lived in a similar apartment before with his father.

“Thank you, Inaho…” Slaine said quietly and lifted his hand to the talisman around his neck to gently hold it between his fingers and remember to the time he still lived with his father. It was a bittersweet memory; sad and joyful at the same time. He noticed Inaho tap his own lips with a finger. “What?” the blond asked.

“Thank me properly,” Inaho answered and Slaine chuckled and raised an eyebrow toward the brunet.

So our argument was resolved by this? He’s so childish!’ he thought with a smile and found Inaho's childishness charming. ‘I might as well thank him the way he wants.’ He stepped closer to Inaho and leaned toward him and kissed him gently. His lips tingled the moment he pulled away from the man. It was unbearable and so he kissed him a second time.

“Thank you,” he then whispered and pulled away. “I’m not sure how to really be able to thank any of you who have done all this for me.”

“Don’t thank anyone else the way you thanked me,” Inaho said forcefully and then walked out of the bedroom and continued into the kitchen. Slaine laughed quietly and followed him.

“I promise I won’t.”

The day went by slowly. They spent the morning with eating a breakfast together on the little kitchen table, and then they had moved to the living room to let Slaine explore what was hidden behind the doors of the cupboards on the TV-shelf. The staff had filled it with movies which they recommended and Slaine had felt thrilled to watch a movie – which he had not been able to ever since he and his father left to Mars. A particular movie caught his eye. It was a movie from 1997 about an American president and terrorists on board the Air Force One plane. Slaine had not even been born at the time the movie was made but he remembered his father enjoyed old movies from the previous millennia, and so he himself found them nostalgic. A movie from 1996 about storm chasers was something he found interesting too, and so he asked Inaho if they could watch them.

“I didn’t expect you to like these kinds of movies,” Inaho said and flipped one of the movie cases over to read the summary. “Action, adventure and drama,” he read from the back of the case.

“What kind of movies did you expect me to like then?” Slaine asked somewhat baffled but then smiled wryly. “Romance and drama?”

“Yes, I expected you to like those genres considering the themes of the books you read,” Inaho said and walked over to the blu-ray player to insert the movie disk while Slaine grabbed the duvet and pillows from the bed to place them on the couch while he discreetely shoved the keys deeper under the couch’s cushions so Inaho would not notice them. “These movies have an average rating.  Are you sure you want to watch them?”

“Is average the same as bad?” Slaine asked and sat down on the couch to wrap himself in his part of the duvet. “Average sounds good enough for me. Besides, I read the books because of the moral of the stories; to learn from them. If I remember correctly you can’t do the same with movies.”

Inaho looked over his shoulder to the blond and had an almost unnoticeable smile on his lips.

“You have a point,” the brunet said and then continued with searching for the right channel on the TV.

Slaine felt excited to watch a movie for the first time in years, and as the movie started he disappeared into a world where he was allowed to relax and for once enjoy being tense and thrilled without having to risk facing overwhelming consequences – like in the war two years ago.

Chapter Text

Inaho watched Slaine who was leaning forward and staring at the TV with wide eyes when a tornado moved across the screen and picked up a car in the second movie they were watching. Inaho found no real enjoyment from the movies since what happened in them were not according to reality and there were too many mistakes for his analytical mind to be able to just ignore and relax. Slaine had not seemed to notice any of the mistakes and had enjoyed both movies this far while Inaho had mostly been occupied with glancing at the blond every so often to watch the man’s expressing face which was enjoyment enough for the younger man. The older man had a bigger archive of emotions to express than Inaho had seen in anyone else before. He remembered Slaine’s strict expressions from two years ago. The contrast between the one Inaho remembered him as and the one he was now, had become so much more beautiful and admirable the moment Inaho had learned about the blond’s ability to hide the storming emotions he carried within him. Inaho had trouble keeping his own impulses in check which mostly gave away his own emotions to his sister’s watchful eye. The moment he felt to do something or say something he did it. It had entailed in conflicts and consequences but thankfully Inaho had learned to decipher when he should say things and not. With Slaine he had a harder time to do that though. The blond tickled his impulses to do and say things he normally would find petty to act and voice.

“Oh! Did you see that?” Slaine burst out saying and squeezed a pillow with his arms coiled around it while a fuel truck almost hit the main characters’ car in a violent tornado. “Storm chaser… That would have been something.”

Inaho smiled secretly. Was it a childhood dream he had just heard the blond express?

“Would you have liked to be one?” Inaho asked and looked at Slaine who would not let go of the TV with his eyes.

“N-no. I would be terrified and probably be really bad at it,” the blond answered with humbleness which was – as far as Inaho had learned – so characteristic to him. “A two kilometers wide base? Is that possible?” Slaine then asked as one of the characters had told another the size of the base of the tornado they were facing, and Inaho unlocked his phone to tap away for an answer.

He found a website with information and skimmed through it quickly before letting the blond know:

“According to the Fujita Scale an F5 tornado has an average path damage of 1 100 meters. Since this is a Hollywood movie I presume they have exaggerated the size of the tornado for a bigger impact on the audience to make it sell more copies.”

As he looked up from the phone he saw Slaine smile wryly at him and say quietly:

“Thank you, but did you have to break it down that much?”

Inaho felt slightly confused but then quickly caught onto what Slaine meant; he had burst the blond’s bubble of enjoying the movie with saying too much real life information. Suddenly the brunet felt slightly ashamed.

“I thought you wanted to know the answer,” Inaho decided to say and masked his shame with his usual expressionless voice and face. “I apologize.”

Slaine shook his head and smiled warmer.

“N-no, it’s fine,” the other said and turned his eyes to the screen yet again. “What kinds of movies do you like then, Inaho?”

“I don’t watch movies,” Inaho answered honestly and watched the scene of the characters trying to run from the tornado play out on the screen.

“You don’t? Why?”

“Because there are too many incorrect technicalities and information in them. I can’t relax and enjoy movies because of that.”

Slaine looked at the man again and this time with apologetic eyes, and said quietly:

“I’m sorry if you are bored from watching these movies with me, then. I didn’t know.”

“Don’t worry. I don’t mind watching them with you,” the brunet had been quick to answer.

Inaho’s chest was filled with guilt. Had the blond interpreted their movie session as bothersome for Inaho? It had been anything but bothersome; Inaho had learned about sides to Slaine which normally were hidden. He had seen Slaine express awe at the Air Force One aircraft in the previous movie and Inaho had listened to him dream away to how it would have felt like to pilot such an aircraft in Earth’s aerospace. He had listened to Slaine debate with himself about what had been right and wrong with the terrorists’ agenda of hijacking the aircraft; a quality to Slaine which made Inaho jealous. All Inaho had been able to do was to plan out a tactic of how to take the terrorists down, while Slaine had gone deeper into – for Inaho – untouched territory of moral and ideology of why none of the characters had done what Inaho had planned.

“What is right and wrong is in the eyes of the observer,” had the blond said. “For the terrorists it is the only right way to save a desperate situation, while for us it is a crime.” As Inaho had questioned why it was considered a crime the blond had answered: “Because the majority thinks it is a crime. That’s all there is to it really. Laws are built on morals which have become a norm, which can be both correct and faulty at the same time.”

Inaho had not been able to stop himself from asking what the blond thought of the crimes he had done; if they had been right or wrong. Slaine had smiled at him with a weak smile and had for a moment looked worn.

“Yes, I believed it was a right thing to do but at the same time I knew how wrong it was as well. I figured if I didn’t do it then someone who were worse than me would have stepped up to do it. I believed I was a better ruler than Saazbaum, who I thought was more dangerous than me. You must have fought for your own morals too, am I right?”

The question which had been shot back at Inaho had been unpredicted and had taken Inaho off guard. He had not put that much thought into why he had been fighting in the previous war and thus he did not really know what to answer the blond, except:

“I had no interest in the war at first. Then a friend died when I tried to save him.”

Slaine had stared at him for a few seconds and then lowered his eyes to give his condolences to the brunet.

“You must have been really angry then to engage in the war from that moment on,” he had said and Inaho had nodded.

“I wanted retribution for my friend's death as well as stop others from dying,” the brunet had answered and felt an uncomfortable feeling creep up in his chest. “It was after that moment I realized how serious the war was and so I dedicated myself to it.”

“And so you killed people to stop people from dying?” Slaine had asked with a wry smile and Inaho had understood the moral of the blond’s words; it had been hypocritical. “Then again, I sacrificed my own people to save my own people, so I’m not better myself. War is based on complexities, conflicts of interests, and biases and breaks out when there is someone to fight against. It puts a lot of perspectives in contrast to each other but in the end nothing of that matter since everything is right and wrong at the same time. The more people agree with you being right the more true it becomes no matter what anyone else says, because you only listen to those who agree with you. That way you create your own truth.”

"Did you think like that?" the brunet asked and Slaine looked up at him quickly and then averted his eyes again.

"I did... I had to. If I didn't I would have lost sooner and all my ambitions would have been for nothing. I believed I would have let Vers and Asseylum down if I didn't shape my own warped truth and reality, and I should believe in it no matter what. I had to believe that what I was doing was the right thing."

Inaho was pleased with how human Slaine made them both seem. The blond had not blamed Inaho for being hypocritical alone and also blamed himself for being the same – and by that he had been humble toward Inaho’s reasons to have been engaged in the war. They both had been right and wrong with their reasons and none of them had a right to blame the other.

“Would you do it again if you could?” Inaho had asked out of impulse – those cursed impulses. The question had been out of simple curiosity as well as for Inaho to get a picture of how dangerous Slaine still was. The update he had gotten that morning had been of the worrying kind and so the brunet had become concerned about Slaine.

Slaine had stared at the TV without actually seeing it; his eyes had turned blank for a while as he thought and then they had turned tired.

“I would – but if I got a second chance I would have a different perspective,” the blond had answered and smiled with a frown to stare absentmindedly down at his hands which had been resting in his lap.

“What do you mean by different perspective?” Inaho had asked. Suddenly he had become eager to know what Slaine thought – but the blond had just closed his eyes and sighed:

“I would limit my objectives.”

Inaho had gotten the feeling the former dictator would not elaborate what he had meant by that and so the brunet decided not to ask any further about the matter for the time being, unless he had to. That answer had woken questions in Inaho’s mind about what Slaine had learned from the previous war. He had wondered if Slaine would have been a threat for Earth at all if the blond would have gotten a second chance. How would the blond have dealt with Seylum as an obstacle?

As the ending credits of the second movie showed on the TV Inaho checked his watch. It was lunch time any minute now; his phone showed 12:27. Someone would come up to give Slaine lunch to let him eat in peace just as the blond had requested. Inaho wondered if they would believe him if he told them he had just arrived without saying hello to the staff before visiting the prisoner. Inaho had told Slaine to act normally the moment a guard would knock on the door to not raise suspicion.

“That was so exciting,” Slaine said and smiled satisfied at the ending credits. “I’m sorry if it was boring for you.”

Inaho looked at the other man and then at his phone again to distract himself from the awkwardness of admitting he had learned a lot by listening to Slaine’s reasoning during the movies.

“No, it was interesting to listen to you. It made the movies more enjoyable as well as spending some relaxing time with you is always pleasing.”

He saw the blond blush from the corner of his eye and the phone suddenly vibrated in his hand at the same time as a knock was heard at the door.

“Kid! I have some great hot buns for ya!” Sakata’s voice was heard from the other side of the door but Inaho barely heard it as he stared at the update on his phone.

“You can come in!” Slaine yelled back with a smile and got up from the couch to meet the guard with the tray of food.

Inaho’s breath almost stopped at the message showing on the screen:

Update 12:31, 8th of February
A Blue has been taken down.

The revolution had officially started; a Martian noblesse had been murdered by the revolutionists; the first blood had been spilt. There was no way to calm it down after that. The phone vibrated again with a new message on the heavily encrypted transmissions to keep the ones from UFE, who kept an eye on the revolution, on alert:

Update 12:32, 8th of February
The Reds have occupied the Blue’s castle.

And so the revolutionists were armed with a landing castle. Only time would tell when Vers would be taken over by chaos.

“… were here, boss,” he heard someone say from the door to the apartment cell. “Boss?”

“Kaizuka?” he heard Slaine’s worried voice ask.

Inaho looked up at the guard and Slaine who both stared at him confused of why he had spaced out so suddenly. Inaho could see in Slaine’s eyes that the blond had an idea of why the brunet had reacted the way he had. Questions were to be expected the moment the guard had left.

“I was interrupted by a message about some papers by my superior,” Inaho said and put the phone away. “What was it you asked?”

Sakata arched an eyebrow and grinned with a frown.

“Ah, nothing important. I guess you won’t get any free time, right boss?” the guard asked and Inaho nodded without a reply. “W-well!” The guard instantly felt the awkward silence cut into him. “Here’s your lunch, kid, and I will get you some too, boss.”

“There is no need,” the brunet answered sharply.

“As you wish, boss,” Sakata said bothered and then whispered something to Slaine before leaving after locking the door behind him.

“What did he whisper to you?” Inaho asked and watched Slaine put the tray with stew and hot buns on top, on the living room table.

“He told me that he thinks you don’t like him,” Slaine said and sat down on the couch to watch Inaho and examine the brunet’s expression. “You got a new update from work?”

Inaho had to pull up his guard against Slaine’s reading eyes. He knew the blond was trying to figure out the seriousness of the update by hoping Inaho slipped with his expressions. The brunet tried his best to look neutral and he normally had no problem with doing that around other people. Then again, Slaine was not like the others: He had turned out to have a similar quality to him as Inaho’s sister which worried Inaho slightly.

“Yes,” Inaho answered bluntly.

“Do you get updates like that even on your free time? They must be important updates,” Slaine said and stared at the food which he apparently had no appetite for at the moment. The worry was building up inside the fragile man; it showed all too clearly in his eyes.

“All the work I do is important,” Inaho answered in an attempt to make it sound normal to get updates even on his free time. “The system it automatic so I can’t turn the updates off anyway.”

“I see…” the blond said and sighed. “Was it something about the revolution?”

“I can’t answer that, you know that,” Inaho pushed. “You have-“

“-no right to know because I am a war criminal. I know,” Slaine interrupted him and frustration rolled on his tongue as he spoke. “You spaced out getting the update. I know something is going on.”

This time Inaho met Slaine’s gaze and they tried to stare each other down. Suddenly Inaho felt a power radiate from the blond which he had only previously felt when they had met in battle. It felt threatening. Harsh. Cold… Slaine’s stare was so fixed on Inaho that it seemed like nothing would budge it. The blond still had some of that old determination left in him.

“I will not confirm or deny your suspicion,” Inaho answered and felt his phone vibrate again. Slaine’s eyes dropped to the brunet’s blazer pocket where the phone was hidden, and then looked up at Inaho again as Inaho made no attempt to check the phone. Inaho knew the blond would try something the moment he took the phone out of its hiding place and unlocked it to check the update. Something in Slaine’s eyes told him he was not to be trusted at the moment.

“Won’t you read the update?” the older man tried with an expression that was too calm to Inaho's liking.

Just as I suspected. You are being deceptive,’ Inaho thought.

“No,” he answered the blond. “It’s not of such importance,” he lied.

The update is probably about Seylum’s situation,’ he then continued to think. He had to check the update to see if he was called in for an emergency meeting but if he left to read the update he would verify the blond’s suspicions. Since the man was on edge and worried to a level where he probably would act out those feelings Inaho figured he had to be careful of not confirming the man’s worry. A speculation had been confirmed though about Slaine’s behavior: The man could switch quickly and acted on his emotions faster than he himself could realize. Slaine had earlier that morning promised Inaho not to ask questions but now that the situation seemed tense for the blond he acted quickly and forgot about what he had told Inaho earlier that morning.

“You’re lying,” Slaine said and then sighed and dropped his offensiveness. “Fine… Could you just answer me this: Are they planning on executing me if things go from bad to worse?”

Inaho blinked as he realized the man had suddenly given up on prying information from Inaho and instead was worried about his own life. That is when the brunet remembered that Yuki had accidentally told the blond too much information during her trespassing adventure a while ago and made it known that an order of executing Slaine could arrive any minute when things tensed up on Vers.

“I cannot answer that either,” Inaho said bluntly once again and it did not seem to fit well with Slaine who grit his teeth and dropped his head.

“I guessed as much…”

The blond fell into melancholy as he leaned back against the backrest of the couch. His shoulders slumped and his eyes had turned empty, his head hung slightly and his arms rested limply against the cushions. The worry and frustration was eating at him.

“Slaine,” Inaho tried and moved closer. He put his hand over Slaine’s and squeezed it gently. “Don’t worry about being executed. I won’t let that happen.”

“I didn’t know you had such power,” Slaine said quietly without reacting on the man’s touch.

“I don’t but I know how to convince my superiors otherwise,” Inaho assured the other. “I will not let that happen.”

Inaho was being honest with the man. He would refuse to raise a gun at the man on an order that was loosely based on speculations of the revolution going out of hand if the revolutionists got to know Slaine was being kept alive. If the revolutionists wanted a war with Earth they would declare it no matter if they knew about Slaine or not. Inaho got a ridiculous thought of wanting to step in between Slaine and his potential executioner – not because he had to but because he wanted to – out of love. That ridiculous thought made him want to smile at how fast Slaine had changed him from wishing he could think like that to actually be able to think it spontaneously. Even if Inaho’s reasoning would speak otherwise and make him act out of duty, at least the thought had been planted like a seed in his mind. His feelings felt like an infection that spread throughout his mind. They were unexplainable, irrational, frightening and difficult and yet he was ready to face them and enjoyed them more than he found comfortable. Saving Seylum and break the orders of vice-admiral Häkkinen had been illogical as well. Inaho had not been able to help the want of saving her two years ago because of similar feelings as the ones he felt for Slaine now two years after his feelings for the Empress had cooled down. ‘And yet my feelings now are twice as strong – if they would be measurable,’ he thought.

“It’s not an empty promise?” Slaine asked and looked up at him. He looked exhausted again.

“No.”

Slaine knitted his eyebrows in a tired confusion.

“Why? Why would you go that far for me? Because you love me?” Slaine asked and sighed. “You will lose everything for acting on that feeling alone, just like I did.”

“Do you regret doing that?” Inaho shot back and the blond stared at him startled without being able to find an answer. “You would disappoint me if you regret your passion-driven deeds on the sole reason that you lost everything, like the power you owned back then. It would make you seem selfish.”

Slaine’s expression turned sour and slowly morphed into anger while he bore his glare into Inaho. Inaho knew he had stepped on a landmine for accusing Slaine to be selfish thinking like that but he also wanted to make a point across to the man: No matter how much Inaho would lose it would still be worth it. His status and power had no value to him alone.

“How dare you say that!? Everything I did was for her and for the people of Vers! The power I had was merely a tool!” Slaine finally snapped with that powerful passion filling up the sound of his words, making him sound just like Saazbaum Troyard from two years ago. His eyes burned. They were dark, accusing and commanding – and saddened. He always looked so sad when holding up the appearance of a commander, Inaho thought.

“Then why do you think I care about the things I might lose because of you? Am I not allowed to think like you did?” Inaho asked and Slaine gaped for a couple of seconds before shutting his mouth and fell into thought while staring at the brunet. “I’m not that selfish, Slaine. I know I sound unreasonable but I don’t want to stop thinking about you. If I am to be selfish, then the only thing I want to be selfish about is you. Everything else will be just a tool to achieve that.”

Slaine averted his eyes and knitted his eyebrows worryingly again. His cheeks slowly turned crimson the more the meaning behind Inaho’s words sunk into his mind. He was calm now and so Inaho decided to smooth things over for the time being. He had to read the update he had gotten as soon as possible and if he managed to distract the blond far enough then he could check his phone without the risk of the blond snatching it from him the moment Inaho unlocked it.

“Slaine…” Inaho said quietly and moved closer to him. Slaine looked up at him with a start and before he had managed to do anything else Inaho pushed him against the couch’s armrest and caught Slaine’s lips with his own. “Slaine…” he whispered and nibbled on Slaine’s bottom lip.

“What are you…? Inaho…!” Slaine gasped and his dark, accusing and commanding eyes softened.

Inaho took a hold of Slaine’s wrists gently and lifted them up behind Slaine’s head. The brunet felt the need to show the other man how selfish he was about him.

“Keep your arms behind your neck. Don’t move them from there,” Inaho whispered between the kisses.

“W-why?”

“Because I say so.”

He gave Slaine a slightly commanding stare before letting go of the blond’s wrists and then kissed him again, first on his lips, then on his jaw line, his neck, his collarbone… Slaine’s breathing trembled when Inaho’s lips traveled further and further away from his lips. He held his breath the moment Inaho grabbed his waist and massaged his abdomen with gentle thumbs. It seemed to feel good for the blond; Slaine let his head fall back and knitted his eyebrows deeply as he bit his lower lip at the same time. Inaho wondered how far he was allowed to go but as long as Slaine would not tell him to stop he would keep going further and further until the blond would deny him more. He grabbed the hem of the cardigan and pulled it slowly up while he studied the blond’s reaction. Slaine would not lift his head to look at him but instead moved his arms from the position Inaho had placed them in. Before Slaine had been able to grab Inaho’s hands Inaho grabbed his wrists instead.

“I told you not to move them,” he said quietly with a hint of scolding.

“What are you doing?” Slaine asked with a trembling voice.

“Being selfish and enjoying the spoils of war,” Inaho whispered and reached up to Slaine’s exposed throat to kiss it lovingly.

“The spoils of war?” Slaine asked and tried to pull his wrists out of Inaho’s strong hands but failed. The blond did not seem to want to resist as much as he tried to keep up the illusion of resistance. Was it because he was shy or afraid – or was it both? “Is that all I am to you?” His voice sounded worried.

“Are you?” Inaho asked and nibbled on Slaine’s smooth and pale skin on his neck, and Slaine's arms went weak and stopped resisting him. “Tell me what you think you are to me.”

“How should I know!?” Slaine whimpered in frustration without looking at him.

“Tell me: Am I selfish?”

“Right now you are!”

“Is it bad?”

Slaine went quiet. Inaho gave him time to think of an answer while he enjoyed himself by kissing the blond’s neck some more. He nibbled at it, sucked at it, kissed it... As Slaine did not answer Inaho looked up at his blushing face; he looked terribly flushed.

“Is it?” Inaho pushed and waited.

Slaine kept quiet a while longer while trying to debate with something in his mind, and then finally whispered:

“N-no…”

Inaho felt a wave of joy drown him as he heard Slaine’s answer and he completely forgot the update that was waiting to be read. Slaine had given him permission to be selfish about the blond. Inaho hoped it had been another step closer to what he yearned for; to have Slaine as his own. He let go of Slaine’s wrists without hesitation to pull up the cardigan which made up a frustrating barrier between him and the other’s scarred skin. He wanted to show Slaine how strongly he felt for him and so he went directly for the other man’s imperfections. He kissed one of the scars on Slaine’s abdomen. The surface was rough. It must have hurt a lot when whatever had been used to hit him had cut up his beautiful skin. Slaine gasped as Inaho’s kisses followed the scar’s shape and then jumped over to the next.

“I-Inaho…!”

Slaine’s voice was intoxicating. It was so thick with something Inaho had never heard before and made the brunet feel thrilled. His heart beat faster and harder at those gasps. He wanted to hear more. Hands grabbed the shoulders of his blazer and hugged the fabric hard and pulled at it. Inaho looked up at Slaine’s face but Slaine still had his head leaned back to hide his embarrassment from the brunet. It was a lovely sight.

“I-Inaho… My back hurts…” the blond finally complained and tried to lift his legs – which still rested on the floor – onto the couch but Inaho was in the way. Inaho was too impatient to wait and pulled back from the other to let the man move his legs onto the couch. The small couch would not let the grown young man straighten his legs across it and without giving Slaine any time to adjust to a new position Inaho pushed the other man’s legs apart and placed himself between them, pushed his body against the other’s and searched for a kiss.

“Look at me,” Inaho whispered and kissed Slaine’s neck again while his left hand wandered up under Slaine’s cardigan and shirt to caress the uneven skin with his entire palm of his hand.

“No!” Slaine yelped with a whimper.

“Why?”

“It’s too embarrassing!”

“Why? Don’t you want this?”

Slaine finally raised his head and looked at Inaho with a drunken stare. He was blushing so much even the tips of his ears had turned red and his breath was shallow and trembling.

“I-it’s not that…”

“Then what is it?”

“I… Um…” Slaine looked down between them with a quick glance and then back at Inaho. “I can’t think straight…”

“Is it because of the drug?” Inaho asked worried and felt a pang of disappointment and guilt. Was the blond still sensitive for the diazepam? But he had built up a slight tolerance toward it, so why was his mind scattered?

Slaine shook his head.

“N-no. It’s not the drug this time… It’s you.” The moment he said it he shook his head violently and covered his face with his hands. “You are doing ‘anything’ right now! You said you wouldn’t!”

Inaho realized what Slaine meant and smiled. Suddenly he felt proud of himself for getting Slaine to where he wanted him.

“Do you want me to stop?” he asked just in case. He would not forgive himself if he would continue without making sure Slaine wanted it too. “I won’t go further than this,” he assured him and caressed Slaine’s skin under his cardigan and shirt. “But I want you to tell me if you are alright with it.”

He waited. The blond took a long time to answer and while Inaho patiently waited – with forcing back his impatience – he caressed Slaine’s chest gently and suggestively. The way Slaine breathed and gasped from the caresses already gave Inaho the answer but he still wanted to hear it from Slaine’s own lips. He was childishly trying to feed his own pride of having torn down Slaine’s defenses and insecurities by forcing the blond to voice permission to continue. If the other voiced a wish for Inaho to continue it would mean Inaho had won.

“N-no… Don’t stop…” he heard the weak voice finally answer and he smiled from the victorious feeling spreading in him.

He pushed harder against the other man’s body and bit down on Slaine’s neck as he pulled up the cardigan and shirt all the way up to give his hands free access to the scarred and imperfect skin. ‘No, it’s perfect,’ he corrected himself as he heard Slaine try to bite back a moan. ‘So beautiful. More… More. More!’ Inaho moved his lips from the man’s neck down to his chest to kiss and lick at the scars there. The blond was so sensitive on the areas around the scars that he sometimes arched his back involuntarily as Inaho’s tongue teased and tickled him. The brunet’s kisses went greedier and greedier and his hands caressing Slaine’s sides became bolder and bolder. Slaine’s gasps and sighs encouraged Inaho to take what he wanted from him; the man’s noises were so thick and heavy with passion that the brunet’s mind spun. He pulled at the edge of Slaine’s pants; wished he was allowed to pull them off.

“Slaine…” Inaho said quietly with the softest voice he could muster but it ended up hot and desperate – a sound so needy and raw that he loved it. He forced Slaine’s head up to make their eyes meet and Slaine tried to focus on the man with hazy eyes. Inaho caressed his cheek and whispered: “I love you…” Slaine stared at him and looked like he wanted to cry and then pulled Inaho into a kiss with his arms behind Inaho’s neck. They kissed deeply and Inaho dared to raise the bar and pry Slaine’s lips open with his tongue to make their tongues meet between their heated breaths. The wetness and warmth was so comforting and thrilling at the same time that an electrifying pulse shot through Inaho’s central nervous system. He became even greedier at this new sensation and they grinded their lips against each other’s as their tongues forcefully and with great need caressed one another.

Time passed as they wildly indulged themselves in each other and Inaho had forgotten entirely about what was happening on Vers and the update he had gotten. He lay on top of the blond on the couch and enjoyed the wonderful satisfying feeling in his body. Even if they had not gone further than to caresses, kisses and grinding their bodies against each other he still felt like he was soaring. One of Slaine’s hands played with his hair in a relaxed manner and the other hugged him close to his naked chest. Inaho was so contented he wished he could stay like that for a long time; a wish that sounded so ridiculous he could only smile. The blond’s scent teased his nostrils and he inhaled it with pleasure.

“What time is it?” he heard Slaine whisper absentmindedly and softly.

“I will check,” the brunet said and was about to take out his phone and unlock it when he remembered the update he had gotten – and so he stopped himself from reaching for it. Instead he frowned from disappointment and pushed himself up from Slaine’s embrace and stared at him for a while. He wondered if Slaine had asked for the time in order to make Inaho unlock the phone and then take it away from him. If it was true Inaho would feel hurt and angry from Slaine trying to play him by letting Inaho indulge in the blond like he had just done. ‘But then again, I tried to play him to make him forget about the update,’ he thought and gave Slaine a kiss. He figured if Slaine had enjoyed their recent activity to the same level as Inaho – which Inaho was sure he had – then what would it matter? ‘We both got to enjoy ourselves no matter what our intentions were from the start,’ he thought and lay down on top of Slaine again. He took out his phone from his pocket and heard Slaine’s heart beat harder. ‘So he did double-cross me?’ Inaho thought a bit saddened. Why would Slaine react so strongly on him taking out his phone if it was not due to an ulterior motive?

Inaho pushed the home button on the phone to just start it up in standby mode to see the lock screen instead of unlocking the phone. It was almost three o’clock. They had been enjoying each other for about two hours.

“It’s 14:55,” Inaho said and was about to look at the blond when Slaine grabbed his phone with such a fast hand that Inaho had not had any time to react to it. “It’s locked. You won’t see the update like that,” Inaho then explained and got up from Slaine after a final kiss to one of the scars. As he looked up at Slaine the blond tried to push at everything he could to unlock the phone.

“No!” Slaine yelled hopelessly and tried to figure out the password with panicked stress. “Why!?”

“You are not allowed to know,” Inaho sighed and felt downcast from how foolish he felt. Slaine was not dim-witted so why had Inaho thought of him being easily distracted by kisses and caressing? Slaine had probably allowed Inaho to do the things he had done just to distract him too. It made Inaho smile and then chuckle. Slaine looked up at him without understanding to why Inaho was laughing. “We are silly,” Inaho said as he met the blond’s blaming stare. “We both thought we could distract the other in order to get to read the update I got.”

Slaine kept staring at him as Inaho sighed and smiled, and then the blond smiled at him too. It gave Inaho great relief that the man shared his mindset about them trying to double-cross each other in order to get access to the update.

“We are silly and dense,” he said and Inaho nodded. “I start to believe your sister is right about us being idiots.”

“I believe that too,” Inaho said and got up from the couch. He reached out for his phone in Slaine’s hand and Slaine let him take it away from him without resistance. “I will have to look at what kind of update it is. I apologize I can’t share it with you.”

Slaine sat up on the couch and pulled his fingers through his hair and looked thoughtful.

“Will you … come back once you have read it? I mean, if it doesn’t call you back to your work that is,” he said with no confidence in his voice at all.

“Did you enjoy what we did that much even if you tried to use your own body to get to my phone?” Inaho asked teasingly but his voice ended up as monotonous as ever.

Slaine blushed.

“I-I did…”

Inaho slid the phone back into his pocket with a practiced motion and then reached in under the couch’s cushion to take the keys he had known was hidden there all along. Slaine looked dumbfounded as Inaho pulled out the keys and walked to the door.

“How did you…?”

“I heard them rattle slightly the moment we sat down to watch a movie,” Inaho explained and pushed the key into the lock. “I will come back at least before your evening medication, and then we can continue where we left off.”

“Continue with what?”

“Continue being selfish,” Inaho answered and unlocked the door. “See you later.”

“S-see you…”

As Inaho closed the door to lock it he sighed and wished he could turn off his phone and ignore every message and update he got. He wanted to stay with Slaine, make him completely his and enjoy the road they would walk together. The frustration of keeping Slaine in the prison and having to worry about problems with people getting knowledge of them being in love was getting to him. Inaho wanted to fire everyone in the prison by sheer impulse and open Slaine’s cell door for good and not worry about the word of their sin spreading among people who had no insight in what they were feeling for each other. People would not understand. They would blame both of them. They would tear them apart from each other and punish them. ‘I will not stop,’ Inaho thought and pulled up the phone once again from his pocked to unlock it. ‘For once I want to let everything reasonable go and be swept away by him. I want to know what he has felt for Seylum no matter how much I will lose.’

Update 12:35, 8th of February
The leader of Red will speak officially 9th of February. Emergency meeting 9th of February at 10:00 AM in C-215.

Inaho sighed deeper. Soldier Red was going to make a public appearance and speak to the supporters. UFE was going to keep a close eye on how things on Vers would develop and Inaho had the feeling that the Empress would demand emergency supplies from Earth, and while Earth would refuse the anger of the nobles on Vers would rise and things would spin out of control. Inaho was worried. What would happen with Slaine if a war broke out? He had to ensure Slaine's safety somehow.

He walked down the stairs and to the entrance door to make a quick visit at Yuki’s. He had to consult her about an emergency plan if Inaho would get an order his heart would not be able to comply. He would not let Slaine die no matter what he had to sacrifice – just as he had done for Seylum before he had caught Slaine.

As he stepped out through the door into the cold winter day he met Sakata outside having a smoke. The guard was on his break and puffed on the cigarette absentmindedly before he noticed Inaho’s presence.

“Oh hey, boss!” he said smiling but Inaho heard how forced the joyful smile sounded. Sakata had gotten nervous around him – probably due to the obvious jealousy Inaho showed him. “Leaving already?”

“Got some work to do,” Inaho said and looked at the cigarette in the man’s hands. “You should stop smoking.”

“Hey hey, every man has his burden,” Sakata said in an attempt to defend his habit. “It’s not that easy, ya know.”

“Because of the dopamine surcharge?” Inaho asked and Sakata puffed on his cigarette again.

“The biological reward system is a bitch, ya know,” he said and frowned. “Can’t fight it. I heard you get 125 to 300 percent of dopamine surcharge from smoking.”

“So you are giving up because of some numbers?” Inaho took out his car keys from his pocket as he waited for the man’s answer.

“You make me sound so weak, boss,” Sakata complained. “If I would tell you to stop having sex, would you?” he then tried as a failed rhetorical question.

“I have no interest in that so I would not know,” Inaho said bluntly and pushed the key into the lock on the car door.

“Wait what!? I thought you got chicks like crazy considering your position and for what you have done! You’re a goddamned hero on Earth!”

It was not completely untrue; Inaho knew people saw him as a hero but he himself could not care less about it. Women had approached him – one of them had been Inko – but he had turned them down due to not having interest in any kind of relationship that went further than friends.

“So you mean sex is biologically addicting?” Inaho asked as an attempt to avert the man’s attention from him being a hero, and opened the car door. “Then it explains why all you think about is females.”

Sakata grinned and folded his arms as he stared at Inaho.

“Just you wait, boss. Once you’ve done it a couple of times you won’t be able to stop. It gives about… Hm… If I remember correctly sex gives you about 50 to 100 percent dopamine surcharge, so yes it is biologically addictive,” he said and narrowed his eyes. He had the look of someone having more experience and wanting to tease Inaho who had little to no experience on that field.

“How do you know this?” Inaho asked and doubted the man’s knowledge. He could not help but to see the man as a rival since Sakata had shown such a friendly interest toward Slaine. “It sounds like something out of your range of interest.”

“Hey!” Sakata pouted. “I was talking about this with this neurobiologist at a bar about a year ago. I bet she knew her stuff!”

Inaho had to admit defeat and sat down behind the steering wheel on the driver’s seat.

“I apologize for being so presumptuous about your knowledge, Mr. Sakata. If you say she was a neurobiologist I believe you. I see you tomorrow,” Inaho said and closed the door after kicking the snow off of his shoes. He saw Sakata stare at him with a bothered frown but Inaho did not care to give the man any attention. Instead he started the car and turned it around on the courtyard to head for the main road and sighed out of frustration. He really disliked the man but he could not hate him. Sakata was a good man no matter how Inaho tried to flip and turn the man’s positive and negative sides.

Then Inaho smiled slightly and pleased. He had realized Slaine would grow to love him in the near future and hopefully Slaine would forget about the Empress; Inaho would finally have him all to himself if he would tease Slaine’s biological reward system on a regular basis. ‘So there is some kind of logic to love anyway,’ he mused satisfied and became slightly more confident.

Chapter Text

Slaine pulled his shirt and cardigan back down and slumped back against the couch after Inaho had left. His heart was beating with heavy beats and a tingling sensation tickled his stomach. The sensation from Inaho’s lips against his skin still lingered and made him want to curl up against the corner made by the couch’s armrest and backrest – and so he did. He hugged himself tightly and could not help but to smile weakly at the thought of what they had done just moments ago. His lips felt a bit sore but he liked it. The places which Inaho had bit and nibbled at gently pulsated warmly, and he liked it. The heat that had built up inside him was frustrating – and he liked it.

What is happening?’ he wondered. He did not recognize the feelings from how he had felt with Asseylum. He figured it was probably due to the new physical experience with Inaho which he had not experienced with the former princess. It made him want to chuckle and foolishly laugh for no reason at all. ‘Am I going mad?’ he pondered and bit his lower lip to ease the tingles. When that did not help he twisted and turned in a desperate try to shake the irrationally wonderful feeling off of him. He was supposed to be worried about Vers – and he was – but the warm feeling Inaho had left in him was overwhelming him and tickled his stomach and brain to no ends. After a couple of tries to calm down he sat up in frustration and decided to take a shower. The lunch had turned cold and his stomach was too tingly for him to be able to eat it anyway even after reheating it, so he took the tray to the kitchen and discarded the food and then got into the bathroom to shower.

The moment he stepped in front of the mirror he saw a dark mark on his neck. ‘A… A hickey!?’ He blushed terribly once again and covered it with his hand while cold sweat broke out on his forehead. If the staff would see it, it would mean trouble for Inaho. What was he supposed to do? He had to cover it somehow. He hurried to the wardrobe which Inaho and the others had filled with clothes and looked for a turtleneck shirt to hide the hickey. He found a knitted one in white with a red, blue and gray Nordic pattern of reindeers and snowflakes on the chest area. It had to do and he had to admit he found it cozy looking as well. He took it with him and got into the shower. As he stood under the running water he noticed his chest had similar marks as the hickey on his neck and he covered his face with his hands from embarrassment. Inaho had marked him multiple times. The thought played in his mind and he suddenly burst into a quiet laughter. Oh, so silly he was. He felt like an excited little boy all over again.

He loved it.

The warm water hitting his head and shoulders was the only thing that kept him in the reality as his mind tried to escape into a garden made of fluffy clouds. He tried to get a grip of himself. He tried to control his mind. He tried to be serious and think about Vers. No matter what he did he lost to the wonderful feeling in his body and the troubles on Vers felt far away. The worries of the future felt completely distant to the present moment he found himself in. For a moment he was free from all that and he was grateful to the release from all the stress he usually carried. He caught himself anticipating Inaho’s return later that evening. He wondered if he should greet Inaho in a special way to show the man his gratitude. ‘Maybe I should try and cook something?’ he thought as he massaged shampoo into his hair and rinsed it thoroughly. He realized his thoughts sounded terribly classical to a date but he felt the urge to give Inaho something. Since he had nothing of his own to give the man – everything he owned had been given to him by the UFE and the staff, except his talisman – and since Slaine did not like gifts himself he wondered if a memory would be a good enough gift for the other man. It made him feel nervous. He had not cooked anything for a long time and a worry of not succeeding with making a dinner crept over him.

***

Inaho had greeted the night shift nurse and guards as he returned to the mansion. He had taken the hypnotic medication with him to hand it to Slaine in the nurse’s place in order to get as much time alone with Slaine as possible. He took heavy steps up the stairs to the second floor where the apartment cell was situated and looked at the door at the end of the corridor. His heart fluttered in his chest as he reminded himself of who was waiting behind the door.

The afternoon at his sister’s had been tiresome and he felt a bit exhausted from all the worrying he had suddenly found himself in – which had sent him to find his sister for consultation; something he never usually did. He had been surrounded by troubling thoughts of what would happen to Slaine now that the revolution had officially begun, and his sister had not helped him reason about the options Inaho had at hand to save the war criminal if UFE would decide to dispose of him. Yuki had tried to talk Inaho out of doing anything that would endanger Inaho’s position and life but the siblings had quickly come to an agreement that they did not agree with each other about the matter. Yuki had taken the role of a mother who despite being worried about Inaho still tried to abide his wishes to save Slaine. She had hinted at alternatives of how to keep Slaine safe but refused to voice them out loud and straight on due to her not liking the thought of Inaho risking everything for someone who had almost brought Earth to its knees. She was also protective about him and referred to Slaine as the one who had robbed one of Inaho’s eyes in an unexplainable fit of jealousy. Inaho had quietly listened to her ranting about her worry even if he had felt the urge to throw reason after reason at her to why he wanted to protect Slaine.

Inaho had found his mind spin away to unreasonable escape routes when his sister refused to understand his worry. He had caught himself planning on eloping with Slaine and hide. Then his reason came back to him to voice its opinion about his duties and obligations against Earth; he could not just let everything go and leave UFE in a difficult position if another war would break out. He had to get out on the battlefield once again if that happened.

In the end he came to the conclusion that despite the danger of leaving Slaine in UFE’s hands that would probably be the safest place for him – if Inaho managed to convince vice-admiral Häkkinen that Slaine was a valuable asset in a possible war. His mind was too tired to think about it for the moment and he allowed himself to forget about it for the meantime. He would think about it tomorrow and spend his second night with Slaine and enjoy it to his heart’s content. The possible war was still far away.

As he got closer to the door a whiff of cooking reached his nose and surprised him. It smelled sweet and foreign. Curiosity built up inside him and he unlocked the door and stepped in without knocking. He heard voices come from the kitchen accompanied with the sound of boiling water. As the door was closed he stepped deeper into the apartment and looked into the kitchen where he saw Slaine idly stir a boiling pot with soup. The guard Sakata kept him company and sat on one of the kitchen chairs and talked about a road trip he had been on with a couple of friends before the war had started four years ago. Inaho’s eyes narrowed the moment he saw the man. He was not supposed to be there at that time of the day; his shift had ended hours ago.

“The north part of Okinawa was great! I met a lot of foreigners there and partied all night with them at a local bar,” Sakata said smiling and played with a fork with his fingers.

“Did you meet girls there?” Slaine asked and the question seemed mechanical; Slaine seemed sure that if he did not ask Sakata would turn the topic to girls sooner or later anyway.

“Yeah! I met this cute American redhead who was such a bomb I was totally nervous around her and made a fool out of myself every time she threw a glance at me.”

“Did you two hook up?”

“Yeah, of course we did. She invited me to her hotel and we exchanged numbers and talked over the phone a couple of times after we parted,” Sakata said and grinned wide – but then the man’s smile faded. “Once the war began I tried to call her to make sure she was okay but I never got through to her.”

Slaine stopped his movement with the ladle which he mixed the soup with and looked at the guard with a saddened expression.

“You loved her, didn’t you?” the prisoner asked and the guard nodded.

“I guess I did.” Sakata snorted in an attempt to hide his dismayed feelings. “I guess she’s gone for good. She might be dead for all I know.”

“I’m sorry…”

It angered Inaho to hear Slaine apologize for something that was not his fault. He knew Slaine blamed himself for the entire war even if he had not been involved in starting it.

“Good evening,” Inaho said and stepped into the kitchen. Slaine jumped and Sakata arched an eyebrow in surprise.

“Boss! Good evening!” he greeted Inaho with that usual teasing smile of his and hid the sadness behind a mask of cockiness.

Slaine went back to stir the pot’s content in a nervous manner.

“G-good evening, Mr. Kaizuka,” he stammered.

“Oh well, I guess boss has some business with ya, so I see you tomorrow, kid.” Sakata got up from the kitchen chair and stopped in front of Inaho and looked down at him with a smile playing on his face. “I leave the stove watch to you, boss.”

“Did your shift not end a couple of hours ago?” Inaho asked and stared at the man with his expressionless gaze and hid the jealousy that was raging inside him.

“It did but the kid here wanted to try cooking so I decided to take the watch to make him company. He’s fun to hang around. That’s why you’re visiting him so frequently lately, right?”

Slaine dropped the ladle and it clattered as it fell to the floor. Inaho felt a slight jerk straighten his back due to the man’s words. Inaho had been too obviously interested in Slaine and from the way Slaine had reacted Inaho understood the blond had gotten frightened at the guard’s words. Inaho’s interest in Slaine had gotten noticeable for the staff. The question was what way the staff thought about that interest.

“I have a job to do, Mr. Sakata. He happens to be my job right now and my frequent visits are based on the situation both you and I are aware of,” Inaho said professionally in his usual tone of voice.

“Yeah, yeah – I know. But admit it; he’s fun even if you are here for work purposes. Come on, admit it!” Sakata grinned and teasingly nudged Inaho.

“I would appreciate if you could stop touching m-“ Inaho was about to say when Slaine interrupted the argument that was about to start.

“Oh, h-how clumsy of me!” the blond exclaimed and picked up the dropped ladle from the floor. “Thank you for your company, Mr. Sakata. It was much appreciated.”

Sakata seemed completely oblivious to the meaning behind Inaho’s words that had been intended as a burst of angry machinegun bullets aimed at the man. Luckily his voice had been the usual monotone one he always had.

“Oh, no worries, kid! See ya tomorrow,” the guard said happily and exited the apartment after wishing Inaho a good night.

As the door to the apartment closed behind the guard Slaine let out a deep breath and went entirely pale. He grabbed the turtleneck sweater he was wearing with his hand and leaned with his other arm against the kitchen counter as his body was relieved of the adrenaline.

“That was close,” he said breathlessly.

“It seems we have to be careful from now on,” Inaho answered and looked at the pot on the stove.

“We had to be careful from the start!” Slaine complained and turned around to direct his attention to the younger man. “Look…” He pulled down the turtleneck collar on the knitted sweater he wore and leaned his head to the side to expose his neck with a light hint of redness on his cheeks. There Inaho saw the award for his passion from earlier; a dark spot made with his lips and teeth on the pale skin. He was filled with pride for his accomplishment.

“It suits you,” he said and stepped closer. Slaine blushed even more at the comment and took a step back from him and pulled up the collar again.

“Be serious, Inaho! I can’t have these. You know what will happen if a staff member sees it,” the other whispered with urgency. “You can’t put hickeys on me.”

Inaho did not care about Slaine backing away from him and continued to close the distance between them. Slaine’s steps were of the hesitating kind; it looked like he tried to decide if he should increase the distance or let Inaho catch him.

“I am serious. You can hide them with makeup,” Inaho answered and stepped closer. Slaine backed away again and countered:

“First of all: What makeup? Second of all: Don’t you think it would seem suspicious of me having makeup in the bathroom? Are you making fun of me, Orange?”

Inaho stepped even closer and Slaine had almost backed into the corner next to the window.

“Not at all. I can talk to Yuki-nee about the makeup, and you can hide it the wardrobe.”

“Inaho! Why would you even think of something so ridiculous?”

“Do you want me to stop putting my marks on you?” the brunet asked instead, ignoring Slaine's complaints about his unreasonable mind - which for Inaho was completely sensible due to his own urge to put marks on Slaine over and over again. Slaine hit the wall in the corner he had been backing up against and Inaho took the last remaining step that separated them and put his hands on Slaine’s hips. The blond immediately blushed at the touch. “It’s your fault I am being ridiculous.”

Slaine stared at him with a mixture of confusion, frustration and hesitation. He seemed to want to yell ‘yes’ and at the same time scream ‘no’. Inaho stared at the expression filled green-blue eyes. If only the man could understand how beautiful and attractive he was as his heart debated with his reason about accepting or denying the marks Inaho wanted to put on him.

“Inaho… We can’t-“ Slaine began but Inaho knew he would not get the answer he wanted. Instead he interrupted him to ask the question again:

“Do you want me to stop?”

Long seconds passed as they stared at each other. Slaine was still debating with himself. It seemed hard for the man to come to an answer; the seconds felt longer than they should. Inaho decided to lean closer and their lips brushed against each other’s. Slaine’s breath became shallow at the closeness and began to tremble in anticipation.

“Do you want me to stop?” Inaho whispered again and felt their lips lightly touch as he worded his question a third time. Inaho would not accept a ‘yes’ as an answer. If Slaine would ask him to back away Inaho would answer with pushing their bodies together. If Slaine asked him to not kiss him Inaho would stubbornly answer his rejection with a kiss. If Slaine asked him not to put any marks on him Inaho would cover him with them. He knew Slaine would try to push him away because he was worried about him even if Inaho had explained he was willing to take the risks of prosecution for having intimate relations with his prisoner. “Do you … want me to stop?” Inaho whispered again and urged Slaine’s heat to rise by ever so lightly kiss the lips in front of his.

The trembling breath tickled Inaho’s cheeks. It was gentle … soft … and hot.

“I…” the blond whispered and hesitated. Inaho brushed his lips against Slaine’s once again to urge him to give up. “We…” the blond tried again – and again Inaho answered with their lips brushing against each other. Slaine hesitated for a couple of seconds more but then closed his eyes and let out a sharp sigh to answer: “No… Don’t stop.”

Slaine surrendered and kissed the brunet with urgent and needing lips. His hands cupped Inaho’s cheeks and pulled him closer almost in a possessive manner; Inaho let him have his way and answered his kisses with equal passion as he grabbed Slaine’s hips harder and pushed their bodies together. Their tongues met immediately. It was not an act. It could not be an act the way the blond kissed him. It felt so good to know Slaine wanted him just as much as Inaho wanted Slaine. Their actions were selfless and greedy and Inaho wondered what dopamine surcharge their reward systems were subjected to. They both hungered for freeing each other from their reason and let their hearts decide their path. He wanted to make Slaine want more by slowly giving him more. He would shower him with encouraging words to make him help Inaho to corrupt their relationship as warden and prisoner.

Slaine turned his head away to break their kiss and gasp:

“I-Inaho. The dinner…”

Again the older man gave Inaho an excuse to stop and so he pulled away. He did not want to push Slaine too much and scare him away. As Inaho looked at Slaine the blond’s cheeks were flushed again and his eyelids hung heavily over his eyes. The other looked like a mess and Inaho could not help but to wonder how he would look like if Inaho got free reigns to do what he wanted with him. That thought alone egged Inaho’s impatience to just not give a damn – but he had to collect himself and wait for as long as he had to.

“You have made dinner?” Inaho asked and turned away from Slaine and walked over to the pot on the stove. He looked inside it and the smell was different to what he was used to but he found it delicious. The soup contained minced meat and different root vegetables like potato, carrots, onion, celeriac and parsnip.

“Y-yes,” Slaine mumbled and took a deep breath to calm down from the heat Inaho had waken in him. “I wanted to try cooking again. I used one of my dad’s recipes that I could somewhat remember. It’s a northern European soup; from my home country.”

Inaho looked over to the other man and gave him a smile.

“It looks appetizing.”

Slaine averted his eyes as he got shy and insecure and walked over to the pantry to take out bread and continued to set the table with plates and glasses and cutlery.

“I hope it tastes alright. I had to improvise a little since I can’t remember the recipe in its entirety. Also, I did not know if you have had any dinner today.”

Inaho lifted the pot from the stove and placed it on the table onto a trivet which Slaine had placed on the table. He did not know what to say; no one else than his sister had cooked food for him in this way. As they sat down to eat and Inaho tasted the soup he had to let the taste settle from the first bite since it tasted so foreign to him due to all the root vegetables. After a couple of bites his taste buds grew used to it and he decided to take another helping once he was finished with the first.

“The taste is new to me,” he said and followed Slaine’s example and dipped some bread into the soup.

“You don’t like it?” Slaine asked with a worried look while a satisfied blush played on his cheeks. The blush told Inaho that Slaine had been missing the soup a lot and was happy with finally tasting it again.

“I do. It tastes good. I’m used to Japanese food and I can’t think of a moment when I have tasted northern European food at all, so this is new to me,” the brunet explained and had another bite.

“Oh. But you are used to American food, right?” Slaine asked and smiled wryly as Inaho nodded. “My dad used to do this at times when he felt like having some traditional home cooked food. We mostly ate out in restaurants and such, so whenever he made food I waited for him to finish it like a child for Christmas,” the blond then told Inaho and his smile slowly turned happy from the nostalgia. “He was bad at cooking so he mostly made soups since they are easier than other dishes.”

“Thank you for sharing something so nostalgic to you,” Inaho said and felt how his chest turned warmer from seeing the other happy but also somewhat homesick. After Inaho had finished eating he asked: “Do you miss him?”

“Every day…” Slaine said as his eyes turned sad. “I miss the father he was.” The blond took a deep breath and put down his spoon and looked at Inaho for a couple of seconds. He was choosing his words. “I want to ask you something.”

“What?”

“There was a song my dad used to listen to. I would like to hear it again. Can you find it? I’m sorry if I am too demanding and I don’t want to make any trouble for you, but I got these flashbacks to when I was a child while I was cooking.”

Inaho looked at Slaine whose eyes were filled with loneliness. Even if Inaho would have wanted to say no there was no way for him to refuse. The loneliness in the other’s eyes was so thick and heavy. He had to relieve the man from it. He took up his phone from his blazer and noticed Slaine lower his head. Inaho remembered back to what Slaine had tried to do earlier that day when Inaho had picked up his phone, and so Inaho hesitated to unlock it. The blond seemed to catch onto what Inaho was thinking:

“I won’t steal it from you… I promise…” he said with a shame filled voice. “I just want to hear the song.”

Inaho observed him a while to make sure Slaine would not throw himself over the table to take the phone and try to find information of the revolution on it. When he decided Slaine was harmless he unlocked the phone and went to a search engine.

“What was the song called?” Inaho asked and waited.

Slaine looked up at him with gratitude shining in his lonely gaze.

“I cannot remember. He used to listen to it on a big black disc on a stereo. It was a man who sung about flying to the moon and play with the stars,” Slaine said and knitted his eyebrows while he tried to remember. “Dad told me the song was the first song ever to be heard on the moon.”

Inaho tapped on the virtual keyboard on his phone to write ‘fly to the moon play with the stars’, and then hit the search button. Only one song came up as a search result.

“Do you think it might be ‘Fly Me to the Moon’?” he asked and Slaine shook his head.

“I will know when I hear it,” the blond replied and Inaho searched for the song name in an online music database. The moment the song played Slaine’s eyes widened as he stared at the phone. “T-that’s it…!”

The emotions began to storm inside the older man who was pulled back in time to his childhood. Inaho kept a watchful eye on him while Slaine had trouble deciding what he should feel while hearing the song. As the trumpet and saxophone solo began Slaine broke into a cry and hid his face behind his hands. His shoulders quivered as he leaned slightly forward and tears dripped from his chin:

“Dad…” he sighed and whimpered. “Dad…”

Inaho did not know what to do. Whenever someone cried he felt unsure and awkward of what actions to take to comfort the other. He hated seeing people he cared about cry and every time it happened he was rendered paralyzed and useless.

“Do you want me to turn it off?” Inaho asked in lack of anything else to do to comfort Slaine, but Slaine immediately shook his head.

“No, let it play and then play it again. Please,” the other whispered between his sobs.

Inaho did as Slaine asked and played it a second time a waited. After the first half of the song Slaine suddenly burst into laughter while he still had tears in his eyes.

“Are you alright?” Inaho asked and watched the other lower his hands from his teary eyes.

“Y-yes,” Slaine smiled. “I just realized that as a child I never understood the meaning behind the words in this song.”

“What do you mean?”

Slaine laughed again and dried the fresh tears from his eyes with the sleeve to his knitted sweater.

“As a child I thought the man sung about wanting to fly to the moon to play hide and seek with the stars, and I thought that was the reason to why the stars weren’t visible during the day,” Slaine explained and chuckled. New tears filled his eyes but he stubbornly wiped them away. “So silly of me. The man sings metaphors about the giddy feelings of being in love.”

Inaho felt relieved Slaine was smiling even if tears tried to flow down his cheeks. The man kept wiping them away as he smiled from remembering his childlike thoughts.

