Chapter 1: Chapter 1
Melissa shields her eyes against the glare of the sun as she spots a dark shape in the distance. Shifting from one foot to the other nervously, she exchanges a look with Kurz as the unmistakeable whirring sound of helicopter blades gets louder and louder with each second.
There’s a sombre silence amongst the crowd massed at the landing pad, military personnel and medics gathered as the helicopter lands, grass blowing in all directions as the blades spin ferociously, wind whipping their hair around their faces. As soon as the helicopter touches the ground, there’s a flurry of activity as a team of medics rush towards it and with some manoeuvring and a couple of barked commands, they come bearing a stretcher. Melissa’s face turns ashen as she recognises the figure. There is a tuft of spiky hair, almost black with dried blood, and tan skin mottled with bruising. Her heart wrenches; Sousuke.
Sousuke is still and pale, uniform ripped and tattered, blood soaked bandages covering his torso. His leg is in a splint, and although he always looks small against the larger, burlier mercenaries in Mithril; it is the first time she has ever seen him look vulnerable. He is still awake, blinking drowsily with whatever the medics had shot him with on the way back to base, but he is breathing heavily, arm clenched tight around his stomach. Behind him, another helicopter lands, and her face twists into rage as Gauron is led out in cuffs. His legs and arms are shackled – there are two guards holding what look like cattle prods – but there is a nasty smirk plastered onto his face, and even his guards look disgusted. He leans slightly, to peer at Sousuke’s prone form in the stretcher. If possible, his grin grows even wider, and eager to block his line of sight, Melissa rushes to Sousuke, relieved to see him conscious.
“What happened?” Her voice is loud, almost a screech of panic.
“We…” Sousuke could barely form words, his throat hoarse and weak. “We had a fight.”
It took three days to find them. When Sergeant Sagara Sousuke failed to report in at the designated checkpoint, with his entire team were missing and non responsive to comms, it didn’t take long for the superiors to take notice. The mission he had been placed on had been very important – instrumental, in fact, as it had involved the Russian KGB and their dealings with various warlords in the Middle East. And when Sergeant Sagara had failed to be as prompt as usual in radioing back his coordinates, a task force was immediately assigned to retrieve, and if necessary, terminate him if he had compromised his mission in any way.
They were also aware of another missing soldier. Gauron had been sent on a mission to assassinate the leader of the rebel force within Helmajistan. The proximity of the two missions was too close to be coincidental, and it was almost certain that the two missions had gone very sour. Although Gauron was nowhere near a perfect soldier (he almost never bothered to radio or communicate with superiors during missions and it wasn’t unknown for him to disappear for a weeks without a trace,) he was a brilliant strategist, a perfect assassin, and one of the most dangerous men alive. Other than Sousuke, he was also the other counterpart to the LAMBDA driver, and absolutely essential to Mithril. Sousuke was less of a flight risk, but Gauron, well, Mithril had been playing a fine line between black and grey ever since they had captured and converted him from rebel forces. It was well known that the conversion had nothing to do with personal values, and instead a lot to do with money.
But they were both missing, and they had both been assigned to missions less than 3 leagues from each other, and it didn’t take the top strategist in Mithril to know that something was very, very wrong.
Gauron looks at the form on the bed. Sousuke has long since stopped moving, and he’s smoking, blowing the smoke idly from between his lips. There is a banging on the door, and Kurz’s voice rings through the room. Funny. Why would they send a sniper to do a soldier’s job? He’s sat on a chair in the corner, legs sprawled in front of him, an almost empty bottle of whiskey in one hand and a cigarette in the other.
His gaze flickers to Sousuke again, watching the blood drip slowly onto the floor. It’s slowed down a lot. It isn’t a long time before Kurz rams himself against the door, and it breaks inwards, the door frame splintering into a thousand shards as Kurz rolls into a crouching position, a gun aimed right for Gauron’s head.
“Make one move, and I will kill you.” He growls, and it would be cute if Gauron could care less.
Instead, he smirks insolently, and drains the rest of the whisky.
The shot shatters the bottle and neatly skims the side of his face, drawing blood. He starts to chuckle, and then laugh, as soldiers surround him and handcuff him, and as soon as he’s secured the medics rush into the room and they then turn their attention onto Sousuke.
They stay for night in a cheap hotel, right after they had finished cleaning up after the mission and Sousuke is about to turn and say something to him when Gauron presses a gun to his stomach. He feels the muscle tense, behind the gun, and his eyes are panicked, confused, before they settle into abrupt understanding.
“This is about Zaidou.”
It isn’t, but it makes Gauron angry anyway, because he couldn’t give a fuck about who Sousuke chooses to sleep with, because as long as he keeps crawling back to him it doesn’t even really matter. But it’s the assumption, the mistaken assumption that Gauron even cares that angers him. What he really hates though, is being forced into any situation at all, and it enrages him that he is here, in this situation.
When he’s finished with this, he is going to fucking destroy Mithril.
“I am going to hurt you.” He says, emotionlessly, using a tone that Sousuke has never heard him use before. “Badly.”
“Can I,” Sousuke coughs, voice clearing, “Can I ask why?”
“You can.” Gauron says, “but I’m not going to tell you.”
Sousuke steels himself, and he knows it’s going to be bad, and Gauron’s slightly fascinated to see Sousuke’s mission mode slide over his expression. He can see him calculating escape routes, the possibilities involved in jumping out of the window, the chances of him overwhelming his oppressor, and when he realises that all his options are firmly nonexistent, only then does he see the fear settle in. Only then, his body stiffens and becomes rigid, and then acceptance happens.
“Take off your belt.”
Sousuke acquiesces, hands steady but slow, unbuckling his belt, pulling it through his trouser loops. The firearms come next, and Gauron counts three knives, a grenade, two guns and a taser. He examines one of the knives before using it nudge Sousuke’s hands to his shirt buttons, and grins sardonically.
So the shirt is unbuttoned next, and it slips off his shoulders, and then his black undershirt, which ruffles his hair as it is pulled off over his head. His hands stray down to his trousers, hesitating slightly at the zip, but it’s more of a twitch of the fingers and before Gauron can say anything, he deftly unbuttons the top button and draws down the zip. The sound is loud, and slow.
This isn’t the first time they’ve done this, and Gauron knows for a fact that it also isn’t the first time Sousuke’s done this unwillingly. He can already see the old mannerisms kicking in, the shuttered expression, the quiet acceptance, and he hasn’t got the heart to tell him that this time, it isn’t going to be quite the same.
It is another month before Sousuke wakes.
They had to put him on sedatives to allow his body to heal without the mental trauma, and when it becomes apparent that his body is healing, the cuts, bruises and lacerations scabbing over and once his broken arm is beginning to mend, they wean him off the drugs and sedatives slowly, and he begins to stir. He grimaces slightly in his sleep, but he never quite cries out, not even a whimper escapes his lips as he tosses and turns.
It’s painful for Tessa to watch, and she clenches her fists into her skirt, pale hands even paler with anger, trembling slightly. If she had her way, Gauron would be ten feet under the ground by now, either dead or in a cell left to rot underground.
However, the higher ups in Mithril had intervened upon his behalf. All she knew at the moment was that he would not be terminated, but rehabilitated, and he would be punished severely for his indiscretion. She is white with anger, and she doesn’t trust herself to speak, knowing that decision, ultimately lies with the fact that other than Sousuke and Gauron, no one else knows how to manipulate the LAMBDA Driver. With Sousuke borderline catatonic, Gauron is Mithril’s only other choice.
Kalinin visits, regularly, along with Mao and Kurz, and Zaidou, Gauron’s previous partner comes also at times. There are plenty of people who are curious and attempt to visit just to see the extent of the damage themselves, and Tessa marks their names down with a vicious and yet sickening self satisfaction. She doesn’t need people like this in Mithril, or at least not on her submarine, and the transfer requests are signed and handed in as soon as the day has ended. She has the best medical team on hand, and she has the best psychiatrists on her staff, trained and ready to help at a moment’s notice.
And when one day, Sousuke finally wakes up, she is proud that she doesn’t cry, because he doesn’t need people pitying him, and he doesn’t need the patronising platitudes that their superiors spout out at him. In fact, she knows exactly what he doesn’t need, but she wishes she knew what he did.
“Hey buddy.” Kurz says, leaning against the hospital door.
Sousuke looks up, and struggles to sit up in the hospital bed, lips twisted downwards into a grimace.
“Kurz. Can you tell the nurses that I don’t need constant supervision?”
Kurz just smiles. He was the one who found Sousuke first (bleeding and trembling, face so pale that he had sworn he was dead) and he doesn't have the heart to tell him he's been placed under watch for his own protection. As if to help prevent him from answering, Mao barges in, holding a six pack of beer and a couple of DVDs under her arm. She’s unapologetically loud, and she fiddles with the TV on the wall, whilst Kurz pats him on the shoulder lightly.
“How’s your arm?”
“Better.” Sousuke winces, rolling his shoulder slowly. His arm is still in a splint, still healing, but he can manage his movement slightly. He sits stiffly on the bed, and looks sourly at the IV attached to his arm. “I also don’t need any pain medication; will you please pass that message onto my doctors? They aren’t listening to me.”
Mao snorts, from behind the TV, a mouthful of wires and Sousuke can see her hooking up the TV to some kind of…gaming console.
“Yeah, but they’re worried you’re not in your right mind. They’re not going to be listening to you until you get cleared for active duty.”
“I am always ready for active duty.” Sousuke intones, completely serious.
Kurz pauses, looking at him sympathetically.
“Bad news buddy, Tessa’s sticking the psychs on you.”
There’s a dangerous pause, but then Sousuke sighs, body suddenly relaxing and drained from all tension.
“I suppose it’s to be expected.”
It’s a surprisingly tame reaction, and Mao and Kurz exchange relieved glances before they turn on the TV, and place a DVD in the player, handing the gaming control to Sousuke’s good hand.
“But in the mean time,” Mao cackles, “Here’s the latest specs and training simulations for the newest Arm Slaves.”
The look of adoration she receives warms and reassures her. For a little while longer, they can all pretend things are still okay.
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
The psychiatrist they assign to him is surprisingly pretty. She is quite young, but Sousuke knows better than anyone than to judge someone’s skills by their age. She smiles brightly and sweetly when he limps into the room. The office is bright and sterile, walls cold and ceilings high with nothing but a few couches and a small coffee table. It feels impersonal, distant, and his eyes dart to the camera lodged in the ceiling corner, trying not to feel defensive. He knows himself, and he knows he does not need psychiatric help. He is perfectly aware of how he feels about Gauron, and he has never needed a third perspective to point that out to him. Nor will he ever need one.