“But you understand the metaphors now?” Inaho asked and smiled.

“Yes.”

“Because you know them from firsthand experience?” Slaine looked up at him and stared at Inaho as the song faded out. “Do you play among the stars right now?” Inaho continued and got up from his seat to walk over to Slaine and hold out his hand to him. Slaine stared at him and slowly began to blush again – and he took Inaho’s hand into his.

“Yes.”

Inaho leaned closer to brush their noses against each other, and asked:

“You already know what spring is like on Mars but do you know what it’s like on Jupiter?”

Inaho waited with anticipation. Since Slaine would not confess his obvious feelings to him by saying the words Inaho longed to hear, would he find courage to do it through a metaphor? Slaine held his breath and his teary eyes narrowed into a smile.

“Yes. It is lovely as long as you are there…”

That was what Inaho had been waiting for; Slaine telling him he loved him too. Hearing it through a metaphor was enough and Inaho’s heart beat harder in his chest from the happiness that spread through his cells like a wildfire that had gone out of control.

“Play the song again…” Slaine whispered and Inaho reached for the replay button on his phone and the swingy beat filled the kitchen once again as they kissed.

***

Slaine placed the glass into the sink after he had swallowed the pill Inaho had given him which would make him sleepy in about an hour. The cold water had soothed his sore lips and cooled his body down slightly after their make out session that had begun in the kitchen and ended in the bedroom. The plates and the pot still stood on the kitchen table but Slaine had no interest in tidying them away; he wanted to return to the bed and wait for Inaho to finish showering. Slaine was certain he had gotten more hickeys to worry about and it somewhat made him anxious now that reality came back to haunt him. He had to ask Inaho to search for home remedies that Slaine could use to get rid of the marks – even if a little selfish voice in the back of his mind told him to carry them with pride.

But I can’t,’ he answered that little voice with a sigh. The water pipes in the wall made a little noise which meant Inaho had turned off the shower head and finished showering. Slaine remembered the man mention that Inaho had to go back to work early in the morning despite him being on leave. ‘The revolution…’ Slaine wanted to know what was happening. The need to know burned in him. What were the people on Vers doing in his name? How was Inaho related to it? He sighed heavier. ‘Don’t think about it. Inaho knows what to do. I should trust him.

As Slaine left the kitchen the door to the bathroom opened and Inaho stepped out wearing only his briefs and his shirt casually open and had the towel around his neck. His hair was wet and a couple of strands of his short hair were fixed to his cheeks while others were splayed in every direction. Slaine blushed and smiled at the sight. There was no use fighting it; Inaho had made up his mind of keeping him and Slaine had slowly come to the conclusion to let the man have him. It was frightening to be in such a position to allow Inaho have power over him, and it was also so very sweet because Slaine had the same kind of power over him. It was mutual. ‘He must be as scared as I am.’

“Have you taken your medication?” Inaho asked and ruffled his hair with the towel to dry it some more.

“Yes,” Slaine answered and watched the man. “You have a hickey too,” he then commented as he saw one of his own marks on Inaho’s skin just above his collar bone.

“I noticed it the moment I stepped into the shower.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be.”

Slaine frowned.

“What if they will see them?”

“They won’t. I always wear a suit so mine won’t show, and you can wear the turtleneck sweater for now. I will get some more of them so you can hide yours without looking suspicious of wearing the same shirt every day,” Inaho answered and walked into the bedroom.

Slaine noticed the scent of a newly showered Inaho was pleasant as a whiff of it reached his nose before Slaine stepped into the bathroom to brush his teeth. When he finished and went into the bedroom he saw Inaho sit on the edge of the bed and tapped on his phone to set his alarm. He seemed to use his phone for everything.

“What time do you have to get up tomorrow?” Slaine asked and self-consciously undressed to prepare for bed.

“Five o’clock,” the brunet answered and put the phone on the night stand table and then continued to dry his hair with the towel and continued: “I have to make a stop at my apartment to change my clothes before work.” He got up from the bed to hang the towel in the bathroom and probably brush his teeth too; Inaho had taken one of the spare toothbrushes as his own.

Slaine slid under the duvet, closed his eyes and breathed out a relaxed sigh and waited for the medicine to kick in with bittersweet feelings as he listened to the water running in the bathroom. He wanted to stay awake and spend more time with Inaho but he was feeling exhausted from all the feelings that had been exploding left and right throughout the entire day. When he heard Inaho enter the bedroom once again he opened his eyes just in time for Inaho to turn off the lights.

“Inaho… Could you – before we fall asleep – look up if there are any household remedies that could help get rid of hickeys?” Slaine asked quietly as Inaho slid down under the same duvet.

“I can.” The brunet took up his phone and went to work and after a while he read: “Toothpaste works. Put it on the hickey until it stops stinging and then wipe it off with warm water. Ice may help too, or peppermint oil.”

“Thank you.”

After Inaho had put away the phone again he moved closer to Slaine and took his hand in his to squeeze it lovingly.

“Don’t try to get rid of the hickeys just yet,” he said quietly. “I want to see them when I get back from work tomorrow.”

Slaine blushed and hid his face against the pillow even if it was dark enough that Inaho would not be able to see his red cheeks. He hated how honestly he acted according to his feelings whenever Inaho was around; he could not hide anything from the man.

“I won’t. I-in the future, don’t put any above my collar bones or else I won’t be able to hide them without a high shirt collar,” Slaine answered with a dry throat.

“I cannot give any promises,” Inaho whispered and kissed Slaine’s forehead and decided to rest his head next to Slaine’s and share the pillow.

“Inaho!” Slaine scolded quietly. “We will get in trouble if they find out. The guards are already aware of something. Don’t make it worse. Do they even know you are staying the night here?”

“No,” was the blunt answer and Slaine almost panicked.

“Inaho!”

“Even if they see me tomorrow when I leave – which I doubt since they all probably sit in the personnel room and watches TV – I can deceive them without difficulties, so do not worry.”

“B-but still! You are taking too many risks!”

A kiss landed on Slaine’s cheek and interrupted his panic.

“Do not worry. Good night, Slaine.”

Slaine stared at the barely visible face of the man who could make his heart beat just as hard as it had been beating on the battlefield two years ago.

“Idiot…” he whispered and closed his eyes with a smile. “Good night.”

***

The video feed was unstable. A transmission of that kind always had disturbances. The conference room was deathly quiet as everyone’s eyes were fixed on the man with a red hood covering his face to hide his identity. The man stood on a podium in something that looked like a courtroom on Vers; a symbol that told the rulers of Vers the people could not be prosecuted by them for their much needed actions of desperation. Inaho focused completely on the video feed and its sounds, waiting for the man to speak.

“People of Vers. Listen to my voice and my words. I – who stand here before you now – am Soldier Red. I represent the voice of change; a chance for a better future.”

The man’s voice was steady and clear, strong and demanding. He spoke with a power only a leader would have and his cadence was that of a man with the same experience the people had. Inaho immediately recognized the man’s danger from the tone of his voice. Soldier Red would mean more trouble than Inaho had first expected and he was sure everyone else in the conference room thought the same from Soldier Red’s first sentences.

“We suffer because of the greed the Aristocracy so dearly clings to,” the leader continued. “By keeping the resources for themselves they worsen the suffering of the people – the suffering of you. I want to change that, and mark my words: I will! I am to make the Aristocracy bend knee and take their resources from them, only to give it all to the people. How will I accomplish that? With your help. You – the people who have suffered all these years – need to stand up and fight back against the injustice brought upon you! Be brave and stand with me. What is Vers without its people? Nothing. They do not see the value you hold for the survival of our world. Prove them wrong, prove that you deserve just as much as they do!” Soldier Red made a dramatic pause before continuing: “… if not more."

The entire conference room exploded in uproar at Soldier Red's last words.

Chapter Text

Inaho listened to the officers argue with no one in particular; they were reacting with panic and let it go out on each other. Inaho wanted to leave the conference room and wait it out since the noises were too loud for his ears, but at the same time he had to stay and listen to what they said. He thought it could not be helped: People were still scarred from the two Earth-Mars Wars that had plagued the blue planet under a time period of 17 years. It was given that people would start to panic if a third Earth-Mars War would start.

“He was threatening Earth!” one yelled.

“We can’t jump to that conclusion!” a second yelled.

“You heard him! He was referring to Earth when he said the people of Vers deserved more! What else do you think he meant!?” a third yelled.

“Calm down, everybody,” Vice-Admiral Häkkinen said where he sat at the end of the table and leaned his head against his hand in an annoyed manner. The man was slowly losing his patience.

“We don’t know that yet!” a fourth yelled at the third, and Häkkinen’s words were drowned out by all the arguing people:

“We have to send troops to Vers and stop this Soldier Red before things goes out of hand. Vers can’t make it alone in the war as it seems right now.”

“What troops!? We don’t have resources to do that. We have more than four times as much people to worry about on Earth than on Vers. If we use our resources to fight the people on Vers we will fall completely!”

Häkkinen sighed loudly but no one seemed to hear him. The man was gritting his teeth and the wrinkles on the man’s face seemed suddenly deeper. Inaho had the feeling the man would stand up any second now to drown out everyone’s arguments.

“It’s because we have so many on Earth that we need to stop the revolution!”

“You mean we should send our low-tech kataphracts to the heart of the nation that is built on Aldnoah technology? You must be joking! We need to take down the last Orbital Knights who still occupy land on Earth before they join Soldier Red. I am positive they saw the transmission too!”

That was when the old man Häkkinen slammed his hands against the table and stood up. His strong voice was loud enough to silence the entire room:

“Ladies and gentlemen!” Every person in the room went silent and turned their heads toward the only one except Inaho who was still calm. “Arguing amongst ourselves leads to no resolution. Instead of quarrelling about what we can or cannot do we should focus on what we should do.”

Now that the Vice-Admiral held the reins of the meeting tightly everyone else in the room seemed to calm down and Inaho felt himself relax now that the loud noises were silenced.

***

Slaine sat on the edge of the patient table in the examination room with the doctor who was checking his patient record. Her slender finger scrolled through all of the last month’s notes from the guards and nurses on the computer.

“I see you are responding to the medication,” she said and pushed up her glasses back onto her nose as they had slipped down somewhat. The messy red hair bun on top of her head bobbed as she turned her chair to look at him. “How do you feel?” she then continued to ask and looked at him with examining eyes.

“I feel a little better than before the medication,” Slaine said quietly. He was nervous of her doing an auscultation on him and of her asking him to pull up his shirt. The hickeys had turned into a darker color during the night and thus were more visible.

“That’s good. Let me feel your wrists and ankles,” she said and without waiting for an answer she pulled up Slaine’s sleeve on the knitted sweater he wore to hide the hickey on his neck.

Her warm hands covered his slender wrists. She looked like she was trying to read something from touching his wrists, almost like a seer reading her tarot cards. When she was finished with his wrists she continued to feel his ankles by bending down toward them while still sitting on her chair. Slaine felt bad. She could have asked him to help her by lifting his legs onto the patient table.

“Ma’am?” Slaine asked as she finally got up from her awkward position.

“Do you feel cold?” she asked and Slaine blinked at her sudden question. “I mean, do you feel like your arms and legs are cold often?”

Slaine thought for a short while and then nodded.

“Yes. My hands and feet can feel really cold at times, like they are covered in ice,” he explained and was thoughtful of what she meant. It was winter after all so it could not be unusual to feel cold.

“Do you feel like your core temperature is low?” she continued to ask and made notes.

“W-well, I am happy about getting a proper bed and duvet and such. It could get pretty cold in the old cell,” Slaine answered. “I do freeze a little in the new cell too, so I am grateful there are proper clothes now.”

“I see,” she said absentmindedly as she made her notes and then she looked up at him and smiled. “It’s not unusual for people with your condition to get physical symptoms, such as a lowered core temperature in the body and a slow pulse. I see from the guard’s notes that you made dinner yesterday. Do you eat properly?”

“Y-yes,” Slaine answered hesitantly. “I try to eat the lunch and dinner I get, and I also try to eat breakfast and have some snack in between the meals.”

“I’m glad to hear that. If I have understood the notes from the previous staff correctly you didn’t eat much earlier. Try to keep the intake of food up. How about aches? Do you feel like your body is aching at times?” she continued to ask.

“N-no. I did have aches like that a while back, but now I feel fine.”

“Good. And your sleep?”

“I sleep very well with the medicine, although after I began with the antidepressant I have started to dream awfully vivid dreams,” Slaine said and remembered the unpleasant dream he had had last night in which he had been staring at a gun aimed at him by a faceless man.

“What kind of dreams?” The bun on top of her head bobbed once again as she reached for the stethoscope on the table. Slaine began cold sweating.

“B-both,” he said hesitantly as he watched the doctor cover the end of the stethoscope with her hands to warm it up like she always did. The doctor before her had never done that kind of gesture and the metal had felt like a lump of ice against his skin. He liked the new doctor better. “Mostly I dream unpleasant dreams.”

“Would you call them nightmares?” the doctor asked and gestured with her hands for Slaine to lift up his sweater so she could listen to his heart and lungs. As Slaine did the opposite and pulled his sweater further down she smiled wryly. “Oh yes, I remember you have scars there. You don’t have to show them to me right now if you don’t want to, so mind if I reach up under your shirt instead?”

“N-no…” Slaine said nervously and then went on to answer her question as her hand and the stethoscope reached up under his sweater to listen inside his ribcage. “About the bad dreams – I guess most of them are nightmares. Why do you ask, ma'am?”

The doctor finished the auscultation before she answered him.

“I am suspecting you to have some kind of post-traumatic stress since you are so hyper-vigilant and react with violence the moment you are cornered – along with the many other symptoms you are showing. You relive your memories through dreams and have flashbacks during the days, right?” she asked and looked at him, and Slaine stared at her for a while before he nodded. “I would like to start with a psychiatric investigation as soon as possible, but for now I suspect you have people outside the door waiting for your coffee.”

She got up from her chair with a smile and walked over to the door to open it and outside stood Sakata and Tanaka along with the other staff members.

“You ready?” Tanaka asked and smiled at them both.

“Yes,” the doctor answered and Slaine got down from the patient table and walked over to the others.

“So, kid. Ya gonna invite us for a coffee time at your place?” Sakata asked and grinned wide.

Slaine smiled and blushed slightly.

“Yes, I want to invite you all for some coffee,” he said and the others cheered and dragged him along up the stairs to his apartment cell and sat down around the living room table while he prepared his famous coffee.

***

Inaho sat in his office and went over his notes. He had a slight headache from the meeting and wished to return to Slaine as soon as possible to let his mind relax somewhat. He was worried about Soldier Red. The speech had been short but powerful enough to turn the people’s glowing ember into a full-fledged fire. Vice-Admiral Häkkinen had guided the meeting flawlessly and everyone had agreed to the first move of UFE: Gather information and have a frequent contact with the Empress of Vers on the revolution’s status while the world’s armies were mobilized and put on standby as a precaution.

A knock was heard on the door and it opened. As Inaho raised his head to see who intruded his much needed time to collect his thoughts he was surprised to see Vice-Admiral Häkkinen step inside and close the door behind him. Inaho saluted him promptly.

“Pardon my intrusion, Officer Kaizuka Junior,” the man said and walked over to the front of Inaho’s desk and placed his hands on top of it and leaned closer.

“Vice-Admiral Häkkinen. What can I do for you, sir?” Inaho asked but suspected he already knew the answer. His heart began beating harder in protest.

“I would like to personally speak with Nero. Prepare him for my arrival later this evening,” the man said quietly and Inaho jerked before he had managed to stop himself. Nero was the code name for the war criminal; the codename for Slaine.

“Sir, Nero is in no condition for that,” Inaho spoke honestly. He worried about how Slaine would take it if the man who was both kind and cruel enough to keep him alive in that prison was to pay him a visit.

“Right now I have no time to worry about that. I have trusted you to take care of him and I know you do a good job with that considering the quickly decreasing budget.” The last words felt like a warning. Inaho knew he had taken too many liberties when it came to the costs of everything he had done for Slaine. “I need to interrogate him and right now I cannot afford caring about his wellbeing considering the situation we are in,” the man continued and corrected his glasses.

“I suggest that I do the interrogation since he has grown to trust me,” Inaho tried. He did not want to let the man close to Slaine if he could avoid it but considering that Häkkinen had never listened to him before, Inaho had the feeling the man would not listen this time either. He had a strong will, just like an experienced military man of his rank should.

“Trust is not an issue. I do not want any middlemen handling whatever information Nero has,” the old man said and that was the signal that Inaho had lost. Inaho’s mouth went dry.

“What time will you be arriving, sir?”

“Five o’clock this afternoon.”

***

Fingers were gently pulled through his hair. It felt comforting. It felt warm. He took in a deep breath to wake up and looked up at the burgundy colored eye watching him, and he gave the man a smile.

“Welcome back,” Slaine said with a hoarse voice. He had been in deep sleep after the two o’clock coffee break with the staff.

Inaho’s expression told Slaine something was going on and the blond frowned as he stared at the man with a questioning look. Inaho seemed slightly pale.

“Have you been sleeping long?” Inaho asked and Slaine looked over to the alarm clock on the bedside table. It showed 16:08.

“Oh…” Slaine covered his mouth as he yawned and turned around onto his back. His body felt heavy. “I think I fell asleep somewhere around half past two.”

“I see.”

Slaine watched the younger man stare at him. A worry was hovering in the man’s gaze. It made Slaine anxious. Had something happened? Had it to do with the revolution?

“Inaho, what’s wrong?” Slaine asked and sat up from the bed. Suddenly he had turned restless.

“Slaine…” the brunet whispered and put his hand behind Slaine’s neck and pulled him in to a kiss. The kiss was of the desperate kind; it was forceful – not in the passionate way. It felt like it was their last kiss.

“Inaho?” Slaine gasped and pulled away. “What is going on?”

Inaho leaned his forehead against Slaine’s and forced Slaine to stay in that position with a hand behind his neck. Inaho’s breaths were steady but shallow. The man’s hesitation was worrying. Slaine felt like he was dying to tell him what was going on but could not find the words. The atmosphere around Inaho felt like a warning; a request to run – but it was impossible.

“Slaine. The Vice-Admiral wants to see you. He will arrive in about fifty minutes,” the brunet said and Slaine’s vision began to spin as his mind went lightheaded at the words.

“W-what…?” he gasped and tried to pull away from Inaho, but Inaho forced him to stay in their position with their foreheads against each other’s. “I-Inaho…”

“Answer everything he asks for. Don’t keep any secrets from him,” Inaho whispered and his breath had begun to quiver slightly; his heart was beating hard enough to affect his usually steady breathing.

“Are you giving me a warning?” Slaine’s trembling voice asked and with feeling Inaho’s nervousness his body began shivering.

“Don’t deny him anything no matter what happens.”

Slaine looked up at Inaho and their gazes met and locked onto each other. Slaine tried to find some kind of reassurance from Inaho but the brunet had none to share. It looked like Inaho was scared for him and he had no options available.

“Will he interrogate me…?” Slaine asked and the shivering became worse; his body started to shake like he suffered from hypothermia. He was so afraid he did not know what to do except lift his hands to Inaho’s shoulders and squeeze his shoulders desperately.

“He will but do not fret. Torture is banned here on Earth,” Inaho whispered and caressed Slaine’s chest gently. “… unlike on Vers.”

Slaine nodded and closed his eyes again to calm down. He tried to breathe slowly but panic was building up inside him.

“I-Inaho… I need a… I need an antipanic pill… I’m losing myself,” he whispered and bit his lip as his breathing quivered more and more. He would end up hypoventilating if he did not get any help to calm down. As the panic grew he bit his lip harder to try and keep himself sane through pain but not even that helped as much as he had hoped it would.

Inaho let go of Slaine and hurried out of the bedroom. Slaine heard him contact the staff through the intercom in the kitchen and ask them for anxiolytic medication. Slaine hugged himself tightly and tried to keep himself in check but the unpleasant vibrations he recognized from before had come back. His chest was vibrating; he had started to crumble.

“I-Inaho…!” he tried to yell but his breath was caught in his throat and his breathing became faster. His lungs did not pick up oxygen. His chest area became tight. His entire body was protesting and he doubled over and burst out into a silent and agonizing cry against the mattress. ‘I’m dying!’ he thought. The thought of meeting the man who – along with Asseylum – had locked him up in his prison, and who Slaine had indirectly been fighting against two years ago, was overwhelmingly bad. Slaine felt that if he did not die right there and then he would certainly be killed by the man instead – and he had no way to escape; all he could do was to sit there and wait. ‘I’ll be dead before the sun has set!’ The winter sun’s setting was just an hour away; it had begun to darken outside.

Inaho hurried back and Slaine felt his strong hands take a hold of his arms and pull him up into the brunet’s arms. Slaine hugged him convulsively as he collapsed against him.

“I-Inaho…!”

“The nurse is on his way. Try to calm down.”

“I c-can’t…! I don’t w-want to die!” Slaine screamed silently. His voice had given up due to the panic.

“You won’t die. I promised you.”

Slaine desperately wanted to believe Inaho’s words but no matter what he tried to believe he was convinced he would be executed. The door to the apartment cell opened and Slaine jerked and looked up. His vision was perfectly clear but he did not understand who he was looking at since his mind was in such an uproar. A man ran into the room. Slaine’s panic grew. He heard the man say something about an injection. He perceived it as a poison injection; he would die from it.

“N-no! NO!” he yelled and he exploded in a fit of fight-or-flight like that of a cornered animal. He thrashed around in the arms that held him tightly and more people ran into the room. He hit something with his knee as he was pushed down onto the bed by strong hands, and he managed to pull one of his arms free and hit something again. He was screaming now that his voice had come back. His cry tore at his throat. He begged them not to kill him. He begged them to let him live just a day longer and ready himself; he promised them he would die like a man if he got just another day to collect his courage. He begged them not to blame him for being so scared since he thought he had not lived long enough. Just another day. Just another day more!

***

Inaho had backed away. For the first time in his life he felt like his legs would give way under him. How could things have ended up like this? Slaine was lying face down on the bed with four guards and a nurse holding him down while the nurse talked calmingly to him to bring him back to reality. The strength the blond had shown had overwhelmed everyone in the room. He was slowly calming down after he had been given the injection and Inaho tried to do the same; he was trembling from the shock of seeing Slaine like that and he listened to the nurse’s calming words to help himself calm down. He had been blamed for not having feelings due to his expressionless way but if people only knew how much he was like anyone else in the world; he was afraid and nervous behind that collected and uncaring expression now that the one he cared about the most was in such a broken state and he could do nothing to help him.

Slaine’s reaction was not completely out of proportion. Inaho was afraid Häkkinen was ready to get rid of the prisoner now that things were unstable on Vers. Inaho had to save him. He would save him. He would pay whatever he had to in order to not have Slaine be taken away from him.

“Do you hear me?” the nurse asked Slaine quietly and the blond slowly nodded. “Do you want us to let you go?” Slaine shook his head and the nurse looked up at the guards. “Release the pressure just a little.” He looked at Slaine once again and asked calmly: “Are you calming down, Slaine?” The weak man nodded again. “Good. Keep finding back to us. You are so strong. We’ll stay here for as long as you need us.”

Inaho could not help but to think: ‘What about me?’ He wanted to know if he was strong. He did not feel like it. Not now. He wanted to be the one to talk calmingly to Slaine. He wanted to be the comfort Slaine got from being held down by the guards. … But he did not know how to. All he was able to do was to hold him and kiss him and that was not enough for the blond right now. Inaho checked his wrist watch and it was almost half past four. The Vice-Admiral would arrive in half an hour. How was Slaine supposed to be able to meet the man the way he was now? Inaho wanted to lock the entrance door and not let the man inside the building to give Slaine some space to breathe – but he could not go to such lengths. He would be overpowered by the guards on Häkkinen’s order and lose the few chances he had to save Slaine if his life was indeed threatened. Inaho was cornered from both the outside and the inside of the prison.

If he was to decide he would take Slaine with him and run away with him but that would end up leaving them with nowhere to go; it was too much of a risk. Häkkinen would send out people looking for them in no time and most probably have them caught within a day or two if Inaho did not come up with a plan to prevent that – which he certainly would. Then again… In Slaine’s condition it was impossible. Slaine needed professional care. He needed medication. He needed surveillance. He was too ill to be able to handle such stress as a runaway prisoner would have to face. The only option Inaho had was to wait and see what actions the Vice-Admiral would take during his visit and handle the situation from there.

“You can let go of me…” he heard Slaine’s weak and raspy voice say after a couple of minutes had passed and Inaho saw the guards back away from him.

“Welcome back, kid,” Sakata said calmly and rubbed his chin. He had been hit by Slaine during the commotion. “You have a strong right hook.”

Slaine slowly pushed himself up from the bed. He was weak and his arms shook under his weight. The nurse gave him support to sit up in bed and his head hung heavily against his chest.

“I gave you a lower dose than usual since we have to keep you somewhat sensible. I’m sorry,” the nurse said quietly. “After the visit is over I’ll give you some more if you need it, so hang in there for the mean time.”

Slaine nodded sluggishly and took a deep trembling breath. Inaho wanted to push the nurse away from him; he wanted to be the one to give Slaine support. If it was only physical support – since he was bad at mental support – he did not mind. ‘Let me be of some worth,’ he thought and glanced down at his watch again to try and shake off the feelings of being useless at a time like this. About five minutes had passed.

“We have to go,” he said monotonously and looked at the others. “He will arrive in 15 minutes.”

Tanaka leaned forward to try and meet Slaine’s eyes with hers to talk to him but Slaine’s eyes were hidden behind his bangs.

“Slaine, we are here for you, okay? Will you come with us?” she asked and Slaine nodded slowly.

They escorted him down into the basement and to the room with armored glass walls where Inaho and Slaine had been playing chess a while ago during their meetings at the beginning of Slaine’s imprisonment. Slaine’s steps were heavy and uncoordinated and Inaho could not figure out if it was because Slaine was drugged or because he was afraid of entering that cold room where he had no integrity. Tanaka and the nurse were holding him under his arms to steady him while Sakata unlocked the doors and opened them on their way down the corridors. As they entered the cold room built with glass Slaine hesitated to step inside it and bore his heels into the floor to stop the nurse and guard taking him inside it. He was given a couple of seconds to come to terms with entering the room and with a little push from the staff he finally stepped in and was lead to the chair.

“I’m sorry kid, but can you hold out your hands?” Sakata asked and took out the handcuffs that had not been used for a while now.

Slaine hesitated and Inaho stepped over to him to say calmingly:

“Don’t worry, Slaine. You will not be treated the way you were treated before. The cuffs are just for show.”

Slaine took a trembling deep breath before he raised his hands to Sakata, who – with a saddened and apologetic frown – cuffed his wrists. Inaho gave Slaine’s shoulder a reassuring squeeze as the blond’s cuffed hands dropped down into his lap. The man looked exhausted.

As the time was promptly five o’clock the heavy iron door opposite of them was opened and the Vice-Admiral stepped in. The old man stopped to look at the people inside the glass room before he stepped up the stairs to the door to the room. He had two guards with him which worried Inaho; Häkkinen did not trust the guards in the prison.

“Leave us,” the old man said demandingly as everyone except for Slaine saluted him accordingly. The nurse and guards did as they were ordered to and stepped out of the glass room – everyone except Inaho. “Officer Kaizuka Junior, I asked to be left alone with the prisoner,” Häkkinen said as his eyes narrowed while he watched Inaho.

“Forgive me, Vice-Admiral, but I would like to hear what the prisoner has to say,” Inaho lied. His face was just as expressionless as always so he did not need to worry about Häkkinen suspecting him to lie.

“And I would prefer us being alone,” the old man answered.

Inaho did not want to let the Vice-Admiral win this time, and so he stood his ground:

“There is a reason to why I was promoted to Lieutenant after the war and also a reason to why I was put in charge of looking after the prisoner, sir,” Inaho reminded him and stared at the man without blinking. He had decided not to let Slaine be alone with the man.

“I believe you were promoted to a Lieutenant mainly because you studied and went through the training required for that position. As for the prisoner, you were requested personally by the Empress to look after him,” the Vice-Admiral said and looked arrogantly at the brunet and nodded toward Slaine – who flinched at hearing the mention of the Empress.

“My point still stands, sir,” Inaho shot back. “Because of my unique position outside my duties as a Lieutenant I will be handling this information whether I hear it personally from the prisoner or will read it in the report later.”

Vice-Admiral Häkkinen glared at Inaho for a while and then snorted.

“Very well, Officer Kaizuka Junior.” The man directed his eyes toward Slaine who had been sitting quietly with his head lowered. “Prisoner Saazbaum Troyard,” the old man said with a commanding tone and Slaine jerked from hearing his own name. The chain between the cuffs rattled quietly. “It makes me glad seeing you have been taken well cared of,” the man continued. Slaine seemed to shrink as he made himself smaller. He was trembling. “It must be nice to live here on your home planet again, am I correct?”

As Slaine lowered his head once again from the scornful meaning behind the man’s words Inaho took a step forward.

“Sir. I suggest you go straight to the-“

“I have heard,” Häkkinen continued louder and more powerfully to interrupt Inaho – who understood the man’s warning and went quiet and took a step back. “… That you had a difficult time at your early stay here but I understand you have settled in now and have accepted your life here.”

Slaine nodded and stayed silent. Inaho knew it must have been due to the powerful presence of the Vice-Admiral which made him frightened. The moment the Vice-Admiral put his hands against the table, at which Slaine sat, and leaned closer, the blond looked up at the man with such a terrified expression that is seemed like his sanity would burst any minute.

“Since you have accepted the life of a prisoner I would like to ask you a question,” Häkkinen continued and glared at the young man in front of him while he himself loomed over him in an intimidating way. “Soldier Red. Does that name make anything come to mind?”

Slaine stared at the old man for a long time and a panic seemed to well up inside him again. The drug seemed to keep it under control.

“N-no, sir…” Slaine said quietly. His voice was barely audible.

“Louder, Troyard,” Häkkinen ordered.

“No, sir,” Slaine said louder but still his voice was barely perceptible.

“Speak louder,” the Vice-Admiral ordered slightly more aggressively. “Does the name Soldier Red make anything come to mind?”

“No, sir!” Slaine hurried to answer in a shrill voice and Inaho saw his hands come together as in a prayer.

The Vice-Admiral studied him for a while and Slaine averted his eyes. Häkkinen took a deep breath.

“Lieutenant Kaizuka Junior has reported to me about your objectives during the war which were not the same as your late father Saazbaum’s. I would like to hear from you what his objectives were which you did not share,” he then continued – not as a request; it was an order. Slaine opened his trembling lips to say something but then shut them again, and the Vice-Admiral arched an eyebrow. Slaine’s silence was dangerous. “You are not cooperative, I see. Do you still believe you have the right of silence?”

“Sir, Troyard does not feel well. We had to sedate him earlier due to him getting unstable,” Inaho said and hoped the Vice-Admiral would show some kind of forgiveness to the blond for staying silent even if he knew the man would not pay any mind to it. The man was too cold to be capable of that.

“That is of no importance, Officer Kaizuka Junior. I have to ask you not to interfere,” the man answered and would not avert his eyes from Slaine. He was watching him like a hawk watching its prey. “I ask you again, prisoner Saazbaum Troyard: What were Saazbaum’s objectives with the war?”

Slaine’s quivering shoulders slumped as his body relaxed and he looked up at the Vice-Admiral with a blank expression. He looked like he had no strength left in his mind; he had turned indifferent.

“He wanted to take over Earth and revenge the death of his fiancé by taking down the royal family of Vers and use Her Highness’ sister as an impersonator,” Slaine said quietly with a voice as monotonous as Inaho’s. “I think you already know that, sir. I don’t know who Soldier Red is … sir.”

Häkkinen straightened his back as he stared down at Slaine with a dominant stare. He turned his back to Slaine to open the door of the glass room, and as he walked down the stairs he said to his guards:

“Take him to the shower room.”

Inaho felt like his heart would stop beating.

“Vice-Admiral, torture is forbidden by the UN’s Convention of Torture,” he hurried to say. “It clearly states that ‘no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture’,” Inaho cited the second part in the second article of the convention word by word. “It also states that ‘an order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture’.”

Häkkinen turned around as his guards entered the glass room.

“That is an impressive display of judicial knowledge – perfectly in line to what I should expect from you, Officer Kaizuka Junior. I believe I have to remind you about the UN’s Geneva Convention relative to the treatment of prisoners of war’s article 103. What does it say, Officer Kaizuka Junior?” the man answered coldly.

Inaho squeezed his hands into tight fists as the Vice-Admiral’s guards pulled Slaine up from the chair and faced no resistance from the blond. The nurse stepped back with Sakata and Tanaka and followed Häkkinen’s guards with their eyes as they escorted Slaine out of the room. They all wore worried expressions on their faces.

“’Judicial investigations relating to a prisoner of war shall be conducted as rapidly as circumstances permit and so that his trial shall take place as soon as possible. A prisoner of war shall not be confined while awaiting trial unless a member of the armed forces of the Detaining Power would be so confined if he were accused of a similar offence, or if it is essential to do so in the interests of national security',” he repeated from his memory, again word by word from the convention. He made a pause and frowned slightly before he continued: “'In no circumstances shall this confinement exceed three months’.”

Häkkinen smiled satisfied.

“Beautifully cited – as expected of you, Officer Kaizuka Junior. And could you remind me of how long Saazbaum Troyard has been in such confinement?”

Inaho’s troubled expression deepened.

“Far longer than three months, sir.”

“Would that be considered breaking the UN’s convention?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant.”

At that Häkkinen and his guards began to walk away with Slaine trapped in between the two guards. Anger boiled up in Inaho. He had known all along it was illegal what they did to Slaine by not giving him a fair trial for his deeds, and they had kept him in prison despite knowing that. Häkkinen’s point had come across to Inaho: He had already gone against one of UN’s conventions and so there was no need to respect any other convention if the man found an excuse not to. Slaine was not worthy of that respect. Inaho was just as guilty as Häkkinen and yet he could not help but to feel anger toward the man. Breaking one of the conventions did not give Häkkinen the right to break a second. Where would the man stop if he broke a second convention? Would he break a third and a fourth?

“Sir!” Inaho hurried down the steps and walked up to the Vice-Admiral. “Let me interrogate him. There is no need for torture.” Inaho glanced at Slaine whose face had turned deathly pale and the blond stared into empty space as he was escorted toward the shower room.

“Since when have you been so concerned of the prisoner’s wellbeing that you would try to stop me from getting information out of him?” Vice-Admiral Häkkinen asked and did not stop walking. “I order you to step back or else I will have to relieve you of your duty here.”

Inaho had to bite back his anger and he continued with his usual monotone voice to not let his panic show:

“Forgive me, Vice-Admiral, but I believe I will be able to get more information out of him than would be possible through torture.”

“Thank you, Officer Kaizuka Junior, but your help is not necessary.”

Inaho was just about to open his mouth to answer that it was necessary for the nation to get out valid information from the prisoner but he felt a hand on his shoulder that stopped him in his tracks. He looked up at Sakata’s troubled face.

“Boss,” the man whispered. “You can’t save the kid from whatever dangers the Vice-Admiral might subject him to in the future if you make him fire you here and now. You heard the man.”

“I cannot let him torture him,” Inaho whispered back and glared at Sakata.

“I know, boss, but there’s nothing you can do now. The man has made up his mind. Let’s look at it this way: It’s only torture – even if that is bad enough to be second to execution, but it’s not execution.”

Inaho knew the man was right. There was nothing anyone of them could do to stop the Vice-Admiral and as they hurried after the man and his guards Inaho saw one of the guards push Slaine into the shower room which had been for the prisoner to use before Slaine had gotten the apartment cell. Slaine backed up against the wall and slid down to the floor to curl up and wait. The last thing Inaho saw before the door closed was one of the guards take the shower head and turn the shower faucet to the coldest.

Seconds later a cry was heard from behind the door and Vice-Admiral Häkkinen’s demanding voice echoed inside the room. The man asked for information about Saazbaum, Slaine’s closest men who were possibly still alive, and persisted on asking about Soldier Red’s identity – but all the blond answered with was silence and cries. The blond did not beg, he did not utter a single word at all to either answer the man or ask him to show mercy.

Inaho leaned against the wall next to the door and listened intently while horror was crawling inside his mind for hearing the cries of his lover. Listening was his punishment for not being able to protect him and for have given him false hopes of not getting tortured. Vice-Admiral Häkkinen was too stubborn even for Inaho and he was not surprised of that being true considering the man’s position. Tanaka whispered helplessly about how the medication had taken away Slaine’s abilities to protect himself; he was wide open due to his drugged state. Sakata tried to calm her down by telling her no one could protect him from Häkkinen and to trust Slaine’s strength to pull through this.

“He’s a strong kid,” the guard repeated over and over again and Inaho wanted to believe him.

Inaho felt an impulse of distaste. ‘Is this what I am protecting?’ he thought. He worked for a warped man and he felt an unexplainable hate well up inside him toward UFE. He had to keep reminding himself that no matter what he felt he still had to remember that Vice-Admiral Häkkinen was one man among thousands; Inaho should not feel a grudge toward anyone else in the organization unless they gave him a reason to. Häkkinen was the only one he wanted to confront.

The cries from inside the room slowly quieted down as time went by, and so did the Vice-Admiral’s questions. There was nothing the blond would give the man. Inaho did not understand why Slaine had not done as he had asked him to; to give Häkkinen what he wanted. Was it possible that Slaine had no information to give the man? There had to be something that would be of use against Soldier Red.

The room went silent and the door opened. Häkkinen stepped out with a disappointed expression and continued down the corridor without giving Inaho and the staff a glance. The man’s guards were holding the drenched Slaine under his arms and dragged him along. Slaine was shaking from the cold and could barely breathe from the convulsions of his stiff muscles. The old man was taking him somewhere. That was when Inaho stepped in front of the guards to stop them from leaving with Slaine.

“Vice-Admiral Häkkinen,” Inaho said determined and the old man stopped to turn around. Before he had the time to voice his thoughts about Inaho stopping him – which Inaho did not care about – the brunet said: “I suggest you leave him in our care for the time being. I am not done with him, sir.”

Häkkinen raised his eyebrows in disbelief.

“He is of no use to us anymore and I suggest you to go back to your ordinary duties,” the man answered. That sentence made it perfectly clear to Inaho that Häkkinen was about to take Slaine away to execute him. Inaho would stand by his word and not let that happen. He did not give a damn what would happen. He would use whatever options he had at hand to save him.

“I advise you to keep him alive until we know what is happening and why. He might be of use if a war breaks out. Soldier Red is using his name as the name of a great martyr. Do you not believe that we would be able to use him tactically?” Inaho said and glared at the man with determination.

“You are saying we should use him as pressure on Soldier Red?” Häkkinen inquired.

“I am, sir. Keeping Troyard alive can give us many options to how to handle the revolutionists. He is not only a source of information of what he has done in the past. If you execute him now you might be responsible for getting rid of a pawn that might be crucial to the outcome of the revolution.”

Häkkinen narrowed his eyes at him. Inaho kept staring determined at the man to convince him that what Inaho said was true. His heart was beating so hard in his ribcage that he for a second believed it would burst out through his chest. Adrenaline rushed through him to such a degree he thought he was arguing with Death itself. In a bizarre way he was.

“You do realize that it is quite bold of you to accuse me like that?”

“Yes, sir, and I ask for your forgiveness for talking so freely but I do insist it is my place to do so since I have been in charge of Troyard for two years. I believe you are making a mistake and I would like you to show trust in my demand to keep him alive,” Inaho pushed and ended his turn to speak: “… sir.”

The Vice-Admiral seemed to go through what Inaho had said in his mind as he kept staring at Inaho. Something in the man’s eyes told him that Häkkinen was convinced – but Inaho did not dare to jump to conclusions of winning this battle yet. He waited. It felt like an eternity. His lungs felt like they were turning inside him and he felt sick.

In the end Häkkinen corrected his glasses.

“I will put trust in you considering your history of tactical master strokes. I expect you to put that confidence about this matter to use in the future. In the mean time collect whatever information you can from the prisoner. I will not accept a failure from you,” the Vice-Admiral finally said and ordered his guards to hand Slaine over to Tanaka and Sakata.

Sakata pulled Slaine close to him and hugged him protectively as the blond trembled in his arms. Inaho watched the old Vice-Admiral leave and once he heard the door shut he let out a breath to relieve him from the tension of almost having lost Slaine. He turned around to look at him. Slaine was in hypothermia.

“Get him into the shower,” Inaho ordered Sakata who answered with obeying his command. The moment Slaine had been laid down on the floor, since he was too weak to sit or stand, Inaho took the shower head and turned the faucet to lukewarm to not shock Slaine’s nervous system with a sudden temperature shift. “Get out,” he ordered the guards.

“B-boss. That was a close call. Will he be-“ Sakata began but Inaho had lost his patience.

“Get out!” he yelled and Sakata and Tanaka took a step back from the surprise of seeing Inaho react like that. They stared at Inaho for a short time before nodding and leaving the shower. “Slaine…” he then whispered as the door to the shower room was closed. He brushed the trembling man’s chin with his hand but Slaine did not give a reaction. The blond was too cooled down.

Inaho put the shower head to the attachment on the shower slide bar and turned the water on. The lukewarm water hit both of them and Slaine turned his face away from the water. Inaho’s heart was bleeding. He pulled the shivering young man up into his arms and leaned against the wall as the water rained down on them to warm the blond up. He hugged him tightly and protectively and let a hand soothingly caress Slaine’s back. Gradually he turned the faucet to warmer and warmer to raise Slaine’s temperature slowly and in the end the blond stopped shivering.

“Slaine…” Inaho said quietly and pulled the wet blond hair away from Slaine’s face to look at him.

Slaine’s breathing had returned to normal and a weak hand grabbed Inaho’s blazer.

“Thank you…” he whispered and broke into a cry. “Thank you.”

Inaho shook his head.

“I should beg for your forgiveness,” he answered. “I couldn’t protect you.”

Slaine shook his head.

“No… You saved me…”

“He tortured you. I couldn’t stop him.”

“It’s not your fault… It’s not your fault…” Slaine repeated over and over again while crying silently. He nuzzled against Inaho’s neck and pulled at the man’s suit. “It’s not your fault…”

Chapter Text

He held Slaine close – hugged him and listened to the man’s sobs as the water tried to desperately soak them even more, but they were already as wet as they could become. None of them made the suggestion to get up from where they sat and held each other; they found comfort in the warmness of the running water since the world outside seemed so cold. The shower felt like a protective veil as it soaked them – warded off the dangers outside. Slaine leaned weakened against Inaho and nuzzled the brunet’s neck and pulled at his suit desperately; he was like a frightened child asking him to not let go of him. Inaho wanted to tell him everything would be all right but he knew it would be a terrible lie and so he ended up saying nothing at all. Holding him was all he could do – it made him feel worthless. Self-blame for not being able to protect the blond crept around in his being like a vengeful ghost that had come to haunt him.

“Why didn’t you answer him?” Inaho asked quietly after a while. “Why didn’t you do as I told you?”

It pained him.

“He already knew everything he asked about… I don’t know who Soldier Red is and I can’t come up with anyone of my men who would still be alive. All of them are dead…”

“Are you sure of that?” Inaho asked quietly and Slaine shook his head.

“No… Since I haven’t been allowed to confirm their corpses I can only assume…”

“Why didn’t you tell him the names of the ones you were not sure were dead?”

“I knew the moment I answered his question about Saazbaum that he would just keep asking harder and harder questions, and so there was no use in answering him at all…” the blond cried and pulled at Inaho’s suit harder. “He would not have believed that I knew nothing and he would have ended up torturing me anyway. There was no use in begging either…”

The blond had been so brave – so dangerously stubborn but brave. Slaine had not lost the core of his pride or willpower. It seemed to Inaho that nothing would be able to take that away from the blond. When he had to gather his strength the blond would grit his teeth through whatever he was forced to face. He had stared Terror in the eyes just moments earlier by holding onto his pride and dignity.

Inaho caressed his back gently and tightened his arms around the blond for a couple of seconds, making sure the blond was still with him. Almost having lost the one he loved had left an unpleasant lingering feeling of the blond not actually being there. Inaho had been too close to losing him that it felt like he had already lost him, and thus he had to make sure the Slaine he was holding was not just a trick of the mind. The feelings he felt were incomprehensible; he had always been able to handle situations that needed logic – but feelings were all but logical. Inaho had always been bad at expressing what he felt. He could not even remember when he had cried the last time because he did not understand it. It would not give him any solutions.

Why was he holding the other man so tightly?

Because I want to keep him here with me.’

Why did he want to keep the other man with him?

Because I don’t want to lose him.

Why did he not want to lose the other man?

Because I love him.’

Why did he love the other man?

‘… Because with him I don’t feel lonely…’

In other words, he was holding Slaine tightly because he made him feel things he had never known before. He cared about his friends and sister deeply but the care he felt for Slaine was completely different even if it was equally deep. It was new and thrilling, warm and fulfilling. It made him greedier – hungrier… Nothing was ever enough for him when he was around the blond.

The time ticked away, slowly but steadily. They were in no hurry to catch up to it. Just staying there together in the peacefulness of the warm water was enough; no obligations bound to time mattered as they recovered from the horrors together.

“The gods must be envious,” he heard the blond whisper after his sobs had died out and been replaced with a calm breathing.

“Why do you say that?” Inaho asked and turned his face toward the man in his arms, waiting for an explanation to the sudden words he had not been expecting. The blond’s hand let go of Inaho’s suit and lifted it to Inaho’s chest and placed its palm above the man’s heart:

“They don’t have the sound of this since they cannot die…”

Fragility of the human heart; the beats that made the sound of life; the sound Slaine had almost lost that day. Inaho could remember back to when he had been asking Slaine about his objectives of the war in the little conference room a couple of weeks ago, the same room where the blond had told him about the tragic gods of the southern Europe he so much liked to read about. ‘I like how the tales about the southern gods flatter your human fragility,’ he had said. Had situations like today been what he had meant by that? Were the gods envious of the human heart for it being so fragile? Inaho wondered how Slaine could find peace in having a sound that was so easily silenced beating away in his chest. It should have been frightening – horrifying in a situation like theirs. What strength had Slaine found in order to be so calm about what had happened while Inaho was still afraid?

“Why would the gods be envious of our mortality?” Inaho asked – confused by the thoughts Slaine’s words had awakened in him.

“Because they don’t have the privilege of such beauty,” the blond answered quietly and gripped Inaho’s suit again with his slender fingers. “They can’t understand why we are such desperate beings.” Slaine looked up at Inaho and slowly raised his weak body to level their heights, and he looked at him with nothing but adoration gleaming in his eyes. He cupped Inaho’s left cheek with his free hand and leaned closer. “Don’t kiss me like it would be our last kiss ever again. Kiss me like it would be our first,” he whispered and pushed his lips onto Inaho’s and then pulled away for a brief moment: “Make my heart beat louder…”

As their kisses grew needier for each time their lips touched each other’s Inaho realized Slaine was being desperate for confirmation that he was still alive, and he wanted Inaho to give him that. The blond was forceful in a passionate way; he pushed his body against Inaho’s and pulled at his suit in a frustrated manner as he forced his tongue into Inaho’s mouth. He was asking him for much needed love. He was asking him for a bond on a different level than the one they presently had. He wanted all of him and he was begging the brunet to let him have him. Inaho gave in to Slaine’s demand and kissed him back with equal passion.

While they slowly opened the buttons on each other’s clothes to expose only what they had to, they both grew painfully aware of their need. Everything that would be considered embarrassing and shameful had no place in between them. They were so close to each other it almost felt like their wildly beating hearts touched. There was no room for anything else except themselves and their heat. Slaine’s pants were coiled only around one of his legs as he straddled Inaho’s hips. Inaho’s hands were underneath the blond’s soaked sweater, touching him as much as he could as their lips were still connected in desperation. His hands wandered down Slaine’s back and squeezed his hips as the blond moved them slowly due to his burning need. They had no idea of what they were doing and neither of them minded it. Their desperation was raw and loving – distasteful and wonderful – agonizing and pleasurable. They sought out the heavy lusts which characterized their humanity; the lusts that allowed them to bare the simple and starving beings they were beneath all the fabricated roles of everyone around them. No one was watching them except the envious gods. They had all the right to claim what they needed from each other without worrying about others’ prejudice.

“I-Inaho…” Slaine sighed as their breaths had begun to turn into sultry gasps while the blond moved slowly. The sweet sound of Inaho’s name on Slaine’s lips sent a shiver down the brunet’s spine. Inaho met the heated blue-eyed gaze. It was so passionate it took Inaho completely off guard and for a moment he forgot what they were doing and where they were. Slaine buried his fingers into Inaho’s hair and gazed down at him as he slowly lowered himself on Inaho and stopped his movement. “Ahh… I… I have decided…” Slaine whispered and leaned his head back and exposed his throat for Inaho’s lips and teeth. The brunet did not hesitate to attack the blond’s bare skin with kisses and nibbles.

“What… Mmh… have you decided…?” Inaho gasped in between the marks he put on Slaine’s neck.

“I know I can’t … haahh… do much from here but…” He made a pause as Inaho bit his shoulder lovingly to let out a quiet moan. “… but I have decided to … give my all to you…” Inaho stopped and looked up at Slaine as the blond looked down at him with those resolute eyes. Slaine gave him a weak smile and then gripped Inaho’s hair slightly harder and pulled him close. “You will have my unconditional loyalty… Adoration… Devotion…” he made another pause to sigh lustfully. “Name whatever you want… I’ll give it to you.”

Inaho let out a trembling breath at those words. He grabbed the back of Slaine’s sweater and pulled him even closer; forcing Slaine to arch his back as his waist was pulled closer to Inaho by the man’s desperate hands. A sudden joy welled up in the brunet as Slaine’s hands let go of his hair to coil around Inaho’s shoulders in a loving motion. The blond had let go of the shadows of the Empress. She owned nothing that Inaho sought after anymore; Slaine had given him everything he had wanted to steal from her.

“Your love…?” Inaho asked as his heart began to beat harder and his body shook. He knew Slaine had already given it to him but he wanted to hear it through clear words and not a metaphor. He needed to hear it or else it felt like his heart would stop making the sounds the blond thought were so fragile and beautiful. ‘Keep it beating,’ Inaho begged silently.

“My love – and my life too if you want it…”

There the word was that Inaho had been waiting for. Inaho pushed Slaine back and followed him in the brutal fall to the tiled floor. The impulse to indulge himself in the blond had taken over due to the exhilarating feelings which had been brought forth by Slaine’s dangerous words. He could not stop himself and Slaine did not resist him. The shower room was filled with gasps and moans and quiet cries of pleasure and joy. They were nothing but two simple beings in a huge world made of truths and lies, hope and hopelessness, peace and war – two simple beings not caring about any of that in their shared moment of sinful innocence.

***

Slaine had fallen asleep after Inaho and the guards had helped him to bed. The blond lay peacefully in a deep sleep after the doctor had given him an additional anxiolytic pill to let the man sleep and recover from the day’s traumatic events. He had also been given an antipyretic medication to prevent a possible fever to develop after he had been cooled down to such a low temperature. Inaho had been sitting next to him holding his hand while Slaine had slowly drifted to sleep, and as he had made sure he was asleep Inaho had stayed to watch him for a while to take in the moment they both had shared in the shower room.

He slowly got up from the edge of the bed and removed his hand from Slaine’s to go out to the living room and talk to the staff that had gathered there. As he closed the bedroom door behind him he walked over to the doctor, nurse and guards who were sitting around the living room table.

“How is he?” the nurse asked and looked pale. He still had not recovered from the Vice-Admiral’s visit which had been hard on everyone who cared for Slaine.

“He is sleeping and he does not seem to have any fever yet,” Inaho answered and turned his attention to the doctor. “How do we handle this from here?”

“I suggest a staff member should stay here to keep an eye on him if he would wake up and feel ill or get another panic attack, or just wants to release some steam that is probably building up inside him. He needs constant surveillance for the meantime,” she said and Inaho nodded and searched for his phone out of old habit.

As he felt inside the right side pocket of the blazer he had borrowed from Slaine’s closet he was reminded that his phone had gotten damaged from the shower; he had forgotten to remove the phone from his pocket in his hurry to tend to Slaine. He gave up the idea of writing down a schedule for the staff of who would take what shifts.

“We need to make a schedule for that,” he said instead and Sakata raised his hand.

“I’ll take the first shift. I don’t mind if I have to stay here overtime,” he said and watched Inaho with a peculiar gaze.

“No, that will not be necessary,” Inaho answered. “I will stay here the rest of the evening and stay the night. You can start your shift tomorrow morning.”

Sakata and Tanaka exchanged glances and Inaho understood something was going on, but he had to wait to address that until the emergency meeting was over.

“He needs to talk about what has happened and an evaluation of his stress and trauma should be redone to keep it updated,” the doctor continued to say and looked at everyone in the room. “He needs to sleep now and recover in his own pace. When he wakes up no one should push him to talk about what has happened but instead ask carefully and work with the feel of the atmosphere.” She looked over to the nurse. “I will raise his dosage of anxiolytics to ten milligrams just for three days. Then he needs to start cutting down on the dosage again to prevent building up tolerance and creating a habit of taking them.” The nurse nodded. “Also, we need to keep an eye on his food intake so he actually gets something into his stomach. The poor boy has been through a lot of difficulties which might trigger him to lose his appetite. Other than that we should wait and observe how he feels once he wakes up and then deal with whatever comes our way, when it comes.”

Everyone took a mental note of what the doctor had said and as people were leaving the room Sakata stayed and eyed at Inaho. Tanaka had thrown a worried glance over her shoulder but had followed the others out through the door.

“Mr. Sakata,” Inaho said to let the man know he was willing to listen to him.

“Boss… I know what you two are doing,” Sakata said and looked worried with disappointment mixed into his expression.

“And what would that be, Mr. Sakata?” Inaho inquired but knew what the man was talking about.

“You know full well what I mean,” the guard said with accusation in his voice.

“How many know?”

“As far as I'm aware only I and Miss Tanaka know. We heard you in the shower room and decided to leave you two alone for the time being, but I can’t step back and watch you continue this.”

Inaho grit his teeth. He had just had a horrible day along with everyone else and then gotten the greatest gift he could have imagined. Why did the man have to destroy that now?

“What are you implying?” Inaho wanted to know. Sakata averted his eyes and scratched the back of his neck awkwardly.

“I could report this to the higher-ups if you won’t stop this,” he said.

Threats. The man was telling Inaho to go back into a strictly professional relationship with the prisoner or else he would report the illegal activity to the higher-ups. Inaho sighed in his usual manner; without revealing his true emotions coursing inside him.

“You are aware that Vice-Admiral is the one you should report to, am I correct?” Inaho said and stared at the man who went pale as he looked up at the brunet. That eased Inaho’s worry and anger. The man was harmless. “I assume you know he will execute Slaine the moment you accuse me of having intimate relations with the prisoner. I am the only thing that keeps him alive now by protecting him from the Vice-Admiral as well as giving him a reason to live,” he continued and stared at Sakata who sighed heavily and buried his hands into his messy hair to pull it back.

“What you two are doing is dangerous,” he said quietly. “Did you plan on having a lovey-dovey relationship with him while keeping him locked up in here for decades?”

It was not the first time for Inaho to hear something like that. His sister had used the same kind of argument toward him when she had learned about Slaine’s existence and what Inaho had been feeling toward him. Inaho knew both his sister and Sakata were speaking the truth about how warped the situation was. Even if Slaine had gotten a better cell in the form of an apartment he was still a prisoner stored away for life inside four walls and now had the overbearing threat of being executed because the Vide-Admiral had difficulties to see a reason to let him live. He was denied a normal life. He was denied autonomy of any kind. The little joy to life he was allowed to have was completely isolated inside the building and he was dependent on the staff and Inaho.

Now that Inaho thought about it, it was no surprise Slaine had gotten a panic attack earlier that day; he had no power or control over his life and had to be dependent on others; he had to put his entire fate in other people’s hands who were paid to hold him in a leash and decide everything for him. That would drive anyone beyond the border of insanity. And what was worrying Inaho the most was that he had no way of changing that. Inaho himself was under the pressure of watching eyes of those with greater authority than him.

Again his thoughts ran away to taking Slaine with him and disappear, but if he did and a war broke out due to the revolution then he would not be able to protect his sister and friends. He would not be able to protect the world he would roam around in together with Slaine while running away from the authorities. Slaine would not have handled such life even if he was brave and strong.

What am I supposed to do?’ Inaho thought with a bitter feeling spreading in his guts. Was this bitter feeling similar to the one Slaine must have felt the moment he realized he had lost the war and everything he had built up along with it? Inaho had no plan, no tactics – nothing that were of use to save Slaine in the long run. He was not used to it and did not know how to handle it. During normal circumstances he would have not cared about what would have been best for one single person; he would have cared about what was the best out of a tactical point of view that would leave him with least casualties in the wake of a successful plan. Now he had nothing like that. He had one single person to protect and greedy feelings to nurse while his superior was insisting on being the enemy for selfish reasons. He had saved Seylum from being assassinated a second time by the UFE two years ago but that had been on completely different terms than the situation he had now. He had been lucky that Häkkinen had not decided to prosecute him for what he had done; going against a superior’s orders was a serious crime.

“I know full well what the situation means,” Inaho said coldly and kept staring at Sakata. “Right now there is nothing I can do except give Slaine whatever he needs in order to get better and keep the Vice-Admiral away from him. The revolution is complicating our situation as well due to the near but unknown future of Earth. You are free to report me but keep in mind what will happen to Slaine when I am relieved of my duty here. The decision is yours, Mr. Sakata.”

Sakata stared at him in astonishment and Inaho knew the man had already given up on the idea of reporting him. They kept staring at each other until Inaho’s words had sunken into Sakata’s mind, and the man sighed and scratched his neck awkwardly and had a strained smile on his face.

“The way you put it gives me no choice. I can’t sentence him to death like that,” he said and frowned. “He’s like a kid brother to me. And you boss – you take good care of him and honestly care about him. I can’t take you away from him. He would start crying.”

“So what is your answer?” Inaho demanded and Sakata sighed once again in a more frustrated manner.

“Be careful … for his sake. I won’t report you and I’ll ask Tanaka to not do it either. Just – don’t go endangering his life by engaging in wild dopamine boosting activities in risky areas.” Inaho was relieved at the man’s answer but as a grin spread on Sakata’s face Inaho hurried to pick up his guard. “So how was it? It was your first time, right?” Sakata grinned teasingly and Inaho felt his entire being go sour.

“You have worked overtime. Go home.”

“Oh, but come on, boss!”

“That is private information which you are not permitted to know. Go home.”

Sakata’s grin disappeared and was replaced with a disagreeable stare. He got up from the couch where he had been sitting and muttered:

“Sheesh, boss. You’re no fun. Always so uptight… I’d hoped some sweet induced dopamine would have pulled that stick out of your ass and I guess it was replaced with something better but yet you’re so defensive. Or was the position the other way aroun-”

“Get out.”

“Fine fine! I’m on my way. Look: I’m walking toward the door!”

“Do not forget to walk out through it as well.”

Sakata pouted at first but then gave Inaho a teasing smile and grabbed the handle to the door.

“When the kid wakes up, don’t forget to tell him how pretty he is. I’ve heard something about a dude called Pavlov who discovered the mechanism behind classical conditionings of behavior. Complimenting him would surely help you two to get it on with each oth-.”

“I am not interested in hearing what you learned from a psychologist you dated. If you won’t leave before I have counted to ten I will fire you,” Inaho interrupted and stared at the man without blinking. His patience was running out. “One.”

“Okay, okay…!” Sakata sighed. “Just tried helping ya out.”

“Two.”

“See ya tomorrow, boss!”

And at that the man had disappeared after closing the door behind him. Inaho sighed and walked up to lock it and then returned to the bedroom to lie down next to Slaine and watch his sleeping face for a while. The blond was in a deep sleep and his lips were slightly open as he breathed calmly and steadily like only a sleeping person could do. A smile crept to Inaho’s face despite his worry of what would happen to them both in the future.

“Good night, Slaine,” he whispered and Slaine let out a weak sound from between his lips, and Inaho tried to fall asleep as well.

Chapter Text

He smiled. It was a tired smile but still a smile nonetheless. The little book he was holding was tiny in his hands and contained such a beautiful story that he could not put it away. The size of the book suited the main characters who were also small and yet so, so strong in their adventures on their little island.

“Peter Pan,” Slaine said quietly and smiled as he carefully closed the book once he had read the last page. He let a finger run down the golden edges of it and then watched the front cover picture of the little boy having a duel with the fearsome pirate captain Jas Hook. The book was Slaine’s second treasure aside from his father’s talisman. A treasure from Inaho.

It had been three weeks since he met the hateful eyes of his former enemy. ‘Vice-Admiral Häkkinen…’ he thought and frowned. He had not seen the man again and Inaho had not spoken about him either during his visits – which had become more frequent after the Vice-Admiral’s visit. Slaine’s bed sheets still smelled of the man and he laid down to bury his face against the pillow Inaho had slept on that morning. He hugged the book close to his chest and closed his eyes to rest for a while before dinner would be served.

The three weeks had been exhausting; Slaine had had trouble organizing his thoughts after the torture he had been subjected to by the Vice-Admiral. The power of his silence which had led to the torture had given back some of his sense of self which he had lost due to the usually ritualistic life he lived inside the prison. The monotone and controlled environment had degraded him, taken away the control of his own life and thus he had lost his sense of self; the way he was forced to live as a prisoner had pushed him into powerlessness and hopelessness. Slaine had quickly learned during his early stay in the prison that by using the little power he had as a prisoner he still owned himself. He had stayed silent, refused to eat and had been passive and uninterested when the staff had tried to interact with him in different ways. The greatest moment of him restoring his sense of self in the prison had been when he had stayed passive when Inaho had come to visit him. Slaine had only talked to him on his own terms and refused to play chess with the man unless he wanted it himself. That had been his only time of restoring his self to a level that was gratifying enough to make him feel sane a little while longer.

In a warped way the torture Häkkinen had submitted him to had been gratifying and Slaine had felt a dangerous feeling of power; Häkkinen had thought he carried information that would be useful against this Soldier Red, and Slaine had denied the man that. The torture had been worth it in a way; his feeling of self had returned somewhat. Even if the staff that took care of him now was enjoyable in many ways due to their friendly nature, he still felt that powerlessness crawl around in his heart and mind; he did not own himself; he had no control of his life inside the walls of the prison. Häkkinen’s decision to torture Slaine had been horrifying and taken its toll on the blond, but Slaine still felt pride to have made up his mind and not given the man power over him. ‘I’m not completely lost,’ he thought and sighed heavily.

The smell of the sheets was calming him as he lay there in the bed. They smelled of their sweat after a night of indulging themselves in carnal pleasure. It distracted his mind from spinning out of control like it had done so many times after the torture that he had lost count of the times by now. His anxiety had grown stronger but he had not been through a panic attack again, and to his surprise his depression had not gotten worse. What had gotten worse along with the anxiety were his nightmares; they plagued him more often now and he had woken up plenty of times to a bed soaked from cold sweat and a hurting throat from all his unconscious screaming. Inaho had been there for him some of the nights to wake him up and calm him down with caresses and kisses but during the times the brunet was away Slaine had to struggle through the horrors by himself. The personnel that had kept him company to make sure he would not get a panic attack or get hysterical had been taken off of that duty within a week after the torture since Slaine showed no signs of his mental illness getting worse. It was a relief to the blond; knowing someone was sitting in the living room had made Slaine feel stressed and nervous.

Despite his miserable state he found himself smiling. The time he had gotten with Inaho had turned out to be wonderful, peaceful, comforting and warm. Inaho did not try to steal Slaine’s power from him and he treated him with care and showed genuine interest in him. To willingly belong to the brunet had given Slaine a feeling of calm. The best way he could explain it was that it felt like he had been lost in a confusing world for two years and finally found back home to safety.

Inaho… Where are you?’ he thought and nuzzled the pillow that smelled of Inaho’s hair. He missed him every minute the brunet was away working. Slaine had noticed Inaho had been forced to work more and more throughout the three weeks that had gone by and Slaine wondered if everything was all right. Inaho had not looked worn or tired and so the blond had not gotten too worried. What worried him was the knowing that Inaho was working more because of the revolution on Vers. Slaine wanted to know what was going on and he had tried to guilt Inaho a couple of times to make the man tell him more of what was happening on Mars, but Inaho had skillfully dodged Slaine’s tries with kisses and pleasure. Slaine hated how weak he was toward the other man’s advances and he loved the powerlessness at the same time. That was the only time he would accept to be powerless since there was no reason to resist the man anymore.

As he was about to drift into sleep he heard the sound of a sonic boom far away. He opened his eyes at the sound. He had not heard that particular echoing sharp sound for a long time and he pushed himself up from the bed to look at the frosted window. He would have liked to see the outside world through that window; not being allowed to look at outside scenery was frustrating; he wanted to see the snow covered trees and let his eyes wander to the horizon to let his sight adjust to a further distance than the walls around him.

Everything seemed fine and Slaine decided to go back to sleep thinking it was an aircraft which was not unusual for him to hear at times – especially in the new cell apartment. As he lay down again and closed his eyes a loud alarm went off outside seconds before an explosion that was almost deafening was heard and the building began to shake violently. He hurried up from the bed in shock and tried to keep his balance. The building was shaking so aggressively he lost his footing and fell to the floor. Seconds later the window to his bedroom exploded from outside pressure and Slaine hurried to curl up and cover his head with his arms to protect it from the glass shards that flew into the room like small daggers.

A blast wave!?’ he thought shocked and felt his heart beating violently in his chest. Then he suddenly felt a sharp pain in his side which made him groan out loud.

***

Seven hours earlier that day Inaho was sitting in his office preparing for another meeting. The revolutionists had taken over several castles and mansions on Vers faster than expected, and the Empress’ safety had become a higher priority than protecting the nobles. She insisted on staying on Vers to try to calm the people down but things had gone out of hand once the people had stormed several homes belonging to the nobles and the military had to start using force toward the people. Her pacifistic ways had not changed and she refused to let the military go into full assault. She desperately tried to solve the situation without violence but she did not seem to understand that it gave the people an upper hand. Soldier Red had managed to rile the people up to such a degree that Inaho knew there was nothing stopping them now. They were not happy with Seylum’s offers of opening the food storages of the royals for the people – the people wanted much more than that; they wanted to force her to abdicate but she tried to bravely stand her ground.

Inaho thought of her as foolish. The revolution had already gone so far as to become unstoppable and yet she decided to defend her rights to the throne and by that anger the people more. In Inaho’s logical way of thinking he found it problematic that she did not meet the people’s demands in the impossible situation and abdicate; her throne meant so much more to her and she was ready to risk her life for it. She knew she would risk losing her throne no matter what she tried to do; the people had taken over enough ground and resources that they were unstoppable. Their rage and confidence burned hotter than ever before after their successful attempts at taking over Vers’ resources under the guidance of Soldier Red, and that kind of people had been proven throughout history to be a force of nature not to be taken lightly. The Empress did not want to give up since she thought she would be able to save the people. It was a pretty thought – but that was all it was.

His new phone vibrated on the table and he looked over to it. It was a call from inside the headquarters; the secretary to the Vice-Admiral was calling him. As he answered he heard the nervous male voice order him to the conference room immediately, and Inaho complied. He took the tablet from where it had been lying in front of him on the desk and left for the conference room.

As he stepped into the room he met silence. Everyone in the room was watching a video feed of the remaining Landing Castles that still occupied land around the world. Inaho’s stare was caught to the video and his eyes widened.

The eight Landing Castles were lifting.

The conference room was deathly quiet for a while and confusion as well as a shiver ran through each and every person sitting at the table, and without a warning one of the officers exclaimed:

“They have had contact with Soldier Red!”

No one said a word and for once the shock that had shaken the officers occupying the room kept everyone in silence. Inaho turned his eyes to the Vice-Admiral who was sitting at his usual spot. The man stared at the screen without blinking for about a minute and then he said calmly:

“Send a message to the UFE commanding officers of each branch; navy, air force and army. Notify UN about the matter and ask them to keep a careful watch over the Landing Castles’ course. As the UFE Naval branch’s Vice-Admiral I will personally contact the Admiral about the matter. We will have to call for a Grand Admiral.”

In peace-time the highest naval officer was the Admiral but once a military nation engaged in a war an Admiral of the Fleet – or Grand Admiral – was called.

“But sir! We don’t know if they have declared war,” one of the officers said.

Häkkinen did not let his eyes wander from the screen of the ascending Landing Castles.

“Since we do not know what their objective is for the moment we need to consider this as an act of war. We have no time to hesitate,” the man said and narrowed his eyes as he watched the screen.

Inaho took a step forward.

“Vice-Admiral,” he said and stared directly at the old man who had tortured Slaine three weeks ago. Now was not the time to bear grudges. Everyone in the room turned their attention to him. “I suggest that we put priority to protect the Hyper Gates, sir. If the situation turns out to be that the Knights aboard the Landing Castles have declared war they are most likely after the Hyper Gates.”

The old Vice-Admiral stared at him for a couple of seconds – almost like the man’s silence was telling Inaho that he had spoken out of place; something that was not unusual for the brunet to do – and answered:

“You are correct, Officer Kaizuka Junior. The Hyper Gates have become a problem. If the enemy gets a hold of the gates the revolutionists will have an instant travel connection to Earth. I will have to ask for a private word with you once we are finished here.”

“Yes, sir,” Inaho confirmed the order. He understood what the man was going to speak to him about.

After the meeting was over Inaho waited for everyone to exit the room. The meeting had been calm for once and Häkkinen had done his usual outstanding guidance to keep the meeting on the right track. No matter how much Inaho despised the man for what he had done to Slaine Inaho still had to admit that the man knew what to do as a Vice-Admiral. He stared at the Vice-Admiral who waited patiently for the room to clear of all the people, and once that had been done Häkkinen ordered Inaho to close the door.

“Nero mentioned that the Empress had a bastard sister,” the man said and sounded thoughtful. “The Empress has given us the knowledge about her existence as well before the Declaration of Peace was signed.”

“Yes, sir. She spoke about her sister having been a pawn of Troyard Saazbaum during the war,” Inaho confirmed. He strongly disliked talking about Slaine with Häkkinen and yet he found it easier while calling Slaine for the former dictator’s official name; Slaine was nothing but Slaine now; his title had been stripped away and he was nothing like the man Inaho had been fighting two years ago.

“We need to contact the Empress right away,” Vice-Admiral Häkkinen said with a lower voice.

“Shall I prepare a direct link to her?” Inaho asked and the old man nodded as a reply.

Minutes later the video of the Landing Castles was replaced with the worn and tired eyes of the Empress. A formal direct link to her had been established the moment Soldier Red had had his first official speech so UFE could stay in closer contact with her. She had the habit of answering as quickly as possible even if she was hard to get in contact with depending on the time of the day.

“Vice-Admiral Häkkinen and Officer Kaizuka Junior,” she said tiredly. Her movements were slow and her voice sounded husky. “What can I do for you during this sudden call?”

Inaho directed his eyes to Häkkinen and watched him bore his eyes into her.

“I apologize greatly for interrupting you in your important duties, Your Highness,” the man said – but Inaho heard how tired the man was of the Empress; he did not think highly of her at all. “We have a situation on Earth with the remaining Landing Castles which both you and Earth failed to establish peace with. They have lifted and left their occupying land.”

Seylum’s tired eyes widened and she looked like she wanted to start crying. Had the pressure and stress gotten to her Inaho wondered? She bravely bit back her tears and sighed loudly which made her seem out of character. She usually had a straight back and clear eyes while she focused on the meetings but now she seemed to not be able to keep her head as high as she usual did.

“What is your situation right now?” she asked and looked at both Inaho and Häkkinen.

“Our military forces are alerted of the matter as we speak. Our main priority is to protect the Hyper Gates which you so kindly activated. I will have to ask you to shut them down, Your Highness,” the man answered. “Is that possible?”

The Empress’ eyes turned saddened and she nodded.

“Yes, Vice-Admiral. I will see to it immediately after this call is over.”

“Thank you, Your Highness. I have another thing to ask of you before we end this call, if you can spare me your valuable time.”

This time Inaho saw Häkkinen’s eyes narrow and he was keeping his attention on alert.

“Yes, you may ask whatever you need, Vice-Admiral,” she answered and Häkkinen did not let a single second pass before he asked:

“You said you have a sister.” The Empress’ eyes widened in an honest reaction of horror. She had never been good at hiding her emotions. ‘Not like Slaine’, Inaho thought. He had noticed he compared Slaine and Seylum more and more and each time he preferred Slaine over her. “I know you said she had gone missing but I would like to know how the situation surrounding her looks like now. Have you found her?” Häkkinen continued.

“She passed away about a year ago, Vice-Admiral,” the Empress explained with urgency and Häkkinen’s eyes narrowed even more. “She was trying to run from my troops and in the end they were forced to shoot her ship down.”

“I see. I regret your loss, Your Highness, but I have to ask: She was a descendant of your father’s and so she held the heritage of your bloodline’s Aldnoah activation powers, am I correct?”

“Thank you kindly, Vice-Admiral Häkkinen. Yes, that is correct,” she answered.

“Is there anyone else who has the heritage, Your Highness?”

“No, Vice-Admiral. It is just me and her. If I may inquire, why do you ask?”

“For no other reason than to get an overview of our situation right now,” the man answered. “Now that we are in a call I might as well ask how your situation looks like right now. Have the revolutionists advanced more?”

Inaho noticed the old Vice-Admiral had skillfully and deliberately directed the attention from Seylum’s sister to the situation of the revolution. Inaho knew the Empress was desperate for support from Earth and had asked for it on multiple occasions but her requests had not been possible to fulfill. Each time the conversation’s direction went to the revolution she desperately hoped to hear the words that would save her. Häkkinen used that desperation to his advantage to lead her attention astray.

“The nobles have begun to lose their patience and they feel threatened. Many are leaving Mars to head for safety but they refuse to evacuate to Earth. The people are putting pressure on all of us and they are growing more violent for each day,” she answered and frowned deeply.

“Angered people have an incredible force, do they not? They are even stronger than highly trained military,” Häkkinen said with a hint of sarcasm in his voice. The Empress did not seem to understand that he was speaking of her giving them the power by trying to solve the impossible situation with pacifism. “What about Soldier Red?”

Seylum shook her head.

“He has not been found. None of the people who have been captured either knows where he is or then refuses to speak about him. They rather die than reveal where he is.”

“The situation seems impossible indeed, Your Highness. How safe are you in your palace considering the situation that has escalated so quickly?”

“I have begun to fret that the royal palace might fall within a month. We are running out of food and supplies since we have been isolated by the angry crowds.”

Häkkinen stood up from where he sat. He looked determined and looked at the Empress with the eyes of an experienced officer.

“If Soldier Red captures you he has won. I advise you to evacuate to Earth as soon as the situation becomes dangerous. We do not know how Soldier Red plans on using you if he gets his hands on you but one thing is certain: Since your sister is deceased you are the only one left with the activation heritage and Vers cannot live on without it. Once all of those who have been granted the power have passed away there is no one else to give the activation factor to the people if you are gone, and Vers as a nation will die. You are aware of that, I assume?” the man said and Inaho realized what he meant.

The Empress seemed to understand as well as her face grew pale.

“Y-yes, Vice-Admiral…” she said quietly with a trembling voice. “I know full well what use they would have of me if they capture me.”

“I would like to have you evacuate immediately but I also know you will refuse my request,” the old man continued. “I am grateful of your time, Your Highness. I am afraid I will have to go back to my duties and I assume you have to do the same. Stay safe.”

Seylum nodded saddened and bid farewell to Häkkinen and Inaho, and then the call ended. Inaho looked at the old man who walked toward him and then said quietly:

“She is lying about her sister’s death.”

“How do you know that, sir?” Inaho inquired, but he had noticed it as well.

“Her reaction when I asked about her sister gave her lie away. If her sister indeed would have been deceased she would not have reacted like that. Her sister still being alive will complicate the matter,” the man said and looked at Inaho with stern eyes. “Have you gotten any useful information out of Nero?”

“No, sir. He knows nothing about the situation,” Inaho answered and narrowed his eyes slightly. He was too defensive toward the man and he knew it but protecting Slaine was his priority.

***

Hours passed and Inaho had been busy keeping himself updated about the Landing Castles and their course. They were in orbit and had not made any other movements for a while now. Inaho wondered why they had not been called back to Vers now that Soldier Red had grown in power. Inaho had a foreboding feeling that the cloaked enemy leader was strong enough to feel confident to attack Earth any day now, and the Landing Castles in orbit would be the first ones to attack on his command. The wisest decision was to take over the two Hyper Gates that existed and let enemy forces travel through them. Even if the Empress would shut them down anyone with the activation factor would be able to activate them again if the palace – where the gates to Vers were – was taken over. They were a great weakness in an oncoming war like this.

The Deucalion had been put on standby at the harbor and Inaho waited for the order of him to unite with the crew again. Since his brain had taken damage due to the analytical engine he had been taken off of combat duty; his only duty was planning out tactics and commanding a group of Ensigns; the rank Inaho had had previously. The itch to fight in order to protect Earth had made itself reminded and his inability to trust that people knew what they were doing was worrying. He did not trust the people on the battlefield since they were not like him; Inaho wanted to be the one in control of the battlefield since he knew what to do. His sister had called him for a control freak and Inaho guessed there was some truth in it.

Analytical engine…’ Inaho thought as he tapped on his tablet.

The alarm went off in the headquarters and Inaho looked up at the little speaker on the ceiling as a voice said:

The royal palace has been taken over by Soldier Red. Two of the Landing Castles are descending and one of them is headed toward us. Everyone is ordered to their posts immediately to await further orders!

A second later Inaho’s phone rang and he answered it in a hurry as he opened the door to his office to leave and get to his car.

The crew on board Deucalion has been ordered to take care of the Empress and Emperor who has evacuated to Earth through the Hyper Gate connected to the city. I want you to take them under your protection once they are brought to the ship, Lieutenant Kaizuka Junior,” he heard Vice-Admiral Häkkinen’s voice order him.

“Yes, sir. What about Nero?” Inaho asked and the man on the other side paused to think before he answered:

He is of no priority at a time like this.”

“Yes, sir.”

Inaho ended the call and began running down the corridor. The urgency to pick up Slaine stressed him out. There was no way for him to leave the blond in the prison now that a war was breaking out in the city. He would save him first and take him with him. He would not leave him to die.

The screaming sound of a sonic boom was heard the moment he ran out through the entrance door of the headquarters and he saw the object resembling a shooting star in the afternoon sky. The evacuation alarm went off in the entire area. It would be landing a couple of mils away but the blast wave from the impact would affect the entire area. He looked around at the people standing on the parking lot watching the object falling from the sky. They did nothing to protect themselves from the blast wave that would come.

“Everyone get inside the building and don’t stay close to the windows!” he yelled and people were not hesitating to do as he told them. If someone who knew what to do in a dangerous situation most of the human population would listen to them.

Everyone ran back inside to take cover and minutes later the ground shook violently and an explosion was heard. It was deafening and everyone covered their ears. Inaho was hiding behind the reception counter as the impact of the shock wave came and the windows exploded. People screamed and as the shock wave had passed them he heard people cry and moan from pain. Some had been hurt in the impact.

Inaho had no time to worry about anyone else except Slaine. His heart was beating wildly in his chest and he ran out into the parking lot and saw the cars which stood on their roof or their sides. He had no time to take a chance and hope that the cars were not damaged and so he ran toward the garage to get a military van.

The roads had not been blocked by panicked residents yet and he drove faster than the speed limit to hurry to the prison and have time to get to the harbor before the roads were filled with evacuates. He hoped Slaine was all right. The ride to the prison felt like an eternity as enemy aircrafts were seen in the sky surrounding the Landing Castle through the rearview mirror. UFE’s fighters had still not arrived.

SlainePlease be safe!’ he thought in such stress that he felt sick from the adrenaline rushing through him, and he stepped onto the gas pedal to hurry faster.

As he arrived the building looked like he expected it to. The windows were broken. The façade was crackled. A part of the roof had been blown away. He ran into the building and left the car running and as he entered through the entrance door he met the two door guards who had taken cover in the hallway.

“O-officer Kaizuka!” one of them exclaimed but Inaho did not stop to instruct them on what to do; he had no time for that.

He hurried further inside and got to the stairs leading up to the second floor and he ran up fast enough he almost stumbled on one of the steps. He met Sakata lying on the floor beneath some rubble. The man was unconscious and lay outside Slaine’s cell door. His keys lay next to him. He had probably made an attempt to get to Slaine before the impact but he had been too late; the impact had reached the building faster than he had been able to reach Slaine.

Inaho hurried to take out his prison keys from his pocket to open the door and as he managed to unlock it he opened it and ran inside. The moment he came to the door leading into the bedroom he stopped. He saw the blond man stand at the broken window gazing out into the cold evening where the Landing Castle stood in the horizon. The blond hair swayed gently in the breeze and as the man cared to recognize Inaho’s presence he turned around to look at the brunet. The eyes Inaho met sent a worrying chill down his spine. Slaine’s eyes were not the smiling ones he had greeted Inaho with whenever Inaho had come to visit him for the past three weeks. The blue eyes were sharp at their corners almost like that of a feline during a hunt. The man’s posture radiated power and strength and Inaho felt for a brief moment intimidated by him.

The blond was holding a hand over a wound on his left side right above his hip bone; it was bleeding and the blood had run down his hip and thigh. Slaine did not look like he registered the pain. His entire focus was on trying to figure out what was happening outside the window where the Landing Castle stood kilometers away and loomed over the city like a terrorizing demon.

“Slaine…” Inaho whispered and stared at his wound. “Are you all right?”

Slaine’s eyes narrowed as they stared at the brunet and it made Inaho want to take a step back. He did not like the glare the blond gave him. It was chillingly similar to the glare Inaho had seen before when he encountered the former dictator on his moon base two years ago. Slaine finally decided to speak. His voice was low but demanding as he hissed:

“You have kept me in the dark long enough, Orange.”

Chapter Text

The sound of commotion had sounded throughout the building just minutes ago but now the entire surroundings outside the room had gone quiet. Sharp steps against the shining and polished marble floor echoed from the barren corridor outside. She looked up at the door and stared at the golden handle. It turned down but the door was not opened.

Of course, it’s locked,’ she thought and arched an eyebrow.

A gunshot was heard and the lock mechanism on the door puffed out smoke and sparks, and then the door was pushed open. A man in a red cloak stood in the doorway staring at her for a short while like he was trying to determine if the sight of her was to be trusted. She stared back at him and smiled a wicked smile toward the man.

“I must say I was expecting you a little sooner,” she said quietly with a voice that matched that wicked smile playing on her lips. “I am slightly disappointed in you.”

“Forgive me. I was delayed by unexpected resistance from the palace guards,” the man answered and stepped inside the room and walked over to her. “I am glad to see you have been treated kindly; you look strong and in good health.”

She watched the man bow down to her in respect; right knee to the floor, a hand above the heart and head lowered – just like she had been expecting him to do.

“I wouldn’t say she has been kind to me. She has been a perfect little goody two shoes around me; no one likes people like that,” she said and frowned. “She thinks she has been kind by keeping me locked up in here.”

“I apologize I could not come for you sooner.”

She looked at him arrogantly for a short moment but then smiled and reached a hand out to the man.

“So the palace has been taken over in the dream and honor of the late Saazbaum Troyard? That is pretty noble of you,” she asked and the man looked up at her and stared at her outstretched hand for a while. “Are we strong and ready?”

The man took her hand gently and she pulled him closer.

“Yes. The Empress has been forced to evacuate to Earth; Vers is ours. We need to secure the Hyper Gates on Earth now,” he answered as he let her pull him closer, and she smiled gently and reached out for his hood with her other hand and pushed it back to reveal the face hidden beneath it.

“You have worked hard. I am impressed,” she said and made a pause, and her gentle smile became wicked once again. “… Soldier Red.”

***

”Slaine…” Inaho said uncertain of how to interpret the blond’s sudden change. It did not surprise him that this happened considering who Slaine had been in the past and Inaho had expected him to react the way the man did once things went out of hand and the situation revealed itself. The room was cold from the broken window that let in the freezing temperatures of winter and Slaine was not even slightly shivering despite him only wearing a white shirt and jeans.

“Is it standing there in my name?” the blond asked and pointed at the Landing Castle in the horizon as he cradled his wound with the other hand. An explosion echoed in the distance. “Answer me, Orange. Is that happening in my name!?”

“Yes,” Inaho answered and stared at him. He wanted to walk up to him and drag him out of the damaged building kicking and screaming if he had to. Now was not the time for an argument; they had to hurry before the roads became blocked. “Slaine, there is no time-“

“Has Vers fallen?” Slaine interrupted him and those sharp eyes slowly turned desperate. “Is she all right?”

There it is again,’ Inaho thought and felt his heart ache. The ghost of Seylum was making itself reminded once again. He would not lose to her.

“Slaine, we can’t stay-“

“Answer me!” the blond yelled and tears sprung to his eyes.

Inaho did not hesitate. He strode across the floor which was covered with the fragments from the broken window and they crackled under his determined steps. Slaine backed away from him with eyes that instantly sharpened again and hit his back against the wall. Inaho closed the distance within the blink of an eye, put his hands to Slaine’s cheeks and kissed him. The blond made a muffled noise as he tried to push Inaho away from him but within seconds the man’s rejecting hands grabbed Inaho’s shoulders in an attempt to find reassurance instead. The tension in the blond’s body slowly relaxed somewhat. Inaho made sure Slaine had calmed down enough to dare to release him and then pulled his lips away from his but still kept them close enough to let the former enemy kiss him if he so wished.

“Vers has fallen but she is all right,” he answered quietly and his voice was almost drowned out by another explosion. “We can’t stay here. You got to come with me.”

“Where?” Slaine whispered with a trembling breath. “Where can I go?”

“To safety; to Deucalion.”

A short moment passed as the ground shook from an explosion that was close enough to send the quiet breeze into a momentary gush of wind which ruffled their hair, and then the blond pushed his lips onto Inaho’s again. I will follow you, it said. As their lips parted Slaine hurried to pick up the little book Inaho had given him from the floor. The blond quickly brushed the dust off of it and then shoved it into Inaho’s blazer pocket.

“Keep it safe for now,” Slaine said as Inaho looked up at him. The brunet nodded, grabbed Slaine’s hand and pulled him along out of the room.

The moment Slaine saw the unconscious Sakata lie on the floor the blond pulled his hand out of Inaho’s grip and without a moment’s hesitation began to push the rubble off from on top of the man.

“Sakata!” he called out in worry and Inaho stopped to see his desperate try to push a heavy wooden ceiling beam to free Sakata from beneath the rubble. Inaho knew they could not leave him there and so he grabbed the end of the beam, and after their eyes met for a short moment they both put all their strength into pushing the beam off of the guard. “Sakata, do you hear me!?” Slaine hurried to say after the rubble had freed the guard enough to let the two men pull him out from beneath the rest. “Sakata!”

“There is not time for us to wait for him to wake up. Take his other arm,” Inaho said and grabbed Sakata’s arm to put it over his shoulders, and Slaine did the same with the other.

Together – with great difficulty due to Slaine’s wound which had begun to ache – they managed to get the man down the stairs; they had almost slipped on the small pieces of rubble that lay on the stairs. Slaine had gritted his teeth to distract his mind from the pain in his side and Inaho noticed the blood had begun to run down Slaine’s hip again. He said nothing; there was no time for that.

Once they got down to the first floor they met Tanaka and the nurse in the corridor that led out to the entrance door, and both were covered with dust and small bleeding cuts. The nurse had a bruise on his head which bled slightly but other than that both seemed fine.

“Kaizuka!” Tanaka said and seemed to be in a state of shock. “What happened!?”

“A third war,” the brunet answered hurriedly and both Tanaka’s and the nurse’s faces were drained from color. “Help us with Mr. Sakata. Slaine is bleeding and should not strain himself because of the wound,” he continued and Tanaka quickly switched with Slaine whose face had turned pale from the pain. “Where are the other guards?” Inaho asked as they began to move toward the entrance door, and the nurse answered:

“They hurried out to help with the evacuation of the civilians. They left just moments ago.”

“And the doctor?”

“Her shift ended two hours ago.”

“Good…”

As they had gotten the unconscious Sakata into the backseat of the military van Inaho turned around to look at Slaine who stood and gazed at the enemy aircrafts cutting mercilessly through the sky. The blond’s expression worried Inaho and he quickly ran up to him to grab his hand before it would be too late. Slaine turned his face toward him and the sharp expression in his eyes – which he had had while he had watched the enemy aircrafts – slowly disappeared as the sight of Inaho brought him back to reality. That sharp expression had revealed what the man had been thinking.

“Don’t run,” Inaho said both as a warning and a plea. “You promised to follow me moments ago.”

Slaine stared at him and then looked toward the Landing Castle, and then back at Inaho again. His eyes were now worried, desperate … pained. Inaho tugged at Slaine’s hand to urge him to follow him and after a short moment of hesitation Slaine lowered his head with a frown and nodded – and together they hurried toward the van.

“Miss Tanaka. You drive,” Inaho said and made sure Slaine had gotten into the back seat with the nurse and Sakata before he hurried to the seat next to the driver.

“But, sir! Both of us hit our heads when the ground shook. I can’t possibly-”

“You have better eyesight than me since my depth perception and sight range is limited,” Inaho interrupted her calmly and took out his phone to bring up a map of the city onto its screen. “I need you to be my extra pair of eyes since I have only one.”

Tanaka stared at him but then hurried to the driver’s seat without further protests.

“Where to, sir?” she asked and got the vehicle onto the main road.

“Toward the harbor.”

***

“Let me see your wound,” the nurse said to him. Slaine’s busy mind slowed down when he had been addressed. Slaine had been trying to stay calm now that the outside world was revealed to him for the second time during his captivity. The world felt huge and threatening. The people outside looked threatening. He was delusional about them recognizing him and every time someone looked at the van Slaine hurriedly turned his face away to prevent them from seeing him. He was afraid. He looked at the man who had addressed him; he wore a worried expression on his face. “That wound needs to be tended to.”

You are so kind,’ he thought saddened and sighed. Guilt was boiling up inside him. The city was under attack in his name. Earth would be attacked in his name. Again. He did not deserve the kindness the man showed him. Slaine was a terrible man and it seemed like everyone – even Slaine himself – had forgotten about it for a brief moment when the life in prison had become slightly enjoyable.

“You should probably concentrate on Mr. Sakata,” Slaine answered and lowered his eyes to break the eye contact with the nurse. “He needs you more than I do.”

The nurse shook his head and frowned scolding toward him.

“Nothing can be done for him right now. He’s not bleeding outwardly and doesn’t seem to have any broken bones as far as I can see, so he probably has a concussion. You on the other hand are bleeding a lot.”

“I’m fine,” Slaine mumbled and looked out through the window on the van’s left side toward the sky where UFE F-22 Raptor aircrafts had begun a counterattack. He watched a Martian aircraft get hit on its wing and it tumbled down toward the ground with a thick smoke pillar behind it. His mind began to accelerate with thoughts again but the nurse forcefully pulled up his shirt to reveal the wound and thus Slaine’s thoughts were halted once again.

“I don’t care what you say. You are wounded and I have decided to do what I can out of both duty and-“

Slaine felt a panic well up inside him as he realized what the nurse was about to say and interrupted him.

“Don’t say it,” he said and gritted his teeth. “Don’t say it…” He could not handle hearing the nurse express that he cared about Slaine. Not now when the city had begun to burn in his name.

The nurse stared at him as he got distracted by Slaine’s sudden plea to stop the man from wording his empathy toward him. Slaine kept staring out the window without seeing what happened out there; his mind was busy with guilt. The sound of an aircraft brought the nurse back to his senses and he quickly picked up the first aid-kit and began disinfecting the wound. The stinging made Slaine grit his teeth and as the stinging feeling grew he let out a hiss from between his teeth. The wound seemed deeper than he had first thought since the raw feeling of a gaping wound made it apparent. He had been hit by a flying glass splinter the moment the window had exploded from the blast wave of the Landing Castle. The moment he realized it he had pulled it out and blood has gushed out of the wound, but the moment he had seen the silhouette of the monstrosity that stood in the city in the outside world he had forgotten about the pain.

“The enemy aircrafts are returning to the Landing Castle,” he suddenly heard Inaho’s voice say from the front seat.

Slaine threw a glance at the brunet who was carefully watching the sky, and then looked out through the window. Inaho had been right; the aircrafts were flying back to the Landing Castle.

“Why…?” Tanaka asked and skillfully avoided a car that drove out from a side road. The civilians had begun to gather on the streets.

“They are hiding from something,” Inaho answered and gazed up at the sky like a hawk.

“Hiding from what?” the nurse asked.

That was when Slaine saw the light of a shooting star in the sky to their left.

“Another Landing Castle,” he said and stared at it as horror climbed up his spine. Why were two Landing Castles landing into the same area? Slaine knew it was probably because there was something in the city the Knights were after but he did not know what. Whatever it was it did not matter now; they had to hide from the impact.

“It will land on the other side of the city,” Inaho said and tapped on his phone. “There is a road tunnel further ahead to our right. Drive to the opening of it but don’t get inside the tunnel, Miss Tanaka,” he then continued and the guard repeated his order and did as she was told.

She turned left and right on her way through the road which got more and more packed with people the further into the city they came. Slaine wondered what would happen with those people when the Castle would land. ‘They will die,’ he thought and bit back the tears that threatened to overflow his eyes as he watched children crying and mothers and fathers trying to carry them to safety – safety which was impossible to find. Seeing them this close made his crimes from two years ago even more prominent than before; he had killed innocent people in the war just like the ones he watched now. Seeing them now made his anxiety grow and he took a deep breath.

“Inaho,” he said and closed his eyes as the pain from watching the people outside trying to save their lives in an impossible situation grew too strong. “The people… Do they have somewhere to go where they will be protected from the blast wave?”

“No…” he heard him say quietly. “They can only hide and hope for the best.”

Everyone in the van went quiet as the realization of the people’s situation hit them. The pain from the nurse disinfecting Slaine’s wound suddenly felt welcomed but Slaine thought it did not hurt enough. He frowned. ‘I’m sorry… I’m so sorry…’ he thought as he heard the cries outside.

Tanaka turned right and then to the left and stopped the car. Slaine opened his eyes and looked out through the window and saw a great concrete wall right outside. In front of them lay a tunnel with people who had gathered there to hide from the battle outside. They were all huddled against the tunnel walls and both inside and between the cars in an attempt to try and protect themselves and each other. Many cried.

The sonic boom was heard as the Landing Castle broke into the atmosphere and cut through the dense air. Slaine closed his eyes and put his hands to his ears as the sound was sharper now that he was closer to its source.

“Get down,” Inaho said calmly and everyone in the van did as they were told.

Slaine heard the nurse say a prayer to God as they got down to the floor of the van. Tanaka whimpered. Inaho was calm and collected – or so it seemed. Slaine opened his eyes to look at the man who was tapping on his phone with a concentrated expression. So that was how Inaho had looked like when he had been fighting Slaine. The blond smiled for a brief moment while secretly watching him before the ground began to shake and the frightened screams were heard from both inside and outside the van. The Landing Castle had landed. Within seconds the blast wave hit them and the van tilted slightly despite it was hidden behind the concrete wall. Debris clattered against its roof and something crackled before the blast wave had passed them.

“Are everyone all right?” he heard Inaho ask and Slaine opened his eyes to look around.

The nurse was pale as the man looked up at his surroundings from the floor where he had been hiding together with Slaine. Slaine looked up at Inaho who was already getting up onto his seat and Tanaka raised her head from her protective position. Slaine slowly got up and forced his whimper back as the pain in his side ached horribly, and that is when he realized where the crackling noise had come from. The windshield had been hit by something and it had a big crack that stretched across the entire glass. And then, as he looked into the tunnel past the crack he saw debris and…

Blood...

Bodies...

Women and men.

Children…

His heart felt like it was about to explode in his chest and he swallowed back the sudden sickness that threatened to make him vomit. He had seen dead people before. He was used to the blood. ‘But they were all soldiers,’ he thought and tears disturbed his sight. ‘These are civilians… I never attacked civilians like this…’ His anxiety grew. It became harder to breathe. The soldiers that had died had all known their life could have ended any minute – or even any second. They had known they were to risk their lives in battle and so Slaine had been able to be cold about them. Civilians on the other hand… They were all victims. Innocent victims.

“Hurry. I have mapped out a route that will take us to Deucalion,” he heard Inaho say and Tanaka grabbed the steering wheel again.

“Tell me where to go,” she said bravely and drove out of their hiding place and Inaho guided her through the city.

The destruction was immense. Buildings had collapsed and blocked the road they were driving on and Inaho had to update his route each time they came to a road block. Bodies lay on the streets; remnants of people who had not been able to hide in time. Vehicles were turned upside down. The roads had crackled.

“Your wound…” he heard the nurse say. It broke Slaine’s horror from seeing the city in the sate it was in and he turned his eyes to look at him. The man looked pale. “Don’t worry. Calm down,” he said quietly.

“I- I am calm,” Slaine lied and the nurse saw right through it.

“I can see you are almost panicking,” he said and took the first aid-kit once again. “Stay calm and let me continue cleaning your wound. You can’t break out into a panic attack now so concentrate on the pain.”

Slaine nodded and pulled up his bloodied shirt again to reveal the wound and the nurse continued cleaning it as Tanaka and Inaho tried to guide the van through the broken city.

They got to something that looked like a harbor. Soldiers were running around with their weapons in hand and officers yelled ordered. Sirens were sounding here and there from the chaos after the second Landing Castle had landed, and as they drove up to the gates Inaho quickly pulled out something that looked like his UFE ID.

“Lieutenant Kaizuka,” the brunet said and the armed guard looked at his ID. “I was ordered onboard Deucalion.”

“They have been waiting for you, sir,” the guard yelled to make his voice heard in all the panicked sounds that surrounded them. He looked into the van and Slaine could swear the man’s eyes stopped at his face for a short moment before he ordered them to continue. Slaine’s heart was beating violently in his chest. He was nervous. He was frightened. He was hesitating. ‘This is not where I should be,’ he thought again and again.

Tanaka continued into the area and Inaho guided her to the docks where the enormous battleship called Deucalion became visible in the spotlights like a giant amongst the other ships. Slaine felt intimidated from seeing the ship. It was so huge his hairs stood on end as he watched it getting bigger the closer they got.

Tanaka parked the van right next to the gangway where two soldiers stood on the ground, and two more stood outside the door to the ship and guarded it. Slaine could see the silhouette of a woman watch them in the doorway on the ship. Her long hair swayed in the wind from the sea.

Inaho and the others got out of the van and Slaine hesitated. He did not want to board the ship – not because he was afraid of it but because he knew he should not. The door next to him opened and he looked up at the burgundy eye that looked at him.

“Slaine,” Inaho said and looked down at Slaine’s wound which had been cleaned. “Can you walk?”

“Y-yes,” Slaine mumbled. “It gets harder to move though…”

“I will help you,” the brunet answered and grabbed Slaine’s arm to put it around his shoulder to help him out of the van.

Slaine stopped Inaho from moving him. The only reason he had followed Inaho was not because it was the right thing to do; he had followed him because his heart told him so. That was not a correct decision. The world was slowly set on fire in his name; for the people of Vers. Deucalion was not his place to be now that the world was about to burn.

“Please, don’t run,” he heard the brunet whisper as he leaned closer to Slaine. “Don’t run…”

Slaine’s heart ached hearing his love tell him to stay when his mind screamed at him to run. The blond grit his teeth and let out a pained cry as he got out of the van. The wound had gotten sore and the pain had grown along with it. His body was colder from the blood loss as well as weaker. Slaine felt feverish when the cold winter wind grabbed a hold of his clothes as he let Inaho help him out of the van. The nurse and Tanaka had already gotten half way up the gangway carrying Sakata.

Slaine stared at the armed guards at the gangway as Inaho helped him to take steps closer. His heart made a loud thump when the realization hit him that he being alive would be revealed to everyone onboard the ship. He had been kept a secret for so long and now he was wide open to people’s eyes to watch him. Hate him…

I have to bear it,’ he thought and let Inaho lead him between the guards and up on the gangway. The guards looked at him confused as they passed them. Slaine figured they had recognized him but did not understand that it was Slaine Saazbaum Troyard who walked between them.

“Nao! You’re safe,” he heard the familiar female voice cry out as they reached the top of the gangway and passed the two guards to enter through the door. Slaine looked up into the worried eyes of Yuki who watched her brother as she tried to scan him with her eyes for wounds. As she determined Inaho was fine she turned her attention at Slaine and frowned slightly deeper. “Are you all right?” she asked and Slaine hung his head and nodded. “You’re bleeding!” she then said out loud and Slaine tried to hide his wound with his free hand.

“I am fine, Miss Kaizuka,” Slaine answered quietly but was immediately interrupted by Inaho.

“No, you need a doctor,” the brunet said and pulled him deeper into the metallic corridor of the ship.

“Inaho, don’t-” Slaine began but was interrupted by a strong and commanding voice of a woman.

“Officer Kaizuka Junior,” the female voice said and Slaine looked up.

He saw a woman in a captain’s uniform and brown hair. Her grey eyes were strict and she seemed used to her position as a captain. Her posture told Slaine she had a lot of confidence.

“Captain Magbaredge,” Inaho answered.

“You are late,” the captain said sternly and stared at Inaho before her eyes wandered to Slaine. Slaine felt himself flinch as their gazes connected. “And this is…?” she asked in confusion but then the realization of who Slaine was began to dawn upon her. Her face dropped all its color and her eyes widened in shock. “What is the meaning of this, Officer Kaizuka Junior!?”

“He needs a doctor,” Inaho answered calmly and stared at her. “I will explain once he has gotten his wound properly treated.”

The Captain called Magbaredge stared at both Slaine and Inaho for a long time and as she said nothing Inaho began walking down the corridor with Slaine.

This is not right!’ Slaine’s mind screamed and he pulled his arm away from Inaho’s supportive grip and almost lost his balance in the process. He steadied himself against the cold metallic wall and gritted his teeth as the pain from the sudden movement shot through him when his wound protested. He gasped quietly from the pain. His mind had begun to spin.

“Slaine,” Inaho said and watched him. “Do not resist us.” His voice was warning Slaine again and Slaine knew what he meant to warn him about; if the blond made any kind of resistance he would be treated in the same kind of proportion.

“I can’t,” Slaine mumbled and his body began cold-sweating. “I can’t stay here.”

As he looked up at Inaho he saw the heartbreak in the man’s eyes. It hurt seeing him that way. Slaine knew Inaho slowly began to realize what Slaine wanted to do and the brunet seemed not to want to let him leave. Slaine knew Inaho would capture him if he tried to run. There was nowhere to run anyway; he was trapped in Deucalion with four guards behind him and three people in front of him in the corridor – and he was wounded.

Inaho quietly begged him not to run. His expression told Slaine he would not be able to bear it. ‘So you are as much of a prisoner to love as I,’ Slaine thought and sighed.

“We need to treat your wound,” Inaho said and carefully stepped forward.

No… Don’t come near me,’ Slaine thought and wanted to break into a cry. ‘Don’t show them that you care or it will get you in trouble.’ He took a step back.

“Officer Kaizuka Junior! Why have you brought him here?” the Captain asked with a demanding tone to her voice but Inaho did not seem to hear her; he was carefully watching Slaine to make himself ready to run after him if he had to.

“Nao!” Yuki yelled to bring Inaho back to what was happening.

Captain Magbaredge kept looking at the two hesitating men for a moment longer until she lost her serenity to the situation:

“We have no time for this! We need to lift or we won’t be able to bring the Empress and Emperor to safety.”

Slaine’s heart froze over. His knees trembled beneath him. Terror shook his entire being and he stared at the Captain with frightened eyes. Had he heard her correctly? Were Asseylum and Cruhteo onboard? Suddenly Slaine felt like he did not deserve to be onboard the same ship as them. He did not deserve to breathe the same air as them. He had done so many wrongdoings to them – especially Asseylum, that he could not bear the thought of being close to them. Shame spread in his body. Fear spread in his frozen heart.

Slaine shook his head slowly and his eyes switched from Captain Magbaredge to Inaho. He stared at the man for a couple of seconds until his mind went completely blank from the horror that Asseylum was onboard, and the only thing he could think of was to run; run as far away as possible. He forgot the guards were at the door and gangway. He forgot that the doc where Deucalion stood moored was inside a military base. He forgot he was hated by everyone outside and they would not hesitate to shoot him down if they saw him running.

“Slaine! No!” he heard Inaho yell as Slaine turned around to run toward the door as adrenaline pumped out into his body and panic struck him. Slaine had to get away.

“Guards!” a female voice yelled from behind him – he had already forgotten whose voice it was. “Seize him!”

He could not understand what happened right after that until he found himself lying on the metallic grating. Someone pushed him down and his arms were pulled behind his back in a forceful manner and cold manacles cuffed his wrists. The pain from his wound shot through him again as the wound was pushed against the hard metal floor. He let out a painful cry when strong arms pulled him up from the grating and he found himself facing toward a pale Inaho, a worried Yuki and a furious Captain.

“Take him to a cell!” she ordered and the men who apparently had tackled Slaine complied with the order and led him away deeper into the ship.

No! No, no, no!’ he begged in his mind and tried to pull himself free from the guards. He had no idea what he was supposed to do if he managed to free himself from the guards’ grip but the panic burned in him knowing the royal couple was onboard the same ship as he.

“Let me go!” he yelled and tried to stop the guards by boring his heels against the floor but these guards were far stronger than the ones at the prison where Slaine had been kept.

Arguing words of Yuki and the Captain echoed behind him until the guards took him far enough away from them that their voices died out. Inaho had been ordered to stay as well and Slaine could hear him say something about him being a political prisoner and that Slaine should not be harmed. And so Slaine was left alone with the guards. They brought him down the stairs, down longer corridors where they met people who stared at him in shock and whispers behind him haunted his ears. It was a matter of time until someone would throw hateful words at him, and once that happened he had shut himself off; he hung limp in the guards’ grip and his mind had gone blank, his eyes were half closed and unfocused and the aching wound was not as apparent anymore.

He was thrown onto a hard metallic bed and the cell door closed and locked. He was left there with his arms still cuffed behind his back and he did not mind it since he was not there in spirit and mind; he was far away from the metallic prison cell he had been placed in.

Time passed. He had no idea how long he had been lying on the bed in the same position but he was reminded it had been a while due to his aching shoulder which he had been laying on the entire time. He blinked and came to and realized where he was, and as he made an attempt to turn around to let his hurting shoulder rest he heard steps in the corridor outside. He looked up toward the bars and saw Inaho come into view along with a man who wore a doctor’s coat and glasses. The man seemed as old as the Captain and looked friendly by nature due to the kind age-markings around his eyes; he looked like he smiled a lot. The man carried a little metal box in his hands with a red cross on it.

“How are you feeling?” Inaho asked as he unlocked the door to open it.

“Leave me alone,” Slaine said quietly with a tired voice. His body began shivering again now that it had woken up from his daze.

Inaho ignored his request and stepped inside with the doctor who first hesitated before following the brunet inside. The older man looked nervous and stared at Slaine like he was some kind of wild animal. He was not completely off, Slaine thought, since the blond did feel like one at the time.

“This is Dr. Yagarai, the ships medical doctor,” Inaho said and the doctor gave Slaine an awkward nod. “He will tend to your wound.”

“I’m fine,” Slaine said quietly but made no attempt to move since the wound began aching again.

“I can see you are not well,” the man said with a soft tone to his voice; it sounded like he had dealt with many stubborn and panicked people before. “You are pale and are covered in cold-sweat. Let me treat you.”

“Why?” Slaine asked and took a deep breath to give his lungs some extra air. “Why would you want to treat me?”

“Why wouldn’t I?” the man asked and put the little metallic box onto the bed next to Slaine and opened it.

“Do you know who I am?” the blond asked and the doctor nodded with a slight frown.

“I know who you are.”

“Then why?”

Dr. Yagarai gave Slaine a frowning smile which told Slaine the man was conflicted about what to think about him. Slaine could not blame him. He knew how confusing it must have been to suddenly learn that the dictator from two years ago who had given Dr. Yagarai so many wounded to tend to was still alive – and now the doctor had to tend to him as well.

“Because I swore an oath,” Dr. Yagarai answered and Slaine remembered the nurse speaking about the doctor’s oath and nurse’s oath a while back when the old nurse had been replaced. This was the second time someone answered him like that.

“The Hippocratic Oath?” Slaine asked and Dr. Yagarai looked up at him and his frown was relieved somewhat.

“You know the oath?” he asked as Inaho walked up to Slaine to release his wrists from the cuffs and then help Slaine to turn around onto his back so Dr. Yagarai could tend to the wound properly.

“No…” Slaine answered and looked at Inaho who moved the blond's arms gently above his head and cuffed his hands again.

“Orders…” Inaho said quietly and wore an honest apologetic expression as he did so. Slaine let him know with a nod that he understood; he was treated as a dangerous prisoner.

“Oh? I thought your father had sworn the oath,” Dr. Yagarai continued and pulled up Slaine’s shirt and opened the bloodied jeans to pull the lining down somewhat to keep it out of his way.

“He was not that kind of doctor,” Slaine sighed and closed his eyes.

“Oh, that’s right. He would have sworn the Archimedean Oath instead. He was an engineering scientist, wasn’t he?” the doctor asked and Slaine opened his eyes to look at him. “Aren’t you and your father European?”

“Yes…”

Slaine had trouble understanding why the doctor was engaging in such a lighthearted conversation with him. The blond had done horrible things. Why would the man not hate him? Instead Dr. Yagarai began cleaning the wound once again and examined it in the process, and continued:

“I’ve heard that in the European engineering schools they swear the Archimedean Oath. I don’t know what the oath says though but I can imagine your father following it wholeheartedly considering what he managed to do.”

Slaine turned his gaze up at the ceiling instead and frowned deeply.

“I guess. He went mad in the process…” he whispered and then grit his teeth and held his breath as the wound began hurting again due to Dr. Yagarai carefully poking it with a cotton ball drenched in disinfectant. That was when he realized why the man was talking so gently with him; he tried to distract him from the pain. Slaine thought of it as a kind gesture despite his father being a sad topic and it confused him even more.

He noticed Dr. Yagarai look up at him at those words in the corner of his eye.

“I’m sorry to hear that. Was it hard on you?” the man asked and Slaine closed his eyes and almost arched his back from the sudden pain as the doctor got deeper into the wound to clean it.

“Y-yes…!” Slaine gasped and gritted his teeth. Slaine knew the doctor tried to make an psychological analyzis on him.

“Slaine has been reading a lot,” he heard Inaho’s calm voice say from somewhere above his head. “He became a storyteller in the prison where he has been kept.”

Slaine was grateful Inaho had changed the subject from his father to the stories Slaine had read. His heart had ached slightly while talking about his father and tears would have sprung to his eyes within minutes.