“Please sit down, Sousuke.” She says, gesturing to the seat with one hand, chewing the cap of her pen and flipping through a clipboard.
He is still in crutches, and one of his arms is still in a splint, but he manages to sit down awkwardly, holding himself upright.
“Please call me Kaname,” she says brightly, tossing her long blue hair behind her, a gesture that is both habitual and comforting. “I know you may not want to talk to me, and I understand that. But I’m not here so I can report everything you say to your superiors, I am here both as a personal favour and friend of Tessa’s.”
Sousuke looks at her sharply, and she smiles at him disarmingly.
“I don’t belong with Mithril; call me an independent party. I am only here as someone whom you can talk to.”
There is a long pause. Sousuke refuses to reply at first, but then she raises her eyebrow, and does not give in. Some people feel like they need to talk to fill the silences, but Kaname’s profession almost requires her to be quiet and listen.
“Thank you for your help, but I am completely fine. You may choose to tell that to Tessa, if you wish.” Sousuke parrots back her words, as emotionlessly as he can. He doesn’t make it a habit to be rude, but there is something in the room that makes his neck itch and the overpowering feel of Mithril embedded within the walls that makes his skin crawl.
He’s interested to see her eyebrow twitch rather dangerously at his rude response and he resists the urge to smile. She will probably give up within a few days.
“Unfortunately, I can’t do that, Sousuke.” She replies sweetly. Her tone is light and easy going, but there’s a hard edge to her voice that makes her sound…well, dangerous. “I have been handed the responsibility of returning you to active duty. And whilst you may want me to trust you and allow you to go on missions again, I am not willing to place my reputation on the line, nor am I willing to place your comrades in danger. So until you start talking to me, we’ll probably have to keep on having these sessions.”
Sousuke’s eyes narrow and Kaname’s eyes also narrow in response.
They sit there, and when half an hour has passed, he picks up his crutches, and leaves.
He’s been screaming for a long time.
He’s aware that it doesn’t matter, because Gauron will probably have killed all the hotel staff anyway, but he screams because it hurts, and his pain threshold is already shot to hell from whatever else Gauron has inflicted upon him. He’s always known that Gauron is vicious and evil and psychotic. He’s been on the receiving end of that before, but there’s always been a reason. Whether trivial or not, Gauron’s particular brand of sadism has always been a calculated decision onhis part.
At first, he thinks it’s because of Zaidou, but as the night progresses, Sousuke starts to realise that it has nothing to do with him at all. Gauron doesn’t care about the necessities of relationships; he takes and gives exactly how much as he wants to, and then deals with the consequences later.
Like he is doing so now.
Sousuke can deal with torture because he usually has something to protect. He can use the mission as a goal, and he would die rather than betray that. But what he cannot process is senseless violence; the utter lack of reason that Gauron is displaying.
He has no idea of how to stop him.
“This is a farce. Sir.”
“What?” Kalinin answers, expression blank. Sousuke just grits his teeth and bites back a few choice words. He greatly respects Kalinin, and outside of Mithril, he would love him like a son loves his father. But in this case, he believes Kalinin is doing this just to punish him.
“I don’t think retraining is necessary. I am still perfectly capable of completing any mission that is assigned to me.”
“Unfortunately, I believe you need retraining.” Kalinin’s words are blunt, but they still intend to wound. His poise is of a commander; only his eyes tell another story, a story of deep sadness and weariness. Sousuke avoids looking at him. He doesn’t need this, he doesn’t need pity, and he certainly doesn’t need to be told he is now considered obsolete; an imperfect soldier.
“Your sessions with Dr Chidori have not been progressing as well as we would want, and your leg has taken months to fully recuperate. If you will not accept the mental counselling, then at least we require you to be physically fit.”
He recognises an ultimatum when he hears one. Either confide in his shrink, or be retrained with the rest of the new recruits.
“When’s the first training session?” He asks, after a while, and Kalinin sighs minutely, as if disappointed in him.
“So Sousuke, how’s your leg doing?” Kaname asks, tapping her pen on her clipboard. Sousuke sits on the couch opposite her, legs together and hands placed palm down on his knees, back straight and expression unreadable. She sighs inwardly, and wishes that he’d just be more flexible, more relaxed, just this once.
The psychological profile she has on him is pretty accurate, and she has seen his missions before the incident. The profile suggests he is a reasonable and adaptable individual and she knows that he is highly capable and self aware. Sousuke has also shown himself to be very kind and giving, following his missions to the point where he is loathe to disobey his superiors. And yet, when you add Gauron to the mix, everything changes. She’s seen the medical reports, and even thinking about it sickens her to her stomach. As a psychiatrist, she has seen many unpleasant things, but never such an abuse of trust, never such viciousness and pure callousness from another in her life.
Sickeningly, she wants a session with Gauron, just to study him.
But otherwise, Sousuke is completely ignoring the ordeal, repressing memories and acting completely normally. She is certain he is not suicidal, nor is he a danger to others, but he refuses to confide in her, in anyone, and seems intent on never acknowledging Gauron ever again.
Not only was he raped, he was beaten and tortured and nearly murdered and people do not just recover from such trauma.
And yet here he is. Sitting on her couch, a frown on his handsome features, refusing to confide in her with a pig-headed stubbornness that she finds endearing, despite the circumstances.