“Is that so?” Dr. Yagarai smiled and finished cleaning the wound. He corrected his glasses and looked at it. “I need to stitch it up,” he then said and prepared a syringe. “What kind of stories did you tell?”

The moment Slaine saw him prepare a syringe he felt a pang of anxiety in his mind and his breathing became deeper. After being forced to take injections under compulsory care his mind had gotten weaker toward them. Dr. Yagarai noticed his nervous stare and blinked in confusion, and then he smiled wryly.

“Oh, are you afraid of needles?” he asked.

No, just don’t force it on me,’ the blond thought but he did not dare to voice his thoughts.

“It’s just local anesthetics,” Dr. Yagarai continued to explain. “Do you want me to stitch without it?”

“N-no…” Slaine answered and turned his head away from the syringe. “Go ahead.”

“Fair enough.”

As the doctor injected the anesthesia and treated the wound he asked Slaine about the stories he had read. The blond told him about the stories he so loved to read and Dr. Yagarai listened with a smile. The man seemed to forget the more he listened to Slaine that the blond was actually considered a dangerous prisoner and the former dictator that had brought destruction with him to Earth. Slaine’s storytelling always seemed to have that effect on people, just like the way he had told Asseylum about Earth when they had been young. He secretly wondered why he was able to make people want to listen to him the way they did but it made it easier for him to deal with people and so he did not mind telling stories.

“Wait, so if Dionysus gave king Midas the ability to turn everything he touched into gold, wouldn’t the man have starved to death?” the doctor asked as he stitched.

Slaine had been telling about the wine god who wanted to buy his foster father free from king Midas by trading him for a wish. The king had wished for everything he touched to turn to gold.

“He tried to eat and drink but every time the food and wine turned to gold,” Slaine said quietly. “He quickly realized his power was in fact a curse, and so he begged Dionysus to remove the curse. The god told him to bathe in the river Pactolus to remove it and as the king traveled to the river to bathe the power drained out of him into the water and turned the river sands to gold. That story explained why the river was apparently rich with gold.”

“That’s amazing. So I guess the moral of the story is you have to be careful of what you wish for,” the doctor said while he kept stitching.

“Yes…” Slaine said quietly and frowned. “In reality no one can bathe in a river to get rid of bittersweet curses.”

Dr. Yagarai stopped stitching and looked at the blond for a slight moment before he continued and finished his work on the wound. Slaine wondered what the man had interpreted his words as. The doctor put a big adhesive bandage over the stitches and then gathered the medical equipment into the metallic box.

“To think Saazbaum Troyard is a storyteller,” Dr. Yagarai said and smiled astonished. “I always imagined you as a cruel man.”

Slaine frowned and turned his head away from the man.

“That is because I am…”

“Probably,” the doctor said with a voice that told Slaine he did not think much of Slaine implying that he was a bad man. “I will come and check your wound in two days and your personal nurse will come and change the bandage two times per day. Leave it alone to heal.”

Personal nurse,’ he thought. ‘It makes me sound so ill and pathetic.’

“Thank you,” Slaine answered quietly and listened to the doctor walk away. As his steps had disappeared Inaho walked over to him and brushed his bangs from his eyes and sat down on the bed to look at him. “Shouldn’t you return to your duties?” Slaine asked quietly.

“Do you want me to?” the brunet asked and Slaine knitted his eyebrows as he almost broke down into a cry; he held the storming feelings back to be brave.

“No… Stay a little while,” he begged.

Inaho leaned down and gave him a gentle kiss and pulled his fingers through Slaine’s hair. Slaine lifted his head wanting to urgently kiss him deeper.

“I love you,” Inaho whispered between the kisses and Slaine could not hold back his tears anymore.

He pulled his lips away from Inaho’s.

“Why didn’t you tell me she is on this ship?” the blond asked with a trembling voice.

“If I did you would not have come with me,” Inaho answered and stared at him while he caressed Slaine’s cheek with his fingers. “Do you love me?” he then asked and waited.

Slaine stared at him and realized Inaho was unsure of the blond’s feelings now that he had reacted so strongly to Asseylum’s presence on the ship. Slaine had learned Inaho hated to hear about her. He hated listening to Slaine speaking her name almost like it was a disease and so Slaine had not mentioned her during their three weeks of gentle love they had been allowed to share.

“I do love you,” Slaine whispered back. “I’m sorry I reacted like that…”

Inaho shook his head and kissed him again.

“You are afraid of her, I know,” the man said and pulled his fingers through Slaine’s hair again to calm him. “Just don’t love her more than me.”

“I don't. I gave it all to you,” Slaine whispered back. “I don’t want to see her… Please.”

Inaho stared at him for a while. His gaze pitied the blond. He hated seeing Slaine like that and Slaine hated looking the way he did – but he could not help it. He was terrified of seeing the ghost from his past.

“I will try to keep her away from you but I cannot make any promises since she is the Empress,” Inaho said and caressed Slaine’s cheek again. “I cannot do more than that.”

Slaine nodded.

“I know…”

“I will talk to the Captain to ask her to refrain talking about you in front of her or letting her know about you being here onboard the ship, but rumors will spread. People saw you.”

Slaine nodded again.

“I understand… Will they leave me alone?” His voice trembled. He was afraid of an angry mob growing on the ship.

“Yes. There are guards outside the door into this corridor and Miss Tanaka will stay with you guarding you,” Inaho answered and it made Slaine relax somewhat.

“Is Sakata all right?” He could not help but to ask since he was worried about the friendly guard who had become one of the closest people Slaine had had at the prison except for Inaho.

Inaho nodded. “He is in the infirmary and has woken up. Dr. Yagarai said he had been knocked unconscious. He will be back guarding you as soon as he has recovered. He was continuously asking me about you when I visited him when I was to bring Dr. Yagarai here.”

Slaine smiled at that. It was so typical of Sakata to worry about him like that and Slaine was relieved that the man was awake and fine. The moment he had seen the guard lie on the floor he had gotten worried and desperate to save him.

Inaho sat with him for a while and kissed him, caressed his cheek and pulled his fingers through Slaine’s hair to soothe him. Slaine felt guilt for feeling so comforted by the man now that the war from two years ago continued; the blond could not help but to feel like it was his fault. Staying onboard Deucalion was worrying since he could do nothing from the cell he was trapped in.

“Why did you want to run away?” he heard Inaho ask. “I saw you hesitating.”

Slaine had closed his eyes to try to relax while Inaho pampered him with soothing strokes. He opened them and looked at the man before him.

“To stop them,” the blond whispered and frowned. “If they are doing it in my name then I might be able to do something about it.”

“Or then they might kill you,” the brunet noted.

“I can try.”

“I cannot let you endanger yourself like that.”

Slaine gave the man a slight smile.

“Because you are being selfish?”

“Yes.”

Slaine’s smile faded and he looked at the man with saddened eyes.

“You can’t fix everything by yourself.”

“I can try,” the brunet answered as an echo of Slaine’s previous words and Slaine sighed; his Echo has spoken and he knew there was nothing he could do to stop him once Inaho had set his mind to things.

“The world will burn if you are going to be selfish,” Slaine tried one last time.

“It will burn anyway,” was the answer and Slaine decided to give up trying to convince Inaho to let him run away from his imprisonment.

The radio hanging on Inaho’s breast pocked to his blazer called for him to return to the bridge with a bright female voice. Slaine looked at the little radio and then at Inaho again. He did not want Inaho to leave him just yet but he knew the man had to go.

“I wish I could put my arms around you before you go,” Slaine whispered and tugged at the manacles binding his hands. He could not put his arms around Inaho the way he wanted. “But I can’t.”

Inaho leaned down and coiled his arms around Slaine and hugged him tightly. The man placed a kiss on Slaine’s neck and held him for a short moment before he had to let him go.

“Inaho, can I have something to sleep?” Slaine asked as he watched the brunet stand up to leave. Inaho stopped and looked at him. “I just want to doze off for a while…”

“I will ask Dr. Yagarai to give Miss Tanaka something for that. She will bring it when she arrives in a couple of minutes,” Inaho answered and Slaine nodded.

“Thank you…”

He could not wait for a deep sleep. His mind was exhausted from all the worrying and since he was locked up in a cell and would probably be forgotten for a while he would rather sleep to be relieved of the mental torment he would otherwise fall into. And so, as Tanaka came to him she gave him a little pill and he welcomed the much needed sleep after swallowing it down with some water.

Chapter Text

We can be ghosts now,” Inaho said quietly in relief.

Ghosts? Why ghosts?” Slaine asked and gave the brunet a curious smile. The blond was happy to see his love feel relieved for once. The man looked almost harmonious.

No one will be able to cage us,” Inaho continued.

What do you mean?

The world is still burning but we don’t have to care anymore,” the brunet answered. A shadow hovered closer to him from behind him as a smile spread on his lips.

Inaho, I don’t understand what you are talking about,” Slaine said and his smile faded as Inaho’s smile brightened.

You have always had to have someone to die for. You don’t have to go alone this time.”

The shadow behind the man got closer; it moved like a drifting wind which gave Slaine chills down his spine. For some reason his heart beat faster out of nervousness of why the shadow was there and why Inaho spoke such frightening words with such a gentle smile.

Inaho! What are you talking about!?” Slaine yelled while he watched the shadow get closer to his lover. He wanted to warn Inaho but his voice was stolen from him. He wanted to run to him and pull him away from the shadow but his body would not move. Slaine was unable to do anything; something held him back; an unseen force.

See you on the bright side,” the brunet said with a joyful smile and a gunshot was heard; a small projectile exited Inaho’s forehead and before Slaine had had the time to react the projectile entered and exited his head as well.

It did not hurt but blood splattered to the floor. He was still miraculously alive. Slaine instinctively put his hand to his forehead and a gush of blood covered his hand and face. He lifted his shocked eyes to look at Inaho’s dead body which lay face down on the ground. Horror ran through him as his eyes rested on the mere shell of the one he loved. The shadow was gone.

I-Inaho…” he whispered; his voice had come back but now it was too late. It trembled along with his body. “Inaho?” he tried a little louder. The body gave no reaction.

Slaine?” he heard Inaho’s voice echo behind him and he turned around swiftly. No one was there. “Where are you?” He heard the man’s voice again. Inaho was searching for him but Slaine could not see him anywhere. “Were you not supposed to meet me here?

I didn’t die,” Slaine said and tears sprung up to his eyes. “I’m still alive!

Slaine? Slaine?” he heard again and again as his mind threatened to crumble from the sorrow for Inaho who searched for him and was not able to find him. “Slaine?

I’m right here!” he yelled in desperation and hoped his voice would reach his love on the other side.

Slaine?

The voice began changing. It got brighter.

Slaine?

It kept getting brighter and he realized it was not Inaho who was calling him.

“Slaine?”

He took a quiet sharp breath as he woke up abruptly and opened his eyes to find himself staring at a metal wall. The light was weak; the only light source was the cold fluorescent lights in the corridor on the other side of the bars. He remembered he was in a cell and had his arms cuffed in front of him. He had been spared from having them cuffed behind his back; it had been awfully uncomfortable. His back hurt from lying in an awkward position for too long but it had been the only position which had been comfortable to sleep in on the hard bed.

He frowned at the dream he had had. Ever since he had begun to take the antidepressants his dreams had become so vivid he sometimes woke up confused of if the world he woke up to was real or not. It was unpleasant each time.

“Slaine?”

The voice let him know he was not alone. It reminded him of a bluebird chirping; it was bright and soft – almost comfortable was it not for the nostalgic feeling which made him feel sick to his stomach. The voice was beautiful so the reason for his stomach reacting in an upset way was not because the voice had sounded dangerous or threatening; it was just perfect. The reason was because he was sure the voice belonged to someone he had not seen for a long time. Hesitantly he moved his head to look toward the cell door and met the bright blue eyes which stared at him with worry and sympathy from the other side of the bars.

“Are you awake?” the pretty lips spoke.

The moment he met those eyes he lost his breath and he could only stare at them. A suffocating feeling began to grow inside his chest; his lungs screamed for air but he had no way to take a deep breath. If he tried he knew he would let out a pathetic whimper. He wanted to avert his eyes or close them; anything but to stare at those blue eyes which reminded him of the sky.

“Slaine?” she asked and pulled a blond strand of hair back with her slender hand to stop it from tickling her rosy cheek. She wore an expression of worry. “You look so exhausted.”

She was an angel and a demon at the same time; he wanted to embrace her and yet he wanted to run away as well. He wanted to smile from joy and cry from fright. His mind and heart was in chaos; he could not predict which direction his thoughts would take and emotions so many he could barely contain them stormed inside his heart.

“It was a long time ago since I saw you, Slaine,” the sweet chirping voice said. “How have you been?”

Slowly the blond forced his gaze away from her and closed his eyes. He wished in a pathetic manner if he would close his eyes and count to ten the bittersweet dream would fade and he would wake up in reality and find himself alone in the cell. The dreams he dreamt at night were vivid and so he wished this to be such a vivid dream and nothing else.

Why was she there? Had Inaho failed to stop her from seeing Slaine? Where was Tanaka who had been guarding him?

“Let me look at you,” the sweet voice said. “Please?”

Slaine could not hide; it was not a dream and he had no right to refuse her – not in the way he had refused the people at the prison a while back. With his eyes still closed he gritted his teeth and slowly pushed himself up from the hard bed with support from his cuffed arms. His wound protested slightly but he ignored the ache. The blanket he had pulled over himself before he fell into sleep fell off him and the air turned out to be slightly chilly without the blanket warming him. As he sat up with his legs planted to the floor he hung his head to hide from her gaze behind his bangs and let out a barely audible breath; he suffocated his voice just in case he would let a pathetic noise escape his lips. As he tried to take a breath to fill his aching lungs again the breath was short and sharp; he had almost broken down into a panic but managed to stop himself. His body began trembling and he desperately tried to gather the scattered pieces of his being to face her but that task was difficult due to his fretfulness of the shame he felt.

“You look so thin,” she said with a saddened voice. “Oh, Slaine…”

She pitied him. He did not deserve that from her. He was not worthy due to the crimes he had done toward her. … And yet he was grateful she still cared in her own little way…

“Would you please look at me?” she asked carefully to not sound too demanding.

How could he refuse another gentle request even though his heart was aching and his body was on flight mode? He tried to calm his breathing as best as he could and he slowly raised his head and opened his eyes to meet the blue gaze again. The blue eyes had turned even more worried and it made his heart ache harder.

“Forgive me,” she whispered and bravely bit back the tears before she continued. “Have I been cruel to you?” Slaine could only stare at her. He did not know what to say. ”There was nothing else I could do. Forgive me,” she tried again.

She looked like she would start crying any moment and an impulse told Slaine to soothe her with pretty words – but he seemed to have forgotten how to speak from the shock of seeing her stand there in front of his cell. Last time he had seen her in person was when she had been pointing a gun at him and he had given the order to keep her captive. It had been such a sad parting.

“Please, Slaine. Would you answer me? Have I been too cruel?” she asked once again.

He knew he could not stay quiet forever; he had to answer her. He wanted to answer her to reassure her with a lie to stop her from crying.

“No … Your Highness…” he said quietly and turned his eyes to the floor; he was reminded of his old manners as a servant now that her presence was so apparent he felt himself shrink from fear and shame. It was forbidden to look at a royal for too long. He remembered that.

Asseylum stood there quiet for a while. Slaine wondered if she began crying anyway despite him lying, and he frowned.

“You have always been like that,” her voice said gently but still saddened. “You have always been hiding your pain from me.” Slaine lowered his head again. The shame and fear began changing to guilt. “I did not wish you to die back then and I wanted you to be free from your misery – but it seems it failed…”

“Forgive me if I ask, Your Highness, but why do you say that?” Slaine asked quietly. He found courage from his wish to stop her from crying. Slaine hated being the reason for her tears. His voice trembled but he was grateful he sounded calm; he wanted to break down and scream from the guilt which was shredding him apart. Talking to her like this was painful. It would never be anything but painful.

“You look so pale and thin, exhausted and sad,” she answered and her voice began trembling as well. “Will you forgive me for doing this to you?”

Slaine wondered if she was honest about caring about his forgiveness or if she asked for it to ease her own guilt which he knew she was tormented by. It surprised him. He had previously always thought about her being honest about caring about him but now he doubted her. Had he grown apart from the old Slaine who always did as much as he was allowed for her? Was he free from his naïveté? It seemed to be the case and he did not know what to think of it, but Slaine knew it was due to Inaho taking Asseylum’s place in his devoted heart. That thought gave him an ounce of calm and reassurance.

“There is nothing to forgive, Your Highness,” he said slightly calmer than before. “I got the punishment I deserve.”

“No one deserves to feel like they have nothing left,” she said and Slaine noticed through the corner of his eye she was drying a tear with the back of her hand. “I knew it would hurt you to imprison you like that but I had hoped it would give you a chance to live and not be executed for what you did. I never wished you to die and I still hold onto that wish.”

“For whose sake?” Slaine asked as sadness grew inside him. He raised his head to look at her again now that the guilt had turned to sorrow, which made him feel weaker. “For whose sake do you wish that, Your Highness? For my sake or yours?” he wanted to know.

Asseylum stared at him. She was searching for words and was probably shocked from his blaming words. He knew he had no right to blame her but if she had truly wanted the best for him she would have let him die in peace. He had been denied that right the day he had been stripped from all human rights and thrown into the prison cell where his misery grew – for the simple reason to keep her happy. Inaho’s words from weeks ago rang in his ears:

Because keeping you alive makes her happy even if you are suffering.

Slaine wondered if what Inaho had said was true. If Asseylum had truly cared for him she would have tried to speak to him at least once during the two long years he had dwelled in his cell like a phantom of his former self. She might have been afraid just like Slaine and if that was the case he could not blame her entirely, but he would still not find forgives in his heart for her silence. He had suffered for her to the point of maddening pain before the war all the way to present day. He had tried to save her and risked his own life when he had kept silent as Count Cruhteo had tortured him before Slaine learned the Count had not been involved in the assassination attempt of her. He had cried for her, killed for her, and sacrificed his all for her. He had gritted his teeth through it all despite he had been frightened; he had cared more about her than his fear – and she had not been brave enough to give him a single word during the two years of imprisonment.

“So you do blame me after all?” she asked and smiled that saddened smile again.

“No, Your Highness,” Slaine answered with honesty and her expression turned slightly relieved. He did not blame her. He could not blame her. She had every right to punish him and he accepted it because he knew how horrific his past crimes had been. “I deserve your punishment, Your Highness.”

But I can’t forgive you for saying you care when you abandoned me the way you did.

He would have forgiven her if she was honest and told him she wanted to be selfish and keep him alive despite the deterioration he had gone through. Slaine knew she had the right to keep her distance and stay silent toward him; that was something he could forgive without hesitation – if he had the right to be forgiving at all. What he could not forgive was her claiming she cared about him when her actions had proven him otherwise.

A single word… That would have made me believe you with all my heart.

“Slaine… I wanted you to live for your own sake,” she said quietly. ”The punishment is not nearly as important as keeping you alive, because you do not deserve to die. You had to be kept hidden or else people would have murdered you.”

Slaine got sadder. She knew nothing of life and death; the only thing she knew was that death was painful and sad but she knew nothing of life sometimes being worse in any possible way than death itself. If she only knew how he had tried to starve himself to death, or how many times he had tried to end his life with every creative way he could think of, but failed because he was terrible at hiding it. How would she think about her keeping him alive if she got to know all of it?

“What right did you have to decide what was the best for me?” Slaine asked and stood up from the bed. Asseylum stared at him perplexed.

“What do you mean?” she asked and frowned ever so beautifully.

“You said you wanted me to live for my own sake. If it truly was for my own sake would you not have given me a choice, Your Highness?”

“I had no choice but to keep you hidden.”

Her naïveté was heartbreaking since it made Slaine realized she either truly believed she had done the right thing for him or then she had done it solely for selfish reasons. He said with a tired and begging voice:

“I am not talking about the prison. What I am talking about is the choice between life and death.” He took steps toward her. “Your Highness did not want me to die because you thought it would be the best for me, but who are you to decide the price on my life if that is your reason? If you were keeping me – the criminal – alive for sheer punishment then I can accept it, but you speak of what was best for me.” He grabbed the bars with his hands and stared at her as tears gathered in his pleading eyes despite his tries to force them back to not let her see him in such a sad state. “Death would have been the best for me as a human being, Your Highness. As a mere human I have suffered for two years and as a criminal who is guilty to horrible deeds I asked for mercy by trying to end my own life despite I had no right to do so. Can you still claim you did what was best for me if you look at me as a human being and not as the criminal I am?”

Asseylum’s blue eyes cried as she watched him and Slaine hung his head as his tears began to flow as well. His knees shook under his weight and he grabbed the bars harder with his hands to stay strong.

“But I asked Inaho to save you from your misery…” she said and put her hand to her pretty lips in an attempt to hide them as they trembled.

“Because you did not know how to?” Slaine asked and looked up at her as his heart ached even more hearing Inaho had been trying to fulfill her wishes as well, just like Slaine had. “You wished to save me from death but you put the responsibility to fulfill that wish on him. Do you not think of it as cruel toward him? He fought for you and tried to save you by infiltrating my moon base. Was that not enough, Your Highness?”

“Slaine…” she cried and took a step back as her eyes widened. “I… I did not realize…” She made a pause to breathe as she had begun to cry with less control of her emotion. “… that I was being so selfish…”

As he heard those words Slaine fell to his knees. The conflict between his feelings about her reasons was overwhelming. Had she been completely unaware of her selfish requests this entire time? Had Slaine given her the truth he saw which she had been completely oblivious about? She cried from an even deeper sorrow now after Slaine’s cruel words. Had he had the right to make her cry like that? But if he had not told her about the consequences another human being was forced to suffer from her selfish actions, she would never have known that cruel part of her and kept being blind and naïve. He wanted to be angry at her for being so naïve but he also knew it was not her fault.

“Do not listen to me, Your Highness,” Slaine whispered and dried the tears on his cheeks which were immediately replaced with new ones. “I have forgotten my manners. I spoke too freely. Forgive me…”

Gentle fingers touched his hair and he froze. He was surprised and terrified at her touch.

“No… Thank you, Slaine,” he heard the crying voice say and he dared to look up at her. She had a weak smile on her rosy lips. “I did not know I was being that cruel toward you and Inaho. I am the one who should ask for your and Inaho’s forgiveness.”

Slaine’s tears began to dry as he stared at her in astonishment. How could she be so beautiful and forgiving when he had hurt her so horribly? He was a terrible person; she should have hated him, not thanked him.

“Why did you not give me a single word?” Slaine asked. Now he was the one being selfish. ”I waited for a long time to hear from you since I thought you would have at least reprimanded me for what I did to you, but I never heard a single word from you…”

“I thought if I had any contact with you it would make you suffer more. I tried to distance myself from you because I thought you wanted nothing to do with me,” she answered and frowned saddened. It was such a common thought; Slaine had always felt the same. He had always been unsure of if it was all right for him to approach a human being since he always had thought people would feel bothered by his presence. It was such a simple thought which originated from fear of rejection.

To think she feels the same kind of fright…

“I would never…” Slaine said trembling. ”… ever hate you. I tried to fulfill your dream by selling my soul and become a tyrant because I thought that was the only way... How can I hate you when I was prepared to go that far for you?”

Asseylum dried her tears from her eyes and frowned deeper. She was in pain; he heard it in her voice:

“Then why did you keep fighting after I propositioned for peace between Earth and Vers?”

Slaine lowered his gaze from her eyes to the floor in shame. He could not watch her straight in her eyes. He was too ashamed of his past self.

“There is no deeper hell a man can experience than his own pride,” he said quietly and left it at that. He knew she would understand what he meant. “I’m sorry…”

He could not keep up the act which consisted of formal speech and respect for something as ludicrous as hierarchy when they were two beings of the same kind with the same set of emotions. They were no different to each other and the only thing keeping them from being simple humans were the imaginary walls which people insisted on building up and protect. He hoped she would show understanding to his exhaustion from doing that – especially now when the feelings he had felt for her belonged to Inaho and he was not as conscious of treating her as someone on a golden pedestal. The only thing he was afraid of around her was his own guilt and shame; his pride was still stronger than he thought. It was not her fault he was afraid of her.

“Slaine…” she whispered and squatted down in front of him. Her fingers kept playing with his hair soothingly and as they gave his cheek a gentle caress he slowly raised his cuffed hands to take hers between them. The chain between the cuffs rattled gently; the sound from it was almost beautifully pathetic in that moment. He held her hand gently and loosely enough to let her pull it away from him if she wished to do so. “You are still that little boy I met years ago. Eddelrittuo was right about you still being the gentle Slaine I once knew,” she said quietly. “I am so sorry for being selfish about you. Can you forgive me?”

Slaine nodded. She asked the human being behind the crimes for forgiveness. The forgiving nature was giving him the strength to forgive her for her naïveté and for all the hurt she had caused him as a human being.

“I know the right to ask for forgiveness has been taken away from me since I was terribly cruel toward you as well as toward both Vers and Earth, but I would like to express my remorse for what I did,” he said quietly. “I have had plenty of time to understand the horrors of what I did…”

Her slender hand gave Slaine’s a gentle squeeze.

“You have a right to ask for forgiveness,” she said. “No one can take that right away from you.”

Slaine felt relieved she gave him permission to ask the question which he had wanted to ask for a long time.

“Can you forgive me?” he whispered.

“Yes. I do forgive you, Slaine,” she whispered back.

His sorrowful heart was aching less and he felt slightly warmer inside his being, but he was still sad at her believing he would not have wanted to see her during the two long years in prison. Then again he could not hold her responsible for it. In a way he was relieved about it since it had given him a chance to forget his feelings for her and found Inaho instead who wanted him just as much as Slaine wanted Inaho. What worried him was how he and Inaho would be able to keep their love alive now that people had begun to realize Slaine was alive; those people would build up an even higher wall between them than the one they had had in the prison. His thoughts suddenly reminded him of the dream which he had almost forgotten. He frowned worriedly.

“What is going on out there?” he asked quietly. Since Inaho and Tanaka would not give him any information due to an order he hoped Asseylum would decide to enlighten him about the situation.

“The revolutionists have taken over the city and re-activated the Hyper Gate. Troops are transported to Earth as we speak,” she said quietly with a strained voice and her hand between Slaine’s began to tremble; she was clearly horrified about the third war; she had every right to be.

A Hyper Gate?’ Slaine thought and finally understood what the Martians had been so desperate for that they had used two Landing Castles in the same area that quickly. The existence of a Hyper Gate was a terrible sword in Earth’s back for two reasons. One was the transportation possibilities it opened for the enemy. The second was it could get damaged badly enough to explode like the one which had been found on the moon. UFE would either have to risk it exploding by fighting to stop the transportation of troops, or do nothing to prevent a terrible disaster and instead watch the Martians invade Earth.

“They are holding those who did not have time to evacuate the city as hostages; they have blocked all roads in and out of the city. If UFE resists in any way they will execute parts of the hostage until UFE has either given up or there are no more hostages to execute,” Asseylum continued explaining with a voice which quivered more and more for each word. “If worse comes to worst they will land a third Landing Castle even if they risk the Hyper Gate’s safety. No one knows what to do,” she cried.

The Martians had taken an aggressive tactic to their attack. They were desperate but also determined. An enemy who was desperate and determined was a dangerous foe. During the last war the Orbital Knights had been calm and confident which had indeed been a successful mindset for the war was it not for the ace of Earth; Inaho, who stood in their way; in Slaine’s way. This time the attack was quick and strong and concentrated to a small critical area instead of spreading out their troops across the entire Earth.

Slaine’s mind span out of control while he tried to figure out the situation from what Asseylum had told him but was interrupted by the sound of a heavy metal door opening further down the corridor. Fast but confident steps were heard and soon a soft but strong male voice said:

“What are you doing here? You should not be close to him since he is a dangerous criminal.”

Slaine recognized the voice and looked up to see a blond haired man whose facial features reminded him of the late Count Cruhteo. He met the stare from those cold blue eyes which still had a gentle edge to them as they glared at Slaine.

“My love,” Asseylum said and pulled her hand out of Slaine’s to quickly dry her tears and stand up.

So they have grown to love each other,’ Slaine thought and got a lonely feeling to his heart he did not like. He was not in love with her anymore – he was sure of that – but still seeing her with someone who had been an enemy was unpleasant in many ways.

“You heard Kaizuka Junior; this man is unstable and has to be left alone,” Klancain scolded out of worry for his wife’s safety. “At least you should have brought someone with you. I got worried the moment I understood you were here.”

“He is of no danger to me,” she said with pleading eyes. “He is my childhood friend.”

“And he was also your enemy who kept you as a political prisoner and tried to take over your kingdom,” Klancain countered and threw an angry glare at Slaine before he turned his attention to his wife again and his eyes softened and kept speaking like Slaine was not present. “I know you are such a gentle soul the way you pity him but that might end up hurting you. Let us leave; this is no place for us.”

“But Klancain…!” Asseylum exclaimed as her husband took a gentle hold of her hand.

“Vers is taken because of him. He is our enemy,” he said. “Follow me out of here, my dear. Please.”

Asseylum gave Slaine a saddened glance and then did as her husband advised her to do; she seemed to not have any kind of valid counter argument and had no choice but to follow Klancain out of the prison corridor and let him take her away.

I’m not your enemy…’ Slaine thought and heard the heavy metallic door close. He sighed and remained on the floor for a while. He had no energy to get up and walk over to the bed because his emotions of loneliness and guilt were weighing his body down. It never ceased to surprise him how heavy feelings actually could be.

The chance to finally have been allowed to speak to Asseylum had left his heart somewhat more relieved even if he had been terrified and felt unpleasant feelings from meeting her face to face. Her gentle aura had – in the end – affected him like it always had; with calm. She was so kind Slaine could not resist her comfort no matter how he tried. It still found a way to seep into his heavy heart.

It was not surprising that Vers had fallen under her care; she was too gentle to handle a nation filled with anger and desperation. If Vers had been peaceful she had probably been a perfect ruler but since the reality was much harsher than a mere wish a third war had begun.

If I only had been strong enough back then, then this war would not have happened,’ he thought with a dangerous pride. He knew it was dangerous. He knew it was too prideful – but he still believed in his old dream even if it had changed shape during his two years of thinking. He became frustrated.

If I only could…’ he thought and looked up at the bars in front of him. He raised his cuffed hands and grabbed the bars. ‘… get out of here…’ He slammed the bars from the burning frustration but they were strong enough to not let out a single noise as a protest. Escape was truly impossible by himself.

His thoughts went back to the dream where Inaho had died. Slaine feared if he did nothing Inaho would be forced to get out on the battlefield to fight once again and probably never come back; the envious gods would get more envious of the death of one lover and of the heartbreak of another. He knew he could do something if he was allowed out of the cell. He would not become a tyrant again. This time he would try with everything he had to spare in order to prevent that. He would sell his soul a second time if he had to but this time for a completely different reason. In the bottom of his well of truth he did not care about Vers. He did not care about Earth. He only cared about Inaho – and in order to protect him he had to care about the two warring nations anyway.

But how can I do anything from here?’ he thought and let out a gasp as he was hit with a sudden urge to scream from helplessness.

The metal door opened once again and he heard steps come toward him. A man sighed tiredly and soon enough Slaine saw Sakata come walking down the corridor. Relief from seeing the man safe and sound distracted Slaine from his hopelessness and he allowed himself to smile slightly.

“Thank goodness you are all right,” Slaine said quietly as Sakata stopped in front of the bars.

“I wouldn’t say I’m okay considering what is happening,” the man said slightly grumpy to his mood but he then smiled that cocky smile and shoved his hands into the pockets of his uniform pants and put weight on one of his legs as he rested the other. He always had a laid back attitude and Slaine admired him for it. “I see you’re hurt, kid,” the man then said and nodded to the blood on Slaine’s clothes.

“Yes, but I do feel fine. A doctor called Yagarai treated my wound,” Slaine said and instinctively tried to hide the blood which had dried with his hands. “I heard he treated you too.”

Sakata sighed and picked up a pack of cigarettes from one of the pockets where he rested his hand. He looked annoyed.

“Mind if I…?” he asked and held up the package with an inquiring expression.

“It’s all right,” Slaine said quietly and gave him a nod while frowning.

Sakata lit a cigarette and inhaled deep before he groaned from frustration.

“Let me tell you one damn thing about that doctor,” he then continued to say and Slaine stared at him wondering what had happened between the two of them. “He’s a stubborn asshole. I was feeling fine the moment I woke up but he would not let me leave the hospital. I even tried to run away from there when he disappeared for a while but was instantly dragged back there when I met him on my way here.” He took another puff and then said with a ridiculous voice and repeated the doctor’s words in an immature manner. “’You hit your head, Mr. Sakata. You have to stay here for observation. Blah blah blah!’”

Slaine could not help but to smile slightly wider. The man always brought his brighter mood back in one way or another; he was always so casual and pushy that he managed to push his relaxation into Slaine’s heart with force.

“He sounds like you,” Slaine said and Sakata turned his shocked gaze to him and forgot to breathe out the smoke from his cigarette. As he came to he began coughing violently as small clouds of smoke puffed out of him. “You are both stubborn. I can see why you two did not get along.”

“That’s a horrible thing to say, kid,” Sakata said with a strained voice as his eyes filled with tears from the coughing. “Comparing me to a doctor… That’s harsh.”

Slaine smiled wider.

“I’m sorry.”

The air slowly began to smell of smoke but Slaine did not mind. He associated the smell of cigarette smoke with the guard; even if the smell was unpleasant it still made him feel a slight happiness sneak around in his chest.

“Why were you on your way here?” Slaine then asked and lowered his head slightly. His feeling of helplessness slowly came back; the man was free to move around on the ship but Slaine was forced to stay behind bars.

The man squatted down in front of Slaine and put a hand on his blond hair and patted him stiffly like he was feeling awkward of giving support and comfort. His action reminded Slaine about Asseylum’s just moments ago. Slaine looked up at him from between his lashes and saw a resolute expression on the man’s face as the floating smoke from the tip of his cigarette drifted between their gazes.

“Because I want to stay here with you of course.”

The longer their stares were connected the more Slaine’s floodgates opened. First one tear. Then a second. A third. A fourth…

“Thank you…!” he gasped and covered his face with his hands. No one had said that to him in a place like that. Who would have freely stayed in a prison just to keep the prisoner company and save him from the loneliness? This man did. Inaho had done it as well but he was different from the guard.

“Hey kid… I suck at giving comfort – that is probably one of the reasons why I have never had any luck with a relationship now that I think about it – but don’t worry. You are safe here,” the man said.

Slaine shook his head slowly.

“I don’t want to be safe here…” he said quietly.

“Why?” Sakata asked surprised. “Would you rather be out there and die?”

Slaine whimpered.

“At least I would be allowed to do something to stop this madness,” he cried. “People are dying out there in my name. A city is being held hostage in my name. Earth if being invaded in my name… No one asked me if that is what I wish for today!”

“Kid…”

“Where is Inaho?” Slaine asked and uncovered his face from his hands and looked at the man. “Is he fighting?” Sakata stared back at him with a worried frown on his face. “Please, tell me!”

“No, he’s not fighting…”

“Then where is he!?”

Sakata hesitated for a while and then lowered his eyes from Slaine’s face. He took a puff on the cigarette and then said:

“He’s in surgery to install the analytical engine back.”

That was a death sentence to the one Slaine loved. Inaho had let him know how dangerous the device had been. Was Inaho prepared to risk his life and leave Slaine alone in the world? Or was Inaho doing it because he thought there was no other choice?

“N-no… Why? How can they let him do it?” Slaine asked and hugged his cuffed hands to his aching chest. “He will die!”

“He knows…” Sakata said and frowned deeper. “He thinks he has no choice.”

“But he does!” Slaine yelled louder but then realized he had yelled at Sakata who was not at fault. “He has me… Why does he not use me? I am a political prisoner. I can be used as a subject of negotiation with the Martians.”

Sakata suddenly gave Slaine a scolding look and he stared at Slaine for a couple of seconds in silence. Slaine felt like he had said something terribly wrong; he became worried of him having angered Sakata.

“You’re not a commodity, kid. Don’t you dare see yourself as something as worthless as that, especially when you have someone who loves you like he does. You owe him that,” the man said with a low voice. He was angry.

“T-then why is he risking his life with that cursed machine? Does he not owe me something as well?” Slaine asked carefully to not start an argument.

“He’s risking his life for you. He does that to keep you safe,” Sakata answered. “He treats his life with greater value by becoming a soldier rather than a commodity.”

Slaine leaned his forehead against the bars. His sadness was uncontrollable and made him feel like he would collapse entirely. How could Inaho be so unfair against him? Was Slaine's nightmare about to become real? He would not let it happen. He had to do something. Inaho was not allowed to die for him; Slaine was not worthy of such actions of self-sacrifice.

“Then why am I not allowed risking my life for him as well? Does he think I am too weak to do anything?” he said. “Sakata… Please…”

“What are you asking for, kid?” Sakata asked suspiciously.

“Please,” Slaine whispered first with a trembling voice, but as he raised his head to look at Sakata resolution grew inside him and calmed his sadness. He met the worried eyes of the guard. Slaine stared at the man with plea but his eyes turned slowly sharper along with his resolution. “Just listen to me, Sakata. I beg you…”

Chapter Text

The night was cold as Slaine stepped out onto the gangway with his heart beating wildly in his chest. The snow had mostly melted in the area as the spring was getting closer. He wore a hooded sweater made for those who worked out on the deck; Sakata had given new clothes to him so he could change from his blood stained clothes and keep him from freezing in the cell. The clothes were of proper warm military quality and he was grateful for them since lying still on the hard bed in the cell had made him feel cold from the lack of movement to keep his body warm. Sakata wore the same set of clothes so none of them stood out from the other.

They had met people in the corridor but since most of them were either asleep, out guarding the occupied city or spying on the Martians, the ship felt somewhat empty; they had only met about ten people on guard rounds on their way to the gangway, and Sakata – who walked first – gave everyone who stopped them on their way a lie that they needed some fresh air and ironically smoke a cigarette. No one had noticed Slaine’s identity since everyone seemed to have taken him as one of them due to the clothing, and he had made sure to stay behind Sakata each time they met someone to minimize the risk of being recognized. Hiding in plain sight was more effective than Slaine thought, and so was the acting of walking with confidence and make it look like he knew what he was doing. Who would have expected the former dreaded dictator was walking freely on the ship? The crew felt all too safe on the ship since such vital and important details slipped past their attention.

He stared at the forest in front of him at the end of the dock where Deucalion stood. The trees and bushes had grown wild as no one had taken care of the area for years; it was an old abandoned fishermen’s dock. The old cold storage stood empty with its doors wide open and a building that seemed to have been an office stood in ruins further away. A couple of officers stood on the dock waiting for the troops to return while they talked tactics. Slaine became even more nervous than he already was. It felt like his body was drowning in adrenaline and he felt slightly high on the thrill.

“Will you be all right, kid?” Sakata asked as they walked down the gangway. Some of the people on the dock looked up at them but disregarded their presence as they noticed them wearing the clothes of people they thought were unimportant.

“Was it not for the medication you gave me I would have broken down by now,” Slaine whispered. He was unusually sharp and focused; he felt like a night creature on a hunt. It was a feeling he had not felt for a long time.

“You asked for it…” Sakata grunted.

The man had been protesting violently as Slaine had talked him into this one week ago. The blond had begged and cried and begged again to make the guard accept helping him escape. Slaine had explained what he wanted to do and had pushed on the right words to make Sakata finally give in.

“I’ll be prosecuted for this,” Sakata had said with a frown as he had played with the cigarette between his lips with a thoughtful and worried expression.

“Not if you give me a gun and tell them I stole it from you when you stood too close to the bars, and threatened you,” Slaine had whispered. “They cannot prosecute you for being under threat.”

“You’re crazy, kid!” the man had then exclaimed and looked angered at Slaine.

“Maybe, but please trust me. I know what I am doing. Just help me get out of here. Please. I promise you and swear to you that I will not repeat my crimes from the past,” the blond had begged and in the end – after a couple of more tries, the man had accepted it. “I am the only one who can keep the hounds back,” had been the words to get the guard on fall.

Just moments ago Sakata had brought Slaine a little pill that would help his concentration and focus, and it had the positive side effect of making Slaine feel a pleasant feeling aside from his senses being on alert – a feeling he had not felt for the past two or three years. It was the feeling of when everything went as expected and there was a reward to look forward to. Slaine had secretly stopped taking his anxiolytic medication the moment he had learned about stimulating medication being in existence five days ago; he had pretended to casually ask the guard if there were any medication having the opposite effect to anxiolytic medication. The moment Sakata had confirmed it Slaine had managed to persuade the guard to steal a pill for him from the hospital. He needed to have his senses on alert and focus while escaping.

They walked past three officers who stood around a map and papers lying on a wooden cargo box. Sakata and Slaine saluted them as the officers looked up at them but they did not seem to care. They were too busy with discussing an area of the city a couple of kilometers away. Slaine and Sakata walked over to the edge of the forest and Sakata took out a cigarette to light it and squatted down and looked worried.

“I can’t believe you talked me into this,” the man said quietly after looking around them so that no one was listening. Slaine was feeling restless and could not stand still; he was preparing himself for what to do next as he was discreetly bouncing on his toes. “Good luck out there. Don’t mess yourself up, okay?” the man then said and looked up at him from his squatting position.

Slaine nodded.

“Do not fret,” he said with an uncharacteristic tone to his voice and pulled Sakata’s gun from the pocket to his sweater where he had hidden it. He directed the gun at Sakata who slowly raised his hands and watched the blond through the smoke of his cigarette which was casually hanging from his lips. “I will fix everything.”

“Don’t get too confident,” Sakata warned and then grinned. “Good luck, kid.”

“You too. Thank you.”

He pulled the trigger and the angry noise from the gunshot echoed across the area. The bullet bounced off from the ground behind Sakata and Slaine dashed into the forest. He heard Sakata yell for help and the officers on the dock started yelling orders. The guard was good at acting panicked and Slaine felt relieved. He hoped no one would figure out their plan because if someone did it meant Sakata would be prosecuted. They had tried to make everything look like Slaine had threatened Sakata with his own gun to help the prisoner escape.

He jumped over a fallen tree and kept running as fast as he could through high grass. He heard people yell behind him to stop and the adrenaline helped him speed up. He managed to find a perfect rhythm for his sprinting legs and ran at the direction Sakata had explained to him; the direction of the occupied city. The adrenaline rush and the medication made him feel alive enough to somehow find strength to push his exhausted and untrained body to such speed that the branches on the young trees and old bushes scratched up his cheeks as he ran through them. He tried to push them out of his way with his arms as best as he could but his senses were too occupied with listening to the sounds of the UFE military that was chasing him.

He heard the sound of running footsteps and rustling of bushes somewhere far behind him and the sound of vehicles on the roads in the forest had begun to close up on him. His confidence started to waver at the sound of the vehicles. If he stopped to hide he would get caught by the soldiers on foot, and if he kept running he would get caught by the vehicles.

Please!’ he prayed to no one in particular. Maybe he was praying to Fate or Hope – or a shooting star…

A road in the forest was getting closer. He could see three military jeeps drive past on the road with spotlights lit up and directed into the forest. The moment a light was heading Slaine’s way he threw himself onto the ground and made sure the hood was covering his blond hair; the navy blue clothes were helpful in the pitch black forest and he was grateful the snow had already melted which made his hiding easier. He panted violently and held his head down to not make his pale skin reflect the light.

That was when he noticed the scent of the forest. It was the first time since he was a child he felt the smell of dirt and decomposing leaves which lay beneath his nose. He breathed heavily and found comfort in the earthly smell as the cold air filled his lungs in a rushed pace. His mouth and throat was dry and the brave heart in his chest was beating loud enough the pulse could be felt in his ears. As the jeeps had passed he got up in haste and ran toward the road. He had to cross it and dive into the continuation of the forest on the other side.

He ran out onto the road. The road was wide enough for two trucks to meet. It was not a long run to cross it. He would make it. There was nothing to worry about. Just a few more meters and he would be hidden in the dark forest again. Just a little more…

The bright light from headlights attacked his eyes and blinded him. He could not see where he was going and his left foot was caught in something which made him fall head first onto the ground. Panic took a hold of him as he realized he had been found and he clumsily got up on his feet to continue running, when a familiar voice said:

“Run and I will shoot.”

He stopped abruptly from hearing the voice he had not heard in an entire week. It was usually soothing and calm but now it was harsh and commanding.

“Raise your hands up into the air and turn around slowly,” the voice continued.

Slaine did as he was ordered. He slowly raised his hands and turned around to see the man bathing in the headlights while pointing a gun at him. The man’s left eye was covered with bandages as the other glared at him in quiet anger.

“Inaho…” Slaine said quietly. His chest heaved from the running. His heart melted of love as he saw him and his mind was screaming at him to continue his escape.

“Get into the car,” Inaho commanded and nodded to the open car door of the jeep he stood next to.

“I can’t…” Slaine said quietly and let his hands fall to his sides. “I have to go.” He turned around to continue running while his heart screamed at him to stay with the one he longed for, but Slaine knew he had to continue.

A silenced gunshot hit the ground next to Slaine’s feet and the blond stopped. His blood ran cold as he realized Inaho was serious.

“I will not give you a second warning,” the brunet said behind him and Slaine swallowed hard and turned around to look at him with pleading eyes.

“Inaho… Please, I have to go,” he begged quietly as he gasped for breath.

“Get into the car,” Inaho said and ignored Slaine’s plea. “Don’t you dare run away from me.”

Run away from you?’ Slaine thought and frowned.

“I am not running away from you,” he said quietly.

“Get into the car,” Inaho repeated for a third time. “Please.”

Slaine realized Inaho was afraid of Slaine’s safety and it surprised him he would go as far as to point a gun at him. He must have been desperate. Slaine raised his hands again and carefully stepped forward. Step by step he got closer to Inaho. He kept eye contact with the brunet and did not even blink as he stepped over to him and felt the gun brush against his lips.

“You did not shoot me on the beach two years ago. Would you be able to do it now?” Slaine asked and stared at the man with pleading eyes.

“I would like to refrain from doing so but if you force me by trying to run…” Inaho lowered the gun and pointed it at Slaine’s left thigh. “… I will shoot.”

Slaine knew the man meant it. Inaho would do it if Slaine tried to run. With a defeated sigh Slaine lowered his eyes and walked toward the car with Inaho’s gun aimed at him. He hesitated at the door and bit his lower lip to keep himself from screaming. Why would Inaho do this to him? He took a hold of the door frame to the car and was about to get in as he heard a thump from behind and turned his head to look over his shoulder. Inaho had fallen to his knees and the gun lay on the ground. The brunet held his hand above the bandage covering his left eye and held his breath.

“Inaho!” Slaine hurried over to him and fell to his knees in front of him. He was worried. He knew Inaho had forced himself up from the hospital bed way too soon after the surgery. “Are you in pain?” he asked quietly.

Inaho did not answer for a while but then lowered his hand and looked up at Slaine with the usual expression of calm.

“Get into the car,” the brunet said a fourth time with a steady voice. He was masking his pain.

“Let me help you,” Slaine said and took a hold of Inaho’s hands, but the brunet pulled them away from him. Slaine grit his teeth and reached out to grab the man’s hands again with force, and took a hold of them tightly. “You are out of the hospital bed too soon,” he then said and helped Inaho to stand up.

“I had no choice,” the brunet answered calmly and got to his feet with Slaine’s help. “When I heard you had escaped I had to come after you.”

“Why?” Slaine inquired and stared at Inaho while still holding his hands. “I am not your enemy.”

“You could die if you go back to them,” Inaho said and frowned slightly.

“So you meant to shoot me to stop me because you are afraid I might die?” Slaine asked with a slightly higher voice. “Inaho. You put that thing back into your head for me, did you not?” Inaho did not answer. “You are risking your life and yet you say I am not allowed to risk mine. Do you even know how unfair that is?”

“What does fairness have to do with it?” Inaho asked and stared at him while he waited.

Slaine wondered if Inaho even knew what he said or if the man was aware of how Slaine felt about him. Did the man not understand that whatever he was feeling Slaine felt the same?

“Inaho… You want to prevent me from dying. I want to prevent you from dying as well. Please, let me try to help you fix this war,” Slaine said and stepped closer. He let go of Inaho’s hands and cupped the man’s cheeks into his hands and brushed his lips with his. “Please, I am trying to save whatever it is we have together and build a future for Earth and Vers as well as us. Trust me.”

“They might kill you,” Inaho answered and his breath tickled against Slaine’s cheeks.

“That thing you have to replace your eye might kill you too,” Slaine answered. “We are both hostages to our own decisions.” He kissed him gently. “Please, let me go or do you want to have me as your prisoner for the rest of my life?”

“No…” Inaho answered and kissed him back. “I will not be as cruel to you as Seylum.”

“Then let me run,” Slaine whispered and they kissed a third time. “I will not become your enemy this time. I can do this.”

“You suffer from mental illness,” Inaho pushed and they kissed a fourth time.

“Do you doubt me and my ability?”

They kissed a fifth time.

“No.”

A sixth kiss.

“Then trust me.”

They gave each other a seventh kiss which was deeper than the previous ones. An eight kiss followed and Slaine thought he would melt on the spot.

“Will you trust me as well?” Inaho asked and Slaine licked his lips to taste Inaho’s kiss which still remained on them as an echo of the passion they shared.

“I will…”

Their ninth kiss was sweet and intense. Slaine put his arms around Inaho’s torso to hug him closer to give the exhausted man support. Inaho grabbed Slaine’s shoulders and pulled at his sweater, and they pushed against each other. Their roles were reversed; the blond realized Inaho willingly gave him the dominant role as an act of desperation.

I hate to leave you,’ Slaine thought and tears welled up in his eyes. ‘This might be the last time I see you.’

They took a moment to enjoy their kiss and after a while Inaho pulled away from Slaine’s lips.

“You told me not to kiss you like it is our last time,” Inaho said quietly. “Then why do you kiss me like you will not come back?”

Slaine frowned as guilt welled up inside him.

“Forgive me,” Slaine whispered. “Let me correct my mistake,” he then smiled and kissed him again but differently this time.

He made sure to let Inaho know through their kiss that they would meet again – that they would be apart from each other for a while but not for the rest of their future. His kiss asked Inaho to wait for him as he would wait for him, and they would fight bravely for each other and for Earth and Vers.

The forest where Slaine had come from rustled and Slaine’s spine froze at the sound. He pulled away from Inaho and hid behind the car as panic grew in him. He looked up at Inaho with pleading eyes. Let me run, he begged silently. Inaho swiftly debated with his reasons in his mind and then gave Slaine a nod. Slaine hurried to sneak into the forest where he had been heading after voicelessly have worded I love you to the brunet, and slowly disappeared deeper and deeper into the darkness – leaving Inaho behind him … for now.

***

“Nao…” he heard his sister say quietly next to his bed.

He noticed from the corner of his eye she kept her worried gaze on him. He knew she pitied him as he lay there pale and drenched in cold-sweat on the hospital bed. She wanted to scold him for having left the hospital bed too soon to chase after the prisoner who had escaped, but thankfully she held her tongue. Inaho was too tired and in too much pain to be able to listen to her; his head felt like it would split wide open from the explosive headache. The lenitive medication had not had the effect he would have needed. Doctor Yagarai had kept the dosage low due to Inaho’s weakened state.

Was it not for the soldiers who had run out of the forest after Slaine had left Inaho would have collapsed in the forest. The soldiers had driven him back to Deucalion in Inaho’s car and helped him to the hospital.

“Yuki-nee…” Inaho said quietly and turned his head to look at her. “Could you leave me alone for a while?”

How could she leave him alone in such pitiful state? He knew he asked her for the impossible and perhaps he was asking too much of her considering her devastated stare after hearing his request.

“Don’t worry,” she said quietly not to worsen his headache with a loud voice. “Just go to sleep. I’ll stay here with you.”

If she only knew how impossible it was for him to fall into sleep. His heart ached so horribly it was rightfully challenging the headache in magnitude. He had never felt such anguish before and he wondered if this kind of pain was similar to the pain Slaine had felt for years while longing for the Empress. Not until now did Inaho understand the strength in his former enemy who had dealt with the heartache for so long. It surprised him the blond had not caved into the pain long ago since Inaho felt like he would deteriorate from the heaviness of missing Slaine any moment. He did not know when he would meet him again but he had to keep faith in the dictator who would try to get back his former position in the war.

Inaho closed his eye and took a deep breath as his chest felt tight and his head felt hot from fever.

“I cannot sleep,” he answered his sister who lowered her gaze and knitted her eyebrows.

“Because of him?” she asked and Inaho nodded. “You have to forget about him. He’s become our enemy again.”

“No…” Inaho sighed weakly. “This time he will do what is best for both nations – I am sure of it.”

“How can you trust him? I know you love him but you have to think reasonably. He’s a dangerous man,” she tried convincing him.

“Love has nothing to do with how I reason right now,” Inaho said and looked at her again. “It is love which makes me doubt him but rationally I know he will do whatever he can to save us.”

“Nao…”

***

He had wandered in the forest for a long time but the sun had not begun to rise yet. He was exhausted from all the running and he had been forced to stop many times to catch his breath. Miraculously he had gotten away from the soldiers chasing him by hiding and moved quietly whenever soldiers were close. He had lost them somewhere behind him since a while ago and could move with ease.

He saw the road blockade up ahead which was lit up by spotlights. Martian soldiers guarded the road both in two kataphracts and by foot. About a dozen soldiers wearing the characteristic blue uniform were stationed out both in front and behind the road blockade.

How can I approach them?’ Slaine thought and felt nervous. He wanted to vomit from the intensity of his nervousness and anxiety since he did not know if they would shoot him or listen to him. If he would be able to approach them without getting shot he had to make his presence known carefully and not run out toward them in haste. ‘That would be unsightly of Lord Saazbaum Troyard as well,’ he thought and frowned worriedly. He dried away the blood on his cheek with the sleeve to his sweater which was dirty from him crawling around on the ground as he had hidden from the Terran soldiers. ‘The way I look will seem unsightly of the lord I am supposed to be as well.’

Then again, he looked the part of an escaping prisoner who had been on the run for a while. It would help him make them believe him, and so he gathered his courage and raised his hands behind his head and walked out of the forest and toward the Martian soldiers.

“Halt! Who goes there?!” a soldier yelled and directed his assault rifle against him. The kataphracts and the rest of the soldiers reacted as well and turned their weapons at him. Slaine stopped like he was ordered to.

“Lower your weapons, soldiers,” Slaine said with that commanding tone he had had two years ago. It came back to him easier than he had expected.

Two soldiers laughed and others grinned.

“You either are too confident for your own good or then you are a moron to try and command us, Terran,” the one who had noticed him said mockingly.

Slaine’s pulse was beating hard in his body. The adrenaline rushed through him as he pulled down the hood from his head to reveal his face to the soldiers.

“You are aiming your guns at your Lord,” Slaine’s strong and commanding voice warned them. They began to grow pale one by one as they realized what face they were looking at. Slaine straightened his back for a more powerful pose and stared at them with those sharp feline eyes which radiated confidence. In truth he was shivering from fright but he had not forgotten his old skill to hide it. “I am Lord Saazbaum Troyard and I demand you to lower your guns and take me to Soldier Red.”

One soldier dropped his gun and fell to his knees as he stared at him, and stammered:

“But you are supposed to be dead… H-how can this be possible?”

Slaine could have explained his situation for them but as a Lord and former Commander he had no obligation to do it. He would look less as a Commander if he gave them any kind of unnecessary explanation since a Commander was supposed to be something bigger than a mere soldier. Slaine did not like the hierarchy but that was the only thing people answered to, and so he took a deep breath and sharpened the corner of his eyes even further to look threatening and said with a loud and clear voice which was filled with confidence and command:

“I – Lord Saazbaum Troyard – order you to take me to your leader Soldier Red with no further delay!”

His voice resonated strongly in the silenced area, just as it should.

***

The city was worse off than Slaine had expected. The streets were covered with cracks and rubble lay on the sides which had been cleared from the roads to make them usable to the soldiers. The people who had not been able to evacuate and were held hostage by the Martians were hiding in rundown buildings. Slaine had learned by asking the soldier driving the car toward the closest Landing Castle that UFE had provided the people food through air assistance, which the Martians allowed.

Of course,’ Slaine had thought. ‘The Martians take the food for themselves and only give a minimum amount to the people.’

The drive to the Landing Castle took about forty minutes and the soldier driving him was pale and quiet the whole way with all his right; Slaine must have been like a ghost which had come back from the dead. He only answered when Slaine spoke to him. As they arrived he was taken onboard the Landing Castle and shown to the grand state room where important visitors were shown and greeted. The walls were decorated with large paintings of Versian scenery and there was one painting in particular Slaine reacted to seeing. It was a portrait of him in the burgundy coat of a Count. He wanted to frown as he saw it but kept his actions under control in case someone was watching him. The painting was a hideous display of his past.

“Please, wait here … M-my Lord,” the servant guiding him into the state room said. He was awkward at calling Slaine by his former title and Slaine did not blame him; the blond felt awkward of being entitled as well after having lived a life where he had been stripped off of his titles and rights. “Soldier Red is traveling to Earth through a Hyper Gate as we speak.”

Slaine arched an eyebrow.

“He is not on Earth?” he asked with his strong voice, and the servant shook his head.

“No, My Lord. Soldier Red has been guiding us from the Royal Palace on Vers. The moment he heard about you still being alive he ordered us to ask you to stay here in the state room as he will prepare for traveling to Earth and greet you personally, My Lord,” the servant said with a pale expression on his face.

Slaine stared at him for a while and then decided to act his part of a proper Lord.

“And where is the Commander of this Landing Castle?” he demanded to know.

“Countess Azelein has been out on a morning round at the city borders. She is on her way to greet you, My Lord.”

“And you expect me to wait for the Countess and greet her covered in mud and blood while wearing UFE military clothes? Is that the respect you are willing to show both me and your Countess?” Slaine asked and raised his head slightly to look down on the servant like he had the right to do so. He detested it but he had to inflict insecurity and fear in the Martians in order to get their respect. The name he owned was not alone enough to demand the respect he needed.

“O-of course not, M-My Lord!” the servant said and bowed lower as he begun sweating out of uneasiness. “This way, My Lord,” the servant continued and showed Slaine to the grand bath facility for guests.

Slaine did not need anyone to show him where to go since he remembered the structure of a Landing Castle all too well, but the servant – who also was a soldier – followed him with great care almost like he was guarding him. Slaine knew it was probably by an order from Soldier Red who doubted Slaine’s identity – which did not surprise the blond. The leader as well as everyone else had the right to doubt him being the real Count who had led them in a war two years ago, who had been thought to have fallen in battle.

The soldier was about to follow him into the bath facility to guard him when Slaine brusquely ordered him out to let Slaine have some privacy. The soldier hesitated but once Slaine told him he would not accept such disrespect toward a Lord the man finally bowed deep, apologized and left him alone after leaving a set of casual clothes which the Counts normally used when they were out of duty in their private chambers. Slaine did not expect them to give him the right to wear the burgundy uniform until he had been confirmed to be their lost Count and Commander; if he was indeed an infiltrator it would have been dangerous to give such a man the uniform which was the symbol of a commanding position.

Getting the chance to shower and clean himself from the sweat, blood and dirt left him with more confidence. The moment he stepped into the bath he wished to get the chance to breathe to relieve himself of the tension he was feeling as well as relax his aching back. It ached terribly from him keeping it strong and straight for a long time, but he had to stay on guard. He was afraid of what would happen now that the situation still was unstable and by relaxing too soon he would risk his life. He was nervous enough to tremble as he tried to figure out who the leader called Soldier Red was and wished he had the anxiolytic medication to calm his nerves which were on edge. The effect from the stimulating medication kept him collected enough to be able to act his part; it gave him a false feeling of confidence which made him feel like everything would go his way.

When he had finished washing and dressed in the white silk shirt which he buttoned all the way up, he tucked the shirt into the tyrian purple pants. Once again he was dressed in the color of royalty and he found it caging; the color was suffocating him. He pulled the black leather boots on and made sure he looked presentable with nothing as a hair out of place. The only thing that was out of place was the small cuts on his face from the branches hitting him as he had been running through the forest.

He stepped out of the grand bath facility to meet the servant waiting for him outside and was immediately guided back to the state room. When they entered he saw a woman with chestnut colored hair pulled tightly back into a bun behind her head who was sitting on an armchair next to the small table where two cups of tea had been placed. She wore the burgundy colored uniform of a Countess and had the strict look of someone who had the natural talent of cruelty. Slaine recognized her immediately and gathered his courage, which had wavered for a short moment, to speak the instant she had stood up from the armchair to greet him.

“Countess Azelein,” he said and gave her a respectable bow by bowing his head to her; there was no need to bow any lower since they had the same title. If he bowed any lower he would lower his position in her eyes. He was so nervous he felt like he was about to burst – but he had to keep himself collected just like he had done years before and tried to desperately grasp the effect of the substance coursing in his veins. “It is a pleasure to meet you again after such long time. I see you are as devoted to your duty as I remember you to be, Countess.”

The woman narrowed her eyes slightly but gave Slaine the same bow back and answered with a low pitched female voice which was filled with experience only an Orbital Knight could have:

“Of course,” she said and let her eyes wander over Slaine for a while. “Forgive my rudeness but I have difficulty with how to entitle you since I have not confirmed if you truly are the Count you claim to be.”

It was a challenge and Slaine narrowed his eyes as well. She was testing him.

“I understand your hesitation but not your rudeness, Countess Azelein. Do you not think it would be respectable to entitle me for what I claim to be until you are certain of my identity? It would be terribly embarrassing to not properly entitle someone of your position as expected of you,” he answered with his heart beating wildly in his chest but his expression was still calm due to the medicine. He forced his nervousness back the way he had done it many times in the past but this time he had to focus harder since he was not used to controlling the raging emotions inside him after the two years in prison which had deteriorated him.

The woman raised her head slightly to flash an intimidating and arrogant pose to the one who had answered her challenge but then elegantly gestured Slaine to sit down opposite of her to accompany her for some tea.

“Very well, Count Saazbaum Troyard,” she said and gave him an arrogant smile.

Slaine walked over to the armchair she had gestured against with her hand and waited. He had to make sure she sat down before he did in order to not lose to her challenge. It was a ridiculous play of power and it was exhausting as well since the slightest mistake could be fatal. As they both sat down Slaine made sure she was the first to touch the seat. It did not sit well with her the moment she realized it.

“I have to beg for your forgiveness once again, Count Troyard,” she said and glared at him. “I hope you understand why I doubt you. You have been considered deceased for two years and suddenly you emerge from the afterlife on our doorstep. It might be considered a miracle as well as unlikely. Do you not think so as well – Count?”

“Of course, Countess. I perfectly understand your reason but I will not accept anything less than what I know I am entitled to,” Slaine answered. He was already exhausted from the formalities but he had to keep going. He could not afford to lose if he was to save Earth and Inaho.

“As you should,” the Countess said and took a hold of her cup of tea and raised it from the table. She had purposefully waited to see if Slaine touched his cup first. Slaine had been waiting for her to do the initiating move since the host should always initiate the formal activity whether it was dining or entertainment. “I see you are as confident as I remember you,” she then continued. “Would you kindly enlighten me where you have been these past two years, Count Troyard?”

She was testing him again to see if he would speak to someone who had not the right to know such sensitive information before her Commander.

“That is something I will only speak about to Soldier Red once he arrives, Countess Azelein, since I do believe he is the one commanding you as well as the other Orbital Knights. Do you not think it would be appropriate to speak to him about it first?” Slaine asked and stared back at her.

He wanted to be left alone since his back ached and his mind was getting hazy from the focus; the medication he had taken earlier was not enough to help his focus in a situation like this. He wanted to lay down to rest but had to soldier on with his act which previously had felt so natural after he had gotten used to it. ‘Just a little longer,’ he told himself.

“Yes, that would be appropriate indeed. Forgive me for forgetting my manners, Count Troyard,” she said and elegantly sipped her tea while she kept her eyes on him over the edge of the cup before lowering it. “I must say I find it curious how and why you know about our Commander since he did not exist while you were still in command of the war two years ago.”

A test again.

“I will have to give you the same answer as before, Countess: That is information which I will only speak about to Soldier Red. You are in no position to ask me any questions which involves sensitive information which only belongs to your Commander, I am afraid. I do apologize, Countess Azelein,” Slaine answered and sipped his tea as well. His thirst made it difficult to stop him from chugging it down in one go but he had to keep up his act no matter what. He sipped the tea just as elegantly as Countess Azelein but thought of it as pure torture to deny his desperate body the fluid it needed.

“Yes, of course, Count Troyard.” Her eyes wandered over his wounds on his cheeks and then arched an eyebrow. “It appears you have gone through difficulties on your journey here,” she then said.

Slaine wanted to burst out in anger against her for testing him over and over again since he was getting tired and exhausted.

“There seems to be nothing wrong with your eyesight, Countess Azelein,” he said still with a calm voice and sipped on the tea again and then placed the cup onto the table to sign he was finished with the tea despite the cup still being half full. It was his signal to her that he was finished dealing with her pointless questions. “Would you kindly answer me how many times you plan on testing me until you are satisfied?”

The Countess stared at him for a short moment but then smiled amused.

“Oh, you noticed,” she said and placed her cup on the table as well.

“Of course.”

“As I expected of you, Count Troyard,” she smiled to the proper degree of a Countess. “I start to believe you are who you claim to be since your manners are perfect and confident, but I still have to doubt you since a very well trained actor would be able to act according to manners as well.”

Slaine relaxed his gaze somewhat. He did not feel as threatened as he had felt moments ago. She had slightly lowered her guard.

“An actor?” Slaine mused. “Is it that hard to believe I am still alive, Countess?”

Their conversation had gotten slightly more casual and he found it relieving as well as he continued to keep his guard up.

“Just as hard as it was to believe you had passed away,” she said gently and her expression relaxed some more. “I will let Soldier Red make the last opinion about your identity since I am sure he knows you better than anyone else, Count Troyard. You will stay here under supervision until our Commander arrives, if you so kindly would comply for my request.”

He knows me better than anyone else?’ Slaine thought briefly before he had to hurry to answer:

“Yes, of course, Countess Azelein. Once Soldier Red has confirmed I am who I claim to be I would find it delightful to have tea with you again on equal terms.”

Slaine felt like he would vomit from all the pretty formalities; it left a bad taste in his mouth and yet he could not expect the strict formalities to have disappeared within two years. It was unbelievable for them that he was still alive and he had no choice but to make sure his etiquette was on top if he wanted them to accept him back and respect him.

“That would be enjoyable, Count Troyard,” she answered with that small smile still playing on her lips.

The door to the state room opened and a woman with almost white hair was rolled in on a wheelchair by a handmaiden, and behind her a man with a red cloak followed. Countess Azelein got up from her armchair with haste and kneeled with respect.

“I welcome Your Highness and My Lord to my Landing Castle,” she said but got no answer from the newly arrived.

Slaine stared at the lady who had just entered and his heart was about to stop. She stared back at him – first with doubt but the longer their eyes were connected the more her expression was filled with relief and joy.

“Thank you, Countess Azelein,” the cloaked man said with a voice Slaine recognized. “Would you kindly leave us?”

“Yes, My Lord,” the Countess answered and got up from her kneeling position and left the room swiftly.

As they were left alone Slaine got up from the armchair, and after having spaced out for a short moment from the shocking sight he got down on his knee as well to greet the woman properly just as he had done many times before.

“Slaine…!” she said and took a hold of the skirt to her dress to squeeze it tightly.

“Your Highness,” he said calmly as he forced his shock to not take over him and make him lose his act. He heard the wheelchair roll into the room and before long he felt a hand caress down his wounded cheek.

“Oh, Slaine… I could never have imagined you were still alive,” she said with that soft voice only she had. “You can get up; there is no need to kneel.”

Slaine looked up at her and met her large and clear eyes while he stayed in his kneeling position. He would not have been able to get up even if he wanted to since he was weakened by the nostalgia of those eyes. She seemed to begin crying any moment and he took her hand in his.

“Princess Lemrina…” he said quietly. “You are as beautiful as I remember you. I am so glad you seem fine and healthy.”

Tears sprung to her eyes and her hand gripped his with such force it made Slaine know she had been heartbroken believing he had died. Instinctively Slaine put his other hand on hers to comfort her.

“My Lord,” the man said and kneeled in front of Slaine next to Lemrina’s wheelchair. His voice trembled. “It is miracle you are still alive.”

Slaine turned his eyes to the man.

“Soldier Red?” he asked and the man nodded.

“Yes, My Lord,” the man said quietly.

“You did not doubt my identity the moment you stepped into the room. May I ask why?” Slaine asked while he tried to sound brave and calm but his voice failed him as it trembled slightly.

“I had no need to doubt, My Lord, because you see,” the man began and slowly lowered the red hood to reveal his face. “… I know you well enough to immediately see that you are the real Count Saazbaum Troyard.”

Slaine’s eyes widened as he stared at those dark and familiar eyes that looked at him with outmost respect.

“H-Harklight… You survived…?”

“I did, My Lord. It appears you survived as well and it makes me so glad. This is such a welcomed surprise, My Lord,” Slaine’s former subordinate answered.

“Welcome back, Slaine,” Lemrina whispered gently.

Chapter Text

Nostalgic memories came back to him. He was not sure if he welcomed these memories or wanted to forget them instantly again. Slaine remembered how he had sent his subordinate out to kill, and he remembered how cruelly he had lied to the princess who he knew had had feelings for him. They had both been pawns to him and he had tried to treat them as such; Slaine had never let them close enough to make him care about them entirely even if his gentle nature had seeped through from time to time. His excuse had been that he was too busy with the war which he had known had been insane all along, and the shame from putting more value into his insanity than the ethical aspects of human beings was waking up inside his tired heart. He wanted to ask for their forgiveness for being so cruel to them but he knew he should not do it now; he still did not know what they were going to do with him and so he could not trust them. To play strong and confident was his only playable card for the moment.

“Thank you,” he answered to Lemrina’s welcoming words and the young woman dried her tears and smiled happily.

That was when Slaine’s heart sank in his chest. He knew she was happier to see him than he was to see her; the beautiful blue eyes revealed the magnitude of her joy. She should hate him for what he did to her. She should be angry and unforgiving and yet that blue eyed gaze rested on his face forgivingly.

Do not look at me like that,’ he thought saddened. ‘I cannot answer your feelings…

In an objective way it was beneficial for the blond since it meant she would not doubt him or work against him, but in a moral way it lay heavy on him. Slaine had to decide which side of the matter would be the most beneficial for Earth and Vers, and yet again he came to the painful conclusion that she would be nothing but a pawn. He found slight support from the thought that this time – unlike two years ago – he was fully aware of his future crimes toward her and would take responsibility in one way or another. After all, this war was not about individuals’ benefits and so no individual who played a major role could be spared from injustice. That was the price of being involved, and it included Slaine and Inaho as well.

“My Lord?” he heard Harklight say and Slaine turned his face toward the man again. “Are you all right?”

Slaine was reminded of the now and got nervous from the man’s observing eyes. He wondered if he had lowered his guard and forgotten to keep up the act of the one he used to be for the short moment he had been lost in thought. To reveal the exhaustion he was in could be dangerous even around these familiar faces for all he knew, and all the chances he would have to turn the tables in the war could be taken away from him by these same familiar faces.

“Yes, I feel fine,” Slaine answered but knew something did not sound right in his voice. He was stressed out and he wondered if it showed on his face. “Although I do feel exhausted from my escape from UFE,” he then decided to say to cover the real reason to why he was jittery, and he forced a smile onto his face. “And seeing you both still being alive is a shock. I had not awaited such a pleasant and joyful surprise.”

“Tell us,” Lemrina asked gently. “Tell us what happened to you, Slaine.”

Slaine gave her a nod and gathered strength in his legs to get up from his kneeling position on the floor. He felt weak but hid the weakness behind an expression of calm. He let go of her hand with his and noticed she held a hidden disappointment in her eyes of their hands separating, and that disappointment gave Slaine an even heavier feeling. The more the Princess revealed the heavier he felt.

Harklight showed him over to the armchairs where Countess Azelein and Slaine had been sitting earlier, and Lemrina joined them around the small table where the two teacups still stood abandoned. Slaine was nervous about their questions since he did not want to reveal too much in order to keep his path in this war as clear as possible, and once the questions of where he had been were asked he explained with as little detail as possible. He told them he had been in prison and how he had been isolated from everything UFE considered dangerous. He told them about the tight rules which he had been forced to live by and when he got the questions of how he had learned about the revolution Slaine only told them people had been talking too much in his presence. He did not speak about his injury or mental state, or the compulsory care he had been forced to submit to. He did not speak about Inaho or anyone by name, nor did he mention the Empress – and he did not say a word about the medication he was soon to get withdrawal symptoms from.

“How did you manage to escape, My Lord?” Harklight asked and Slaine told him the same lie he hoped Sakata would remember to tell the UFE officers:

“I managed to get a hold of a guard’s firearm and forced him to help me escape under threat. When I got out of the ship where I had been taken once the prison building was damaged from the Landing Castle, I ran through the forest until I came to the road blockade where Martian soldiers picked me up.”

“You must be exhausted,” Lemrina said with a worried smile. “You look pale and worn. You should rest.”

“Thank you for your consideration, Princess Lemrina,” Slaine said with a fake gentle smile; he was in no state to smile honestly. “I must admit I feel tired after everything that has happened today. Do not worry however; I am not on the brink of exhaustion.”

The lie was heavy. All he wished for was to lie down since his body ached along with his mind and heart after the difficultly eventful day but he knew the old Harklight and Lemrina from two years ago would gently convince him to rest for the rest of the early morning, and so he hoped they had not changed all too much during the years that had passed.

It showed they had not changed much since Lemrina pushed the blond on the matter of resting and Harklight called for a servant to prepare one of the guest rooms before Slaine had had the time to answer, and the blond thanked both of them humbly but still with the voice of a Lord who had the right to retire for the rest of the day.

“Let us talk more tomorrow,” Lemrina said smiling. “I wish you good night. Thank you for returning to us, Slaine.”

“Thank you, Princess Lemrina,” Slaine said and gave her a respectable bow. “I wish you a good night as well, and you as well, Harklight.”

“Good night, My Lord,” the dark haired man said after he got up from the armchair, and then gave Slaine a deep bow.

As Slaine was shown to the guest room by a servant he was hit by the exhaustion he had been trying to push away. His body felt sluggish and his thoughts were scattered. When he moved his eyes he felt a sudden dizziness flash through his mind and keeping his walk straight became difficult. It felt like his blood pressure was instantly dropping every time his eyes moved and unpleasant electrical impulses shot through his body.

Stay strong just a little longer,’ he thought to himself as he followed the servant. He straightened his back once again when he realized he had relaxed too much during their walk and he kept his eyes straight ahead to prevent the dizziness hitting him. The act could be dropped the moment he was left alone in the guest room. In there he was allowed to break apart entirely if he so wished.

They finally arrived and the servant gave him a deep bow before leaving him in the room. The moment the door closed behind him Slaine leaned against the wall and covered his eyes with a hand. He wondered if the stimulating medication had begun to wear off since he felt so exhausted. He was finally allowed to relax but instead of getting proper rest the unexplainable symptoms exploded now that they got free reign. He felt sick and a slight headache began to pound in his skull. The muscles in his body also began trembling in an unusual way; his muscles were twitching faintly. His body was not trembling because it was weak and he suspected it to have to do with the other symptoms he had.

Withdrawal symptoms?’ he thought and sighed. The symptoms were not as bad as he had expected except for the dizziness he had not been prepared for. He could not understand why his eye movements were responsible for the feeling of blood pressure dropping. Even the slightest movement of the eyes sent a flash through his mind which disturbed his balance.

Slaine decided to get undressed and lie down onto the bed but as he moved toward the bedroom a horrible dizziness made him almost fall over. He had to grab the dining table close to him for support and the entire table moved and scraped against the floor with a loud unpleasant sound. He took a couple of deep breaths as he regained his footing and once he felt steady enough he managed to get into the bedroom. Without hesitation he threw himself on the bed. He had to forget about undressing; he was too weak for that now that exhaustion ruled over him. Instead he forced his body up to crawl under the covers and the softness of the bed and pillow was so welcoming he sighed and relaxed. As he lay there for a while with his mind empty of thoughts something unpleasant bubbled up inside him, and the moment he opened his eyes to stare at the ceiling he frowned painfully and let out a pathetic whimper – and his floodgates opened.

“Inaho…” he cried with a whisper as his heart ached. He missed the brunet strongly enough he did not know what to do. Even if only a couple of mils were between them it felt like they had an endless distance between them which would be impossible to cross.

The war felt too big for the blond to handle alone and he surprised himself for wishing he was back in the prison; even the basement cell would have been comfortable instead of the empty bedroom he lay in now. The world was so frightening without the four walls surrounding him that it made him feel like an animal which found comfort inside a cage. He had no personnel to support him now and he did not have Inaho who would hold him. The blond was all on his own without even the medication to keep him strong. Slaine realized how dependant he had become of having people around him telling him what to do. He was half expecting to hear a knock on the door and have the cheerful smile of the nurse greet him as he would give Slaine his medication.

Worry washed over him. He had known the withdrawal symptoms would get to him sooner or later and he had felt it already after he had stopped with the anxiolytic medication a couple of days ago, but only one day had passed since he last got his antidepressant and he was already weak. The exhaustion from the adrenaline, the stimulating drug and the intense focusing on fleeing from the UFE had probably played a huge part in his rapidly weakening state but the symptoms of the unexplainable dizziness from moving his eyes was something completely new to him. He suspected it to be due to not taking the day’s dose of his antidepressants since he had been warned about withdrawal symptoms.

Harklight and Lemrina will notice,’ he thought worriedly and rolled onto his side to curl up on the bed. ‘What will they do once they find out about my condition?

Slaine had to keep his mental illness and weakened state a secret no matter what it would take. He could not afford to let them know since he knew nothing of what they would do with him if he was considered useless. It was crucial to make them believe he was strong and capable of being a Lord in order for him to get as much authority as he needed to set an end to the war.

I have to push myself forward,’ he thought and took a deep breath as the tears gathered on the pillow. There was no time to rest during the days; he had to be strong despite the hopeless feelings roaming around inside his mind like stray dogs looking for nothing in particular. Come what may, he would be strong for Inaho’s sake; for their future’s sake. If it meant he had to become a villain for some people then that was the way he would go.

But right now … he had to be allowed to be weak as his body was protesting in horror for the lack of synthetic signal substances it had grown used to. It was a frightening feeling how much those medications did to his mind and body compared to other medications – and so his thoughts began to spin out of control. He felt like he had been medically brainwashed. Not until now had he thought of himself as violated; his emotional life had been under someone else’s control and they had adjusted his emotions according to their norm. Somewhere deep inside he knew how important the medication had been for his health; without it he would have been overwhelmed by his negative emotions. With the medication he had been allowed to feel peace. He knew that. He was fully aware of that and he wanted to believe it, but no matter how much he tried to convince himself of it his mind was not accepting it. He took a deep breath and tried to calm down but the spiral had already begun.

Quickly he sat up in bed as his chest became tighter and he began breathing with strained breaths. Paranoia was engulfing him and with it, it brought angst. He felt like he had lost himself during the two years in prison and suddenly it had occurred to him he had no idea who he was.

“Inaho… What have you done to me?” he whispered and tried to hold his breath to calm himself down. It seemed to make him feel worse. ‘It’s not his fault,’ he thought and corrected himself. ‘It is all Asseylum’s fault. She did this to me and Inaho was only her tool.’

The room felt too big. The bed was not a comforting place since it stood in the middle of the room. If someone opened the door to the guest room – which was more of an apartment – they would be able to see him from the door. He could not stay there. He forced his weak body up from the bed and his legs shook under his weight as he stood up. Every part of him protested as he moved toward the bathroom. The moment he got inside the dark room the lights went on from the motion detector sensing his movements, and he cowered. The light was too bright and his strained breathing became faster.

Please! Someone!’ he thought and images of Inaho and the staff flashed through his blurry mind. ‘Help…!

To get away from the big room and to hide from the bright lights in the ceiling Slaine took the huge towel from the rack where it hung ready to be used and pulled it tightly around him as he curled up in the bathtub. The water began automatically wash over him and soaked him. There was no logic to his fear and yet his mind would not let him rest. His thoughts told him Inaho and the staff had been lying to him. The thoughts told him they did not care about him. The thoughts told him they had forced medication down his throat to make their job easier and not have to deal with Slaine misbehaving.

“Stop…!” he cried to his thoughts and hugged himself close as the horrible vibrations awoke in his chest. “Please, just stop!”

Inaho does not love you…’ a cursed voice told him. ‘He just wants to use you; if he truly loved you he would not have let you go,’ it said, and that was when he fell apart. The last thing he heard was someone screaming in agony before he blacked out.

***

A horrible coughing fit made him wake up and he sat up with a start. His throat was irritated and he coughed for a long time to clear his throat. Slaine opened his eyes and the bright light hit his eyes like angry needles and the sound of water swirling down the drain reached his ears. He made a new try to open his eyes and looked around to see where he was and found himself soaked sitting in the bathtub where the water level was quickly drained; he must have blocked the drain somehow as he had been lying unconscious. The water was washing down on him from the shower head and for a moment the blond could not remember where he was and why he was in a bathtub with a heavily soaked towel around himself. As he moved his eyes dizziness shocked his brain and he put his hand against his forehead. Slowly he began to remember. He was in Countess Azelein’s Landing Castle after he had escaped from UFE. Harklight and Lemrina were alive and in the same Landing Castle, and Slaine had gotten withdrawal symptoms from not taking his medication.

A panic attack?’ he thought as he recognized the vibrations which still lingered in his chest; his body was still recovering from the attack. His emotions had turned apathetic from exhaustion just like after the previous panic attacks and he was grateful for getting a break from the storm which usually thrashed around inside him. Exhaustedly he forced himself up from the bathtub and fell to his knees on the floor. Weakly he raised his hands to the buttons of his wet shirt to take it off, and he panted for air for a while to collect his strength after he had let the shirt fall onto the floor. Then – when he felt strong enough – he grabbed the edge of the bathtub and with great effort got up from the floor. He continued taking the trousers off and threw them to the floor as well and then he took another towel from the rack to pull it around his wet body. Carefully he moved out of the bathroom and slowly made his way toward the bed, and then fell onto it.

As he had managed to get beneath the duvet and rested his head against the pillow, which he had covered with the towel to prevent his hair from wetting it, he stared into empty space for a while. The world seemed unreal to him and he made no attempt to understand it either. He just wanted to be left alone from his angry and negative thoughts so he could rest, and he did not mind in whatever world he was allowed to rest in; the unreal or actual world. Slaine closed his eyes and finally let his entire body relax, and he drifted off to a shallow sleep.

***

A pretty voice called for him. It sounded nothing like the chirping of a bluebird he was expecting to hear. It sounded like the chirping of a swallow. The chirping sounded stronger and confident compared to the bluebird’s, which sounded happy and cheerful instead. Slaine opened his eyes and looked into blue eyes staring back at him.

“Slaine? You have been sleeping for a long time,” the chirping swallow said, and Slaine gave her a weak smile mechanically.

“Princess…” he said quietly and closed his eyes again and began drifting back into sleep.

“It is lunch time already. A servant was knocking on your door but you did not open it. I got worried,” the swallow chirped.

“Mm… Forgive me,” Slaine mumbled and took a deep breath while he drifted further into sleep.

“Slaine. Wake up,” the chirping swallow demanded and Slaine wondered since when birds had become demanding. “I know you might be exhausted but you have to eat something.”

Slaine frowned and opened his eyes slightly to look at her since he was confused of why the swallow was being so caring; it had not happened before. The bluebird was the one to carry that role. Then it slowly came to him as he woke up from his dreamy state: It was not a bird; it was Lemrina in person. He sat up quickly to apologize for having been so rude to not have woken up in time but felt dizzy the moment he did so. He remembered the withdrawal symptoms.

“Forgive me, Princess Lemrina,” he said and tried to focus on her eyes to keep himself from becoming dizzy. “I must have been more tired from yesterday than I thought.”

Lemrina gave him a weak but genuine smile.

“That is understandable considering what you have gone through and I must apologize for barging in like this, but when the servant came to tell us you had not opened the door for a long time I decided to invite myself in to check up on you,” she said and backed away from the bed with her wheelchair to head out of the room. “Would you be so kind to accompany me and Harklight for lunch, Lord Troyard?” she asked and nodded to the foot end of the bed. On it lay a burgundy suit neatly folded and radiated authority.

Slaine carefully turned his face to the little pile of clothes and felt his heart tighten in his chest. He turned to look at her again.

“Of course, Princess. Thank you for your consideration,” he said and she flashed him a beautiful grin and left the bedroom to wait outside.

Slaine stared at the clothes again. It was the suit of a Count and he was not happy to reunite with it after such long time. Once again he would pull the uniform on and give orders. Once again he would be handling a war – to what degree he did not know yet. Carefully he rose from the bed to not surprise his exhausted body and found that it felt a little lighter today than yesterday. Maybe he had gotten a chance to rest even if his sleep had been restless. He weakly grabbed the shoulders of the suit to lift it up and look at it. He frowned from disgust but began dressing, and once he was finished he took in the feeling of the clothing; it felt just like he remembered it; it was heavy with duties and responsibilities.

As he stepped out of the bedroom to meet up with Lemrina who waited for him, she watched him for longer than was considered respectable in these kinds of companies consisting of nobles. Slaine did not think much about it since he felt no need for doing so as he did not feel like a noble and did not wish for that feeling either, and he gave her a smile which seemed genuine – a false gesture he had mastered throughout his life.

“Something wrong, Princess?” he asked and she blinked a couple of times almost like she woke up from a daze.

“Forgive me,” she said and smiled gently. “You look so striking in that suit – especially since I haven’t seen you for two years. It feels nostalgic.”

“Thank you,” Slaine said and looked around the room. “Where is your handmaiden?”

Lemrina tilted her head sweetly and rested her hands in her lap.

“I wanted to ask you if you could escort me to the dining room,” she answered. “Would you kindly?”

Slaine walked up behind her wheelchair with a gentle smile to take a hold of the handles, and then said:

“Of course, Princess. It is an honor.”

“Thank you very much, Count Troyard,” she answered and together they left the room and out into the corridor.

Slaine noticed he felt awkward each time they came to a door. He was slightly unsure if he was allowed to open the door and half expected a prison guard walk up from behind him to open it for him. Slaine felt insecurity each time they met someone in the corridor and wondered if he was allowed to look at them. When he got eye contact with someone he was paranoid of them being able to read the state of his weakened mind just by staring at him and he was quick to not turn his eyes away from them. That left him handling the shocks of dizziness. Each time he moved his eyes his mind blurred like his blood pressure dropped and he was grateful for the support from Lemrina’s wheelchair which helped him to deal with that particular symptom without giving away his true condition.

They chatted leisurely on their way to the dining room. They spoke about Lemrina’s first time being on Earth and how the gravity made her feel. She had been slightly sick during the night – just like Asseylum had – now that the Earth’s gravity pulled at her; she was not used to the gravity on the blue planet and she mentioned her back hurting somewhat as well.

They entered the dining room and Harklight was already there. He stood at the great windows watching the city down below when the door was opened, and he quickly turned around to see who entered the room. The moment he saw Slaine and Lemrina he bowed in his usual flawless way.

“My Lord and Princess,” he said and straightened his posture again to look at them. Slaine could not shake the uneasy feeling off of him each time he saw his former subordinate who had claimed the duty as a leader during Slaine’s absence. “It makes me joyful that you accepted my invitation for lunch.”

“Pish pash! You have no need for such formalities, Harklight,” Lemrina said with a friendly tone. “We are all friends here, are we not?”

“Of course,” Harklight said and was about to bow again but caught himself in the act and hurried to straighten his back again. “How are you feeling, Lord Slaine?”

Slaine gave him a smile of awkwardness.

“Harklight, do you remember when I told you that you should not call me by such formalities before I became a Count?” Slaine asked. “Back then you answered me you were my servant and it would not be appropriate to call me anything less than a Lord.”

“Yes, I do remember that,” Harklight answered and his eyes softened.

“You are a leader of a nation now, are you not?” Slaine then said and was eager to hear Harklight’s answer when he asked: “Should you not speak to me like I am of a lower rank?”

Harklight stared at the blond who spoke so freely of the matter and the dark haired man looked baffled. He seemed to get nervous the longer he and Slaine exchanged gazes.

“But My Lord Slaine,” Harklight said and bowed again despite Lemrina had told him not to. “I am no leader of a nation. I only wish to change the nation from a feudal empire to a democratic monarchy but I would not want to be the monarch, and thus I would still not like to call you anything less than a Lord.”

“He wants to be a politician since he is afraid of the throne,” Lemrina explained with a somewhat playful tone of sarcasm to her voice.

“Then who would be the monarch?” Slaine asked but already knew the answer.

“Since I am the only one with the blood of Aldnoah activation in my veins the monarch would be me,” Lemrina said and sighed. “Let us have some lunch first and then continue talking about politics. I would not like to have my lunch ruined by an unpleasant conversation topic.”

“Of course, Princess,” Slaine said and escorted her to the long table which stood in the middle of the room. It was already set with plates which had been placed on one of the ends of the table.

To Slaine’s awkwardness Harklight and Lemrina took the long end spots while he was left with the short end seat; the place where a ruler would sit. Suddenly a bad feeling began spreading in his guts and with great discomfort he sat down on the seat. He got the feeling Harklight and Lemrina knew something he had not been enlightened about; they behaved like it was Slaine’s place to sit without even questioning it and Slaine knew they were aware of the symbolism behind the seat.

Servants entered the room and served lunch and poured up the glasses with water and red wine. As they quickly disappeared without making the slightest sound the trio began to eat and discussed the matter of gravity once again. Harklight had also felt unwell after entering Earth’s gravity but he marveled about the Earth’s beauty and pleasant air with joy. Both Lemrina and Harklight asked Slaine about Earth and the blond answered as best as he could. Most of the questions were things children on Earth learned in primary school and thus Slaine had no trouble to find answers from his tired mind. He mentioned he had been reading about ancient stories since he knew how interesting it had been for the people who had taken care of him in the prison, and without fail Lemrina and Harklight listened eagerly to his stories. He told them about Dionysus and his love for the Princess of the island Crete who the god wed and made her a constellation in the heavens.

“Dionysus took her wedding crown and placed it in the sky to commemorate their joyful moment of marriage, and thus – according to the myth – a constellation called Corona Borealis can be seen in the Earth’s night sky even today,” Slaine said smiling and Lemrina’s eyes sparkled.

“Oh… The constellation is a memory of their love,” she said with a swayed voice. “Is that part of Earth’s culture?” she asked and Slaine nodded.

“Yes. Of course, it is an ancient story of myths but Terrans can still relate to it today thousands of years later by looking up at the night sky,” Slaine explained. “It is somewhat incredible how old myths live on like that.”

“I must say I am not surprised by why Martians have been envious of Terrans since Earth has such rich culture, unlike Vers,” Harklight said. “The only thing Vers has had has been filled with propaganda about Earth. The culture of our nation has been warped ever since it was born.”

Slaine put down his cutlery once he was finished with his lunch and looked at Harklight for a while as he pondered on the man’s objective. He decided to be straight forward and asked:

“And you are here on Earth to steal their culture after you are finished stealing their resources just like the Empress’ father?”

It was a bold and rude statement and Slaine was slightly unsure if he had the place to accuse the revolutionary leader like that but he insisted Harklight was still devoted to him. He could have misread the man’s behavior and Slaine took a big risk.

Harklight stared at the blond with wide eyes and the man seemed troubled.

“It will not be theft if Earth belongs to Vers, My Lord,” the man said, and that gave Slaine the information he needed in order to be able to build an understanding of Harklight’s motives; the man was dead set on conquering Earth.

I cannot let you claim Inaho’s home,’ Slaine thought secretly.

“Yes, of course. Forgive my rudeness. To have stayed in prison for so long has made my manners somewhat impudent,” Slaine said and gave the other man an apologetic bow with his head.

“Was it a harsh environment?” Lemrina asked and put her cutlery down on the plate as well.

“I had to speak a language the guards could understand,” Slaine explained and knitted his eyebrows lightly as he thought of the personnel before the change. “Being respectable and have good manners were nothing they understood, Princess.”

“Unlike my prison,” the woman said and sighed. Slaine was surprised of learning she had been in prison as well, and when he thought about it he knew he should not have been baffled. Lemrina had not mentioned anything about it during last night as they had let Slaine explain his previous situation. “My sister put me in prison as well,” Lemrina continued. “But the people there were royal servants since my prison was in the form of a pretty room in the palace, and so all they knew were manners. It got boring pretty quickly.”

Slaine gave her a frowning smile and said.

“Then we both have suffered in prisons which were complete opposite to each other but distressing nonetheless.” He looked over to Harklight. “I hope I did not insult you greatly.”

“No, My Lord. I do understand your circumstances,” the man answered with a slight smile and finished his lunch as well, and then continued with a more businesslike voice: “I have been meaning to speak to you about what we are doing here on Earth to enlighten you of the situation.”

“Do tell,” Slaine requested.

“As I have told you moments ago, My Lord, I have the goal to make Vers into a democratic monarchy,” the man said and Slaine nodded. The idea was not bad at all according to the blond. “The people need to have a say in the handling of the nation they feed and live in, and so Princess Lemrina will become a monarch due to her bloodline since she has an important role in Vers’ survival. I on the other hand wish to become a politician and so far the people have given me their support.”

“A noble thought,” Slaine acknowledge and felt a particular question burn in his mind but he could not ask it yet since he had to learn what Harklight was planning.

“Thank you, My Lord. Earth will become a sub-nation for Vers to provide us with their resources but will be governed by the newly founded government,” the man continued to explain.

He let Slaine know Vers would be in absolute power over Earth through military force for as long as it would take until Earth would find themselves in the new future system. Slaine could point out several fragile cracks in Harklight’s plan. The two main cracks he saw was that military force would make the peace fragile and only fuel the Terrans into a revolution as well, and Slaine knew Earth did not have as much resources as Harklight believed; Earth would become hungry as well. There were many more cracks to the handling of Earth and Slaine could have pointed all of them out but refrained from doing so since he had to keep Harklight continue executing his plans. Slaine realized more and more he had to sabotage for the man in order to prevent the risk of Earth falling into Vers’ clutches.

“You have grown as a man,” Slaine falsely praised Harklight. The blond wanted to test the man’s loyalty and devotion by observing the dark haired man’s reactions to Slaine’s praise, and Harklight reacted just like Slaine expected; with joy for getting praise from Slaine. “I understand me being alive will complicate your situation,” the blond then said and waited for a worried reaction but Harklight seemed calm.

“Not at all, My Lord,” the man said. “You being alive will help me and Lemrina to build Vers into a strong nation.”

“How?” Slaine wanted to know. “I failed two years ago.”

The air became heavy in the dining room and Slaine’s heart began pounding in his chest. He was nervous. How would the people take the news of him still being alive after he failed so miserably?

“The people will support you,” Harklight said after a while. “This revolution is the continuation of your work and you did not fail, My Lord. You were … misguided due to the Empress, but you did not fail. Forgive me for speaking so freely but the Empress destroyed everything you had built and the people were not happy about losing that promise you gave them, but it is not your fault. She was the one to complicate things and steal both yours and the people’s dream away from you. I am certain if I let them know you are alive by making them feel comfort from these great news they will beg you to come back.”

Lemrina smiled wickedly with an arched eyebrow.

“The people listen to Soldier Red and are easily convinced,” she said and looked at Slaine. “Harklight has learned a lot about rhetoric after observing you, Slaine. You had the same charisma and rhetorical skills as my father did when he turned the people’s rage against the Royal Palace toward Earth instead.”

Slaine felt like he wanted to stand up and leave the room. He felt insulted and angered to be compared to such a cruel man as Gilzeria Vers who had done nothing but to hide from his duty as the ruler of a desperate nation and declared a war toward innocent people. Then again, Slaine knew he had not been any better but now that he had gotten time to think about his crimes he had learned another way which Harklight had unknowingly presented to him during the few hours he had talked to the man. Slaine forced a smile onto his face.

“In other words you are giving me authority?” Slaine asked and Harklight gave the younger man a hesitating nod.

“I have to ask you to let me handle this war, Lord Slaine,” Harklight said with a worried look; he hated to insult the one he admired. “But I have no intention to imprison you or keep you away from the future of Vers. I would like to see you involved.”

Slaine nodded.

“Of course, I would not like to hinder your cause which I share as well,” Slaine lied masterfully. “I show full trust in your ability to end what you have started, Harklight.” The other man seemed joyful of hearing such encouraging words. “I have one question about your plan which I would like you to answer.”

“Yes, of course, Lord Slaine,” Harklight answered with a smile.

Slaine felt troubled at how quickly the man was to wag his tail for him. Harklight had not lost the devotion and admiration he had always shown Slaine, and Harklight should have known better than to trust anyone else over himself. The man’s loyalty and devotion made Slaine’s situation easier though, but now the blond was to ask the question which had burned in the back of his mind ever since he heard Lemrina would become the monarch of the new system of Vers.

“You wanted to become a politician and Princess Lemrina will become the monarch due to her bloodline,” Slaine said to confirm what he had learned.

“Yes,” Harklight answered and waited.

“Then who will become her spouse if not you?” Slaine asked the man and then turned his eyes to look at Lemrina. His mind was shocked with dizziness but he kept his mask skillfully in place to hide his weakened state. “I am certain you know your role as a monarch in a democratic nation which is dependent on your bloodline. Have you chosen anyone to have your children with?”

“I have not,” the Princess answered but kept smiling as she rested her eyes on Slaine.

“We discussed the matter last night after you retreated for the night,” Harklight said. “We thought of asking you to take that role since you have the charisma and rhetoric needed for that responsibility.”

Slaine stared at him for a long while as he tried to understand what the man had just said. His mind was in a complete stop and he forgot about his manners to not stare for too long. It was like he had instantly forgotten where he was or what he was doing; his act of composure had dropped immediately.

“It is strictly for political reasons, Lord Slaine,” Harklight continued as Slaine would not react to what he had said earlier.

“I am aware that you have no romantic interest in me,” Lemrina said with disappointment in her voice. “I will not ask you to love me either so do not feel alarmed.”

Slaine could not help himself as his mind spun out of control for a short moment and his dizziness hit him again when his stare alternated between the two; he gave into the dizziness and leaned his elbow against the table and covered his face with his hand to try and keep calm.

“Princess… I am not alarmed. I am shocked from the surprise,” he said tiredly and looked up at her as he lowered his hand from his face. He knew he looked tired and he had no energy to keep up his act; the shock had drained him entirely. “I have to decline that request since am not fit for that role, Your Highness…”

Lemrina stared at him for a while as she certainly had understood Slaine was far more exhausted than he had let her know. After a couple of seconds she knitted her eyebrows.

“That went fast,” she said with a blaming tone. “You were fully aware of that role when you had me pretend to be my sister and had me announce our marriage to the people, but now you don’t seem prepared for the same duty. Back then you did not seem to hesitate of getting children with the doppelganger to my sister before she woke up.”

The grudge the woman held against Slaine for his former cruel treatment of her came forth like a wrecking ball out thin air. Slaine had been expecting her to blame him for what he had done to her and he had been prepared for it – but not in this situation.

“Harklight,” Slaine said with a sigh. “Would you be so kind as to leave me and the Princess alone? We clearly have things to discuss in private which cannot wait.”

“Of course, My Lord,” Harklight said and got up from the table to leave. He threw a worried glance over his shoulder before he exited the room.

As the door closed behind the man the air between Slaine and Lemrina was heavy with poison which radiated from the woman. Slaine did not dare to look at her for a while but then forced his eyes up to hers to accept the grudge she carried.

“Slaine…” she began with that blameful voice. “You treated me cruelly.”

“I am aware of that, Your Highness,” Slaine answered and waited for more.

“Are you?” she barked back with a raised voice. “Why were you so keen to taken on that role in the past but now you cower from it like a dog in the gutter?”

Slaine frowned deeply and got up from his seat to bow for her.

“I apologize for all my wrongdoings toward you,” he said quietly and honestly. “There are no words I can say to express the remorse I feel.”

“Are you being honest right now or are you lying?” Lemrina asked and Slaine looked up at her with a shock. “I know you have been lying to me and Harklight. A woman’s observing eyes are dangerous – you should know that, Slaine.”

Slaine rose from his bowing position and had to grab the edge of the table to find support as his mind spun again from the withdrawal symptom.

“I know I did you wrong on so many levels and I made you go through hurt born from my selfishness,” Slaine said with genuine regret.

“You did indeed,” the woman answered and bore her eyes into his. “Then why are you hesitating to end what you started?”

“Because I would hurt you even more,” the man answered with genuine worry. ‘I am in love with someone and I would hurt him as well…

Was it not for the love Slaine carried in his heart he would have done anything he had to in order to stop the war from escalating. He would do whatever he had to to win his goal just like in the past, but this time his heart was occupied not by the love for Asseylum; his heart was occupied by Inaho. How could he be so cruel to build a family with someone else and leave him with heartbreak? How could Lemrina ask Slaine to commit to something so agonizing just to make him pay for what he did to her? She did not know about the secret love he harbored in his heart and Slaine would not explain it either since that would adventure his position in the war. If he let her know he was in love with a Terran she would quickly pull the loose ends together and know why Slaine had come back.

How much more do I have to suffer in order to pay for my crimes?’ he thought.

“What would you say if I would force you to accept our request for Vers’ sake? Do you think I want to become a factory that pops out heirs to the Aldnoah bloodline?” she said with an even louder voice.

“No,” Slaine answered bluntly and met her angry stare.

“I know full well what I committed to once I decided to be a part of Vers’ future. The people have screamed for an heir for the entire two years out of desperation and fright for their future. My sister gave them nothing because she was not ready she claimed. She took the luxury to wait with children until she was ready while the people’s fear grew,” Lemrina explained – first with a shrill voice but it quieted down into deep hatred toward her sister. “She unknowingly put me in this situation when the revolutionists began screaming for an heir. Had she taken her responsibility to produce an heir the revolutionists would have calmed down for a while longer. When I was freed I knew what my duty would be because I care about Vers, and so I involved myself in this war.”

So that had been a factor to the quick overtake of the throne on Vers. Slaine could understand the people since their lives were dependent on someone to produce an heir to the main source of life on Vers. The nation’s artificial respirator would shut down once the bloodline which was cursed with Aldnoah activation died and that would have been enough to start a revolution by itself.

“Are you also saving your sister from the horrors of being forced to take on that duty if she would be caught?” Slaine asked and turned his eyes away from the Princess.

He knew Lemrina stared at him but he did not know with what kind of expression, and he was afraid to find out.

“She has nothing to do with this,” Lemrina snarled but Slaine knew it was a lie.

“I see…” he answered and sat down on his seat again.

“If you are going to involve yourself in this war you will end what you started and carry the burden with me,” Lemrina demanded. “It is difficult to stand in a position where you are only a tool for someone else’s gain. How does it feel?”

She was more venomous than Slaine had expected. She gave him an ultimatum.

“The same way you probably felt; vulnerable,” Slaine answered. “And if I refuse?” he asked quietly.

“You will be shut out of the war completely since you have no other use,” she answered.

“And what will happen to me then?”

Lemrina let Slaine worry for a while for the sake of it and then answered:

“That will be decided when we find a use for you.”

So in other words Slaine was forced to either commit to the war and by that accept Lemrina’s and Harklight’s request and in the same process break Inaho’s heart – or then he had to refuse for Inaho’s sake and let the world burn while he would rot away in a prison while waiting for Lemrina and Harklight to find a use for him. He had thrown himself into the jaws of hell by coming back but he would not back away now since he did have a third option Lemrina was hopefully not aware of. War was never fair and people would get hurt no matter what Slaine would do; he would always be a villain to someone. Instead of trying to please both sides he had to decide who he wanted to hurt the least and that was an easy question to answer.

If you want me to hurt you again then I will,’ Slaine thought and looked at Lemrina with determined eyes and said:

“If it is the apology you demand from me for my crimes toward you, then I accept to carry the burden I put on you together with you.”

Chapter Text

Lemrina stared at him in shock. She had apparently not been prepared for Slaine to agree to her demand so easily and the blond felt the little vibration in his chest begin to wake up again from having to hurt her once again. He wanted to avoid it but her sudden demand had thrown him off course, leaving him with no choice but to accept. If he would not give her what she wanted he would lose any chance he had to change the route of the war. Harklight was on the offensive and the man was being aggressive as well – just like Slaine had been two years ago; the man was carrying on Slaine’s work exactly like Slaine had left it – but Harklight had a more desperate approach.

“You will really do it?” she asked and stared at him in shock.

Slaine lowered his eyes as his heart felt heavy while thinking about Inaho. The blond was worried about the decision he had been forced to make.

“It is strictly for political reasons, as you said,” Slaine said to confirm with her. She lightly frowned and nodded as an answer. “I will not have any romantic feelings toward you and I hope you understand that.”

Lemrina had a hint of displeasure in her expression but she nodded again and said:

“You still love her.”

Slaine carefully reached out a hand to place it on top of hers where it rested on the armrest of the wheelchair. He gave her fingers a gentle squeeze.

“No, I have no such feelings toward your sister,” he said quietly. “I will not defend her honor, nor will I fight for her.” Lemrina’s eyes widened at hearing those words. “She is a grown woman who should have the ability to take responsibility of her actions and decisions.”

“If you are not here for her, then why did you come back to continue the war you began?” Lemrina asked with a slightly suspicious tone to her voice; the woman was not trusting Slaine and the blond would not blame her for being suspicious. She had all the right to be that.

“For the people of Vers,” Slaine said and gave her a kind smile. “As a childhood friend I still care about her, but I have no respect to her as a leader of a nation since she seems to have failed and is not suited for the position. Do not fret, Princess – Asseylum does not haunt me anymore and this time I am not here for her sake.”

Lemrina turned her eyes downward and looked like her chest had been relieved of a heavy stone – and it was placed on Slaine’s chest instead. Did she think she had a chance with him now? He had to make sure she knew he would not love her; that was the only way he could hurt her gently.

“Princess Lemrina, I have to ask you not to expect anything else from me than my duty,” he said quietly and she looked up at him to see him give her an apologizing expression. “I cannot love you.”

The Princess sighed and smiled sadly.

“At least you let me own you,” she whispered. “Even if I have to threaten you I am happy you agree without a fight.”

“Why do you threaten me?” Slaine wanted to know why she was so desperate for him to be the one who would share her duty – even if he knew the answer. “It has been two years. Why would you not choose Harklight instead of me and make him your king? I am sure he would agree if you try to convince him but it seems you have not even tried to do that.”

She turned her eyes up to his and looked like she was about to cry.

“How can I?” she asked with a trembling voice. “He does not want to since he wants to have power and control; a monarch in the new Vers does not have that in the way Harklight wants to.”

“Then why me and not someone else who is more suited for the position?”

Lemrina frowned deeply as her shoulders tensed, and the first tear dripped from her eyelashes.

“You are the only one suited for it. I do not want a stranger to touch me. I do not want to give someone I have not chosen a child,” she said and fell into a cry of desperation as the tension was relieving her by finally having someone to express her fear to. “If I was to decide you are the only one I can do that with, and now you are here. How can I decide on anyone else?”

It revealed her position in the war; she had no other use than providing Vers an heir and give the people a beacon of hope for a future. It was a great honor as well as a cruel and lonesome task, and she wanted Slaine to carry that honor and task with her as revenge for the sins he had committed toward her in the past.

Slaine wanted to put his arms around her and calm her sadness. Lemrina had the right to be sad and cry but Slaine’s gentle nature came forth and wanted to comfort her. She was afraid and it showed on her expression even if she tried to look brave while crying; she was trying to push the fear away just like Slaine did. As she raised her eyes to stare at him the tears rolled heavily down her cheeks and she took a hold of his hand tightly, searching for support. In the end Slaine was saving her from being forced to accept a stranger into her life and let that person touch her for the simple reason that it was her duty. The blond frowned from the sympathy coursing through him. He pitied her for having the cursed blood in her veins and he would have wanted to relieve her of the curse if he only knew how.

By giving her what she wants?’ he thought and sighed. She was asking him to do what she would have been forced to do if Slaine had not come back; she asked him to let her touch him despite the fact that he preferred not to. ‘Inaho will hate me…’ The way things were now Slaine had to choose between Vers and Inaho and organize the grey zone where he had planned to stay anew. He had known he was to be forced to an unpleasant decision sooner or later since he had not been prepared on what to meet once he returned, and by going back to Vers’ side of the war and find that Lemrina and Harklight were the leaders of it put Slaine in a risk to commit a love suicide; in order to protect the one he loved he had to slowly and steadily suffocate his and Inaho’s hearts. ‘I know this is not about me and Inaho in the end – it is about Earth and Vers,’ he thought as his heart ached. He had to take the reins one way or another even if he knew it would hurt both Inaho and Lemrina in the end. Two nations were at risk.

He let go of her hand and stood up from his chair to take the remaining step separating him and Lemrina to kneel in front of her; not in the way he would kneel in order to honor her as a royal – he kneeled to beg her with both knees to the cold metallic floor. He knew how ugly it was to kneel like a hopeless man resembling a slave begging for pity, but even if Slaine was brave enough to die for Inaho he was not brave enough to murder their love without trying to save it. It was a desperate situation for Vers as long as the people had no heir to the bloodline which kept them alive, and Lemrina had decided to not show Slaine any mercy if he wanted to be involved in the war. If Slaine could he would try to relieve her of the heavy duty she carried but how was he supposed to be able to destroy what he had with Inaho?

I do not expect you to agree or understand,’ he thought as the image of Inaho floated in his mind. ‘If you leave me I will keep protecting you from afar even if you hate me.’

“Slaine?” he heard the swallow chirp sadly and perplexed from above his lowered head. “What are you doing?”

Slaine took a deep breath and let it out as a heavy sigh.

“Will you let me speak to you as a friend?” Slaine asked before he said anything else. The formalities were exhausting when he wanted to communicate his thoughts to her without heavy words. His voice trembled slightly and his shoulders slumped. He would have crackled under the weight of what he was forced to do if he tried to keep his back straight, and so he let his weakness shamefully shine through to the Princess.

“Of course…” she whispered and waited nervously; she had never seen Slaine in a state like that.

“Lemrina…” Slaine said while he kept his face hidden behind his bangs. “I would hate to see you break apart by you having a child with a man you have not chosen. If I can relieve you of that then I will do as you demand to pay back for my crimes toward you and I will become a proud father, but please…” He lowered his head further as his mind was getting numb from the fear of losing Inaho. “Before that I will need to speak to someone. Will you let me?”