“My leg is fine, Miss Chidori.” He says, polite as ever. “But there is this matter of my military clearance.”
“No.” She wants to throw something at him. So she does, the paperclip bouncing harmlessly off his head. He only blinks in response. The lack of fear annoys her, and she vows to herself she’ll find something larger to throw at him next time. “Mithril may be allowing you to retrain yourself, but that does not mean they’ll allow you on missions.”
That of course, is a complete lie, and unfortunately Sousuke knows it too. She almost growls, thinking about it. Sousuke and Gauron are the only people with LAMBDA driver experience, and the higher ups are pushing for her to ‘make him well’. Scowling, she continues finishing her report, jabbing her pen furiously into the paper.
If the whole point of this exercise was just for her to sign some clearance forms to certify Sousuke’s sanity, and if they wouldn’t listen to her professional opinion, then she wonders why the hell Tessa had hired her in the first place.
“Tessa hired you because you’re kind, and you care much more than anyone within Mithril.”
Had she said that last part out loud? Oops. She looks up, and Sousuke is not looking at her, but at the floor, hands bunched into fists on his lap.
“I am not ready to talk. And although I know you and Kalinin and Tessa have my best interests at heart, I know I can’t. But I need to be out there, training. I need to be occupied.”
Only then does he look at her, and a little part of her breaks.
She signs his release forms the very next day.
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
He’s sat on the edge of the gangway, trying to calibrate his AS controls to adjust for the rough terrain test coming up in the next week when Gauron ambles up behind him, smoking a cigarette.
“You should tell that Major of yours to be a bit nicer to me,” he says humorously, after exhaling an obnoxious cloud of smoke in Sousuke’s direction. Sousuke ignores him, hooking and untangling the last bunch of wires before turning to him and retorting,
“Melissa isn’t even nice to me. So what makes you think what I say will help?”
“At least she likes you.”
“I think she just likes to make fun of me, to be honest.” He disagrees, lips turning downwards sourly. Her last prank on him had involved XXL condoms and dirty magazines in his locker, and unfortunately to his mortification, Kalinin had been the last superior to inspect the barracks. The man was practically his guardian.
“She’d get less of a kick out of it if you weren’t such a prude all the time.”
Suddenly, Sousuke is aware of Gauron standing very close, a visible warmth against his back, and flinches as he places a hand on his neck, fingers just grazing his pulse point.
“Personally, I just think she doesn’t approve of us.”
Sousuke just turns to level a cool stare back at him.
Gauron just chuckles, ruffling his hair just to be annoying.
“Okay fine. Have it your way.”
And all of a sudden, he’s pinned to a bed, unable to move or scream, and a heavy hand is clamped over his mouth, suffocating and oppressive. He can see himself from a distance, under Gauron, helpless and then the pain, the pain is something he has never felt before, splitting and searing and –
With a gasp, he wakes.
His sheets are sodden with sweat, twisted around his body. Rubbing his eyes, he glances blearily at the time before stumbling into the shower, hands shaking.
The other recruits ignore him as he walks into the room. They’re chatting; some are boasting about their exploits, and some are trying to intimidate the competition with false bravado. It’s almost a relief, escaping to a place where people don’t know him. He’s recovered mostly from his injuries, but his body is in poor shape – a direct result of being unable to exercise or keep fit during his hospital stay.
A lot of the recruits are older and larger, and Sousuke recognises alpha males when he sees them. They’re either boasting about their former exploits or physically intimidating the younger trainees, standing too close and too near. He snorts to himself, and studies the walls instead. Unfortunately, there can often be only one alpha male in the room, and the competing egos and bad attitudes are about as much as he can take.
He knows that Mao is definitely training one batch of recruits, and he smiles wryly. It’s her first year as an instructor, and he had spent most of his hospital stay helping her draft her future training sessions. He knows what a sick mind she has, and having seen her initial training plans he can’t help but think she’s overcompensating for something.
The door slams open and instead, he sees Lieutenant Graus and Sousuke sighs in relief, having served under him for a few years as a recruit. In fact, it was the Lieutenant that had first trained him when he had first entered Mithril and the man had not been kind or forgiving of mistakes. He had been a horrible instructor, impatient and unkind, and yet Sousuke had admired him. The man did not take shit from anyone (memorably the man and Gauron had no gotten along) and Sousuke flexes his thigh unconsciously, feeling a twinge of pain that he knows he cannot afford. The other recruits are oblivious to his discomfort as they clamber into place, and Sousuke grits his teeth and looks down as he is jostled.
Graus begins his usual tirade by insulting everyone, their physical capabilities, their mothers and their dicks. He assesses each recruit with a discerning eye, and when he rests his eyes on Sousuke it is with some trepidation that he sees him smile nastily.
“Back again?” Graus murmurs. “Not trailing after Gauron like last time are we?”
He jerks, the words hitting home immediately. He knows that Graus doesn’t know about the incident, because the news had been limited to Tuatha’s crew under the threat of dismissal. He knows the Lieutenant is only searching for a reaction. Those are the facts, and he keeps to them, not letting his emotions get the better of him. So he keeps his poker face intact and replies as evenly as he can.
“No sir. We had a falling out of sorts.”
Cold grey eyes look back at him, flicker up and down his body, assessing the damage, and suddenly Graus nods.
“Good. I never liked the piece of shit anyway.”