Lemrina stared at him without knowing what to say. Slaine did not blame her. It was the first time he was being unsightly in front of her by begging her, and it was the first time Slaine was weak in front of her. It had surprised her greatly and Slaine let her find her words without interrupting her thoughts. Slaine was not sure if he should tell her about how weak he was but he could not keep it a secret for much longer and due to Lemrina being in a similar position as Slaine made the blond want to trust her. After a while she took a silent breath to speak:

“Who?” she asked. “Who do you have to speak to?”

Slaine hesitated but knew he had to be honest to her if she would have his child.

“Someone I love,” he answered quietly.

“Someone…” Lemrina repeated with a weak voice. “… you love?”

“Yes.”

Again Slaine had to wait as she was searching for words and he would not stress her. He knew she stared at him with hateful eyes and even if he was uncertain of what she would do next he decided to trust her in hopes of coming to a mutual understanding. If she did not understand then at least she had to accept the situation for what it was; she still had use for him with or without his love.

“Who is she?” she asked. Her voice had stopped trembling. She was angry. “You said you were in prison all this time.”

“I was,” Slaine answered quietly.

Slowly Lemrina pulled the loose ends together and realized what had happened. She had always been sharp and somehow it made Slaine happy her mind had not dulled during her imprisonment. She was still strong – even stronger than Slaine.

“You are insane,” she said venomously. “Did you fall in love with a woman guarding you?”

“No,” Slaine answered and looked up at her with a blank expression. “I fell in love with the man who was responsible for my imprisonment on Earth.”

Her eyes stared at him without blinking as she slowly understood what he had said, and Slaine waited patiently. A stronger anger welled up inside her and without a warning Slaine’s cheek stung like thousand needles had stabbed him as she slapped him hard enough to force his face away from her. Slaine raised his hand slowly to place it on his hurting cheek and he hung his head again.

“Disgusting!” she yelled. “How can you do something like that!? Have you no shame!?”

“Was it not for him I would have died by my own hand,” Slaine answered calmly and looked up at her again with determined eyes.

“But with a man!?” she yelled back.

“Why would it be shameful with a man loving another man?” Slaine asked and did not wait for Lemrina to answer this time. “He wanted to understand me because he didn’t want to simply own me,” he continued and asked again: “Why would that be disgusting and shameful?”

“I will not let you speak to him!” she yelled again clearly out of jealousy and Slaine’s eyes turned saddened.

“How can you demand something like that?” he asked quietly. “I am willingly letting you bind me to you for the rest of my future in order to make your duty less heavy for you, and by doing that I am breaking the heart of the only person who has ever loved me honestly. I will carry that hurt for the rest of my life. How can you be so cruel as to not let me speak to him?”

Lemrina arched an eyebrow arrogantly to win higher ground when she in actuality was crumbing out of jealousy.

“Because you were cruel toward me,” she said bluntly and Slaine lowered his head again.

“Lemrina…”

“You are not to see him. Ever,” she demanded.

“Please…” he whispered and tensed his shoulders as his heart felt like it would explode. Anxiety was growing in him and he had no medication to calm it down, and that distressed him further.

“You are to become a monarch, a man of the people and a symbol for the new Vers. I will not accept you having an affair with a man,” she continued and disregarded Slaine’s plea. “You are not free to do what you want because I can take that away from you.”

“PLEASE!” the man yelled and slammed his hands against the floor and his shoulders shook from frustration and anxiety. “I’m asking you to let me talk to him! I will not run away from my promise to you if that is what you are afraid of!”

Slaine did not care about how desperate he had become. He needed to talk to Inaho. He had to or else he felt like he would die. It was impossible for him to just forget about the only one who had loved him back just as strongly. He owed Inaho that and he owed the man to let him be angry at him. The blond was frantic.

Inaho…!

“Slaine…” he heard the swallow chirp quietly after a while as he anger had subsided. She sounded shocked about Slaine’s outburst. “What has happened to you?”

Slaine took a deep and shaky breath. He could not hide his deteriorated state for much longer.

“A small cell and a large glass box,” he said quietly. “No human rights when he was not there to hold the reigns,” he continued and looked up at her with angry eyes filled with tears. “May God damn me for what I did to you but don’t throw me into the flames out of vengefulness simply because you can, or you will be damned as well.”

Lemrina just stared at him as she was incapacitated from Slaine’s desperation. Slaine sighed and lowered his head again like a shameful dog. How much more was Lemrina allowed to demand from him until she was satisfied? How much responsibility did the blond have to carry for his past until everyone was satisfied?

How much more do I have to give?’ he wondered and was slowly feeling emptier for each person he met who he had to repent to. It would never end until he was empty and his remains were shredded.

“I told you I will never love you,” he continued. “Blame me all you want and I will listen to it and accept without arguing, but please… He is all I have that I can call my own.”

“Why did you come here?” the woman asked quietly with suspicion hinting behind the lowered voice. “If he is all you have then why did you come here?”

Slaine knew she would realize his reasons of being back sooner or later and he wondered if she would sympathize with him. As far as Slaine had learned from Lemrina’s choices of word she did not seem invested in the war on the same level as Harklight. The blond wondered if she had a set goal in mind with the war or if she was simply doing what Harklight asked her to do. If the last case was correct Slaine pondered if she was approachable for a plan which was different from Harklight’s since she was put into a difficult situation, and if she were it would give Slaine at least someone who would support his plan on the Martian side. Harklight had made sure he would not stray from his plans.

“Lemrina,” Slaine said quietly as the anger had subsided and he looked up at her with puzzled and tired eyes. “I came here for Vers and Earth, and let me ask you: Why do you put yourself through this?” he then asked and the suspicion on the woman’s face began to calm down. “What do you gain from this war?”

“To free the people,” she said tiredly.

“Is that the only reason why you are doing this?” Slaine asked and tried to look her in her eyes but she turned her face away from his gaze. The blond thought of her as similar to himself; he was prepared to sacrifice himself for what he thought was best for others and carrying the future of a nation required to hurt those who stood in their way no matter how much it would hurt.

Lemrina did not answer Slaine’s question. She was clearly hesitating to answer it and Slaine had a hunch why; it had to do with Asseylum.

“If you are going to make me have a child with you then at least you could tell me what your personal goal with this war is,” he pushed. It was a reasonable question according to him.

“What other reason is there?” she asked suddenly and looked up at him with sharp eyes.

Slaine gave her a gentle smile.

“Revenge on your sister?” he tried and Lemrina’s cheeks blushed slightly from getting caught. “If that is what you are doing then you have no reason to find it unsightly.”

Lemrina’s eyes softened as Slaine had made it clear he did not blame her. The woman had been prepared on Slaine defending Asseylum even if he had told her he would not – an old habit and conditioning of what she had gone through in the past.

“Have you truly let her go?” she asked still hesitating about Slaine’s honesty.

“I have,” Slaine answered and got a troubled expression on his face. “Although I do care about her still and I cannot help but to feel worried for her safety.” The softness in Lemrina’s eyes faded instantly and she stared at him blamefully; Slaine understood she thought he was still loyal to her despite he had let her go. “Is she in any danger?” he asked and waited.

Lemrina’s blameful eyes turned sour and gave Slaine an answer where a warning lay hidden; she warned him about trying to help the Empress:

“Those who are on our side despise her. She has followers who fled from Mars but we who hate her are stronger thanks to her and Klancain making a fool out of themselves; the people were already frustrated and my sister nor Klancain had not the same charisma my father had – or you,” she said with clear distain in her expression and voice. “They failed to calm the crowds which gathered at the gates to the Royal Palace to demand for a change. I do not know what they will do to her if they capture her and I would not like to find out.”

Her answer confused Slaine greatly. If the people of Vers hated Asseylum – as Lemrina had put it – then what reason was there to have Lemrina impersonate the one the people hated? Slaine had to ask about it to learn what the woman’s situation was and Lemrina surprised him with her answer: Harklight had spoken to the people and let them know they had an alternative to Asseylum; if they would follow Soldier Red he would present them with someone who would give them a future with Aldnoah who supported the people. Lemrina had been revealed to the people and she had spoken to them – promised them to take on the duty her sister had failed to follow through. Lemrina had made sure to let the people know she knew their pain and that she knew what was needed to be done, and with that the people had found an even stronger reason to follow Soldier Red.

“You will be Lemrina Vers Envers to the people?” Slaine asked and she nodded and squeezed the skirt of her dress with her hands; she was nervous. Slaine slowly got up from the floor and smiled weakly as he said: “So you finally did find a home.”

“I would not call it a home until I feel safe there,” she said quietly.

“Do you think Vers will be safe if Harklight follows through with his plan and conquers Earth?” the blond inquired.

“No…” she whispered. “And to have a child in a world like that… As long as one of the nations is oppressed by military there will be tension to follow.”

She thinks like I do,’ Slaine thought relieved. The woman unknowingly shared his thoughts about Harklight’s plan to control Earth with military power. He leaned slightly closer to her to look her in the eyes. She turned her blue eyes to meet his and stared at him confused of why he was leaning so close to her.

“Would you help me build peace?” Slaine whispered with a quiet smile. “There doesn’t have to be tension between the nations if we do this right.”

“There is another way?” she whispered and Slaine nodded.

“There is. I have learned a lot during my imprisonment through the books I have read and by thinking for two years. I am certain we can unite the nations with peace if we play it silently. Let me see the one I love and I promise you things will turn out all right for Vers, you and the future child.”

***

Almost two week had passed since Slaine had run away and Inaho had just recently been released from the hospital. He was still not allowed to get out onto the battlefield and instead he was handling tactics from Deucalion, although recently there had not been any tactics to plan out since UFE and the Martian side had come to a deadlock. UFE had placed out spies around the occupied city and reports of the Martian movements came in every hour of the day. The people in the city as well as the Hyper Gate were being held as hostage and even if Vice-Admiral Häkkinen had ordered a full attack on the Martians the Grand Admiral had refused. It was too dangerous to attack the Martians if it meant they would destroy the Hyper Gate, and if they did another catastrophe far worse than the incident on the moon would send Earth into devastation. There was no way to tell how it would affect Earth’s ecosystem if such an incident was to happen on the surface of the planet. Just like Vers was relying on Aldnoah Earth was relying on its ecosystem; both were strong systems and yet they were fragile in the hands of man.

The Hyper Gate in the US had been attacked as well and even if the Martians had succeeded in taking control of the American Hyper Gate they had met more resistance from UFE on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. The US had been prepared but no one was able to withstand the impact of a Landing Castle landing and sending an impact wave over the ground which reached kilometers in radius and destroyed everything in its path. Four Landing Castles were now on Earth’s surface and four more were in the orbit awaiting orders after they had taken down Earth’s communication network by destroying the satellites. The Martians on Earth had been actively destroying radio towers around the occupied area to silence long distant radio contact between nations on Earth, and even if UFE had fought bravely the surprise attacks and desperation the Martian soldiers carried were stronger than UFE’s tries to fight back. The Martians were not afraid to die for their cause and had sacrificed themselves without a second thought if it meant they would win. Once again Earth found itself in a global radio silence; only short range communication was possible. The Martian’s main weapons were the castles; landing them would mean annihilation of the forces standing close to them and an automatic loss for the UFE soldiers handling that area. It was an act of desperation – a way to force victory into Vers’ grasp.

The analytical engine which Inaho was adjusting to slowly had been reset due to it being too advanced for Inaho’s brain to handle right after a surgery; he needed as much rest as he could get in order to heal and by having constant intense traffic on the newly operated nerves he would have risked getting into a shock he would not survive. It was completely new to him to be able to see with both eyes again and he still – three weeks after the surgery – had a hard time getting used to the new depth two eyes provided.

Inaho had not heard anything from Slaine for the entire time and he was worried about him. Soldier Red had announced to everyone who was watching his broadcast that Slaine was still alive. What had devastated Inaho was the announcement told by Slaine’s own lips that he would marry the woman who had been impersonating Asseylum two years ago, and thus become a monarch of the new nation of Vers. As the woman had had her speech as well to confirm it Inaho had gone to sleep early that evening. Inaho’s analytical engine was still weak but he could read Slaine’s tone of voice and the steadiness of his body language that the blond had not been lying and was willingly doing it – and it had made Inaho’s heart hurt.

You don’t love her. Why would you do that?’ Inaho had thought. ‘Because there is no other choice?

Inaho knew better than to jump to quick conclusions which his jealousy so willingly presented to him. He knew Slaine would never hurt him if he could avoid it and there had to be a plan behind Slaine’s marriage to the woman named Lemrina Vers Envers. The brunet trusted the blond despite he was hurt from what was happening on the Martian side of the war.

He needs the voice the marriage will give him,’ Inaho had told himself and trusted that single sentence to be the reason to Slaine’s marriage. ‘It’s political.

The brunet found himself in the empty tactical room and leaned over the table where a map of the occupied city had been drawn digitally and stared at the dots of the Martian road barricades and camps. They were placed in the city in a way which made it difficult for UFE soldiers to sneak into the city unnoticed to spy in the crumbled city. The tactic was different from Slaine’s which had been calm and collected as well as aggressive. This tactic was desperately made by someone who had nothing left to lose which made it harder to UFE to handle. It was aggressive – nothing else.

The door opened to the room and Inaho looked up from the map to meet the eyes of the woman who had failed her duty. He had tried to avoid her since he did not want anything to do with her due to reasons Inaho would not voice, and she always seemed to know where he was hiding from her.

“Empress,” Inaho said and raised his body from the leaning position he had been in. “Good evening.”

Go away…

“Good evening, Inaho,” she said and stepped deeper into the room to look at the map Inaho had been studying.

Don’t come near me.’

“Have you found a gap in their defense?” she asked and shifted her eyes from the map to the brunet.

“Not yet,” Inaho answered with his characteristic monotone voice while he stared at her. “What are you doing here, Empress?”

State your business and leave.’

“I have wanted to thank you for a while but have not been able to find the right time since you always seem to be in a hurry,” she said and smiled while she frowned. “Thank you for taking care of Slaine.”

“I am busy,” Inaho answered calmly. “And I didn’t do it for you.” Inaho tried to go back to study the map and prevent their short conversation getting any longer.

“Probably not,” the woman said and her voice revealed she did not believe him. “I still wanted to thank you. I feel sad that he has become our enemy once again. He seemed so different when I met him now two years later.”

You feel sad?’ Inaho thought and looked up at her. If she only knew how much Inaho and Slaine were in agony. Both of them were lovers on the opposite side of the war and no one could tell when they would reunite again. ‘He told me to trust him. That is all I can do until I hear from him again.’

“I wonder if he really is our enemy,” Inaho said as he could not help but to voice his impulse of defending Slaine.

“Why do you say that?” the Empress wanted to know and stared at him puzzled. “He went back to them. He has stated his reason as to marry my sister and become a symbol for their Vers. I truly thought he had changed and he seemed so sincere when I met him before he escaped.”

Inaho wanted to yell at her for being so blind. If she had listened to his apology then she would not have doubted him; she was more worried about her throne than seeing the agony of a man who was willing to risk everything in order to fix what she had broken.

It’s because of you, Seylum, we are suffering.’

The brunet found comfort in the thought that this time Slaine was not fighting for Seylum – he was fighting for Vers and Earth as nations to make a brighter future for the people of both sides of the war and not for Seylum. Slaine was trying to repent for what he had done in the past.

“If you would have done what you were supposed to this wouldn’t have happened,” Inaho suddenly said as his impulse to scold the woman had become too strong to control. He made it sound like a statement of facts.

Seylum stared at him in shock and as the meaning behind Inaho’s words sunk into her mind tears welled up in her eyes.

“I know,” she said quietly and sobbed. “I know all of this is my fault.”

“Once this war is over – depending on what happens UFE will prosecute you for neglecting your duties due to lack of knowledge and by that causing a third Earth-Mars war,” Inaho explained and wanted to sound blameful but his voice came out as plain as ever. He was not telling the truth; there had not been any plans to prosecute her but he wanted to make her know how bad her lack of decision-making had been. “Vers is without a leader now that you are hiding here on Earth, and thus your throne is wide open to be torn down by your own people.”

“I am so sorry…” she whispered and covered her eyes with her hands.

“That won’t please the people to stop the war; they don’t care if you are sorry or not.”

Seylum was just about to speak when a voice in the radio which lay on the table with the map called for Inaho. The voice said:

Nao! Come to the dock! Vehicles are approaching!

It was his sister’s voice. Inaho did not hesitate and rushed out of the room without saying another word to the Empress. He had no time to care about mending her feelings when a possible threat was approaching.

“Mustang Platoon, head out to stop the vehicles! Do not open fire unless the situation requires that,” Inaho ordered as he left the Empress behind him.

Vehicles? From where and why?’ he thought and ran down the corridors. The people on the ship had all been alerted through the speaker system and were hurrying toward the dock as well and as Inaho came out into the chilly night he saw headlights heading their way on the road deep inside the forest. Several platoons were deployed out into the area to protect Deucalion and Inaho watched his sister, Inko and Rayet and three others on the move to stop the vehicles from approaching; they were in the forefront as always due to them being quick to react.

“Mustang Platoon, status report,” Inaho said into the radio and waited as the headlights of the trucks had been stopped.

Cargo trucks,” Rayet’s voice answered. “Four cargo trucks have been stopped.”

The drivers are exiting the driver’s seats. Kaizuka Yuki is communicating with them,” Inko answered.

“Kaizuka, report back to me once you have information on the drivers and cargo,” Inaho demanded and then waited while he watched the headlights in the forest.

He got nervous as time passed and waited with a tensed body, ready to call out orders. Who would send trucks to Deucalion in the evening like this and why? What was their cargo? The radio crackled characteristically and then Yuki’s voice could be heard. It was baffled as it said:

Warrant Officer Kaizuka reporting to Lieutenant Kaizuka Junior. The drivers are Terrans from the occupied city. Their cargo is…

She made a pause form being shocked.

“Their cargo?” Inaho pushed her to continue.

Their cargo is refugee children.

Let them in!” Magbaredge’s voice was immediately heard in the radio and within a minute the trucks arrived to the dock – guided by the Terran kataphracts Inaho had sent out.

Inaho hurried over to the first truck and opened the cargo hatch to look into the cargo hold of the truck. The air inside was warm by heaters to protect them from the cold and frightened children stared back at him. Some were crying – mainly the young ones – and those close to their teens trembled as they had been startled by Inaho’s sudden appearance. The truck’s driver came up to Inaho with a pale face; the man was afraid and nervous of what was happening.

“Are we safe?” the man asked and Inaho turned his eyes to him. The man was weak from undernourishment and had probably not gotten enough food in the occupied city, and the children looked like they had been treated just as cruelly.

“Yes, you are safe here,” Inaho answered. “Who sent you and why?”

“T-Troyard and his fiancé,” the man stammered and pulled out a white and thick envelope from inside his shirt where he had kept it. “Here is a list of all the children’s names a-and their parents. T-the children have all name tags with their age on them. I don’t know w-why they sent us.”

Slaine…

Inaho took the envelope from the man and opened it. Inside laid a bunch of papers with names on them of all the children inside the truck and their parents, as well as the names of the children’s siblings – if they had any – and a note accompanied the list:

In order to ease the work of uniting families in the future, all children have been interviewed to learn the names of their parents and siblings. They have gotten nutrition and been cleaned after they were gathered on board the Landing Castle into our care. Some of them carry belongings. A new dispatch is being sent to UFE in the near future.

- Saazbaum Troyard & Vers Envers

The note said nothing else and there was no need to learn more; it was the beginning of Slaine’s work on the other side of the barricades. Inaho hugged the list tightly and searched for the Captain’s whereabouts to relay the information he had learned and found her walking down the gangway from the ship. He walked up to her and presented the list and note to her.

“Are the children all right?” the Captain asked and took the bunch of paper from Inaho. “What is this?”

“The children are malnourished but seem to be otherwise in good health. That is a list of their names as well as their parents’ and siblings’ names,” Inaho said frankly and waited as Magbaredge read the note.

The Captain seemed perplexed on what to think as she read the note and then took a look at the list. She did not seem to know if she should be worried or glad about Slaine trying to convey that he was not barbaric or cruel enough to let the children suffer.

“There must be something else to this,” the Captain said and frowned. “Did you get any other message?” she asked Inaho.

“No, Captain.”

“Search through their belongings in case they carry something dangerous,” she ordered Inaho who saluted her and confirmed her order before he went to work.

He ordered the soldiers around to unload the trucks of the children one by one and check their names on the lists as a double measure. He also ordered them to search through the belongings of those children who carried a little backpack which had probably been looted from the stores in the city to give them something to carry their belongings in. Inside the bags lay toys and other objects the children owned but one thing which struck Inaho’s interest were the drawings many children carried with them, and they all had two similar scenarios. He stared at the drawing from a girl’s bag and felt his heart skip a beat at looking at the crayon picture of a boy with leaves as clothes who flew with two smaller boys and a girl.

“What is this?” he asked brusquely the girl who nervously answered:

“P-Peter and Wendy. The nice man told us the story of Peter and Wendy and wanted us to draw pictures of them.”

Inaho held his breath. It was a message from Slaine. He was sure of it. His heart was beating wildly in his chest and he gave the picture back to the girl.

“Thank you,” he said and left her with the soldier who checked her name to hurry into the cargo hold of the truck. “I will just check your backpacks,” he said to the children. “Can you bring me them one by one?”

A boy stepped over to him with a bag. The child was not older than about ten years old. He held up his bag to Inaho who opened it and found a drawing in there as well.

“Can you tell me what this is?” Inaho asked and stared at the child’s drawing of a woman next to a window.

“Wendy is waiting for Peter,” the boy answered quietly. “She is old but she is waiting for him to take her to Neverland again for spring cleaning.”

“Did someone ask you to draw this?” Inaho asked and the boy nodded.

“The man told us to draw this,” the boy answered and took out another drawn picture of the same motif as the girl’s Inaho had seen. “And this is Peter taking Wendy and her brothers to Neverland.”

Waiting? Flying?’ Inaho thought confused.

Inaho gave the bag back to the boy and checked the other children’s bags, and they all had the exact two scenarios. Slaine was trying to tell him something and Inaho left the trucks to hurry to his private cabin to find the book Slaine had left in his care to find hints from it, but when he took his first step onto the gangway he heard someone yell:

“A Sky Carrier!”

He turned his eyes up toward the sky and saw the signal lights of the lonely Sky Carrier blink absentmindedly in the darkened sky as it flew high up in the air right beneath the clouds. He heard Magbaredge order to heighten the security on the dock. Inaho stared at it and zoomed in on the Sky Carrier with his analytical engine. The Sky Carrier moved with ease in the sky, almost like it had a mind of its own, and then…

The engine is stalled,’ Inaho thought and watched it drop gracefully from the sky. It was freefalling for a couple of seconds and then was forced up again with skillful operation. ‘Just like on Tanegashima.’

“Slaine…” he whispered and stared at the Sky Carrier flying toward the horizon to leave. As he was stricken with a fright of losing the sight of the plane he hurried to one of the ground vehicles.

“Nao!?” Yuki yelled from somewhere behind him as he run past the people on the dock toward a vacant military jeep which stood parked next to the rundown fishermen’s cold storage.

“I will be back, Yuki-nee!” Inaho yelled back to her and got into the driver’s seat and closed the door. He did not have time to put on the seatbelt and he started the jeep and then hurried onto the road to follow the Sky Carrier’s signal lights floating in the sky.

He was flying above us to wait for me to notice him!’ he thought as his heart raced.

He found himself on a small road outside the barricades which was leading him back to the prison. He saw the Sky Carrier land somewhere behind the houses in the suburb of the city which was empty of humans, and Inaho drove as fast as he could on the small road. It had landed close to the prison – he was certain of it since that was the only place Slaine knew Inaho would think about going to. Luckily the mansion was far away from the barricades of the city.

As he came up to the driveway and turned onto the road which lead him to the mansion he saw the Sky Carrier come into view. It had landed next to the damaged building and had probably used the driveway as landing way. Inaho was frantic for the first time in his life and as he saw the blond hair sway in the chilly wind he almost called out to the man waiting for him despite he knew he could not hear him from inside the jeep. He stopped the car and got slowly out of the driver’s seat as he stared at the back of the blond man standing there looking at the broken prison building. The coat tails of the burgundy uniform swayed along with the man’s hair in the wind.

“Slaine?” Inaho said quietly and found himself feel insecure the moment he realized Slaine was carrying the uniform of the enemy. It was a uniform of power and – for Terrans – oppression and terror.

The man turned around and Inaho looked at the weakly smiling blue eyes gaze back at him and the man’s lips said with a relieved voice which was barely audible:

“Inaho…”

Chapter Text

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They stared at each other in the darkening evening. The spring wind was gently caressing their hair and the silence of the area was deafening. Inaho was relieved to see the blond. Even if it had been only about a month since he saw Slaine the last time it felt like they had been apart for years. He took a step forward and Slaine did not move – he stood there while their eyes were locked to each other’s with his feet securely planted to the ground. The uniform gave Inaho chills down his spine and made him hesitate to get closer; all the brunet could think about was the last time he had seen the man in that uniform on the beach as Inaho had captured the former tyrant. Seeing the man in that uniform and in the darkening evening gave him flashbacks to that fated night on the beach.

Will he let me capture him willingly this time?’ Inaho thought and took another step closer and that was when Slaine took a step back. He stared nervously at Inaho like he expected him to take out handcuffs and seize him again, just like on the beach two years ago. Inaho was not the only one with flashbacks to the beach; Slaine was vigilant of Inaho’s movements and a tired and begging expression hinted weakly on his face. The younger man had not meant to this time capture the blond to put him in a cell again since he was far hungrier to capture the man in his arms.

Don’t run away…

Inaho tried to take another step forward and Slaine carefully backed away from him with two steps. I will not let you confine me the man said with him backing away from the brunet. They stared at each other longingly but not knowing how much they could trust each other and therefore closing the distance between them was difficult. Slaine did not know if Inaho would arrest him again and Inaho did not know if the blond would run away; both wanted to touch each other but they did not dare to in case a negative consequence was to follow.

Inaho tried with a third step and again the blond backed away. Slaine would soon back up against the prison wall if they continued like this and it would make him into a cornered animal once he would have nowhere to run. Inaho wanted to tell him he had no reason to be afraid but the brunet could not find his voice. The tension in the air as well as the sadness was interrupting his tries to speak, and the shock of finally seeing the blond but in the dreaded uniform made his voice harder to find.

Inaho finally raised his hands to show Slaine he was unarmed as well as not a threat and took a step closer. This time the blond did not move but kept staring at him with those tired eyes – waiting like a ghost waiting for a lover lost on the other side of the border of life and death. Why were his eyes so saddened?

Inaho slowly took the remaining steps separating them to close the painful distance between them and stood close enough to feel Slaine's breath and looked him in the eyes which were still locked onto his. They stared at each other – both unsure of what to do – and then Slaine leaned closer and gave Inaho’s lips a gentle kiss. In an instant the brunet put his arms around the Versian monarch and hugged him closer and pushed his lips against the man’s.

Oh, how he had missed those lips.

Slaine put his arms around Inaho’s shoulders and grabbed the Lieutenant’s uniform shirt and pulled at it desperately in order to not let the younger man pull away from him. The blond was hungry for him and they both let themselves enjoy the sweet reuniting kiss for as long as they needed. They were biting at each other’s lips, gasping from relief and letting their tongues dance together between their hungry kisses. Inaho felt Slaine’s fingers pull through his hair at his neck and then grabbed it tightly. He pulled Inaho’s hips close by an arm around his waist and squeezed him close enough their hips grinded together.

“Slaine,” Inaho gasped and kissed him again deeply.

“Inaho,” a gasp answered as their lips pulled away slightly to change the angle of their kiss.

Slaine had such a tight grip of Inaho’s hair and waist the brunet found him being captured by the blond instead – and he did not mind it. He willingly let himself be controlled by the blond who stood further up on the hierarchy than him and radiated power over the lowly Lieutenant. The man’s pathetic hunger was so great Inaho did not mind to let him quench it – he was just as hungry. Their positions were reversed once again and Inaho had a hard time figuring out which role he would have since he had gotten so used to being the one in control over Slaine as a prisoner. He also wondered what role Slaine had decided to have during this secret meeting. Would the blond be the one with the power now?

Slaine pulled his lips away from Inaho’s and they breathed with trembling breaths as they stared at each other with Inaho still in Slaine’s tight grip. Their breaths danced together for a while to have the two men catch their breaths and then the blond’s fingers released the brunet’s hair.

“Inaho…” Slaine whispered and let his hand caress down Inaho’s cheek and then rest on the man’s shoulder. He stared at Inaho’s mechanical eye for a while and then asked: “Are you all right?”

“Yes,” Inaho answered quietly. “I have not recovered fully but I feel fine. Are you all right?”

The blond nodded.

“Somewhat,” he said and sighed. “I’m certain you have seen my announcement, haven’t you?”

Inaho’s heart began to ache and he pulled away from Slaine’s arms to take a step back as he was painfully reminded of Slaine's engagement.

“I have,” he said monotonously and stared at the blond with a blank expression. He began to feel cold. “Why?”

The moment Inaho had pulled away from Slaine the man had given him a pained expression, almost like Inaho had stabbed him with an ice cold knife.

“I don’t have the power I had in the past,” Slaine said quietly and his tall posture began to crumble as his shoulders dropped. “I am not a commander anymore and the only way for me to gain power is by marrying her. That was her condition.”

Inaho saw that Slaine was telling the truth and the man was clearly in heartache for having to do it. Inaho wanted to blame him for selfish reasons and at the same time he knew Slaine had no choice if he wanted to save both Vers and Earth from the war’s hellish clutches. Something else hovered in the monarch’s gaze which gave Inaho a bad feeling; the man had more bad news.

“I can detect you have more to tell me,” Inaho said and Slaine’s pained expression turned into pure misery.

“We should not speak about it out here,” Slaine said quietly and walked over to the open door to his old prison. “I am sure you have things to tell me when I explain the entire situation, and I don’t want to tell you out here.”

Tell you?’ Inaho wondered and followed the blond into the prison which had been looted from everything it contained. The walls had cracks in them and the ceiling looked heavier than before as it was loaded with rubble from the other floors above them. The place was dangerous but the blond did not seem to mind, and in the end so did not Inaho. It was a risk they were willing to take. If some higher power pitied them and would be kind enough to show them mercy the building would crumble on top of them and free them from the burden and responsibilities they carried in the war – it would have been a relief for both of them.

Slaine kept wandering deeper into the building and found his way to the basement cell where he had been first kept. He stopped in front of it to stare at the cell door and then reached out a tender hand to touch the handle and opened it. The blond’s movements were almost affectionate as he slowly guided the door open and then stepped inside the cell where he had spent almost two years of his life. Inaho walked over to the bars and stared at the blond through them as Slaine looked around in the cell which still contained the bed, bedside table and the table where his breakfast, lunch and dinner would have been placed through the opening in the bars. The brunet let the older man take in the feeling of the cell and he could read from the man’s body language that Slaine missed the cell – and painfully so.

What have I done to him?’ Inaho wondered and frowned slightly as his heart ached quietly while he stared at the lonesome man. ‘Has he become crippled from his time here?

“Inaho,” Slaine said and finally turned around to look at his lover on the other side of the familiar bars. He stepped closer and grabbed the bars from inside the cell to look at Inaho with saddened eyes. “I’m sorry if I will be blunt but I don’t know how else to explain my situation to you,” he began and took a deep breath. Inaho nodded and readied himself. Slaine sighed and hung his head while he supported himself against the bars. “I will have to have a child with her in order to secure Vers’ future.”

It felt like Inaho had been struck by lightning at hearing those words. He stared at the blond for a long while and his nervousness warped into anger – spurred by the selfish jealousy slithering inside him like a snake poisoning every cell he owned. He slammed the cell door closed and locked it with the handcuffs he always carried in the little leather bag on his belt. He had no keys to the cell since they had been left on the second floor the day the Landing Castles had landed. His mind was in an uproar and so was his heart.

“Inaho!” Slaine yelled and rushed over to the door to try and open it but the handcuffs rattled against the metallic bars and refused to let him open the cell door. “Please, open the door!”

Inaho backed away from the cell to lean his back against the wall on the opposite side while he stared at Slaine with those calm and expressionless eyes so characteristic to him. He was so angry he could not even try to look the part; he just stared at the blond with silent anger as he tried to gather his thoughts.

“Inaho, please!” his lover yelled. “Don’t do this!”

“Silence,” Inaho said calmly and stared at him. His analytical engine was working hard as he tried to analyze the signals Slaine’s behavior gave him and his head echoed with the quiet mechanical sound his brain had begun to filter away.

Slaine went silent and stared at him with tears in his eyes. The man was about to panic and was bravely fighting it back since he knew how important it was to stay calm right now. Inaho stayed silent for a long time as his analytical engine fed his mind with information of Slaine’s state. The blond was cold sweating, anxious and frightened. He begged Inaho silently and was dearly hoping the brunet would open the door – and yet the blond seemed to understand why Inaho had locked him inside the cell; he did not blame him. Slaine was simply hoping Inaho would change his mind and open the door.

“Why?” Inaho finally decided to ask and Slaine grabbed the bars tighter.

“Because the Empress has not wanted to get a child and the people are angry and frightened. Lemrina will be forced to take on that duty to calm the people’s worry,” the man answered and lowered his eyes.

“Why you?”

“Because she doesn’t want anyone else to touch her but please, listen to me before you-”

“She is forcing you?” Inaho interrupted him and stared intently at the man who nodded hesitantly; Slaine was not lying and in a way Inaho had hoped the caged bat would have lied since it would give his anger the right to exists. Now that Slaine was being honest it made it difficult for Inaho to rightfully be angry at the man.

“She refuses anyone else and she has the power over my authority,” Slaine said quietly. “But I will not touch her,” he said with a slightly louder voice and looked at him with desperation. “We agreed on not touching each other, we will only make it seem like we have in order to make the people believe we are serious.”

Inaho was confused and he frowned slightly.

“What does that mean?”

Slaine sighed.

“We will have a doctor help us. I told her I would refuse to touch her and that there was no way for me to do my part the way she first wanted since I love only you. She is free to find a lover as well if she ever comes across someone who she falls for.”

“At least you give me that much consideration,” Inaho said quietly and felt slightly relieved that Slaine would not go to bed with the woman.

“I’m sorry but I have to do this. I don’t want to and I wish there was another way…” The blond looked up at him with tears in his eyes. “… but the people of Vers have to have an heir to the Aldnoah bloodline. If there is no heir the nation will die within two generations.”

Inaho knew the man was telling the truth even without his analytical engine which was working tirelessly and providing him information which he already knew. The people of Vers had been loud about their demand to get an heir. Inaho had heard their cries in the broadcasts from Soldier Red’s speeches and those cries had been fueled by panic and worry for their future. It was a fair demand but Inaho hated how Slaine had been dragged into the ordeal of producing an heir with a woman he did not love. Vers had been cursed the moment it had been founded and built around the bloodline with the activation power and now Slaine had to shoulder that curse along with the woman who was Vers’ only hope.

Asseylum would not be allowed back to Vers, and if she would take a step onto Vers’ soil she would be imprisoned and cruelly used to produce heirs to the activation power with or without her consent. Desperate people were cruel and dangerous without shame or moral; they were simply barbaric. In a way Slaine was protecting her from that terrible fate along with Asseylum’s sister, and in an objective way Inaho found it admirable and selfless of Slaine and Lemrina to save the woman who had failed her duty.

No matter how Inaho tried to selfishly twist and turn the truth to please his anger he knew Slaine was the only one who would be able to pull it through and keep Vers under control if he only got the power he needed, and choosing him – a Terran – as the other part to produce an heir for Vers was a genius move – but…

“Why do you always have to sacrifice yourself?” Inaho asked. “Why are you always so selfless?”

Slaine stared at him confused and then gave him a weak smile while the tears threatened to roll down his cheeks.

“I am being selfish this time in the only way I can,” he said quietly. “Just because I will marry her and have her child doesn’t mean I will devote my life to her. She knows about you and we came to a mutual agreement where neither of us would imprison each other. Don’t imprison me either, Inaho. Open the door.”

Inaho’s mind went quiet for a short while as he tried to understand what Slaine had just said, and as the little hope in his heart began to shine he took the steps over to the bars to look at the Versian monarch on the other side.

“What do you mean?” Inaho asked and grabbed the bars as well and stared at him.

“I and Lemrina have made a deal. I will save her from being forced to let a man she has not chosen touch her and give him a child, and she will save me from having to live confined in the Royal Palace and never see you,” the man answered and blinked the tears from his eyes which flowed down to his chin. “I am allowed to love you, Inaho.”

The monarchical marriages had always been only political to unite nations throughout history and had only changed recently to let a monarch marry whoever they wanted. It did not surprise Inaho that political marriages still existed on such a young nation as Vers. This time the marriage was crucially dependent on a Terran marrying a Versian to begin the uniting process of Earth and Vers, and who would be suited for the role if not Slaine and Lemrina due to their involvement in the past war? The moment Asseylum had chosen another Versian noble to marry she had doomed the nation by pleasing the racism toward Terrans among the people, as well as pleasing the fascistic ideology which dwelled among the nobles, founded by the previous Emperor. Slaine was repairing the damage her unintentionally bad decisions had caused the peace in her own nation as well as the peace with Earth.

Who am I kidding?’ Inaho thought. ‘Even if this would not have happened we would not have been allowed to be happy without risks.’ Either Slaine would have been a prisoner for the rest of his life and they would have been miserable because of that, or then they would have been miserable because they were fighting on opposite sides of the war – they would have had to hide from people’s observing eyes either way.

“What I will have with her is only political”, Slaine said quietly and his posture dropped enough to even out their height difference. He looked nothing like the monarch of a newborn nation. “I understand if you will not accept that and I will have to agree to whatever you decide to do from here because that is all I can do. If you want to leave me then I will let you go because I cannot even dream about confining you for selfish reasons,” Slaine said and placed his hand above his heart. “But I will die in here.”

“I know,” Inaho said quietly and stared at him through the gap in the bars. “I could keep you locked up in here and never let you go back to her,” he then threatened and Slaine knitted his eyebrows into deeper creases.

“Are cuffs and bars the only way you think you can keep me as yours?” Slaine asked without taking Inaho’s threat seriously. “All the things I promised to you in the shower room; my devotion, adoration and unconditional loyalty, as well as my love and life – they are still all yours even if you can’t see it right now, but you don’t need cuffs and bars to have them.”

“I am angry,” Inaho said calmly.

“And desperate, I know,” Slaine whispered. “I am offering you to take the revenge you seek for me betraying you. I have nothing else to give you in order to apologize than my body and heart right now until the war is over. If you need to break them in order to silence your anger then I don’t mind. You are allowed to be angry and I will hold no grudges.”

It was a cowardly offer and yet the only offer Slaine had to give at the moment.

“When will you meet the doctor?” Inaho asked with a lower voice. The jealousy was eating at him.

“Tonight when I return…”

Asseylum’s sister was in a hurry and Inaho could understand that; the people needed security in order to keep their devotion alive and continue their mission of changing Vers together with Soldier Red, Lemrina and Slaine. Now that Slaine and Lemrina had announced their marriage they needed to prove their sincerity to the people as soon as possible considering what had happened in the past with Slaine’s failed marriage to the doppelganger of Asseylum. The people held the outmost power in the current situation and without them everything Slaine had planned would crumble and nothing would change for Earth or Vers. He knew that. He understood that – and yet he was angry with all his right.

“Turn around,” Inaho said coldly and Slaine stared at him for a short moment before he did as he was told. The blond took a hold of the bars on either side of him for support as he seemed to want to fall to his knees on the floor, and he hung his head as Inaho reached his arms through the bars to reach around his waist.

***

Slaine closed his eyes tightly as Inaho opened his pants to pull them down to the middle of his thighs. He did not like what was about to happen but he had no right to complain or protest. If he was to break Inaho’s heart then Inaho had the right to break his – that was only fair according to the blond. Slaine did not expect it would be enjoyable for either of them; all Inaho wanted to do was to show Slaine how angry and hopeless he was since the brunet’s expression and words to describe it failed him. Slaine would serve his anger for as long as the man wanted and needed it, and he would gladly take the humiliation it meant to be taken as a prisoner through the bars.

“Don’t let her touch you. Remember only my touch,” Inaho said coldly and Slaine gritted his teeth the moment he let his body submit to unpleasant pressure from behind.

“I will…” he answered from behind the gritted teeth and surrendered to the man’s anger. “I’m sorry, Inaho…”

“Again,” the voice from behind him demanded as the pressure grew.

“I’m sorry.”

“Again,” the voice demanded again and Slaine’s body stopped resisting him and let him in.

“Aghh… I’m sorry!”

The empty corridor was filled with gasps and cries from both of them and even if it had hurt in the beginning Slaine found it enjoyable the longer Inaho moved. Inaho had been forceful in the beginning but the longer they kept going the gentler he became and Slaine dared to let out less painful gasps and moans from between his lips. During the entire time he kept his eyes closed to savor the feeling he had missed for almost a month and would be denied for an indefinite period. His knees shook beneath his weight and he supported himself by desperately holding onto the bars behind him. The cuffs which held the door closed to his cell rattled against the bars as Inaho moved behind him and sent a cold metallic ringing sound down the corridor.

When they had finished Slaine dropped down on all fours on the floor and gasped for breath. His body was tingling pleasantly and he wondered if he was allowed to feel that light.

“I could never leave you,” Inaho said quietly from behind him as he gasped for breath as well. Slaine looked over his shoulder to see him leaning his forehead against the bars with closed eyes. “I could never…”

Slaine slowly corrected his clothes and made sure he looked decent before he got up from the floor and turned around to give Inaho’s cheek a gentle kiss through the gap in the bars. Inaho did not move and Slaine reached out to carefully correct Inaho’s clothes as well while he gently kissed Inaho’s cheek again and again.

“Are you satisfied?” he asked quietly once he had made Inaho look decent as well, and Inaho nodded.

“For now. Are you?”

“I am. Thank you for not being cruel,” the blond answered and frowned slightly again. “Will you open the door now?”

Without answering his question Inaho walked over to the cuffs and unlocked them. As they had been removed Slaine opened the door and stepped out of the cell. He lowered his head to Inaho as a shameful apology.

“I really am honestly sorry for everything,” he whispered.

“I know,” Inaho answered and Slaine felt a hand under his chin which forced him to stand tall by raising his head. “Don’t lower your head like that. Stand proud.”

“Inaho…” Slaine whispered with a trembling voice and got tears into his eyes again. It was such a gentle surprise to hear Inaho tell him to stand proudly when he felt nothing but miserable.

“I know you don’t want this and I know you have to do it anyway. You are carrying a heavy burden – much heavier and complex than mine,” Inaho continued and raised his hand to brush away Slaine’s disheveled bangs from his eyes. “Two nations are unknowingly relying on you. There is not room for us in this war and it would be unfair of me to ask you to fight only for us since that is not possible. If you lose we will lose as well.”

Slaine let out a trembling sigh of relief to hear Inaho understand his situation, and he took Inaho’s hand into his and kissed it on its back.

“After everything is over I swear to you there will be room for us,” he whispered.

“I trust you that this entire situation is only political,” he heard his lover say. “Become a father, Slaine.”

“But Inaho-!”

Slaine was about to protest. He wanted Inaho to blame him and try to talk him out of it, but Inaho quieted him by placing a finger to his lips to seal them and continued:

“I could never deny you something like that. Even if it's a child made due to political reasons I know you will be a proud father and it will bring you a certain joy I could never offer you.”

Slaine had wanted to tell him that there was no greater joy than to be with the one he loved and yet he knew Inaho was right. Slaine would feel joy even if the child was made with a woman he did not love; the child was not at fault and he would share the adoration he felt for Inaho with it and open his heart to the child as well. Then again, it was nothing Slaine had been thinking about and he would not have been saddened without the honor of becoming a father.

“You don’t have a choice,” Inaho said to interrupt Slaine’s mind from spinning out of control. “I will be sad as well as jealous, but no matter how sad and jealous I will be it won’t change our situation. I will not hold it against you since I know why you have to do it. If you show me patience I am sure I will come around eventually.”

The man was sacrificing a part of him as well.

Because he has no other choice either,’ Slaine thought heavily.

“Inaho…” Slaine whispered and kissed his hand again. “I’m sorry.”

“A child won’t change what I feel for you,” the brunet said quietly and gave Slaine a small smile. “Thousands of families look like your future family will, and they can live happily despite that – and so can we.”

Slaine closed his eyes, nodded and sighed heavily from relief. He could not express how grateful he was for Inaho saying that as his heart was raging inside him. The blond still felt like he was betraying his love for the man and in a way he was despite Inaho giving him consent.

But you called us a family,’ he thought and felt less heavy, and his heart began to calm down.

“As for the war,” Inaho said out of the blue. “What do you need?” Slaine opened his eyes to look at him. “That was partly why you called me here, was it not?”

***

They stood beneath the wing of the Sky Carrier and held each other’s hands as their lips connected with quiet but passionate kisses. They had moved out of the building as their discussion had ended and both of them had to return to their sides of the war. Inaho was still angry and saddened for what Slaine would do once he returned to the Landing Castle but seeing the man being so sincere about apologizing made it easier for him to accept the hurt. After all, Slaine was hurting as well and was offering to lick Inaho’s wounds first before tending to his own which were of deeper character than the brunet's. The blond seemed to have always been like that and it was a comfort for Inaho to know that the blond always put Inaho before himself; it showed that he truly loved him and did not carry any hesitation.

“I will protect your home,” Slaine whispered and gave Inaho another kiss before he pulled his lips away to look at him. “… As well as Vers.”

“And I will protect my home which is yours as well,” Inaho answered and looked up at the blue saddened eyes. Inaho let go of Slaine’s hands to raise his arms around his neck and hug him close. “Come back for me for spring cleaning before the spring ends.”

He heard the blond let out a quiet chuckle as the man hugged him back and Inaho smiled. Some of the blond’s tension had been relieved and he was glad for making Slaine’s difficulties easier with every little way he could.

“I will,” Slaine answered quietly and Inaho closed his eyes with a wider smile. “I will show you what spring is like on Mars once this hell is over.”

“I look forward to that,” Inaho whispered. “Thank you for saving the children. Be careful.”

“You too,” the blond answered and looked at Inaho’s mechanical eye. “Don’t endanger yourself with that.”

After a final kiss Inaho watched the tired Slaine enter the Sky Carrier, and as it lifted with the grace only Slaine could give it, it flew into the darkened sky. Inaho watched its signal lights flicker until it disappeared behind the trees and houses to return to the Landing Castle behind the barricades and the brunet felt the loneliness engulf him.

Please come back for spring cleaning, Slaine,’ he thought and got into the jeep with a defeated feeling in his body and returned to Deucalion without any hurry.

***

Slaine landed the Sky Carrier in the hangar of the Landing Castle and saw Lemrina wait for him further away next to the entrance doors in the hangar. The blond stared at her on the screen which showed the outside world of the plane as she patiently waited for him, and he hesitated to get out of the aircraft. He felt lonely while looking at her and tears welled up in his eyes for the heavy duty resting on his shoulders. He covered his face with his hands and broke down into a cry as the loneliness overwhelmed him. In there no one would see or hear him break apart.

I’m the worst!

After a while he exited the aircraft after he had made sure he was respectable enough to show himself to the crew in the Landing Castle, and with determined and strong steps he walked over to the Princess waiting for him while the crew in the hangar saluted him.

“Did it go well?” she asked and looked up at him.

“Yes,” the blond answered frankly. “There is nothing to worry about.”

Lemrina nodded and seemed somewhat relieved. She knew what Slaine had been doing and she also knew he had been asking his lover for help with turning the tide of the war. It was all according to their plan and as payment for letting Slaine meet with his lover and enjoy his intimacy she had demanded to begin the work of creating an heir for her bloodline the very same night.

Harklight had been joyful to learn Slaine had accepted their request and been asking them to begin as soon as possible. Nine months was a long time to wait and the sooner they could get an heir the happier the people would be and Vers’ future would be secured.

“The bells on Vers will ring for days and the people will celebrate the joyful news on the streets,” the man had said with an excited smile. “It will be the start of a new era on Vers and a perfect time to introduce the people to the wonderful culture from Earth as their heir will be a mix of both nations. Music will be played to celebrate your devotion to the new nation.”

Slaine had felt bad for the man since he was clueless to what Lemrina and Slaine had agreed on. They would be shadows pulling at string behind Harklight’s back since they had no other choice. It was too risky to ask Harklight to join their cause since the man was blindly following Slaine’s old ideology to conquer Earth; an ideology which had too many cracks in it and would crumble within a couple of years. Harklight did not know that and he was fully convinced Slaine’s old ways were the correct ways to the war despite Slaine had been trying to talk to him about it. Slaine knew the man was not intentionally bad, he was just misguided and too convinced to change his ways for now. Slaine and Lemrina had to show him the correct way – and Slaine was not even sure his alternative was the right one. Slaine could not be sure if he would be correct or wrong until everything was over but he hoped the path he had chosen was the good one and not the bad.

“Is everything prepared?” Slaine asked the Princess as he took a hold of the handles on her wheelchair and guided her toward the room where they would spend the night for show. His heart constricted in his chest and he knew Lemrina’s did the same from knowing what Slaine had done just moments ago. They had both agreed that it was only fair that both would be hurting. It was a hurt they had promised to carry together without complaints.

“Yes. You should take a bath,” she said quietly and Slaine smiled wryly and answered:

“Thank you for your consideration, Princess Lemrina.”

“You are welcome,” she said with a sigh. “How did he take it?”

“He was jealous, angry and sad,” Slaine answered with a deep frown on his face. “But he told me to follow it through.”

“As he should if he cares about the future,” she answered tiredly. “We should relax before we call for the doctor.”

“I guess we could start by enjoying some relaxing tea along with sweets and just talk,” he said thoughtfully. “In order for both parties to relax that is.”

“Both parties? You make it sound like we are politicians. That is Harklight’s job,” she grunted and Slaine’s anxiousness was relieved somewhat at her childish remark.

“Are we not, Princess?” he asked and she leaned her head back to look at him.

“We are powerless monarchs,” she corrected him and Slaine tilted his head slightly and gave her a frowning smile.

“Powerless monarchs, yes – but we are also powerful shadows,” he whispered and Lemrina grinned mischievously.

“Quiet or the big bad wolf will hear you,” she said softly and turned her head back to look at the corridor ahead of them.

“Will he huff and puff if he finds us out?” Slaine smiled.

“Yes, and he will blow our house in.”

Aside from the story of Peter Pan Slaine had also told the children he had rescued other children’s stories. He had told a story each night for the five days they had been in his care to try and mend their fearful state after having to live in the rubble down in the city among cruel soldiers, and Lemrina and Harklight had been there to listen to the stories as well. A writer had accompanied them to write down the stories Slaine told in order to send them back to Vers and spread them to the people under Slaine’s order, which had been happily approved by Harklight. It was important to slowly change the way the people on Vers looked at Earth and the Terrans, and what gentler way was there to begin than tell children’s stories which were enjoyable? Lemrina’s favorite had been the story The Three Little Pigs since the wolf seemed to have stricken her fancy.

They arrived to the room and Lemrina reached out her hand to touch the pad next to the door to open it. It was the grand suit of the Landing Castle which Countess Azelein had offered to the couple the moment she had heard the news of Vers getting an heir. Slaine hesitated to move and Lemrina did the same. They waited at the doorway for a good while before Slaine took a deep breath.

“Are you sure of this?” he asked and Lemrina nodded slowly.

“There is no other way,” she said quietly and Slaine sighed as they entered the suit, and for a couple of hours they tried to lighten the mood by exchanging lighthearted stories over a cup of tea. Once they felt relaxed enough and had gathered their courage they called for the doctor who had sworn to keep her silence about what she helped them to do.

The next morning the Landing Castle was cheering and the Versian people on Mars and Earth were celebrating while Slaine and Lemrina lay in bed – both fully dressed on each side of the king sized bed with their backs against each other. None of them had gotten any sleep that night and none of them had spoken to each other after the first try to make an heir. They did not look at each other for the rest of the day due to the humiliation they both felt from the way they had chosen to do their duty. Slaine had been thinking about Inaho the entire night and was feeling defiled in every way that was possible despite he had not touched the Princess, and he was sure Lemrina felt the same way. The awkwardness was heavy in the room.

Chapter Text

Rocinante Squad R-55! One more enemy down in W11!

Roger R-55. Area status?” he heard Lieutenant Marito ask in the radio.

Seven enemies down! Six of our own are down! Enemy kataphracts are forcing themselves against our brigade!

Do you need assistance in W11?

Yes sir!

Inaho stared at the radar markings moving on the tactical board as the radar got information from the battlefield. The Martian kataphracts had one week ago suddenly begun to advance and expand their area by forcing UFE to back away from the area outside the city where the old UFE headquarters was. An exchange of words had taken place between Soldier Red and the Terran military to try come to some kind of peaceful understanding but Soldier Red had declared he would not accept any negotiations – and so the first attack had come since the Landing Castles had landed. It had lasted over a week now and soldiers from both sides were steadily decreasing on the harsh battlefield.

“Reorganize the formation in the companies,” Inaho said into the radio. “The enemy is weaker in the M22 area.”

You’re welcome to guide us, Lieutenant Kaizuka Junior,” he heard Marito answer. The man sounded like he had a grin on his face as well as being stressed out.

No wonder,’ Inaho thought and began giving orders to reorganize the platoons on the sections of the area to even out the UFE strength levels on the battlefield to be able to meet the resistance from the Martians. ‘The Martians are assertive.’

The Martians were desperately pushing themselves forward by force. Their tactic had been to frighten the UFE soldiers by marching forward in a straight line with open fire and not stop once UFE had begun to answer their fire. Once the first row of Martian kataphracts had been taken down the second row stepped forward and continued marching with open fire, and then the third row and then the fourth – each new row leaving their fallen comrades behind. They were like a great wall closing in on the UFE and their intimidation had made the Terran soldiers hesitantly take steps back. Once the Martians had been close enough to the UFE defense line they had charged into the line of Terran kataphracts like battering rams. Within a day 30 percent of the Terran soldiers had been taken down and new ones had been sent out in order to answer the enemy attacks. This tactic was nothing Inaho had seen from the Martians before when Saazbaum and Slaine had been the commanders.

“Pegasus Squad, join the Rocinante Platoon in W11. Gunpowder Platoon, over to W11,” Inaho said and the dots on the map changed positions according to his orders. “Clydesdale Platoon, switch to M22. Alfonso Squad, move to E33.”

He continued reorganizing the UFE soldiers on the battlefield and waited for everyone to confirm their positions. A couple of minutes passed and then he heard:

Pegasus Squad at W11.”

Alfonso at E33.”

Gunpowder at W11.”

Clydesdale Platoon at M22.”

Inaho took a deep breath and checked the map once more with his analytical engine and then said calmly:

“All units – push forward.”

***

They are pushing us back, sir!” Slaine heard a surprised voice in the radio.

“Hold the line and do not let them push you back!” Harklight ordered while he gritted his teeth. His voice echoed in the main bridge of the Landing Castle. The man was exhausted from the week's battle; he was not used to being in command over a battle for such a long time, but even then he fared well.

But sir! They have reorganized and we have to do the same! We have lost too many men and have not enough ammunition to be able to meet their sudden offence!

Harklight frowned deeply and leaned over the control panel while he seemed to think of what to do. Slaine knew they had no time to reorganize now that UFE had skillfully leveled out their strengths according to the Martian offence, and yet they had to reorganize now that too many men had been lost and their offence began weakening. The way the UFE defense had quickly organized them to an offence was calculated by someone skillful enough to be able to do it instantly.

Inaho…’ the blond thought and wanted to smile but stopped himself as it would have been a bad time and wrong place to do it in.

“Continue pushing. Do not give them a chance to break your formation!” Harklight demanded and Slaine frowned slightly.

“Do not be so eager, Harklight,” Slaine said carefully. “I know I am not allowed to give military orders,“ the blond continued and stepped up next to Harklight. “But do you mind listening to some advice?”

Harklight looked up at him and his deep frown eased somewhat as Slaine - who was more experienced - offered to give guidance in the situation which to Harklight seemed difficult due to the man being tired after keeping it up for an entire week.

“Your Highness…” the man said quietly with hope dwelling in his voice.

“Move the Krios and Themis Companies out with Countess Azelein and Count Arbelladon,” Slaine said and watched the video feed of the battlefield.

“But then both of the Landing Castles will be unguarded,” Harklight said and frowned deeply again.

“There is no use to guard the Castles right now when you are in the risk of losing a part of the city. The Landing Castles can stand an attack from Terran military long enough to have the Companies return,” Slaine explained and then looked at Harklight with a sharpened gaze which was characteristic to the Count Saazbaum Troyard from two years ago. “Take out the EA devices – both the radio and radar jammer. The Ace of UFE seems to be listening to the battle and we need to block him out.”

Harklight got a relieved smile to his lips as he saw that the old Commander was still alive, and he nodded.

“What are you planning, Your Highness?” Harklight asked and stared at the blond excitedly, awaiting Slaine’s orders.

“Relay my words to your men,” Slaine said and Harklight repeated each word to the men on the battle field of what Slaine said: “Rhea, Hyperion and Kronos – bravely stand your ground for as long as you can. Krios and Themis are sent out to your aid.”

The Krios and Themis Companies – led by Countess Azelein and Count Arbelladon, who was in charge of the other Landing Castle in the area – were dispatched with the radio and radar jammers. As they arrived to their positions he continued:

“Countess Azelein and Count Arbelladon – do not execute the Terrans if you can avoid it. We need them alive. Rhea, Hyperion and Kronos – slowly fall back. Prepare the jammers and activate them on my signal and seize the Terran soldiers.”

“But Your Highness! We cannot fall back or-!” Harklight began to protest as the Terrans would get into the city if the Martian Companies were to fall back, but Slaine boldly interrupted him:

“Have the Companies slowly fall back,” he repeated demandingly.

***

The Martians are backing away!” a soldier exclaimed in the radio and the man sounded relieved.

Keep pushing them back!” Inaho heard Lieutenant Marito order. “Don’t rest until they have lost!

Inaho stared at the map with the dots, representing the kataphracts, moving around on the radar. The Martian kataphracts were backing away as their ammunition had begun to run out; the reports from the UFE soldiers updated the Martian situation as critical since most had gone into close combat and some Martian kataphracts had turned around to seek shelter from the rundown buildings in the city. UFE was forcing them back with success but Inaho had a slightly bad feeling in his guts and he knew why; he would be cruel toward his own; this was the signal he had been waiting for.

We have almost passed the barricades! Keep pushing!” Lieutenant Marito’s voice yelled the order in the radio for the Terran kataphracts.

I’m sorry,’ Inaho thought.

“Lieutenant Marito, what is the status on the city?” Inaho asked calmly.

Just a little more…

It’s hard to say. We are almost in!” the Lieutenant answered.

“Good. Keep pushing,” the brunet ordered. “They are hiding behind buildings; I cannot see them on the radar which means they are close to the buildings in the city. Take them out.”

The dots on the radar map had moved passed the barricade line and Inaho breathed calmly. He did not know if he was doing the right thing but he had to show trust in his pretended enemy.

We have gotten inside the city! We can get to the Hyper Gate!” Marito’s voice yelled in the radio as a slight explosion could be heard in the background.

“No, do not seek it out,” Inaho ordered. “Don’t be too eager. Take out the hiding Martians and push forward.”

Forgive me…’ he secretly thought.

The radar signal suddenly flickered and the picture became disrupted and messy. The information the radar got became completely unreliable and Inaho could not see what was happening on the battlefield. He was electronically blinded by the enemy.

“Radar jammers?” Captain Magbaredge said baffled and stared at the map which showed a jumble of disrupted signals. “All units fall back!” she then ordered into the radio. “The enemy is using radar jammers! We cannot see you!”

We shouldn’t fall back!” Marito answered. “If we fall back we will lose the area we have just won!

“You are endangering all our men on the battlefield for disobeying orders, Lieutenant Marito!” the Captain warned him. “Fall back immediately!”

Wait…!” they heard the Lieutenant say shocked. “The Martians are planning something!” Marito exclaimed and Inaho gritted his teeth.

“Fall back!” the Captain ordered once again.

All units! Fall back!“ the Lieutenant yelled. “The Counts are out with their kataphracts!

They sent for reinforcement!” a squad leader yelled.

Look out! They are attacking from the sides! Fall back! Fall back!

They are surrounding us!

My kataphract…! It’s damaged! I can’t emergency exit!

Chaos broke out on the radio as soldiers reported the damages their kataphracts had taken, and some screamed for help while others were bravely yelling out desperate commands to the others to take down as many enemy kataphracts as possible. The screams and panic was horrid to listen to and all the Officers in the tactical room could do was to give the order to fall back despite it being useless. And then…

Instant silence…

All the people in the tactical room stared at the silent radio with pale faces. All they could hear was the quiet background noise in the radio.

“Lieutenant Marito?” Inaho asked in the radio which did not answer; the plan had worked. “Lieutenant, answer me.”

I hope you know what you are doing, Slaine…

***

“You did it, Your Highness,” Harklight said baffled and stared at the video feed of the battlefield where the Terran kataphracts lay in pieces after they had been defeated. The Martian kataphracts tore the hatches to the cockpits open and forced the UFE soldiers to exit the Terran kataphracts. The Krios and Themis Companies had laid in ambush as the Rhea, Kronos and Hyperion Companies had lured the Terrans into the trap by falling back due to their ammunition being out. It had been a valid reason to make the UFE soldiers believe they were retreating and nothing more.

“Use the knowledge your enemy does not know – in this case us having jammers and two Companies which were not involved in the battle. You should never be too eager, Harklight,” Slaine said with a gentler tone than with the voice of the Commander he used to be. “Search for surviving UFE soldiers and move them to the hostage area in the city.”

“Y-yes, my Prince,” Harklight said quietly with admiration shining in his eyes. “Thank you. You saved this battle from becoming a failure.”

You shouldn’t trust me, Harklight,’ Slaine thought sadly but smiled at the man with his eyes still sharpened. He had gotten the chance to sharpen his claws as a Commander and even if the feeling was heavy he felt good. Today had been a success.

“Treat the wounds on the Terran soldiers. They are of no use to us as hostages if they die,” Slaine said and decided to leave the bridge. Everyone present on the bridge saluted him with honor, even Harklight.

I have no use of them if they die…’ the blond thought as he left the bridge.

Slaine entered the suit where he and Lemrina had lived together for the past three weeks. The battle which had just been won had been declared about two weeks ago after the news of the royal couple beginning working on creating an heir had spread. According to Harklight it had been the perfect moment to expand their territory due to the happiness and confidence the news gave the people. Their new Vers was getting built and the main building block of the nation had been put into place – provided by Slaine and Lemrina.

They are insane for declaring a battle in the name of an unborn child and calling it honor,’ Slaine thought and released a heavy sigh the moment the door closed behind him and sheltered him from the harsh environment outside. His posture dropped now that he was allowed to relax. Holding his back exaggeratedly straight to make him look like a pompous royal was tedious work when all he wanted to do was to lie in bed all day. The warmness of the bed was comforting and healing him even if he lay next to a woman who he did not love. If he only could share the warmness and comfort with Inaho just like they had before winter became spring, then he would have been in peace.

“How did it go?” Lemrina asked as he entered the bedroom. She was sitting in bed and leaned her back against the wall while she had been reading the unabridged story of Alice in Wonderland which Slaine had recommended to her.

Slaine had ordered to loot all the books the soldiers could find in the libraries in the city to protect them from getting damaged. Some of them had been shipped to Vers to start a library on Mars consisting only of Terran books which the people had access to. Slowly but steadily Slaine tried to erase the boundary between Vers and Earth created by racism by trying to involve the people of Vers with the culture from Earth. He hoped the anger within the Versian people would subside the more they learned of the wonders of Earth.

If only Earth would be willing to share instead of having us steal from them, the Versian people would calm down,’ he thought.

Culture was not expensive to share and had nothing to do with the survival of human beings, and so there was no need to start a war over culture. Slaine could understand the need for resources and why Earth was protecting it, but culture in the form of books, music, pictures and such had no value for survival but would help to make both nations understand each other. The way the personnel in the prison had listened to him as he had told about the ancient stories he had read was proof enough that his hypothesis could work even on a bigger scale.

“It was a success,” Slaine answered and took off his burgundy coat to hang it on the back of an armchair. Then he lay down on his side of the bed to close his eyes for a while; he was so exhausted without the medication to heighten his mood. Luckily the withdrawal symptoms had disappeared almost completely; the only symptom he still felt was tiredness which also directly had a lot to do with his mental illness.

“Thank goodness,” Lemrina said quietly. “When will you speak to the Terrans you captured?”

“Once they have calmed down after the battle,” Slaine said quietly. “They are agitated after their loss and they will probably not listen to me at all if I tried to speak to them now. They need time to calm down.”

“Do you think it will work?” he heard her ask and felt fingers caress him through his bangs.

He opened his eyes and pushed Lemrina’s hand away with a slight frown.

“Don’t,” he sighed. “It will have to work or else we will not have a chance to turn this war.”

Her advances felt tiresome and stressed him out. Slaine had told her he would not touch her in any way that would be considered tender out of a romantic point of view. He had told her not to touch him that way either since it could give wrong signals to her if Slaine let her touch him romantically, and he wanted to avoid any kind of misconceptions to all costs for fairness sake – both for Inaho’s and her. It had left him jumpy and nervous the moment Lemrina was close by since he did not know when her touch was friendly and when it was romantic. Slaine knew he probably made the situation bigger than it actually was due to his mental illness making his mind somewhat delusional but he would not take any chances.

“A lot of people have died,” Slaine mumbled.

He saw Lemrina smile wryly in the corner of his eye and she leaned back again when she was not allowed to touch him, and picked up her book to continue reading absentmindedly.

“You are used to it,” she answered and made a pause to read a line before she continued: “You should not shed tears for all the ones who die in a war or else you would run out of tears to cry for your lover.”

Slaine did not answer her bitter remark but instead looked over to her.

“Do you enjoy the book?” he asked and she nodded.

“Quite much. I like how everyone is completely mad in Wonderland,” she answered and her cynical smiled turned into a pleased smile instead. “And poor Alice has no idea she is just as mad as everyone else.”

“Who is your favorite character this far?” the blond asked. Speaking about things which had no ties to the war was the only breather Slaine had; the moment he found himself in silence his mind began spinning with worry and angst.

“The Mad Hatter,” the Princess answered.

“The Hatter?” Slaine asked and arched an eyebrow. “You do not like Alice?”

“Oh, I do. I like her very much, but the Hatter is utterly enjoyable.”

“Why is that, Princess?”

Lemrina gave him a playful grin and read out loud from the book with a melody to her voice:

“’Twinkle, twinkle little bat! How I wonder what you’re at! Up above the world you fly, like a tea-tray in the sky.’Sounds familiar to someone we know?” she then asked and turned her eyes from the book to the blond and giggled.

Slaine could not help but to chuckle as well. Lemrina had learned the nickname Slaine had gotten from Inaho and his friends and she had found it amusing.

“The Hatter’s marvelous concert… I fly like a tea-tray now?”

“Undeniably,” she smiled teasingly but then looked somewhat tired. “Speaking of tea… Could you kindly get me a cup? I find it a hassle to have my handmaiden around so I sent her away in order to get a chance to read without her hovering around me like a shadow.”

“Of course, Miss Hatter,” Slaine sighed lightheartedly and got up from the bed to call for a servant.

As he got back with a cup of tea in his hand and closed the bedroom door he stopped when he heard Lemrina say quietly:

“I like you better this way.”

Slaine looked over to her and knitted his eyebrows together in confusion.

“Princess?” he asked and walked over to her and gave her the tea cup. “Are you all right?”

“You were so cold and stiff two years ago. Now you seem a lot more alive,” Lemrina whispered and gently blew on the tea surface to cool it down.

It’s because of him,’ Slaine thought saddened but gave her a kind smile.

“Thank you, Princess.”

“Is it because of him?” she asked almost like she had read his mind and Slaine turned his eyes down and stared at the white bed linen. He did not want to answer her question since he knew how much it would hurt her and yet she had willingly given him the permission to hurt her by asking a painful question.

“It is,” he answered quietly.

“How?” she asked and Slaine looked up at her from between his eyelashes. “How can he make you feel so alive when he is a man? He cannot give you a child. He cannot complement your manliness like a woman can.”

“Sex or gender has nothing to do with it,” Slaine said and turned his eyes down once again.

“Then what does?”

“The effect he has on me,” the blond answered and sighed with a slight smile as he thought about his lover.

“What effect can he have on you that I cannot?” Lemrina asked with a shrill voice and Slaine hung his head to hide from the saddened look on her face as he answered:

“Seeing him… Hearing his voice… Feeling his touch… All of that hits me like a bullet each time because I am wide open for his aim – and as long as it is him I do not mind being that vulnerable.”

Lemrina went quiet for a while and Slaine hoped she would understand how impossible it was for him to stop loving the man who would not give him a child and who would not complement Slaine’s manliness like a woman. The blond did not need someone to do all that; he just wanted to be happy – and that seemed to be difficult and he wondered if it was too much to ask for.

“The test came back positive today,” he suddenly heard the woman say and he looked up at her tired face. “We did it on our first try.”

A relief coursed through him at knowing he did not have to go through something as humiliating as to trying to make a child without love a second time. Then a heavy feeling washed over him at the realization of their situation becoming so real. They were expecting a child together and Slaine did not feel ready to hear the news; he felt like he was weighed down by a heavy rock. Lemrina seemed to feel the same as her face was pale and her beautiful blue eyes were matted. Slaine could suddenly understand her desperate questions of why he could not love her; she was afraid just like him but much lonelier without a partner to hold her – unlike him.

Slaine reached out a hand to gently place it on top of hers which was resting on the book in her lap. He gave it a reassuring squeeze to let her know he would be there for her throughout it all as best as he possibly could with their given situation. That was all he could do.

***

“Don’t try to hide it from me. I know you’re being frustrated!” he heard his sister say with a slightly angry tone which was mixed with worry. “You saw the broadcast!”

“I did,” Inaho answered and kept walking down the corridor after a visit in the hangar to take a look at Sleipnir which Calm was fixing up after the machine had been stored away for two years. A system malfunction had been found and Calm had been calibrating and configuring it for a couple of days now.

“Is that all you have to say?” Yuki continued and took a couple of hurried steps to block Inaho’s passage. She stared at him with knitted eyebrows and a sincere worry in her eyes.

“What do you want me to say?” Inaho asked somewhat confused. He did not understand why Yuki was so riled up about the broadcast which had been sent from the Martian side just moments ago.

“He has gone to make a woman pregnant and you pretend you aren’t angry or hurt. What’s up with that, Nao?”

The news of the future Queen of Vers being successfully expecting had been broadcasted just moments ago. Slaine had held a speech of how proud he was to share the people’s future and how proud he was of the soldiers fighting so tirelessly. He had talked about yesterday’s success on the battlefield where the Martians had seized Terran soldiers and expanded their territory to almost capture the UFE military base and headquarters where Inaho had had his position before the war.

The news of the Princess of Vers being pregnant had hit the entire crew of Deucalion like a wrecking ball and many found it disturbing how the monarch of the new Vers was speaking about parenthood and war in the same breath. The fate of Vers was sealed and the devastation of hearing the news had made Seylum break down for the reason that now she knew she had lost her throne for good. The power the Martian people had shown at the news of the royal couple trying to get an heir was going to double now; they would blindly follow through with whatever was expected of them in the name of their new kingdom.

“We should not speak about it here,” Inaho said and walked around her to continue forward toward his cabin but she hurried after him and blocked his way once again.

“This is a service tunnel. No one uses these and I know you do because you want to avoid other people right now since you are hurt. You have been using these tunnels for three weeks now,” his sister answered worriedly.

There she did it again; telling him what he was feeling.

“Why do you follow me around it you already know I am hurt?” he asked and stared at her with a blank expression.

To be fair he had covered his analytical engine to let other people have their privacy, and he had to admit he had no interest in analyzing other people when he was being occupied with missing his lover as well as worrying about him. He had no way to analyze his sister’s body language right now but he could see she was frustrated and worried.

“Because I want you to talk about it. You can’t carry it all alone,” she said and her eyes softened. “Why aren’t you angry at him? Why don’t you hate him?”

“Do you?” Inaho asked bluntly and threw back her question.

“Of course I am angry at him for hurting you! I hate him for becoming our enemy again after all we did for him,” she said and the anger grew inside her again. “He was just using us and pretended to be grateful. How did he pay us back? By running away to become our enemy! And yesterday he captured many of our men to use them as hostage!”

And what would you say if I told you I helped him to capture them?’ Inaho thought silently. ‘I did not send you out into that battle because I care about you too much.

Frustration and anger grew inside Inaho as well. He was in no shape to listen to her worries and have her blame Slaine for what he had done. She did not know what had happened behind the scenes and Inaho knew he could not blame her, but he was tired of hearing people badmouth Slaine the way they did after he had ran away. People hated him. They despised him and had been shocked to know he was still alive.

“You should not blame him,” Inaho said and tried to walk around her again to continue his way but once again she stepped in front of him.

“I blame him for what he is doing. He is a foul man for what he does to you and-“

“Enough,” Inaho said loud enough it echoed in the corridor. He was so tired and so hurt, so frustrated and sad he could not find strength to listen to her frustration as well. “He is saving us by sacrificing himself,” he then said calmly as he realized he had raised his voice against his sister. She stared at him in shock. “Is that not enough gratitude for you?”

“What are you saying?” she asked quietly and tried to regain her confidence in the middle of the shock.

“I am sure you have noticed the tiredness in his eyes during the broadcast just minutes ago. Have it occurred to you he might be doing this to save you and me along with everyone we care about?” Inaho continued and stared at her emotionlessly despite his anger and frustration boiling.

“How can you be so certain of that?” she asked. “God knows what he will do to our soldiers he captured. Marito is among them!”

“He is doing everything he can to help us despite the way we treated him.”

“Treated him? We were nothing but good to him!” she yelled and got tears in her eyes from not understanding her brother at all.

Inaho sighed and pushed her out of his way and continued walking as he said:

“We have treated him cruelly. You should see the way he looks when he sees his old cell. I made him deteriorate and end up broken. He owes me no gratitude after everything I have done to him.”

Steps were heard in the empty corridor. They echoed down their way and Inaho stopped to look at who was approaching them. The smell of cigarette smoke drifted to his nose and a man came into view. He walked with tired steps and Inaho said out loud:

“You should not smoke in here, Mr. Sakata.”

The man approaching them jumped from surprise. He seemed to not have noticed them until Inaho called out for him.

“Oh, boss!” Sakata answered and grinned wide as he came up to them. “Sorry, sorry. I didn’t think people used this corridor.”

The man looked tired and desperately tried to hide it behind that cocky attitude.

“I am not your ‘boss’ anymore since you let our ‘job’ run away,” Inaho said and the man smiled and put out his cigarette by squeezing the tip of the cigarette off with his fingers and let it fall to the floor.

“Oh, that kid was a sneaky brat, wasn’t he?” Sakata chuckled and stomped on the glowing cigarette end on the floor to put it out. He looked up at Inaho’s sister. “Good day, Miss Kaizuka. You look as pretty as always but I would put away that worried look on my face if I were you. It doesn’t suit a pretty woman like you.”

Yuki blushed and got a mean look on her face instead. Inaho stepped aside as he knew she would burst from anger at the man, and Inaho did not want to stand in her way. The two had been bickering with each other ever since they had gotten to know each other onboard Deucalion. Neither of them had given the other a breather the moment they had been in the same room and Inaho knew why but had left it hanging in the air. It was for the guard and his sister to solve; Inaho had no interest in that.

“You should just shut that cigarette stinking mouth of yours and not pester anyone with it,” she hissed and folded her arms.

“Oh? You have put that much thought into how my mouth stinks? How cute,” the man answered and Inaho took another step to the side to clear Yuki’s path further. “Normally you wouldn’t care that much about something if you don’t have any interest in it.”

“How can I not? The moment you open those lips it’s like you open the lid to a dumpster,” Yuki growled and began to squeeze her fists from innocent anger. “Why would I be interested in something like that?

Sakata arched an eyebrow and scratched his chin as he pretended to think for a while and then gave her a mean grin.

“Oh, I don’t know… Because you want to kiss me?” he asked. Yuki’s arms unfolded as she stared at him baffled. “If the cigarette smell bothers you that much I could just brush my teeth and use mouthwash and then we could-“

A slap echoed in the tunnel and Yuki’s sharp stomps disappeared into the tunnel as she left. Sakata rubbed his hurting cheek and scowled at the pain.

“Ow…” he mumbled and sighed.

“No wonder you are single,” Inaho said from where he had been leaning against the wall to let the clumsy grownups argue alone, and Sakata turned his eyes to him.

“Hey! She wants me! She’s the one in denial,” the man countered and then sighed. “She really has a strong arm. Ow…”

“She is a well trained military officer,” Inaho answered and got up from his leaning position to continue walking to his destination now that his path was free.

“Hey boss!” Sakata said to stop Inaho from walking.

Why won’t anyone let me get to my cabin?’ Inaho thought and stopped but did not turn around.

“What is it, Mr. Sakata?” he asked tiredly.

“You can read people with that eye of yours, right? Can’t you at least give me a hint if I am right about her wanting me?” the man asked pitifully.

“You understand you are trying to get into a relationship with my sister, do you?” the brunet asked with a slight threat in his monotone words.

“Yeah, but I don’t worry about that since I know you want her to be happy. I know I’m not much to the world but I can make her happy if I just get a chance.”

So bold…

“You have a crush on her?”

“Yeah…”

Inaho sighed and thought for a while. He knew his sister worked hard and had little to no time to invest in a relationship because of that. She would end up lonely if she did not give someone a chance to alter her schedule just a little and Inaho wanted her to be able to relax the way he had been able to relax with Slaine during the three week period they had had before the war began. It had been a wonderful time.

“She is interested in you,” Inaho said bluntly and kept walking, and he heard the man behind him silently exclaim a whisper of victory.

Chapter Text

The area smelled of dust and chemicals. His steps echoed as he walked into the passage to enter the stadium where the Terran soldiers were kept. The smell inside was heavily unpleasant and he scowled as he looked around at the 200 soldiers who all stared back at him first with shock and then with utter hate. It made Slaine hesitates and thinking of turning around and leave but he had come this far and he had to keep going despite he was terrified. The four Versian soldiers who accompanied him made him feel somewhat secure and the gun at his hip gave the safe feeling a boost.

“Who are your leaders?” Slaine said loud and his voice bounced around in the empty stadium. “Step forward.” No one moved and the Versian soldiers accompanying him raised their assault rifles. Slaine gritted his teeth for a short while and then narrowed his eyes to say louder: “I want to speak to one of your leaders. If you do not present me with someone I will pick the closest soldier and interrogate him.”

The Terran soldiers closest to him backed away slowly while they stared at the Versian monarch with watchful eyes. Again no one said a word and Slaine wanted to sigh. He knew the soldiers were afraid of him and he did not blame their hateful eyes considering what he and Harklight had done to them. They were in a miserable state and there was no way for Slaine to give them a better place to stay than the stadium. They had fresh water, a roof over their heads and shower facilities; a luxury most of the civilian hostages did not have.

“As you wish, I will pick out a man in the crowd,” Slaine said and looked around to try and determine which one was the best choice to have a talk with; he was testing his luck and hoping he would hit a jackpot.

He raised his hand to point at a soldier which seemed like someone with experience and authority by the look of it but the moment Slaine opened his mouth to speak a drunken voice interrupted him:

“Me. Pick me, scumbag.”

The Versian soldiers who accompanied Slaine aimed at the man who stepped out from the crowd of soldiers. The Terran soldiers looked at him worriedly as the man without hesitation walked almost all the way over to Slaine, but was stopped a couple of meters away by the Versian soldiers warning him from approaching any further.

“Put down your weapons,” Slaine ordered his soldiers, who hesitated but finally lowered their assault rifles slightly.

Slaine stared at the taller man who was dressed in the UFE uniform of a kataphract pilot. He was obviously drunk but still sober enough to stand straight and strong; only his eyes seemed slightly drunken. The man stared back at him with making sure it was clear by the way he tilted his head that he harbored no respect for the Versian monarch.

“Who are you?” Slaine demanded and the man grinned. His grin seemed familiar to someone else Slaine knew.

“Lieutenant Kōichirō Marito, leader of the Clydesdale Platoon. And you must be Slaine Troyard,” the man said with a breath that smelled so strongly of alcohol the smell drifted all the way to Slaine who stood a couple of meters away from the man.

“I am. You seem not fit for fight in your condition,” Slaine remarked and felt worried. Was this the only one he would be able to talk to without threats?

“I didn’t know I was expected to fight right now,” the Terran Lieutenant said with an arched eyebrow and his grin faded. He looked confused. “You want a fistfight?”

“No, I want to interrogate you.”

The man called Marito sighed and raised his hands into the air in surrender to show he was not going to resist.

“As you wish. It will be useless though,” the man said with a hint of mockery in his voice.

“I will be the one to determine that,” Slaine answered and ordered his soldiers to escort the Lieutenant to the room which had been prepared in the stadium.

As they walked down the corridor – Marito in the middle of the four Versian soldiers and Slaine showing the way – the blond frowned. He had to accept the man who willingly presented himself to him in order to not agitate the soldier crowd and risk of destroying his chanced to any kind of trust he would try to build up with the Terrans. This drunken man seemed confident and something told Slaine he was an experienced Lieutenant from the fearlessness the man had showed him. He could only hope he was the right man to talk to despite the man’s drunken state.

Marito was shown into the room which was an old locker room and was ordered to sit down on the chair next to a table. The table was there to have something between Slaine and the Lieutenant as a weak safety measure.

“Leave,” Slaine ordered his men who hesitated. “Guard the entrance into the stadium.”

“But my Lord,” one of the soldiers said and stared at Slaine worriedly. “We cannot leave you here with a dangerous Terran.”

“Oh? I’m dangerous? What a nice compliment,” the Lieutenant grinned but Slaine paid the man no attention.

“I ordered you to leave,” Slaine said sternly and stared at the soldiers accompanying him. “Are you questioning my order?”

“N-no, Your Highness. Of course not,” the Versian soldier said nervously and then signed for the other three with a nod to leave – and the room was emptied of all Versians and was left with only two Terrans.

Slaine turned his attention to the Lieutenant and stared at him for a while as he gathered his thoughts. He could not help but to think about Sakata when he saw Marito with that grin which was so familiar to the guard, and then said:

“I must say I am not happy with your condition. Is drinking on the battlefield your tactic?”

The Terran Lieutenant chuckled bravely and sighed as he picked up a pocket flask to dangle it in front of him.

“I never go out without this. Is this what the interrogation is about?” he asked and put the flask onto the table. “I would share a sip with you if you weren’t such a devil hiding behind that pretty blond hair and blue eyes.”

Slaine arched an eyebrow and stepped over to the table. He picked up his gun from the holster on his hip underneath the burgundy coat and placed it on the table but kept his hand over it to protect it.

“Will you share a sip with me if I share my gun with you?”

The man stared baffled at the blond, confused of what the man was saying. He stared at Slaine and then turned his eyes to the gun. Slaine saw the man wanted the gun as he had been stripped of his weapons during the seizing but he would not give it to him that easily.

“Are you that desperate to get drunk?” Marito suddenly asked and looked up at Slaine with knitted eyebrows. Slaine would have laughed at that was it not for the tension in the air.

“I am asking for your help,” the blond answered as he stared at the man with sharp eyes. “Before you ask I am not asking you for help in order to get drunk, Lieutenant. I am asking you to keep fighting for Earth from inside the enemy lines.”

Marito’s expression turned into sheer shock and confusion. Slaine kept his eyes determinedly on him to show him his sincerity.

“What do you gain from that?” the Terran asked suspiciously as the shock began to settle slightly.

“Something both of us wants: Victory,” Slaine answered.

At that the man stood up from his chair and with an incredible force threw the table to the side. Within the blink of an eye the man had closed the distance between Slaine and him despite Slaine backing away from him. Marito was about to reach for Slaine’s throat with his hands when Slaine raised the gun which he had managed to keep in his hands and stopped him dead in his tracks.

“If you attack I will shoot and will have to find someone else,” Slaine warned and raised his head slightly more to show the Lieutenant his authority. The man stared at him with burning eyes.

“How dare you ask me of helping you to gain victory!?” the man yelled. Slaine was not surprised the man had gotten fired up but he had not been expecting it to be that soon.

“I am asking you for help to settle this war for the benefit of both nations,” Slaine said calmly. “I will not ask anything more of you than to free the hostage of this city. You have the power of 200 men who are trained in military combat. If the UFE training is as through as I expect it to be I am sure it will not be too difficult for you if the companies are busy on the battlefield."

"And what makes you think we would stop at that?” Marito hissed.

“Even better,” Slaine answered. “I do not mind if you keep fighting but first you have to weaken Soldier Red by relieving him of the hostage which he uses to pressure UFE.”

“Are you mad?” the man said and looked stunned at Slaine’s request.

“I must be or else I would not have come here,” Slaine said quietly and slowly lowered his gun.

“The best people usually are,” the Lieutenant muttered. “Although I don’t think I should give you that much credit.”

Slaine kept his eyes on the man in case he would try to attack him again and said:

“Project Gaia will start tomorrow morning, planned by me and my fiancé to bring Soldier Red down. I need your assistance.”

“You are a traitor. How can I trust you?” Marito asked and narrowed his eyes. It was a fair question.

“You can’t,” Slaine said frankly. “You have to take a chance.”

The blond showed the Lieutenant no hesitation despite he was almost panicking inside. He needed the man’s help in order to win. He needed the man to trust him enough to at least get the hostage out of the city.

“And that chance is based on what?” Marito wanted to know and Slaine took a deep breath from his resolution to save Earth and Vers, and flipped the gun in his hand to offer the gun grip to the man.

“You can either shoot me here and now; I will not have a chance to stop you – but if you do Earth will fall into Vers’ hands since I will not be there to prevent it. Is this enough trust for you?”

Marito snorted.

“You are offering your enemy a gun?” he asked and Slaine shook his head:

“If you accept my request you are not my enemy, and neither will I be yours.”

The Lieutenant stared at the gun and hesitated. He seemed to think there was something more to it and it being a trap, but Slaine patiently waited. The blond was nervous and tried to hide that he trembled. The adrenaline was putting him be on edge and he had difficulty of hiding it.

Without warning the man took the gun from Slaine’s hand and shoved him up against the wall with such force Slaine hit the back of his head against the wall and a sharp pain flashed through his mind.

“I can smell your fear,” the man hissed closed to his ear as the cold metallic barrel pushed against Slaine’s jaw. “It was a mistake to offer me a gun.”

“It was a proof of my trust in you,” Slaine hissed back from between his teeth; the gun pushed hard enough against his jaw he could not speak properly. “Pull the trigger if you wish but that will end up with you carrying the responsibility of Earth losing the war. I am the only one who can settle this once and for all.”

“Why would I trust you? You have caused nothing but pain ever since you decided to fight on Vers’ side. You are a traitor; you were one of us but chose the enemy side,” Marito growled. The man was angry. “It’s because of you I have lost many of my men.”

“And many more will die if you refuse to help me,” Slaine whispered and tried to relax in order to show the man he was not a threat. “I have already gotten help from someone at UFE to capture you and your men for this plan to be possible, and he will continue assisting me until this war is over. I need your assistance from inside the Versian barricade.”

“Who?” the man demanded and the smell of alcohol became strong.

“I cannot tell you or else he will be in trouble and he will not be able to assist me.”

“WHO!?”

Slaine kept silent. He would not tell the man Inaho’s name to whatever cost he was forced to pay by Marito’s hand. He gritted his teeth and grabbed the man on his shoulders to try and push him off of him but Marito refused to let him go. The gun barrel was scraping against Slaine’s jaw from the force the man put behind it.

“Tell me who!”

“Please,” Slaine said quietly from between his teeth. “If you want me to beg then I will but you will not help the war by killing me since I am not the one in control of the Versian forces. Soldier Red is the one in command and I am just a powerless monarch. That is why I need your help.”

“What will you gain from it?” Marito asked and leaned slightly back from Slaine to look him in the eyes. The man was standing so close Slaine was completely immobile. “Show me how sincere you are.”

Slaine’s sharp eyes softened at the man’s command and he held his breath as he tried to find the words to say. He was so terrified even his breath threatened to tremble. As he had thought for a while and was grateful for Marito’s patience, he said:

“I will gain Vers and hopefully peace, and…” He hesitated at ending his sentence but Marito nudged his jaw with the gun and Slaine grabbed the man’s wrist to try and pull the gun slightly down as his jaw ached horribly. “And I will save the Terran I love.”

The man’s harsh eyes opened wide at hearing Slaine’s words and took a step back. The pressure from the gun disappeared fron Slaine’s jaw and the blond leaned slightly forward and rubbed the irritated skin on his jaw with a pained expression. Marito took another step back, and then another while he kept staring that the blond with the gun hanging from his hand at his side.

“You’re not doing this simply because you are power hungry?” the Terran Lieutenant asked and Slaine shook his head:

“No. I have the same reasons to stop this war as you probably have. In this war I am not much different from you.”

Marito raised his hand to look at the gun resting in it. He stared at it for a while and Slaine waited for the man’s next move – which surprised him as the Lieutenant began laughing quietly and walked over to the pocked flask which lay on the floor after it had been knocked off of the table. He picked it up, took a sip and then closed the lid to throw it to Slaine. The blond caught it with astonishment.

“I just realized the gun is empty of bullets,” Marito said while laughing. “I guess I can treat you for a sip, Troyard. Watch it; it’s strong.”

“Does this mean you will assist me?” Slaine asked before taking a sip from the pocket flask which was symbolical to sealing their deal. He had started to relax and feel relieved.

“If you give me what I need I will cause a ruckus in the city, if that is what you need,” the man answered.

“Very well, Lieutenant,” Slaine said, picked up a box of ammunition from his coat pocket to throw it to the Terran man and then took a small sip of the liquor in the pocket flask to seal their deal. “You can start by taking down the soldiers guarding this stadium. Their rifles are fully loaded. I made sure of that. Just … try not to kill them if you can avoid it.”

“You really are mad,” Marito grinned and grabbed the flask as Slaine threw it back with a slight smile on the blond’s lips.

“Did you not say that the best people usually are?”

***

Are you there, Inaho?” a voice said in the radio.

“Yes, what is it, Calm?” Inaho answered and waited while he made a system check on Sleipnir. His radio had been noisy all morning after he had been ordered to go out into battle to protect the UFE headquarters which the Martians were after.

Be careful out there. Sleipnir isn’t what it used to be after all the battles it has gone through. The system is unstable and I patched up the mechanical parts but it refuses to function to 100 percent despite the overhaul. It’s like Sleipnir is tired.

“It’s all right,” Inaho said calmly and grabbed the controls as the system check was ready. “I just need to get the Martians’ attention to lure them away from the city. Sleipnir doesn’t have to work too hard.”

You say that now but I know you will begin with crazy stunts the moment you get the chance,” the Engine Cadet said worriedly.

“If the situation requires that so be it. Thank you for maintaining Sleipnir as always,” Inaho said calmly. He looked at the small book of the boy who would never grow up, which he had placed in front of him and smiled. Then he spoke to his platoon: “Mustang Platoon, head out.”

The kataphracts moved out of the hangar together with several other platoons and the air force squadron was already in the air awaiting the navy and army troops to arrive to the battle area. They would begin the attack in about an hour to push the Martians back from the area. Luckily the Martians’ priority was the city and Hyper Gate and not the headquarters, and so the threat of the Landing Castles in orbit was little to none. To use the Landing Castles to protect the headquarters was a waste of Martian resources.

“Mustang Leader to Company Leader, requesting a briefing on the Versian Counts’ kataphracts,” he said in the radio and a white noise accompanied him for a short while before a voice answered him:

Copy that, Mustang Leader.

***

“The Terrans are mobilizing,” Harklight said as he stared at the screen in front of him. It showed the video of Terran kataphracts and tanks moving toward the Japanese UFE headquarters from the south. The bridge was occupied by Harklight, Slaine and Lemrina along with Countess Azelein who waited for orders.

“They seem heavily armed and quite impressively prepared this time,” Slaine said as he stood behind Harklight.

“Impressive?” Lemrina asked with a slight mischievous smile. “They are no match for us – you know that, Slaine.”

Slaine gave her a wry smile and said:

“I would not say that, Princess. Orange is out with them.”

“The Ace of UFE,” Harklight said quietly. “Countess Azelein – you will head out with your Deimos and take your Company with you.”

“Yes, my Lord,” the Countess answered and left the bridge.

“I would suggest ordering Arbelladon to join her,” Slaine said steadily and waited for Harklight’s reaction.

“You think it is necessary, my Prince?” Harklight asked and looked at Slaine over his shoulder.

“Since Orange is out there I would say yes.”

The Commander sighed and contacted Arbelladon in his Landing Castle and ordered him out as well in his kataphract Phobos to assist Azelein with his Company.

***

My shots won’t hit!” he heard Yuki yell in the radio. “They just bounce back! I just got hit by my own shot! My armor is damaged!

“Keep moving and do not stop in one place,” Inaho ordered as he circled around the Martian kataphract called Phobos.

What does that mean?” his sister yelled in frustration.

“Your shots will bounce back to the spot where you shot them from.”

I still don’t get it!

Inaho stared at the Martian kataphract and studied its actions. It had rifles but it did not use them; it relied on the fire from the Terran kataphracts which it bounced right back to the source from where they came from. It stood mostly still waiting for the Terrans to shoot and use their rounds as its weapons, but once it moved it shot with its rifles. The direction of the shots seemed to be bound to the exact space from where they were shot and did not have their direction altered in any way. It was like it reversed the rounds’ directions. Inaho had fired several shots against it but all of his rounds were directed back and he had discovered if he kept moving none of his rounds would hit him.

It changes the shots’ velocity?’ he thought and kept shooting at the Martian kataphract as he watched all of his rounds bounce back. ‘Kinetic energy; classic mechanics in Physics.’

“Mustang Leader to all units: Do not let them corner you. Keep moving at all cost when you open fire. Never stand still,” he ordered in the radio and the units close by confirmed his order.

He had to figure out why the kataphract was not shooting with its own rifles and from what point the barrier around it reflected back the rounds which were shot at it. There had to be a limit to its barrier.

“Fire,” he said to himself and fired with his rifle while he circled around the kataphract. He tracked the fired round’s course with his analytical engine and saw it bounce back to where he had been just a second ago. “Play imagery. Slow it down.” The quiet buzz from the analytical engine echoed in his mind as it went to work and the image of the round which had just bounced back was reflected in front of his vision.

The round is not in contact with the kataphract…’ he thought and frowned.

“Mustang 22. Shoot the kataphract from a perfect 90 degree angle from where I am,” he ordered and heard the stressed voice of Rayet answer in the radio:

A perfect angle is impossible.”

“Then make it as close to a 90 degree angle as you can,” Inaho ordered and saw Rayet’s kataphract emerge from behind the Martian kataphract.

She got into position and stopped to reload before she got into motion again and fired at the Martian kataphract with a perfect aim. The round bounced back again.

“Play imagery,” Inaho mumbled and watched Rayet’s shot enter the barrier the Martian kataphract seemed to have, and it bounced back. “10 meters,” he mumbled as he confirmed the distance of the barrier. “How big volumes can it bounce back?”

As far as Inaho had noticed the Martian kataphract could direct back the size of the rounds they were firing at it and he wondered if it had a limit to how big objects it could handle. It had to be standing still while using the barrier which meant the barrier was dependent on the unit being in complete stasis while active.

It can only reverse the given velocities of our rounds from positive to negative, not accelerate them.’

“Mustang 11: Throw a vehicle at it,” he said into the radio.

Are we going to stop it with cars now!?” Yuki shouted. “Nao, what are you thinking!?

“Do you want to go into close combat with it instead?” Inaho asked and heard a distressed sigh on the other end of the radio and saw Yuki’s kataphract pick up an abandoned red civilian car from the side of the road. She lunged the car at the Martian kataphract and surprisingly it went through the barrier and hit the kataphract with little to no damage as a result, and it began moving again. “As I thought,” Inaho said calmly.

It worked!” Inko exclaimed.

“It cannot bounce back heavier objects like vehicles,” Inaho notified the Terran units. “All units: Distract it with whatever heavy objects you can find.”

He began firing AP shells at it the moment the barrier went down as it began moving to get away from the objects thrown at it, and it raised its machine guns placed on its arms to knock the AP shells off course. Inaho wondered why it did not shoot while in stasis with the barrier active and he had a hypothesis which could explain why. He had to take a chance and began closing in on the Martian kataphract while he kept firing AP shells, and got a successful hit on its left leg. The enemy kataphract began backing away as its leg had been damaged and Inaho rushed toward it while the Mustang Platoon was throwing civilian cars at it. He would not let it get away.

Inaho! What are you doing!?” Inko yelled in the radio but Inaho ignored it; he was focused on what he was about to do.

As he came close enough for the Martian pilot to become intimidated it stopped and activated its barrier.

Useless,’ Inaho thought and entered the barrier which had no effect on him. The kataphract was not intended for close combat and seemed to function more like that of a shield to protect the forces behind it; after getting separated from its forces it was wide open if challenged with close combat.

Inaho pulled the knife Sleipnir was equipped with and slammed it into the enemy. The armor was thick and the knife had no effect on the Martian kataphract and slided off of it.

I need the AP shells.’

You think you can damage me like this, Terran?” he heard a man say in the radio. “It is useless. My armor is thick enough to take you on.

“You cannot move with the barrier active,” Inaho stated. “You are a stationary target.”

Target for what? You cannot shoot inside the barrier,” the man answered with a voice which sounded like he was smirking.

“Neither can you.”

Inaho backed away again to the border of the barrier. He was protected by the enemy’s own weapon which made him not worried about getting attacked and ran toward it. He rammed into it, knocking it back as its left leg would not hold the impact and the barrier went down. Instantly he aimed at the enemy with the rifle and fired.

***

Count Arbelladon is down!” was heard from the speakers on the bridge.

Harklight stared at the screen as a smoke cloud emerged from where Arbelladon had fallen on the battlefield. Slaine kept his eyes on the man and waited impatiently. He wondered if Marito had gone into action but no reports had come in from the Versian soldiers guarding the city.

“Countess Azelein,” Harklight said calmly but with a hint of anger in his tone. “Hunt the orange kataphract down.”

Yes, my Lord!” they heard the woman answer.

Slaine and Lemrina exchanged a quick glance behind Harklight and she seemed just as nervous as Slaine.

“Should you not head out as well?” Lemrina asked Harklight, who turned around to look at her. “We know the pilot for the orange kataphract is a difficult enemy.”

Lemrina’s advice was not something Slaine had had in his calculations and suddenly found it as a golden moment to advance his plan faster than expected.

The man looked somewhat troubled.

“Who will take charge of the city?” he said and turned to look at the screen again. “There has to be someone in command here.”

“Then send me out,” Slaine said as he took a step forward and turned his eyes sharper. “Give me an aircraft and I shall give Countess Azelein support from the sky.”

“I cannot risk your life, Your Highness,” Harklight said as he knitted his eyebrows. “You, together with Princess Lemrina, are the future of our kingdom.”

“Then leave the city in my command,” Slaine offered. “I know I am not allowed to give orders but at a time like this you have to look beyond what you can and cannot do.”

“That would be going against our newly founded laws which regulate the role of a monarch. What kind of message would that give the people? Autocracy is banned and thus a monarch cannot have military power,” Harklight answered and looked even more troubled.

“You have put yourself in a difficult position, Harklight,” Lemrina said with a saddened smile. “Then pull back the troops from the battlefield.”

Slaine almost took a step back at hearing her say something like that but stopped his reaction in the last moment. If the troops would be pulled back Marito would have difficulties with freeing the hostage as well as continuing on with the deal Slaine had made with him. The Terran Lieutenant would not stand a chance against a complete Companies of Versian soldiers.

What are you doing, Lemrina!?’ he thought and stared at her in shock.

“I cannot lose this battle,” Harklight said with a slightly stressed voice. “If we lose this battle the people will lose faith in me. We have to advance.”

“And while you stand here stubbornly the orange kataphract will threaten to take our victory away,” the woman said and leaned back against the wheelchair’s backrest and closed her eyes, and continued: “Or then we could offer peace and negotiate.”

She was testing the waters and skillfully so. Lemrina never hesitated and had always been outspoken of what she was thinking. Slaine just hoped she would not give away their plan and he had no way to stop her without it seeming suspicious for Harklight.

We need to corner him while not giving UFE any winning ground,’ Slaine thought and prayed Lemrina would not reveal their vision just yet.

“We will not negotiate with the enemy,” Harklight said calmly. “Earth has to fall into Vers’ rule or Vers will-“

He was interrupted by a radio call from a panicked man who shouted in the radio:

The Terran soldiers are armed! They are attacking us!

The echoes of gunshots could be heard in the background with screaming and yelling. Harklight stared at the radio with shock as he had difficulties of understanding what was happening but then called the soldier back.

“Is it the hostage in the city?” he asked but got no other answer but static. “How was it possible for them to get armed!? Answer me!”

Slaine looked at Lemrina who nodded with a frown and slowly the blond pulled a gun to aim it at Harklight.

“Harklight,” Slaine said quietly and the man turned around and his face became pale as he saw the gun in Slaine’s hand. “I am temporarily relieving you of your command.”

Chapter Text

The dark haired man took a step back and stared at Slaine with such eyes that the blond had to hold his breath to keep calm. The man was shocked and seemed to feel an impulse of great anger. Slaine had to be determined and cold. He had to stand his ground no matter how close he was to a breakdown.

“Was it you, my Prince?” Harklight said quietly and his face contorted from distress. “Was it you who armed them?”

“Forgive me,” Slaine said and stepped closer. “I cannot let you go through with your plan. This war will lead to nothing but devastation. I hope you will understand within minutes.”

“Listen to him, Harklight,” Lemrina said quietly. She moved to the control panel and pushed down a button to open up the Landing Castle’s ground gate to let the Terran soldiers inside. “This war will lead to nothing but hostility and that has proven to be dangerous between nations.”

“My Prince… Princess…” Harklight whispered while he looked like he could not believe what was happening. His eyes wandered from Slaine to Lemrina, and back again – over and over in an attempt to find some sort of sign that they were not serious.

“Even if you win this war, Harklight, the oppression of the people on Earth will continue. In the end a civil war will break out and drain more of our resources – something which we cannot afford,” Slaine said and made a gesture with the gun to Harklight, to step away from the control panel. The man hesitated at first but once he had come to the understanding of his will being too weak to rebel against a man with a gun, he stepped away from the panel. “Thank you, Harklight,” Slaine said somewhat relieved over not being forced to harm his former loyal subordinate, before he continued: “Vers has been hostile toward Terrans for too long. The aggressiveness, which birthed from Emperor Gilzeria’s desperate attempt to gain control of his angry people, is harmful for the future you want to create. You can be better than that, Harklight.”

The Terran soldiers are invading the castle!” someone yelled in the radio and commotion could be heard in the background.

Harklight and Slaine stared at each other for the longest seconds in Slaine’s life. He knew the man did not trust him right now – nor did he believe in him. It was something Slaine did not blame since he knew the aggression towards Terrans was all Harklight had known, and that kind of aggression had been used by Slaine as well in the past. ‘Of course he would believe in that kind of tactic considering what else he has done in my name,’ he thought saddened. ‘Do not idolize my past self.

“What are you planning, my Prince and Princess?” Harklight asked quietly after the long seconds had passed. “Why would you open the gates and let the enemy invade our castle?”

Slaine knitted his eyebrows in determination as an attempt to find stability; his thoughts were colored with nervousness and threatened to not come together at all to help him explain their situation for the man.

“To force you down and accept negotiations with Earth,” Slaine answered frankly. “I and Lemrina shall give ourselves over to the Terrans so they have you and Vers under control.”

Harklight’s eyes widened with horror as he seemed to realize what Slaine was going to do.

“Are you making yourselves; Vers’ future, into their hostage!?” the man asked with a loud voice which filled the room with a sharp echo. “You cannot do that! They will kill you!”

“They dare not,” the swallow chirped from behind Slaine and Harklight looked at Lemrina. “They know how powerful Vers can be, and a strong but desperate nation is far too dangerous to deal with when angered. If Vers has nothing to lose, Earth has everything to lose. The Terrans know that,” Lemrina said calmly as she pushed her wheelchair closer to Harklight. “We have Landing Castles in orbit that can be used as a threat in case the Terrans try to endanger our lives. If we land them into the Hyper Gates, only our Maker knows what will happen to Earth.”

Her calm made Slaine feel slightly calmer himself and he was grateful for the strength she had in a situation like the one they found themselves in. It strengthened him as well to know he was not alone.

“Lemrina and I do not belong to ourselves anymore,” Slaine continued. “We belonged to the people of Vers from the moment we accepted the title of monarchs, and if the Terrans hurt us in any way, the retaliation is sure to come to the highest cost for both nations. Earth cannot afford that and thus you have them as your hostage as well.”

“But my Lord Slaine-!” Harklight yelled in a manner which was out of character, but stopped his outburst in the middle of his sentence. “Your Highness… Our safety cannot be guaranteed. This is an outrageous act!”

Slaine’s determined look faded and he looked at his former subordinate with pleading eyes. They were all tired and desperate for this war to end. Slaine was exhausted in mind and body and no matter how hard he tried to make his resolve shine through, his strength wavered. He could not uphold the mask he had been wearing.

“Be a better man than Gilzeria, Harklight,” he said quietly. “Be brave and reach out a forthcoming hand to the Terrans. Establish peace by proving yourself to be the leader who is willing to offer a bridge of hope to the weak and desperate – even to your enemies.”

Harklight cut through the air with his arm in frustration while another radio transmission from a poorly trained Versian soldier echoed in the room. The transmission told them the Terran soldiers were forcing their way deeper into the castle while the majority of the Versian soldiers were occupied on the battlefield. No support had the time to come.

“I cannot lose this war!” the dark haired man yelled with fire burning in his eyes, kindled by the desperate transmission. “I will lose the people’s loyalty if Vers is forced to accept demands from Earth!”

“It is too late for that, I am afraid,” Lemrina said with an amused smile playing on her lips. Her calm was baffling for Slaine since he himself felt like he was on the verge of a breakdown; he had begun to tremble from stress and pressure. “The Terrans will besiege this bridge in no time and wait us out. You have all the time in the world to come to a decision, so make good use of it; the Terrans will not get in here due to the room’s armoring.”

“You are asking me to do what the Empress did,” Harklight exhaled and a defeated expression washed over his face. The heavyhearted sigh wiped away the fire from Harklight’s eyes and voice. “The people of Vers were not happy under her rule.”

“No,” Slaine said quickly. “One difference is that – while the Empress tried to please the Terrans more than her own people – you shall please your people first by demanding what Vers needs from Earth.”

“The people know you are sharp and more than capable as a leader. You are not as naïve as Asseylum, and neither are we,” Lemrina said quietly to the distressed Harklight, and then looked up at Slaine with her smile disappearing. “We have already taken on the duty to make as many heirs as Vers needs in order to have a safe future; the royal family has to be big in order to guarantee the bloodline’s survival. All you have to do, Harklight-“ she said and looked at the man again. “Is to convince the people that your peace is better than my sister’s.”

An explosion was heard from somewhere in the castle and the bridge fell into silence as all three waited for each other to either give up or keep arguing. Slaine lowered the gun he was holding in an attempt to silently ask for Harklight’s forgiveness, and the dark haired man stared back at him expressing a mixture of pity and anger.

I am just as scared as you,’ Slaine thought and looked worriedly over to the armored door separating them and Marito’s soldiers, who would be hammering at it any second.

***

Nao! Watch out!

“I see it,” Inaho answered to his worried sister who was busy avoiding a burst of fire from the enemy kataphrakt in the form of a distraction. A loud bang of metal clashing together almost deafened Inaho as his kataphrakt was hit even though he knew he had made a faultless dodge.

How? I know I dodged it.’

The pearly white Versian kataphrakt was after Inaho, hunting him like a starving predator and did not give Inaho a chance to recollect his thoughts after each attack which was almost impossible to avoid. It moved fast and smoothly like it was lighter than Inaho’s kataphrakt, which meant it was not armored in order to keep its ability to move high; an armor would only slow it down.

While it tried to distract the rest of Inaho’s platoon with machine gun fire it directed skillful blows at Inaho’s kataphrakt with its main weapon; a great mace. Inaho had been hit two times even though he was perfectly sure he had managed to dodge the blows; somehow he had ended up dodging right into the blows, leaving his orange kataphrakt violently protesting. His machine was rattling after some of its armor had been loosened from the hits, and the pressure in the hydraulic system was decreasing while the engine was growing hotter. He had to build distance to the enemy kataphrakt since staying in close combat range with it had proven to be a failure, but no matter how he tried to escape it, it was right behind him.

How? How is it managing to hit me?

“Mustang platoon, I need you to distract it,” he said into the radio and looked at the system status flashing a warning at him on several screens, screaming at him that his kataphrakt was soon a goner. “My kataphrakt is failing.”

It keeps dodging our attacks,” Rayet answered after she had released a burst of fire at the enemy. “It behaves like the Tharsis.”

No… This is something different than the Tharsis’ precognitive abilities.’ Inaho was sure of that since the enemy kataphrakt did not behave like Slaine’s Tharsis did in the past. Tharsis had been able to dodge attacks it foresaw by delicate calculations and thus there had been room for mistakes by the pilot, but this new kataphrakt was foreseeing everything in some kind of way which Inaho had not seen before. He had dodged it successfully several times according to his analytical engine’s calculations, and yet he had been hit; Inaho had foreseen its mistakes and acted according to them but it was like the enemy kataphrakt was correcting its own mistakes according to Inaho’s moves. That was something Tharsis had not been able to do.

The endless possibilities of the Versian kataphrakts – due to their Aldnoah technology – never seized to surprise Inaho. Each enemy kataphrakt he had seen had been exploiting the rules of physics to degrees no one on Earth had been able to recreate. Inaho had been capable enough to eventually detect the rules the different enemy kataphrakts had controlled, but this time he was standing face to face with a rule he was not completely familiar with.

It’s affecting time. How much can it affect it?

“Mustang platoon. I will move toward you,” Inaho declared in the radio to his platoon. “Get into a half-moon formation. I need you to attack it with intervals according to my orders.”

His call was heard and confirmed by the others and immediately his platoon began to get into formation. They waited for Inaho to move closer. Considering the agitated way the enemy kataphrakt was chasing Inaho, it would be easy to distract it and get it into position, and so Inaho began to turn around toward his team once again. All he could do right now was to hope Sleipnir could hold together long enough for him to get to his goal.

The great mace was raised again by the enemy kataphrakt. Inaho’s analytical engine immediately calculated the curve of its movement and it turned out to be a direct hit if Inaho did nothing.

I need to work with time…’ he thought. If he would have the slightest chance against it Inaho had to work with the ability the enemy was using.

“Mustang Platoon, make your first attack three seconds long. Full fire,” he ordered into the radio and immediately he heard Inko yell:

But Inaho! You might get hit!