And despite himself, Sousuke smiles slightly, despite the other recruits peering at him curiously from the sidelines. Maybe training wouldn’t be so bad after all.
Training was worse than it had ever been. It seemed that Lieutenant Graus had definitely not mellowed with age, and that the years Sousuke had since seen him had only given him more time to think of creative new ways to torture potential recruits. That, and Sousuke was sure that Mao had been sharing some of her lesson plans with the other instructors. What was even worse was that despite his retraining, he still had to report to Miss Chidori every week – which rendered the torture completely useless as he still had to share his feelings.
Sousuke grits his teeth as he tries to hold the stress position, arms folded behind his head and legs straining with the effort. They’ve moved past the more theoretical lessons based on tech, weaponry and arm slaves, and now they’re facing interrogation; a group of battle hardened mercenaries intent on humiliating and belittling the trainees as much as possible. Part of Sousuke resents the fact he has to repeat this; part of him knows he needs it.
It had taken him officially two point seven seconds more than his average to disassemble and assemble his rifle in the first week. Another extra week to regain the mobility he lost whilst operating the basic model arm slaves. He still had an advantage in battle tactics and strategies, but as usual there was no improvement there as his teammates hardly ever listened to him. And when they did, it was often too late anyway.
And currently, they were being held in a godforsaken rainforest on some training exercise because his team had not listened to him and had tried to capture the opposing team’s flag with no thought at all for basic strategy. He never gets angry these days, but he has to admit that there is something intensely irritating about being held accountable for other people’s mistakes.
Especially when his arms ache, and his thigh twinges from the knife that Gauron had stabbed into his leg to hold him in place. And the fact that despite how hard he tries, he twitches every time he is restrained or blindfolded. Their captors had noticed very quickly, and Sousuke had provided them with ample opportunities for amusement along with all the other interrogation techniques his team were subjected to.
Sourly, the only reason why he isn’t more annoyed is that he knows for sure that Aiden, his second in command has been reduced to tears already. Sometimes, he wonders how he even got here at all.
There is a moment of silence in the meeting room until it is interrupted violently as Tessa slams her hand down on the table.
“Are you crazy?” Tessa shrieks, and Kalinin stands straight backed, face drawn and pinched as the General relays his news.
“I’m afraid we don’t have a choice. We need Gauron and Sergeant Sagara to resume testing of our LAMBDA drivers. Without the both of them in action we face ever increasing danger from our enemies.”
“Are you even aware of how dangerous and unstable Gauron is at the moment?” Kalinin says, voice cold. The General flinches, but holds his ground.
“I can assure you Gauron has gone through suitable rehabilitation, and punished severely for his… indiscretions. Leonard has assured me that Gauron has also agreed to a number of concessions, such as regular counselling and demotions of rank.”
“So you gave him some counselling.” Kalinin’s voice is so caustic that it is almost completely monotone, and Tessa decides to interrupt before things can get ugly. She tries reason, and despite her anger, she tries to convince and to negotiate, a skill she has honed to perfection during the years.
“Do you seriously think rank means anything to Gauron? And do you think counselling will help someone who is practically insane?” She stands, smoothing down her skirt with pale hands, and looks him squarely in the eye. “Gauron is no longer an effective field agent. Despite what you and my brother may think, we will never be able to trust him again, and Sousuke is no longer capable of operating on missions with him, LAMBDA driver or not. He will not be deployed on any more missions, and as long as I live, I will not let him come within ten yards of this base.”
“A pretty speech.” The General sneers, and his face is unpleasant. “Unfortunately, my orders come above you, and you will obey them. The LAMBDA driver is too important a weapon to allow the feelings of one soldier to affect its development. Sergeant Sagara will begin testing it with Gauron as of next month, whether you like it or not.”
And the vid link flashes off, leaving Tessa trembling, and Kalinin frozen with anger.
Sousuke’s walking past the recreational rooms, towelling his hair when he is stopped in his tracks by a loud grating voice. The interrogation mission had been swift and brutal, but at least they had had the decency to airlift them back to base once the ordeal was over. They’ve been holed up in the base since then, and the recruits are antsy, bored with nothing to do other than to drink, fight and gossip. The voice sounds like Maynard, and he sees most of his trainee group sat together near the pool tables, playing cards around a circle.
“Did you hear about the guy who was tortured by Gauron?”
What’s worse is that he can see Zaidou there as well, chewing absently on a cigarette as he eyes his hand with dismay. They’re often there after each training session, and he knows that Zaidou has been helping the instructors with the new recruits. He’s been avoiding him, because he doesn’t need to talk like he knows Zaidou wants him to, but lately it’s become unavoidable. Besides, the rec room is always well equipped with alcohol and gossip – leading to the usual bar fights and unpleasant rumours; something he can clearly see unfolding like a train wreck.
“Don’t talk shit about something you know nothing about.” Zaidou retorts, throwing his cards down in disgust.
“But I heard about it from Tuatha’s crew.” Maynard insists, eyes wide with curiosity. His tone is malicious, and he continues on blithely. “Word says he fucked him up badly, so bad that he was in a coma for months.”
“You should get your sources checked – word is that Gauron fucks up everything he touches, including people who spread shit about him.”
“So what.” Maynard sneers, taking a swig of beer. “I’m not afraid of some psycho who’s locked up in some cell somewhere.”
“So, you’d better be careful considering he’s being reinstated in order to test the new LAMBDA drivers soon.”
Maynard chokes and Sousuke makes a small sound that instantly has Zaidou’s eyes zero in on him. He feels hot all over and yet oddly cold as he makes a swift retreat. It isn’t a surprise, he tells himself, and he knows that Gauron is indispensible to Mithril. Its how the military works, and he knows if only he had made better progress utilising the LAMDA driver then he wouldn’t be in this position in the first place.
He hears the familiar voice and he keeps walking, pretending he hasn’t heard. But the footsteps quickly catch up with him and Zaidou grabs his shoulder. The sudden movement catches him off guard, and he swings around, arm arched and ready to punch until Zaidou catches his fist with an open palm, manoeuvring quickly so the force behind it is used against him.
“Oomph, calm down Sousuke.”
“Don’t tell me to calm down.” He snaps, shoving him away. Zaidou just backs up, hands held up placatingly.
“Fair enough. I’m sorry you had to hear like that but I thought you already knew.”
“Well clearly not.” Sousuke’s voice is bitter, but he knows he can’t hold it against him. Zaidou had come from the same guerrilla camp as him, and they’ve known each other since they were children. He can’t afford to alienate what little friends he has. And with that, he deflates, anger seeping out of him like a raw wound. It isn’t even worth it, and he tries to reassure Zaidou with a sickly smile.
Zaidou just winces.
“Jesus Sousuke, you need to work on your game face. Those assholes in there will eat you alive if they know about this.”
“Affirmative.” Sousuke just nods, agreeing wholeheartedly. Zaidou slings an arm around his shoulders, almost comfortingly as they make their way back to the mess hall, and distantly, as the world rushes past him in a blur, Sousuke wonders if it isn’t too late to schedule another session with Miss Chidori.
AN: Suddenly got the bug to write again, who knows how long this will last...
He ends up scheduling his next session with Miss Chidori at the end of the week, and he wonders what he is going to say. Zaidou had spent the rest of the night with him, the two of them necking shots of whiskey one by one, stumbling against each other in the barracks. It had helped distract him from any lingering thoughts of Gauron, but it didn’t help the slight trickle of fear and revulsion that had been slowly seeping through into his psyche. He knows the LAMBDA driver is one of the most important military developments that Mithril has, however that didn’t mean he was looking forward to their messy reunion. Thankfully, despite his history with Zaidou, they don't do anything further than just drink, and Sousuke is immensely grateful. He isn’t sure he is ever going to be ready for that, and the thought of ever allowing someone that close, becoming that vulnerable again makes him feel sick to the stomach.
Shaking his head, he clears his mind abruptly as he tightens his grip on the AS controllers, fingers flicking deftly to target an oncoming missile. They’re blanks of course, but the training exercise is set to hurt and he grits his teeth as the Arm Slave rocks backwards, the impact of the explosion rocking him against his harness.
“Fuck,” he curses, swinging his arm out to grab onto a nearby tree, swinging himself and his machine around. In the same move he throws his now empty machine gun at his opponents, and uses it to advance forward, disabling two others at the same time.
“Language please,” Lieutenant Graus tuts over the intercom, sounding amused, whilst at the same time Sousuke can hear howls of rage coming from the others on the opposing team.
“How the fuck did you pull that off you little bastard, you son of a-”
“-shutup,” Aiden yells gleefully, firing shots in support, “It’s not Sousuke’s fault you can’t pilot worth shit.”
Sousuke uses the covering fire to attempt a flying leap, and he manages it, twisting the AS midway in the air to flip around, avoiding both air fire and the land mines in front. He disables the remaining opponents with relative ease, and there is a shocked silence as he single handedly takes down the opponent force. He’s breathing harshly, knuckles white with the strain, and unconsciously nursing his arm. He’s healed enough, but occasionally there’s phantom spasms of pain, right where Gauron stuck a dagger through his -
“Team white victory.” He finally says down the intercom, and there is a whoop of jubilant laughter from Aiden.
“Aww man, this just isn't fucking fair.” Sergeant Ludiz sighs, but there’s no bite to his words.
“You’re still just as lethal in one of these, I see.” Graus approaches him on the gangway when Sousuke disembarks from his AS, shirt sodden with sweat but a pleased smile lingering on his lips.
“Thankyou, sir.” He automatically stiffens with the praise, a little proud despite himself. He had single handedly fought his team to victory from a 4 to 1 disadvantage, and he was immensely grateful, relieved even that he seemed to be back to fighting form again. Piloting was in his blood, and it felt good to be back again, proving his worth against older, tougher opponents time and time again.
Graus looks at him for a moment, contemplative, and almost hesitantly, he speaks.
“Can I ask you a question?”
It takes Sousuke by surprise, there is a cautious tone to the instructor's voice that he has never heard before, and against his better judgement he nods.
“After all that has happened in the last few months, why are you retraining yourself with Mithril again?”
At first he thinks it’s a trick question, a way to test him and his loyalty, but there’s a genuine question there, tinged with something almost like worry in those sharp, hawkish eyes. The reminder of the incident is a sucker punch to the stomach, but he thinks he gets it, the concern that everyone is now showing him, treading around him on eggshells. He wishes he could tell everyone that the cold hard truth was that rape was and still is used as a weapon of war, and Sousuke has seen and been through alot in his days as a guerilla fighter. He wishes they’d stop treating him like glass.