“It doesn’t matter. Open fire,” Inaho ordered and just a second later a burst of fire flew past him toward the enemy kataphrakt. Inaho kept track of the seconds through a countdown in his analytical engine. “One…”

Inaho trusted his team to not hit him and he was not surprised of how sure their aim was; he was not hit once. The enemy kataphrakt’s attack was interrupted by the solid burst of ammunition that came toward it, and Inaho watched the behavior of the machine. It dodged the bullets without getting hit once even if Inaho’s analytical engine had calculated the hits to be perfect. The enemy seemed to know where each bullet would hit it.

“Two…”

The kataphrakt circled around the bullets like a dancer; easily avoiding each of them, slowly working its way closer to Inaho.

“Three. Hold your fire,” Inaho ordered and prepared himself for the enemy kataphrakt’s new attack. He watched it raise its great mace once again when it dashed toward him. “Four second attack. Open fire,” he then said calmly and once again a burst of bullets rained toward the enemy kataphrakt, interrupting its attack. “One…”

The enemy kept dodging masterfully and once the four second attack was done Inaho attempted a five second long attack. He would soon be too close to the others and would not be able to experiment with time the same way without making new distance to the enemy; that would lead him away from his team.

“Four… Five…” he counted and was suddenly surprised. The enemy was hit the moment his analytical engine showed the number six.

Five seconds limit…’ he thought as a mental note to himself.

I’m almost out of ammunition,” he heard Rayet say in the radio and the rest confirmed their shortage of ammunition as well.

“Preserve your ammunition. I’ll stop it from dodging. When I order you to open fire, you attack it with everything you have,” he ordered them and suddenly put Sleipnir to a sudden halt.

The enemy dashed toward him and raised its great mace. Inaho stood completely still and watched it get closer. He heard the yells of Yuki and the others in his radio to move or he would get hit, but he ordered them to stay calm and not open fire.

It can’t go further back in time than five seconds.’

A bang was heard. The hit by the enemy was violent enough that the airbag around Inaho’s head inflated. The shaking and rumbling from the protesting machinery of Sleipnir echoed in the cockpit and Inaho’s kataphrakt finally gave way and fell to the ground. Warning text in an angry red color flashed on the screens with instructions to eject the cockpit. The pressure in the hydraulic system to its legs dropped considerately and the engine became hot enough it would break down any moment.

***

A loud metallic bang attacked their ears in the silent room, which felt more like an execution chamber than a bridge. Slaine was breathing with strained breaths, inhaling and exhaling slowly to control the growing panic which threatened to consume him while the feeling of being cornered in an impossible situation grew along with the bangs. He had found support from one of the control panels on the left side of the bridge and leaned back against it with his arms as support. He had dropped the gun as it had gotten heavy in his hand; it had felt like a burden too hefty for him to carry. Another metallic bang made his thoughts and emotions spin and he was forced to hold his breath in order to stop it from quickening.

Harklight had been standing silently with his eyes directed at the armored door. The Terran soldiers had managed to advance all the way to the bridge. Reinforcements must have come to aid them due to their quick pace of taking over the castle, or then the drunken man called Marito had been exceptionally skilled as a leader of forces. It was not surprising though; the Versian soldiers were poorly trained while the soldiers from Earth had an incredible sense of tactic. Harklight had not moved from where he had been standing. He had been too occupied with contemplating on what to do.

“The big bad wolf is huffing and puffing outside,” Lemrina said quietly with a concerned expression. Slaine and Harklight jumped from her sudden words and looked toward her. “Have you made up your mind, Soldier Red?” she asked and looked at the dark haired man. “Will you trust our plan or will you let the wolf take you due to pride and stubbornness?”

Harklight stared at her for a long while, whereas the metallic banging from the other side of the door accompanied them in the otherwise deathly quiet room. Harklight thought for so long that they had grown used to the loud noise from outside the bridge and did not react to it suddenly going silent. Slaine had not noticed it. Harklight had not noticed it, and nor had Lemrina noticed it. They all were too busy being quiet and deal with their racing thoughts. Slaine and Lemrina were waiting for Harklight to voice his next move and when the man was about to part his lips to form words a sudden and deafening explosion was heard from the door to the bridge. Dust was sent flying and Slaine’s heart squeezed in his chest.

They are trying to penetrate the armored doors,’ he thought and stared at the floor next to the bridge doors, where the dust slowly settled. He grabbed the coat above his chest and turned his eyes to the floor between his feet instead. A pathetic whimper of panic and anxiety threatened to slip from between his lips. ‘Inaho!’ He had to stay calm and strong. He had no choice even if he wanted to fall to his knees and hope this all was nothing but a nightmare.

“Slaine,” Lemrina said and was about to move closer, when a shadow covered Slaine’s field of vision and another set of military boots – the same as Slaine’s – emerged in his vision.

The blond man looked up, shocked at who was standing so close to him, and Slaine tried to quickly gather his frightened mind to make distance between him and the shadow caster. He met the eyes of his former subordinate and warm hands were placed on Slaine’s cheeks. The light of unconditional loyalty in those eyes was so nostalgic to Slaine, as it had somehow found its way back to Harklight’s eyes.

“Harklight?” Slaine whispered and was prepared to run. He wondered why the man looked so saddened while looking at him, and a snake of paranoia was coiling around in Slaine’s guts.

“My lord…” the man said quietly with a voice filled with sorrowful worry. “This might get us killed if the enemy gets through those doors.”

Slaine kept staring up at Harklight’s eyes and felt the warmness from the man’s hands against his cold cheeks comfort him. There was nothing dangerous in those dark eyes. Slaine realized it was the first time this man touched him so tenderly; years back the man would only look at Slaine with devotion and respect but never touch him. They had always had a respectful distance to each other, but now that unvoiced rule had been broken.

The tired monarch took a short but deep breath and answered Soldier Red’s sorrowful smile like a mirror.

“Perhaps,” Slaine said quietly and took a careful hold of Harklight’s hands to lower them from his now warm cheeks. He did not release them. “But they are our enemy only if you make them take on that role. If we survive – which I dearly hope we will for both nations and ourselves – I suggest you accept negotiations with them. As I give myself over to them with Lemrina, let us be your ambassadors during the negotiations.”

Harklight stared at Slaine for a while as he was in deep thoughts. Slaine patiently waited, hoping that Soldier Red and his former subordinate would accept the situation Slaine and Lemrina had created. Slaine could not do without him – not in the mental condition he was in – and Lemrina, as the Queen of Vers and mother to Mars’ future, would need support even if she was more than capable of theoretical politics. Being a ruler was dangerous in practice and Slaine feared for her life and health. Harklight was ready, as well as capable, to take on the political role of Vers’ future and would relieve Lemrina of the dangerous duty. The royal family needed him.

When Harklight did not utter a word Slaine felt a pang of quilt.

“Forgive me for not trusting you enough and have you go through something as hard as this,” he said and waited for a response from the man, but there was none. “I was not sure if you would listen to me. You have gone against my word once before; I know how determined you can be. I had to force you down like this.”

Harklight lowered his gaze in defeat.

“You know me well,” the man said respectfully. “I would not have listened to you because I believe in my ideology and tactic which I found through you. But now that you have forced me into this position I have no choice but to do as you ask of me.”

Slaine sighed heavily.

“Forgive me…”

Harklight did not raise his gaze to look at him.

“Do you honestly believe your and Lemrina’s plan will succeed?” the man wanted to know.

Slaine shook his head slowly.

“I cannot foresee what will happen, but if we get the chance to negotiate I am sure the tension between Earth and Vers will slowly begin to unravel. If this goes as planned we have many decades of hard work ahead of us,” he said quietly. “Even our children and grandchildren will be forced to work hard in order to convince the people that this is the right way to a brighter future but-“ He paused to take a deep breath and searched for Harklight’s gaze. “But I am sure our hard work will bear fruit to a peaceful future of mutual respect and understanding between the nations.”

Harklight sighed heavily by letting his breath spill out of him while thinking over Slaine’s words, but then he nodded before he looked up at Slaine once again to quietly say:

“As you wish, my Lord.”

Slaine’s sorrowful smile turned slightly brighter as he watched the man before him.

“Thank you, Harklight,” he said and relaxed. “Make the transmission of truce. Call our troops on the battlefield to a halt.”

Harklight frowned as his pride seemed to scream at him to not give up on the war. Slaine knew Vers would be able to force Earth down to its knees if he just let the war continue, but that would not be a productive future for neither nations. It was better to ask for truce like this instead of be taken down by force in the future by rebels.

That way we preserve Vers’ future,’ Slaine thought and let go of Harklight’s hands to let the man walk over to the control panel. He watched his defeated figure for a while before Slaine walked over to Lemrina to take her hand into his. He stood next to her with a straight back and took a desperate hold of the last remaining courage he had.

“And so it begins,” he heard Lemrina say quietly and Slaine looked down at her. She looked up at him with nervous but determined eyes. “We are in this together, right?” she asked and worry washed over her expression. Now that the end was so near and the loud banging against the doors began once again, her courage wavered.

Slaine gave her hand a gentle squeeze and nodded:

“All three of us.”

***

Inaho stared at the majestic Versian kataphrakt above him and Sleipnir, as it readied itself to smash Inaho’s machine into pieces. He reached out a hand toward the radio to change the frequency. He changed the frequency just in time to interrupt a panicked call from Yuki who screamed at Inaho to escape.

“Martian,” he said into the radio on the open link and the enemy stopped. Beads of sweat rolled down his temples. “Congratulations. You got the orange enemy kataphrakt down.”

Congratulating an enemy for bringing you down?” he heard a haughty female voice answer. “No matter how well-mannered I am I do not feel like accepting your compliments, Terran.”

Inaho kept his cool and said:

“I am greatly hurt and my kataphrakt will not move. Please-“ He made Sleipnir reach out a hand toward the Martian kataphrakt in a pathetic manner and grabbed the metallic leg of the enemy machine. “I am already down. There is no need to kill me.”

He activated the hydraulic system in Sleipnir’s hand to add maximum force of pressure into the fingers to lock the enemy kataphrakt in his grip. Inaho set his analytical engine to count down.

One…

Begging for your life?” an amused voice was heard from the radio.

Two…

If you would not have been the ace of UFE I would have considered sparing your life for a little while longer, Terran,” she continued.

Three…

“I am already down. I will not be able to move or fight and so I will not be a threat to you,” Inaho continued.

Four…

Being a threat or not. This is war, not a game!

Five…

“Then you should stop acting like this is a game and realize where you are right now,” Inaho said and changed the frequency back to his platoon. “Mustang platoon. I have the enemy secured. Go to full assault.”

We can’t shoot you!” he heard Inko say desperately but a sudden shot penetrated the Versian kataphrakt’s hull.

He ordered a full assault,” Rayet said calmly. “The enemy can’t dodge in Kaizuka’s grip. Take it down.

The enemy had been caught in Inaho’s trap for over five seconds which lead to it not being able to back enough in time to escape Sleipnir’s grip. Since it was not armored as heavily as the others, it would take considerable damage once being hit. The Mustang platoon went into full assault mode in order to bring it down. Bullets hit Inaho’s Sleipnir at times while he prepared for the emergency ejection. Just as the enemy had raised her great mace into the air to finish him off, Inaho pulled the lever to the ejection system and abandoned Sleipnir to let it face its end alone. He would not be taken along the enemy pilot into death.

Inaho could not see what was going on outside of the ejected cockpit and waited for it to land. As it had stopped moving he hesitantly opened the hatch to peek outside and saw the enemy kataphrakt – which had been considerately damaged by AP shells – fall to its knees and then slump forward over the trashed Sleipnir. Inaho’s plan had been successful.

Just as he was about to order for someone to pick him up and put him into a new kataphrakt a transmission interrupted him on the emergency channel, which said:

Versian soldiers, stop your attacks.” It was the voice of the enemy leader; Soldier Red. “Terran soldiers have taken over our Landing Castle and we are surrounded. I repeat: Stop your attacks.” Confusion bulleted through the battlefield but the fighting did not stop. Inaho listened intently to the transmission. “UFE. I – Soldier Red – and the Royal Family of Vers are offering a truce. I ask you to spare the lives of our men who are ordered to lower their weapons. We are willing to negotiate.

The battle began to quiet down. One after another of the enemy kataphrakts lowered their weapons and dropped them to the ground. Some refused to give up in a foolish attempt to take down as many UFE kataphrakts as possible due to sheer pride and tenaciousness; they did not want to accept defeat but they had been thrown into a disoriented tactic. Those were quickly either killed or incapacitated by the UFE troops.

You did it, Slaine,’ Inaho thought and watched the battlefield go quieter for each second that passed, until the only thing that could be heard was the breeze sweeping across the field.

***

Slaine watched the hunched figure of Harklight after the defeated man had made the transmission. The dark haired man was leaning exhaustedly against the control panel and Slaine felt pity toward him. He remembered how hard it had been to accept the truth of defeat when Asseylum had offered peace and Slaine had decided to blow up the moon base. Harklight probably felt the same defeat now as he waited for UFE to contact him for the first part of the negotiations.

“Does my Lord know what you want to negotiate about?” Harklight asked without turning around to look at Slaine. “What do we say when they contact us?”

Slaine frowned. Going back to become a prisoner was not as hard as he thought. He remembered back to the beach with Inaho pointing the gun at him; the night he had been defeated and taken prisoner. Was Harklight feeling the same way?

Prisoner…

That word described what they were now.

“We need to let them know we are still capable of taking control of the entire situation with the Landing Castles which are still in orbit,” Slaine said quietly but determined; he had slowly begun to find strength through the adrenalin that was pumping out into his system after the transmission had been made. “Do not forget: Just as they are keeping us hostage, we keep them hostage as well.”

Harklight raised his head to look up at the ceiling.

“So it is a deadlock?” he asked with a sigh.

“It is a useful situation,” Lemrina said. “We have put them in a condition where they cannot afford to keep fighting. If they keep fighting by waiting us out and result to taking aggressive actions which we do not accept, we shall fall and take Earth with us. We have asked the leaders of Earth to negotiate in order to solve this situation, and the decision is theirs. Now is the hour of destiny; will they accept or will they force us to land the orbiting Landing Castles into the Hyper Gates and destroy Earth?”

Lemrina’s words could not be any truer. Her words pierced the silence like needles, making their situation more real than it felt to be.

“So we are threatening them to negotiate with us?” Harklight asked and turned around to look at Slaine and Lemrina. “How will that lead to peace?”

Slaine saw Lemrina smile mischievously, and the young woman answered:

“See it as some kind of assurance that the Terrans will behave and not be too immoral toward us. In these times tension is inevitable. We still have to guard our lives. I am sure they understand.”

The radio buzzed and all three of them looked over to the control panel. A female voice – filled with power and confidence which reminded Slaine about Vice-Admiral Häkkinen – spoke through the radio:

This is the Secretary General of United Earth government, speaking to the leader of Vers and its forces. Soldier Red, do you hear me?

Slaine tensed up. Now was the time when every word had a dreadful value. One slip of the tongue or one minor misunderstanding could lead to a devastating result, and so Slaine let go of Lemrina’s hand to step forward and join Harklight next to the control panel.

“Do you mind?” he asked and looked at the tired soldier next to him, who in turn avoided eye contact with him.

“As I understand it, you know what to say. I gladly hand the act of negotiations over to you, my Lord,” Harklight said and Slaine smiled nervously.

“Am I not your Prince anymore?” he asked and Harklight looked at him with confusion. “You call me for a Lord and have been doing that for a little while now,” Slaine continued as an explanation.

Harklight gave him a tired smile.

“Forgive me, my Prince. It seems like old habits die hard,” the man answered and Slaine nodded with a slightly brighter smile.

He turned to look at the radio and his smile faded instantly. He collected his courage once again and pushed down the button for the radio to open up the communication.

“This is Slaine Troyard Saazbaum of Vers, speaking in Red Soldier’s place. I hear you, Secretary General. Please change your channel according to the transmission I send to you within moments.”

And so the exhausting work of opening up negotiations began. Slaine was time and time again struggling with the anxiety and worry during the entire negotiation. The Secretary General was not trusting Slaine’s words; it was something Slaine found as a completely natural reaction between enemies, but he was grateful for the woman’s professional diplomacy; she was not provoking him, nor did she exercise any kind of unnecessary power strategies over him. She was a true diplomat with such rhetorical talent that Slaine was struggling to keep up with her. Was it not for the pauses with radio communication, where he got the chance to collect his thoughts, he would have made a fool out of himself; the two years which he had spent in a cell had done damage to Slaine’s rhetorical skills. He was skillful but the Secretary General was better.

In the end he had managed to negotiate to have an official emergency meeting within two days with the United Earth government. He would, along with Lemrina, leave the Landing Castle while Harklight would stay behind as a precaution and assurance for the royal family’s safety. If the UFE would try to aggressively use Slaine and Lemrina to force Vers to a downfall, Harklight would order the orbiting Landing Castles to land with the Hyper Gates as targets, as a last measure. Slaine negotiated to have the soldiers which were waiting outside the doors to the bridge, back away and wait for him and Lemrina on the level below; the Terrans still had the Landing Castle under their control but Slaine did not want to risk them running into the bridge as a surprise and foil the negotiation attempt. He asked the UFE to not open fire against any Versian soldier who was a prisoner of war. He gave the Secretary General his word that he had no ulterior motives and only wished for a proper meeting with her to negotiate for a solution of their situation. The Secretary General did not trust him; Slaine knew she expected him to be the ruthless Troyard Saazbaum from two years ago, but she finally accepted his word.

I and Lemrina are giving ourselves over to you as hostages; Vers’ future will be in your hands. Is that not proof enough that my words are true and honest?” he had said, and that was when the Secretary General had accepted the negotiation meeting to take place two days from now.

As the radio communication ended Slaine took a deep breath and closed his eyes tightly. The stress and pressure over the communication with the Secretary General was relieved now that the radio had gone silent, and Slaine felt like falling to his knees out of exhaustion. The first hard step had been taken. He figured it could not go any other way now than toward a lesser unhappy end but the road would be difficult. He took a couple of deep breaths to calm his nerves and then looked over to Harklight and Lemrina who both waited for him in silence. Both of them seemed to notice Slaine’s weakened mental state as Slaine was too exhausted to wear the mask he had been wearing ever since he had come on board the Landing Castle. Slaine was sure it shone through to them both and finally he could expose his condition to the dark haired man.

Harklight stared at him with deep creases on his forehead. The man was concerned over how tired Slaine looked.

“Slaine,” Lemrina said and moved over to him to take his hand. “Are you all right?”

Slaine nodded slowly and gave her a reassuring smile.

“I just need to be allowed to be weak right now before we leave the Landing Castle,” he said quietly and looked up at Harklight. “To be an isolated prisoner for two years does a lot to a human being, Harklight,” he said after he had leaned back against the control panel. “I got too much time to think of what I had done in the past; it exhausted me. I am grateful for it though since we stand here now in a slightly more hopeful situation than before.”

Slaine knew he had to explain for the man why he was so tired. He had to explain his weakened state even if he did not tell the entire truth of how he had been treated at first at the prison. He would probably never tell Harklight the entire truth and neither did he see a reason to do so. Slaine still had plenty of inner battles to go through and only one person could help him fight through them. Slaine hoped to see that person very soon again.

After a while of collecting strength, courage and determination, Slaine and Lemrina left the bridge in Harklight’s hands. They silently made their way toward the level below to give themselves over to the Terran soldiers waiting there. Both of them were nervous – if not frightened. As they got out of the elevator Terran soldiers pointed their guns at them. Slaine immediately stepped in front of Lemrina to keep her safe and slowly raised his hands to behind his head to wait while he began to cold sweat. To have dozens of guns pointed toward him was frightening and he had to constantly fight back the impulse to run.

A familiar face stepped forth from the crowd of Terran soldiers. The man wore a troubled expression as he stepped over to Slaine and Lemrina. His steps echoed against the metallic floor and walls.

“You made it,” Slaine said relieved and looked at Marito whose expression did not soften.

“As did you,” the man answered. “Are you two hurt in any way?”

“No,” the swallow behind Slaine chirped and Marito nodded relieved.

“Good. This way,” the man ordered and they both were shown out of the Landing Castle with guns pointed at their backs while being surrounded by enemy soldiers.

As they got out of the Landing Castle they were shown to two separate military vehicles. Slaine protested about him and Lemrina being separated but Marito advised him to accept their situation. It was an order from the higher ups and Slaine understood they were holding Lemrina as hostage to make sure Slaine would not attempt something that would endanger the meeting in two days. They were keeping her as a precaution, just like he had left Harklight in the Landing Castle to protect Slaine’s and Lemrina’s lives. It was a wise move of the Terrans to separate him and Lemrina, Slaine thought. To keep the woman who was expecting his child as a hostage forced Slaine to cooperate to further lengths than UE expected him to. Not even a madman would have risked the life of his unborn child and thus the Terrans believed they were safer that way.

“You will reunite with her once the meeting is over and has ended satisfyingly,” Marito told Slaine.

“I understand,” Slaine sighed and leaned back against the seat. The entire vehicle smelled of dust and leather. “Just don’t hurt her.”

“Don’t worry about her safety,” Marito assured him and got onto the seat next to Slaine to guard him.

Slaine closed his eyes and heard the vehicle door be slammed closed. Once again he was a prisoner, but this time he was a prisoner allowed to negotiate. There was no turning back now.

“Thank you,” he said quietly as the vehicle was set into motion. The vibrations from the engine and broken road felt comforting.

“For what?” he heard the confused voice of the Lieutenant ask next to him.

“For helping me.” Slaine opened his eyes to look at the confused man who stared at him with knitted eyebrows; the man looked older than Slaine remembered he had been when he met him for the first time. The man seemed to contemplate on what to think of who and what Slaine was.

Marito stared at him for a short while but then released a nervous chuckle.

“I must say this is the first time someone has thanked me for helping the enemy have himself imprisoned,” he said and Slaine smiled tiredly.

“I am glad to be your first prisoner then, who thanks you for helping him being taken captive,” the monarch answered with a quiet voice.

Slaine felt suddenly lethargic and his eyelids felt heavy. All the stress and pressure from the weeks at the Landing Castle had taken its toll on him, and the exhaustion washed over him now that the first step toward peace had been taken. Slaine was not afraid to be locked up in a cell. He was not afraid to be treated like a prisoner. He was all too used to it and did not think much about it anymore. The thought of the Terrans taking him to a cell gave him a feeling which reminded him about returning home – and thus he felt himself relax from stress.

Two days…’ he thought as he felt his body relax against the leather seat. ‘Two days off from my work of being Slaine Troyard Saazbaum…’ Now he could rest for just a little while.

“And I bet you’ll be the first and last,” Marito said with a slightly lighter voice, but it quickly turned concerned: “Are you okay?”

Slaine closed his eyes again as he was losing the battle against sleep.

“Yes… I just feel really exhausted… The days since the war began, have felt so long…” he said softly.

He heard the man say something to him but his mind did not register the meaning behind it at all, and within seconds he fell into a much needed sleep.

Chapter Text

He rolled over and he heard the familiar sound of rustling sheets. It was pretty warm and yet comfortable despite the sweaty feeling of moist fabric against his skin. Slaine took a deep breath and felt the softness of the pillow push against his left cheek and temple. It felt so nice he had difficulties of resisting the need to open his eyes and see where he was as he knew he had been taken away by UFE.

As he opened his eyes he saw a white wall in front of him, much different from the walls he was used to. A grey carpeted floor reached out from underneath the bed he was lying on and met with dark wooden frames that leapt across the walls on floor level. He wondered where he was and slowly, with an exhausted body, he sat up in bed and let the duvet fall off of him. He noticed he was still dressed in the deep red suit of a noble. The suit was wrinkled and moist from sweat after lying beneath a duvet with it on. As Slaine looked around, light brown eyes met his gaze from a corner of the room. For a moment Slaine felt disappointed that those eyes were not burgundy; the eyes of the one he had hoped to meet.

“Are you awake now?” the man who had caught him, asked. Marito was observing him with great uncertainty and leaned his elbows against his knees where he sat on a chair in the corner at the foot of the bed. Next to him stood a little table and a second chair. Marito looked like he was concerned of something, or then thinking of something profound. Either way, Slaine had the feeling Marito was thinking about a lot of things concerning Slaine, but the man did not voice such questions.

Slaine tried to bite back a yawn but it was impossible. He covered his mouth with the back of his hand and released the yawn which fought against his will; the tiredness was too great to resist. He had no idea for how long he had been asleep, and he did not feel rested.

“Yes,” he answered with a tired voice and Marito sighed heavily.

“You have been waking up many times and instantly fallen asleep again,” the man said. “As I tried to talk to you when I thought you had woken up, you just ‘mm’-d at me and fell asleep again.”

Slaine felt awkward hearing of how tired he had been. He could not remember he had woken up at all, and he had no idea where he was. All he knew was that he was being guarded by an enemy soldier, and yet he had been relaxed enough to sleep with an enemy soldier in the same room.

But then again… You’re not my enemy,’ he thought.

“Forgive me,” Slaine said silently and pulled his fingers through his hair to correct it as he felt it being splayed unnaturally after the sleep. “I must have been more exhausted than I thought. How shameful of me. How did I get here?”

Marito raised an eyebrow in bafflement.

“You walked here by yourself. You don’t remember that?” then man asked, confused.

Slaine did not remember it but now that he thought about it he had the feeling he had walked through corridors in a daze. He covered his eyes with a hand to hide his embarrassment.

“I must have made a complete fool out of myself,” he said. “I do remember something like that happening but the memory is highly vague.”

As he lowered his hand he noticed Marito stare at him even more puzzled than before. Slaine did not release a comment on that since he guessed he knew why. The man did not know how to interpret who Slaine actually was. Slaine figured it must have been confusing to see a former man of power and tyranny be so human; Troyard Saazbaum had always been strong and determined and now that the mask of the tyrant had fallen off, the human behind the name was revealed. That human was tired.

“Stress is a monster,” the man said who finally leaned back against the backrest of the chair he was sitting on. “You have slept for about six hours. You’re at the UFE headquarters of the Japan branch. We don’t have cells here and so we had to place you and your fiancé at the overnight accommodations for staff. There are four guards right outside the door and two at each section door, and you are under surveillance by me. I have an alarm. If you try anything that will endanger me or yourself, I will alarm all the guards in the building and they will come running. Do yourself a favor and don’t do anything that will lead to unfortunate consequences.”

The man was reciting the words like a true soldier and Slaine nodded to sign he had understood his situation. To be under constant surveillance was nothing new to Slaine. Those times he had tried to commit suicide at the prison, he had been monitored by a guard who had not been allowed to release him with his gaze. This situation was similar to that, except this time Slaine felt at home with being guarded. For him it should have been sad that he had gotten so used to it, but he had already passed that threshold a long time ago.

“And my fiancé?” he asked instead and Marito let him know she was guarded the same way but by a female soldier. “How is she?”

“I am not allowed to answer that,” Marito said and Slaine sighed. Once again the former Terran was denied information – just like at the prison.

Marito kept observing him as Slaine lowered his eyes to stare at the duvet. The blond was still exhausted and felt a pang of overwhelming emotions as he began to think of what was to come. He would never get to rest; not once in his lifetime. The future – if everything went as he hoped at the negotiation meeting – was heavy with work to keep the people of Vers calm enough to accept peace. Racism would be expressed for years to come from both sides and Slaine – along with everyone involved – would be submitted to great pressure. And yet…

It’s the right thing to do,’ he thought. ‘For Inaho and Lemrina, Vers and Earth – and Asseylum. I need to bear the burden.

And yet it was so heavy his heart squeezed so tightly it ached. He had no idea how he would be able to stand strong in front of a committee and negotiate for peace. The situation he and Lemrina were in made it feel like they were small birds facing a predator that was sharpening its claws. It was a frightening feeling. The entire future was riding on his and Lemrina’s strength and choice of words. Slaine knew Lemrina would pull through this without a doubt, but he was unsure of his own strength.

I feel so small right now…’ he thought and took a deep breath. ‘But I must keep going. I can’t be weak, no matter what.

“Are you all right?” he heard the man say from the corner of the room, and Slaine turned his tired eyes toward the man.

“Yes,” he lied. “I feel tired, that is all.”

“You can continue to sleep if you want, or then take a shower and have something to eat,” Marito continued while staring at Slaine like he had seen through Slaine’s lie. “We don’t have much to offer someone of your status right now due to the war draining a lot of our resources, even here at the UFE headquarters, but if you want to change into more casual clothes we can offer you a military fleece set.” An apologetic smile, brought forth by irony, spread on his lips. “Sadly it has the UE logo on it. I doubt the monarch of Vers enjoys such clothing, does he?”

Slaine smiled with knitted eyebrows.

“If this monarch of Vers was so picky, he would not even think the thought of getting help from a Terran Lieutenant in order to stop a war,” Slaine answered and released his frown to simply smile. “I would like to change clothes and take a shower, if that is all right with you.”

Marito was slightly thrown off track after Slaine’s comment and his ironical smile faded instantly.

“Sure…” the man answered puzzled, and got up from the chair in order to walk over to a cabinet and open its doors. Slaine got up from bed to wait for Marito to hand him the new set of clothes and a bath towel, and once he got them he thanked the Lieutenant respectfully. “I can’t have you close the door while you shower though…” the man said quietly after Slaine had accepted the clothes and towel.

Slaine sighed inboard. It really did feel like the prison again and he decided there was no use for arguing about the matter. He did not mind someone seeing his scars as much as he used to because he simply had no energy to care about it anymore, but he did wish to be respected as a somewhat autonomous human being despite being under surveillance, and to keep as much integrity as possible.

“Will you at least have your back turned, Lieutenant?” Slaine asked tiredly and walked into the bathroom which was connected to the small overnight room. The bathroom was completely white with a grey tiled floor in the same grey hue as the carpet in the bedroom. A small shower with glass doors stood in the corner.

“Of course,” Marito answered and turned his back to lean against the doorpost into the bathroom with folded arms.

Slaine made sure by throwing a glance over his shoulder, that Marito had been respectful enough to actually do as the man had said, before Slaine turned the faucet and the water began pouring down from the shower head. That sound had made the previous guards at the prison mansion throw a glance over their shoulders probably as an attempt to use that as a power strategy and minimize Slaine’s privacy. “Just know that we can see you” their power strategy had been, and thus Slaine had always undressed behind the shower curtain before the guards had stopped accompanying him into the shower room. To Slaine’s pleasant surprise Marito kept his back turned, and so Slaine dared to undress and get into the shower.

As the warm water washed over him he sighed out of relaxation. A feeling – much like a hungover – began to weigh him down. The adrenaline from hours before had drained him and now he felt like he was recuperating after drinking an entire bottle of wine. His head became heavy, the sounds around him pounded against his ear drums, and he felt like throwing up. Was this how the release of heavy stress felt like, he wondered. During the time on the Landing Castle his appetite had disappeared completely and he had hardly eaten at all. He was one of those whose body responded with shutting down its hunger during a crisis and he was now to pay for it.

Slaine felt so hungry he could hardly breathe normally and he put his arm against the wall for support. The water ran down his face and made his hair stick to his cheek bones. He focused on the droplets falling from the tip of his nose to calm the intense hunger and nausea, and after a short while he found enough energy to wash his hair and body.

“You said you’re doing this for a Terran who you love,” he heard Marito suddenly say from the door, and Slaine looked up at the man’s back which was still turned toward him.

“Yes. I was telling the truth,” Slaine answered as confidently he could to mask his weak condition.

“I’m not doubting you,” Marito said and raised his head to look at the ceiling. “It just makes me curious to how you chose one person over millions like that.”

Slaine smiled weakly and continued rubbing his shoulders with the body wash which smelled exactly like the one he had used in the prison.

“It is true that the lives of millions of people should be enough as a reason to fight a war, but in reality the reasons will not be as ethically honorable as people wish them to be,” Slaine explained while he continued rubbing the body wash over his arms. “We are selfish creatures; I am not excluded from that rule.”

He heard Marito chuckle cynically.

“So in other words, you say you will do anything to save your lover’s life and not care about the million others?” the man asked.

Slaine took the shower head from its holder to wash the lather off of him.

“Can you honestly say you fight only for the lives of millions of people, Lieutenant? Whose face is it that comes to mind when you think about saving a life?” Slaine asked. “Is it a stranger’s or is it the face of someone you know and care about?”

Slaine looked over his shoulder to see how Marito reacted. The man did not move and nor did he utter a word as an answer. The monarch wondered what kind of face the Lieutenant made.

“Before I escaped from Deucalion,” Slaine continued. “The one I love told me a truth I had not thought about, in a dream.” He stepped out of the shower to wrap the bath towel around himself and rub his hair dry. “I have to have someone to die for in order to find a purpose to live. Interpret that as you wish, but that is my truth and reason.”

Slaine dried himself and dressed in the soft fleece set Marito had offered him. The clothes felt warm and freer than the stiff and heavy deep red suit; it felt relieving to get rid of the suit which was a symbol for burdening responsibility. As Slaine picked up his father’s talisman to put it around his neck he stared at it for a short moment, wondering where its replacement was.

Does Inaho still have the book I entrusted him?’ Slaine thought and put the talisman around his neck again. Images of his lover ran through his mind and Slaine suddenly felt a painful longing. He wanted to feel Inaho’s presence again. Touch him. Feel him. Hear him… ‘Inaho…’ Slaine wondered if he would ever see him again. Suddenly their worlds felt so far apart that Slaine began to worry about if he ever got a chance to relieve the longing that now tormented him.

“In other words,” he heard Marito say, and Slaine looked up at the man who had been occupied with thinking about Slaine’s reasons to fight a war while the Versian monarch had been dressing. Marito turned around to look at him. “You fight this war because you’re delusional about love, or then love makes you delusional. Which is it?”

Slaine stared at the man for a short while before he smiled:

“Probably both.”

Marito chuckled sarcastically.

“That sounds like a serious attachment issue, don’t you think?”

“I will not hide the fact that there might be some truth to that,” Slaine answered and walked past Marito to sit down on the second chair next to the little table in the bedroom. “But either way, it has proven to be effective in this war. That love, delusion, or attachment if you may, has kept me alive this far – and I think that kind of love can be applied for most soldiers; they all fight for something that drives them to the point of risking their lives.” Slaine watched Marito walk to the other side of the little table and sit down on the chair opposite of Slaine’s.

“Indeed,” the man said and looked thoughtful for a while. “I guess you’d have to be mad in order to survive in a war – let alone lead one. Do you swear on your lovers life – since you don’t care much about your own it seems – that this war will end?”

Slaine sighed heavily and was reminded about his condition. He really had to eat something and rest.

“I will not swear on anyone’s life, Lieutenant, but I do hope this meeting will give us all peace in the end.” Slaine hesitated a while before he bit his lower lip from uncertainty of if this was the right man to ask his next question, but since Marito was the only one to relay Slaine’s words to the outside world, the blond young man had to speak up. “Can I…?” Slaine began and looked up at Marito again. “When I was kept a prisoner, I got medication,” he continued as his chest felt tight and he tried to make his voice sound steady. Marito frowned. “Can I have something to eat and … get my medication back?”

Slaine felt it was a must in order to pull through the oncoming days. He had been battling against his breakdowns at the Landing Castle for too long without aid, and now that the weight of the meeting the day after tomorrow was to increase, he had to stay calm and collected no matter what means he had to take. It was crucial he seemed like a functioning monarch during that meeting in order to not lose his credibility in front of the committee.

Marito observed him for a while without answering and Slaine waited with his gaze lowered. The blond was not sure if he was allowed to show weakness, but he did not know how to ask for help without falling into a pathetic state. How did someone ask for help while looking strong?

“Is it urgent?” the man who guarded him, finally asked. Something in the man’s voice told Slaine Marito knew what Slaine was speaking about and he wondered how much of his actual state he was showing. And yet he was grateful; the Terran did not question him. The Terran did not taunt him.

“I think it is,” Slaine answered quietly and felt like returning to the bed, but refrained from doing so.

“Name of the medication?” Marito asked calmly.

“The substance was diazepam. Dosage was 15 mg when necessary but I have not taken them for a while. It should be stated in my medical record – if anything like that has been preserved after the prison was damaged.”

“Tolerance buildup?” the man asked and Slaine looked up at him for a short moment without knowing what to answer. “You have been on it for a while, haven’t you?” Marito asked but it seemed like he already knew the answer from similar experience.

Slaine nodded slowly and watched the man take up a phone which hung on his belt. It had a big red button on top of it which Slaine figured was the alarm button. Marito keyed in a four digit number and pushed the phone to his ear. After a short moment he began talking to a person on the other end of the line, and after explaining the situation for the person on the other end, he thanked them and hung up.

“A doctor will write an ordination for you, and you will get dinner to go with the medication,” Marito said once he had put the phone back onto his hip. “He said you will get a lower dose now that you have been without it for a while. He will double check your records from your previous stay in UFE’s care.”

Finally…’ Slaine thought.

He needed a break. Since he was under UFE’s supervision and a war criminal, he had a right to the care he needed in order to stay on a satisfying level of health, and it did seem to Slaine that his medication history was known for the doctor Marito had spoken to. He wondered if UFE had prepared Slaine’s and Lemrina’s stay at the headquarters the moment they had detained them, and he wondered why the doctor had not asked to evaluate Slaine’s health. It seemed like the doctor was on standby and Slaine could not help but to wonder what other professions had been connected to his and Lemrina’s stay.

And so he finally got the only aid he could have in the situation he was in; he was put back on the anxiolytic medication and Slaine could not feel anything else than relief. The Lieutenant did not question him, and nor did he bother interrogating him during Slaine’s stay in the little staff accommodation. Slaine got the chance he needed to rest and prepare for the meeting and, aside of immersing himself in interesting discussions with Marito about neutral subjects, he mostly slept through the days before the negotiation.

***

Steps echoed in the corridor as Slaine walked toward a door which stood open and invited him inside the room like a beckoning demon. He was neatly dressed in his deep red suit and his wrists were cuffed. Despite that he walked with such dignity only the royal he was supposed to be, had. He was heavily guarded by five armed guards. The room he was escorted to was deathly quiet and a heavy atmosphere weighed down by nervousness and anger, emitted through the door.

A couple of hours ago Slaine had taken his medication in order to stay calm during the meeting he was facing. He felt pathetic of being forced to suffocate emotions a leader should not have in these circumstances. As a monarch he was supposed to be able to handle these kind of situations, but too much was at stake for him to be able to handle the stress and pressure alone.

He was shown into the room and the first thing he saw was Lemrina. She was waiting in the middle of the room with guards guarding her just a few steps behind her. As she heard the steps from Slaine and the guards she looked up at Slaine’s direction. Relief gleamed in her blue eyes at seeing him, and her relief was mutual. Slaine thought she seemed to be feeling well even if nervousness was hinted behind that displayed confidence of a future queen.

Slaine was escorted next to her and the cuffs around his wrists were taken away. The guards stepped back in order to leave them alone on the floor in front of a silent audience.

“Are you all right?” he asked her quietly and she nodded – not releasing him with her gaze.

“I am. Are you?” she chirped, and Slaine nodded.

Slaine looked up at the people sitting in front of them. It was an auditorium where Slaine and Lemrina were the center of attention, and they faced dozens of people’s suspicious and angry stares. But there were two set of eyes which did not look at the royal couple with distain. They were familiar to him.

Inaho… Asseylum…

Inaho sat at the back of the room while staring at Slaine with the usual expressionless face, but Slaine knew he was nervous as well of what would be established in the auditorium that day. Slaine’s heart began beating harder at seeing his lover sit in the audience of politicians and military men, and he quickly had to adjust his breathing to slow and normal in order to calm himself down. He wished nothing more than speak to the brown haired man. Inaho had both eyes directed at him and Slaine knew Inaho was there to read Slaine’s reactions – both intentional as involuntary – to see if the Versian monarch was lying; it was something probably the higher-ups of UE had ordered Inaho to do.

Asseylum looked at both Slaine and Lemrina with pitied eyes – so like her that Slaine got a feeling close to déjà vu. He had seen that look in her eyes many times before, that he could recognize it anywhere. Next to her a man – her husband – stared at Slaine and Lemrina who had stolen his place on the throne. Klancain did not have the forgiving gaze his wife wore.

“Slaine Troyard Saazbaum and Lemrina Vers Envers, monarchs of Vers, are present at the meeting of negotiations between Vers and United Earth government, which starts immediately,” a man Slaine had not seen before declared to those attending the meeting.

Slaine took a slightly deeper breath than normal to release some tension from his shoulders and chest.

Now it begins.

“God morning, your highnesses,” a woman said with a strong voice which Slaine recognized. It was the woman he had talked to over the radio two days ago when Harklight had declared a truce. Her blond hair was tied into a tight and elegant knot behind her neck and she wore a navy blue suit which was in great contrast to her pale skin. “I am Regina Lambreth, Secretary General of United Earth government. I wish to inform you this meeting will be recorded and shall proceed until we have come to an understanding.”

“Very well, Secretary General,” Slaine answered with a powerful voice; he spoke with a slightly louder voice than usual in order to hinder his voice from trembling. That way – he had learned – he sounded more confident. “I do realize there is tension between our nations which will be a risk for the armistice that exists right now, but I and Lemrina present ourselves to you in person out of humility. We do not wish this war to continue and I am grateful you accepted our request to negotiate.”

The Secretary General – along with everyone else – let her eyes rest on Slaine and Lemrina for a short moment before she folded her hands and placed them on the desk to lean forward.

“It is much appreciated, your highnesses,” she said calmly but had her voice colored with heavy suspicion. “Would you kindly explain to us why you decided to let us confine you and present yourselves in person in front of this committee?”

“To protect Earth from Vers,” Slaine said frankly and a murmur spread in the auditorium among the Terrans.

“Please explain,” the Secretary General requested and narrowed her eyes, and Lemrina continued to explain:

“While we are here Vers has no choice but to hold their fire,” she said calmly. “We are very aware of our situation right now and we willingly put ourselves in it since we believe there are no other ways to guarantee peace between our nations.”

“While we do believe we could win this war,” Slaine continued. “We also believe the future of Earth as a satellite nation to Vers will be unproductive as it would be controlled through military power. We have seen what a military regime has done to Vers before; it has spurred the nation into war with Earth three times. That is something we do not wish to happen in the future since neither nations can afford it in both financial and material perspectives. Both of our nations benefit from negotiations.”

The Secretary General nodded to signal she had heard them and both Slaine and Lemrina were wisely holding their tongue. It was the Secretary General who decided what she wanted to know by asking the questions. If Slaine and Lemrina went in too aggressively from the start it could risk the entire meeting of turning into a power struggle of situation control.

“In other words you want to force your own nation into accept peace by letting us use you as hostages?” the Secretary General finally asked after a moment of silence, and Slaine noticed a woman typing on her laptop with quick fingers. She was probably writing a protocol of the meeting.

“That is correct,” Lemrina answered. “Our nation is angry, afraid and desperate. The people will not listen to us asking for peace the way my dear sister and Empress of old Vers did. It has proven to be unfruitful. Instead we are taking control of the people by giving their future to you; us.” Lemrina raised her hand from her lap to place it above her belly which would soon begin to grow. “They have no choice but to listen.”

The Secretary General raised an eyebrow while she looked like she was having trouble understanding what Slaine and Lemrina were saying.

“And while you do that, Soldier Red holds our future in his hands by threatening to destroy the Hyper Gates and with it, destroy Earth,” she said and took a deep breath. “Then would you kindly enlighten us to what you want us to listen to?”

Slaine’s heart skipped a beat. He was so nervous now that the proposal would be presented. After a quick contemplation on how to put his words, and a short moment of hesitation, he answered:

“After the situation of Earth feeding old Vers with supplies and necessities, we have concluded that Earth has slowly been drained of its resources and suffocated the changing process on Vers. What we ask for is for you to aid us by making our soil fruitful, and not supply us with your precious resources.”

A murmur of surprise went through the audience once again. Some people seemed scornful while others were confused. Slaine threw a glance at Inaho who stared back at Slaine without blinking. The man was nervously waiting to hear more. The atmosphere was unpleasant in the auditorium and both Slaine and Inaho felt it.

“You want soil?” the Secretary Governor finally asked. Slaine was not sure if her voice was mocking or not.

“That is correct,” Lemrina said determined. She had felt the nervous atmosphere as well and was quick to reply before the air in the auditorium would be intoxicated by the nervousness any further. “A main reason to our people’s anger is due to the lack of basic supplies, such as food and water. We ask for your researchers to find a way to help us keep our crops alive. Our earth is nutrient poor; it is difficult for us to feed our people due to the poor conditions on Mars, which has left our people starving and angry. Who else could we ask for assistance if not you who have thousands of years of knowledge on harvesting?”

Slaine continued to explain that while they had their own researchers, successful research was hard to conduct on Mars due to the planet’s conditions – leaving the Versian researchers inexperienced. If Vers got fruitful soil from Earth and experts on ecosystems and harvesting would aid to find a proper balance for life on the few Versian fields that existed, slowly but steadily Vers would be able to expand its fields and get its own food source.

“That way Vers will not have the need to turn its eyes toward Earth to look for a food source,” Slaine concluded and waited.

The Secretary General narrowed her eyes while she looked from Slaine to Lemrina like she was trying to determine something about them. Slaine knew she was suspicious about such a simple demand and she had a right to be. Even if Slaine and Lemrina had put a small request onto the table they were still not finished stating demands, and the Secretary General knew this.

“That is not entirely impossible to arrange but I am curious to what else you want from us in exchange for peace,” she said suspiciously. “I doubt your people will accept such a simple request alone, considering the hatred they share toward Earth.”

Both Slaine and Lemrina helped each other to describe the solution to what they were after. By Vers sending its own manpower to Earth to collect the soil Vers needed – and by working alongside Terrans on both planets – there was hope for a small acceptance to awaken between the people. It had to begin with small steps by sending volunteers to Earth to collect soil and send volunteering researchers to Vers, and once results in the form of blooming fields could be presented Harklight could order more people to Earth to continue the work. In the meantime the Royal Palace would share its food storages with the people.

“It will not be an easy task to have Terrans and Martians work together,” the Secretary General warned.

“Destroying a world is easy,” Lemrina said and continued: “But rebuilding it is hard. If you have better suggestions to obtain peace, then please add these alternatives to the discussion.”

The Secretary General went quiet for a while. People in the audience whispered and shook their heads, gesticulated with their hands like they were unpleased and seemed to spur each other’s doubts further.

“I might sound disrespectful,” the Secretary General finally said and made a slight pause to wait for the audience to go quiet. Once the auditorium had been silenced she continued: “But please understand our worry as I put this demand onto the table. Whilst the work of turning the soil on Vers to fruitful is conducted, I wish to keep you here on Earth under our supervision. Call it a goodwill stay to oversee the work of your people on Earth if you wish, but if Vers threatens us in any way while this work is being carried out, you will be the ones to answer for it. I understand Your Highness, Vers Envers, is unquestionably precious for Vers’ future now that you are carrying a child.”

Slaine noticed Lemrina’s hand – which was resting on her belly – grip the fabric of her dress and squeeze it firmly due to nervousness. A bad feeling spread in Slaine’s being; she was the target. While Slaine was not important for Vers in any other way than hearing the people’s cries, Lemrina held all the value for Vers’ civilization and future. Slaine could be substituted while Lemrina was unreplaceable. Without her Vers would crumble within two generations if Asseylum would not step up to take her place.

But then Asseylum would be cruelly used,’ Slaine thought and threw a quick glance at the beautiful woman watching him and Lemrina with tears in her eyes. She looked like she wanted to stand up and scream any second, but she was brave and strong by keeping her impulses under control and stay quiet. Klancain on the other hand had a fearsome expression of displeasure that resembled hatred, and he was quick to stand up once he had gathered his angry thoughts, and exclaimed:

“This is outrageous! You are not the royals of Vers and do not carry the right to negotiate about the future of our nation,” he said sternly.

Slaine’s eyes narrowed. While he did not dislike the man – since Slaine was sure Klancain had a warm heart similar to Asseylum – the man’s outburst was highly unprofessional. Slaine had not expected the man to show such emotion openly like that, but he understood Klancain was in distress over his wife losing her position to Slaine and Lemrina, who could be considered as thieves with the lack of a better word.

“Forgive me for being so blunt, Sir Cruhteo, but if you had been doing your duty together with Empress Asseylum, this war would not have come to be,” Slaine said calmly, but in reality he had been shocked of Klancain’s outburst and the adrenalin made his heart beat louder. “I – by no means – mean to be discourteous since I do believe you care for your people, but you were not answering angry citizens who cried for your help and support as rulers. The first duty of the royal couple is to build a family with heirs, and since heirs are so crucial for Vers you let the people down by not doing just that.”

Klancain stared at Slaine with a baffled look. The man had been hurt.

“We did what we could,” the man answered back calmer than before, but his voice was still livid. “It was a hopeless situation and we did not dare to submit our future child for such cruelty where it would be viewed as a tool rather than a human being.”

“While that thought is admirable,” a quiet voice next to Slaine said. He looked at Lemrina who wore a pained expression while holding her arms around her belly like a protective mother. “You have no such luxury. A child of Aldnoah will always be viewed as a tool first and foremost. Slaine and I have taken the duty you did not commit to, and the people answered with calm and trust. You should be grateful for us to carry your burden.” Lemrina raised her blaming eyes to her sister. “And you – my dear sister – were born for this duty while I was simply born due to our father making a mistake. Now I am tidying up after you.”

“Lemrina…” Slaine said quietly and put a reassuring hand to her shoulder and leaned closer to whisper: “This is not the time for such a discussion. I know you are angry for her naiveté forcing you into this position, but this meeting is not about the strife between you and your sister.”

“I know…” Lemrina whispered back and made a great muster to keep her tears back.

A quiet whimper was heard in the auditorium and when Slaine looked up he saw Asseylum in tears. The woman was blaming herself and Slaine wished he had time to talk to her in private. A nostalgic feeling of wanting to comfort her arose in him, but just like he had told Lemrina, this was not the time for such considerations.

“I believe there are plenty of hard feelings to vent between us,” Slaine said to the Empress and Emperor. “But this is not the time for that.”

“Agreed,” the Secretary General said and sighed. “Let us go back to the negotiations. If you accept our demand of staying under our supervision, Earth will provide you with fruitful soil and researchers to build up an agriculture that can survive the conditions on Vers. I do believe you have fields inside your constructions that protect them from the planet’s threats?”

“Yes,” Slaine answered with a nod. “The fields on Vers are protected inside enormous greenhouses. All we need is soil with the right amount of bacteria and nutrients that can survive in these greenhouses.”

“In other words, you accept to stay on Earth for a while?” the Secretary General queried.

Slaine looked at Lemrina who was still in a state of mental distress. She did not react to the Secretary General’s question and so Slaine had to decide.

“We accept,” he said and watched Lemrina if the woman would protest, but she did not. Then he turned his eyes toward the audience again and briefly met Inaho’s gaze, before he directed it toward the Secretary General once more. “We will stay under your supervision during the time it takes for our people to accept each other to the point where the conflict will begin to die down. But I do have a request of where our child is to be born. We want our child to be born on Vers. How we manage that under your supervision is to be determined later, but it is highly important the child of Aldnoah to be born in the nation where it belongs.”

A debate began between the people in the audience and Slaine. Lemrina stayed quiet for the entire time and Slaine tried to carry the conversation for her gain. He did not want her to give birth as a prisoner, and he did not want to anger the people of Vers by denying their future to be born within the nation. Slaine put forth these arguments and stated that since the tension between the nations was dangerous it was crucial to please the people who viewed the child as hope itself. The child did not belong to Earth, he reminded the committee. It belonged to Vers. Such pride and hope should not be trampled upon under any means, and after a long debate of the pros and cons of letting the royal family return to Vers, the committee finally agreed to Slaine’s demand. That instant Lemrina reacted by looking up at Slaine with a soft expression, thanking him silently for fighting for her right to choose where their child was to be born.

“And as for how we should spend our time here on Earth,” Slaine continued after taking a deep breath to calm himself after the debate. “I have a request about that as well.”

The audience was tired and the atmosphere felt heavy. Slaine was not sure if he was allowed to state any more requests for now, but he had to push forward. He could not consider the audience’s weariness by staying quiet.

“State your request, Troyard Saazbaum,” the woman of United Earth answered with patience. The woman seemed to have nerves of steel the way she kept herself collected throughout the debate, while many of the others had been loud and disagreeable.

“Let us travel around the Earth,” Slaine said calmly. “Let us involve ourselves in your cultures and send pieces of it back to Vers. As you know, Vers lacks greatly in culture and the people have been staring at Earth with envious eyes. All the people know are military propaganda. To start a process of acceptance among the people I believe sharing your culture with Vers will be a start. If Lemrina and I travel and gather the pieces we believe our people will enjoy, I am sure a mutual understanding between our nations will begin to grow.”

Another debate arose in the auditorium. While some gave arguments of it being dangerous for the royal family to travel due to the Terrans’ own hatred toward Vers, others said it would be difficult to supervise the royal couple by traveling around in crowded places. The committee did not wish for a second act of terrorism to spur the two worlds into a continuation of the third war. This time Lemrina stepped in to support Slaine throughout the debate. She told the auditorium how she wished to see the colorful festivals and share the joy with the people on Vers, and she wanted to see the pieces of history and admire the historical stories the Terrans had to tell. Popular culture in different countries was something she wished to experience as well, and all of this she wished to send to Vers. Slaine argued it would look good for the people of both nations if the monarchs of Vers were interested in Earth’s culture and actively participate in it. It would make a good example for both worlds even if that work alone was dangerous. Politicians of Earth to visit Vers was something Slaine believed was important as well in order to show that both nations were having a mutual trade. That way no nation had to feel inferior and the risk of anger amongst the people would drop.

It took a long while to come to a conclusion, which allowed for both sides to visit each other under controlled situations. Slaine and Lemrina would not be allowed to travel freely; the United Earth government would decide where they were allowed to travel. Slaine and Lemrina chose not to put such demands on the politicians who would visit Vers, since they believed Harklight would take care of them and protect them if it was necessary – in order to protect Slaine and Lemrina from becoming victims of retaliation.

“Have we come to an understanding?” Slaine asked and waited for an answer.

The Secretary General nodded with a tired expression despite her tries to control her fatigue after the debate.

“Yes, we do,” she answered, and thus they went onto the next topic.

The meeting took several hours. Even if Slaine thought the committee was pretty responsive to his and Lemrina’s demands it was still difficult once both parties disagreed with the details of matters. In the end it was decided that the meeting would end for the day and be continued the next day. Everyone seemed to need a bit of rest before they could continue. Lemrina wore an exhausted look and Slaine was sure he had the same kind of exhaustion coloring his face. He wanted to take his medication and sleep after a meal, and once he woke up he would take a long shower.

“I will see you later then,” he said to Lemrina before his wrists were cuffed once again.

“Make sure to rest,” Lemrina answered before she was taken away.

“You too…”

As Slaine was to be shown out of the auditorium and back to the room he had been assigned to, he threw a glance at Inaho again. The brunet sat in his stool without moving and watched Slaine with not saying a word. Slaine wanted to pull himself free and run up the stairs to where Inaho was. He wanted to wrap his cuffed arms around the man’s neck and rest against him and satisfy the intense longing he felt. Slaine felt so lonely and small against the yearning that tormented him. He had been away from Inaho for too long.

Instead he gave Inaho a slight exhausted smile, and he got a nod as an answer.

You did well,’ it said, and Slaine’s chest felt pleasantly warm.

I can’t wait to see you soon,’ the blond thought as he was led out of the auditorium surrounded by guards.

Slaine was shown back to the little accommodation