“I have nowhere else.” He manages finally, watching as Graus’ eyes soften. “Mithril is my home.”
“I was afraid of that.” Graus places on hand on his shoulder, gripping him tightly. “Be careful, Sergeant.”
And with those cryptic words, he spins around and walks away, not looking back once.
Lunch is a boisterous affair. He grabs a tray and sits by himself, used to the solitude, when a group of new recruits join him swiftly. Aiden is among them, and despite his previous dislike towards Sousuke, he is smiling.
“Dude, you were amazing out there today.” He slaps his back, and Sousuke tenses automatically at the touch. Aiden doesn’t notice, and he sits down with two others that Sousuke recognises as Oda, a Japanese engineer and Marie, a French sharpshooter. Their gazes are open and admiring, and he then relaxes. They probably don't mean any harm.
“Thank you.” He responds finally, smiling tentatively. “I was actually a Mithril agent before they sent me back for retraining.”
“Oh that makes so much more sense,” Marie says, throwing her hands up with relief. “We just couldn’t believe it when we saw you take down those other Arm Slaves - it was four against one!”
Distantly, he listens to their chatter, remembering his old unit in Helmajistan. Long before the days Gauron had joined Mithril. The team had only been on a few missions together, and they had hardly gotten along before they had encountered Gauron. Before he single mindedly wiped them out from a four to one disadvantage. Mithril had quickly intervened after, recognising the LAMBDA driver and paying a disproportionate amount to keep him loyal.
Not loyal enough lately. The standard military fare tastes like ash in his mouth, and finds it hard to swallow.
Gauron is in one his more bellicose moods today, and Sousuke tries to avoid him as much as possible. His temper is absolutely out of control, and they are shown politely out of the AS hanger by a harried looking mechanic too polite to say ‘fuck off’. Although he’s not worried about being hurt per se, Gauron has an acerbic tongue when pissed off and combined with his utter lack of normal human empathy, it made for uncomfortable situations he’d rather stay out of. Earlier, Gauron had been summoned to HQ, and despite his curiosity he hadn’t dared to ask why as he had returned with a scowl on his face, eyes narrowed and dangerous. He will never forget the baleful look that he shoots him when he sees him standing in the doorway, nervous despite himself.
“Do you think we make each other weak?” He asks, and Sousuke freezes, not knowing the right response.
“I think we’re both strong enough to deal with it.” He says, cautious.
There is a pause, and Gauron just chuckles, all traces of his temper disappearing as he pulls him in for a kiss.
That night Gauron fucks him, and Sousuke feels something different in the air. Gauron is gentle, and although he’s never been loving exactly, the sounds he wrings out of him are extracted with dedication and it leaves him shaking. They spend hours together, exploring and experiencing and by the end of it they are both breathless, bodies sticky and worn. His head settles on Gauron’s chest, and Gauron traces circles into his skin whilst smoking a cigarette, breathing slowing to a comfortable rise and fall.
The next day they both leave for Helmajistan. And another month later, Sousuke wakes up from a coma in hospital.
There is a spring in his step as he walks to Miss Chidori’s office. Although he will probably never talk like the way she wants him to, he enjoys her company and uses it as an excuse to avoid Kalinin and Tessa when they try to gauge his progress. He’s still high from his AS battle, and he wants to tell her about the progress he’s made, how he feels even sharper, clearer, focused from before.
He knocks on her office door, and without waiting for a reply, he opens the door. They’ve reached a comfortable familiarity, and despite the fact she likes to throw things at him when she’s in a bad mood, they get along more and more with each passing day. Looking up, he sees Kaname sitting down on her office chair, and her eyes snap towards him in surprise. Her face is pale, and she looks deeply unhappy.
There’s a man sitting on her sofa, and his stomach sinks when he recognises the figure.
Gauron’s head turns to look at him, eyes slanted with a sardonic smile resting on his lips.
“Honey, I’m home.”
Chapter 5: Chapter 5
Well I finally got some inspiration to write.
There is the sound of roaring in his ears. His breath hitches, an inhale that is trapped, unable to escape and his chest feels tight. The fight or flight response within him has been triggered, and a small part of him want to just curl up on the floor, knowing that fighting or hiding just won’t work.
His vision is blurry, and he doesn’t know how to react as he sees Gauron lounging carelessly on Miss Chidori’s sofa, flanked by two Mithril guards. They look deeply uncomfortable, and are sat as far away from him as possible, without it looking like they were actively avoiding being next to him. The pure physical presence of Gauron is intimidating, and he feels himself sweating beneath his collar, feeling sick to his stomach.
He doesn’t know what expression is on his face, however whatever it is it causes Gauron to frown at him slightly before it drops behind a facade of pure menace and a small grin curls up at his lips.
“What, no welcome kiss back? So cold.” He snarks, and Kaname jerks visibly, glaring pure poison at the older mercenary.
“Shut up.” She snaps, and then flinches as golden eyes flicker towards her, assessing her coolly.
“And I suppose you will make me, hm?”
The door to Kaname’s office opens suddenly, startling Sousuke and he spins around to see Tessa and Kalinin walk in, along with Mardukas and a man he recognises as Tessa’s brother, Leonard. The number of senior military personnel is deeply troubling, and his brow furrows as he tries to make sense of it all. Kalinin shoots him an apologetic look as he walks past him, and Tessa’s fine boned hands are clenched into fists, nails digging into her palms and mouth pressed into a firm scowl.
“My, my, the whole family is here.” Gauron drawls, and to his credit, he shuts up when Kalinin walks towards him, aware that his hands are still shackled behind him.
“How was your stay in Antarctica?” Kalinin asks, and Sousuke frowns, for a moment not knowing why Gauron was being asked about his holidays.
“A bit colder than I would have liked.” Gauron responds, without missing a beat. “Though Mithril holding facilities are not too shabby, if I’m being honest.”
“If we’re being honest with each other,” Kalinin says mildly, “Then you won’t begrudge me this.” Without warning, he draws back, and punches Gauron solidly on the jaw, a thwack which snaps Gauron’s head back, eliciting a grunt of pain and a shriek of surprise from Tessa. Leaning back, Kalinin shakes his hand, and Sousuke notes with numb satisfaction that Gauron’s mouth is bleeding.
“Satisfied?” Gauron asks, eyes narrowed to pin points. “I’ll remember that one.” He then turns his gaze onto Sousuke, and he feels himself pale, a chill shooting down his spine. “And out of everyone here, aren’t you the one who has the largest right to hit me? Want a go?” And like the shit stain of a human being he is, he tilts his head the other way, exposing his other cheek.
Sousuke can’t breathe, his vision narrowed to Gauron. He clenches his hands, and distantly he realises he is shaking, trying desperately to suppress the memories threatening to break out. Gauron is staring intently at him, eyes not betraying anything, and to his own mortification, Sousuke feels his own eyes water, and he firmly squashes it, absolutely refusing to cry in front this group of people. He feels raw, a bunch of nerves exposed, and the shock of seeing Gauron so suddenly - especially since he had thought he had recovered is a complete blow to his self confidence.
“E-excuse me.” He mutters. He is about to leave when an insidious presence makes himself known, and shuts the door before he can leave. Leonard places a hand on his shoulder, and gently guides him towards Gauron, a false smile settled coquettishly on his lips, eyes sharp and yet fascinated.
“Please don’t leave yet, Sousuke.” He chides softly. “We need to work this out together.”
Kaname chokes in response to that, and distantly Sousuke is glad he’s not the only one finding this completely fucked up.
Kalinin finds him in the Arm Slave hangar a few hours later, and his face looks weary and much older, deep frown lines etched into his face. Sousuke looks up and quirks a smile as he approaches, and Kalinin winces as he sees the poor attempt.
“I will apologise for the way we startled you back there.” There is a sense of quiet anger seething behind the commander’s voice. “We should have never used Miss Chidori’s session as an excuse to bring Gauron in, but Leonard insisted in order to see what your reaction would be.” His voice is pure poison, and his voice trembles still with anger.
Inwardly, Sousuke isn’t surprised. Although he is just a foot soldier, he knows that the politics within Mithril leave a lot to be desired and Tessa’s crew are still subject to higher command. Leonard leads the research division, and Kalinin had faced down many attempts in the past to transfer Sousuke to R&D.
However, there is something different this time, a visible shift in Mithril’s policies, a shift in power, and despite everything, Tessa’s protests and Kalinin’s tight lipped anger, Leonard had delivered his message clearly in Kaname’s office with no room for negotiation. Sousuke and Gauron would test the LAMBDA driver twice a week together, and submit themselves for lab results the following days. Therapy sessions would be held separately with Miss Kaname, and Sousuke would obey.
“I accept your apology, sir.” Sousuke says. There is something in his bland tone that makes Kalinin wince, and hesitates, before suddenly pulling Sousuke into a firm bodied hug.
If Kalinin’s shirt is slight damp when they finally part, both of them decline to mention it the next day.
“This is bullshit.” Mao swears, slamming her hands down on the table. Her face is partly flushed with anger, partly flushed from beer, as Sousuke had waited until she had finished half the pack before updating her. Kurz is just as inebriated, a trail of empty shots dotted around the table.
“This is why you got us drunk.” Kurz slurs, pointing his finger accusingly at him, eyes vaguely betrayed.
Sousuke shrugs, and waits for Mao’s expletives to die down, vaguely aware that the mess is slowly getting quieter. There are a few curious looks thrown their way, and are quickly deterred when Mao throws them the middle finger, followed by an aggressive “what the fuck are you looking at”.
“So does he get to just walk away like that? After all he did?” She hisses, crunching an empty beer can with one hand.
“Not exactly, he has to be monitored at all times and they’ve fitted him with an electric shock collar.”
Kurz snorts into his drink, amused despite himself.
“Bet he didn’t like that.” He mutters, and Sousuke nods, remembering with a quirk to his lips when Gauron had found that particular fact out.
“He’ll find a way to disable it somehow, but before then Leonard insists that we need to test the LAMBDA driver together, as their own pilots aren’t making any headway with it. We are the only two pilots in Mithril who can operate it effectively.”
“Still bullshit.” Mao mutters sullenly, and Sousuke is inclined to agree.
That night, he staggers back to his room, feeling a prickling at his neck as he looks around at every corner and doorway he passes. Despite steadily drinking himself into a coma with preparation for the day to come, he’s still aware of his senses and knows he is being overly paranoid. When he finally reaches his room, he slams the door shut quickly with relief, nervous and out of breath, clutching at the floor miserably as the room spins around him.
He shivers, a cruel smile and golden eyes flashing across his mind, and spends the rest of the night hunched over the toilet, puking his guts out.