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Second part of the double post, skipping the header this time. Please click Part I if you'd like to read the beginning, otherwise, let's continue onward!


I | II | III | IV | V | Interlude I | VI | Interlude II | VII | Interlude III | VIII (First Half, Second Half) | IX | X (First Half, Second Half)



The flowers were wilting.

Gingerly, Lara shifted them on her arm, a bouquet of tiny white buds wrapped in silk paper, and noticed that the patch where they had been resting was coming away a damp pink, the moisture from their stems seeping through the colored paper and staining her sleeve. Bethlehem, the girl had said as she'd lifted them from their vase, carefully tucking them into shape, Star-of-Bethlehem, and Lara didn't know what the word meant, but they'd certainly looked like little stars, luminous in the gloom of the shop.

Regret and reconciliation, the girl had explained as she tied them with a ribbon, and Lara had wanted to laugh, for the second time that day wondering about things that weren't supposed to be there, drawing her eye to this delicate flower and its gentle scent. Not many flowers grew in Zepp, high up among the cutting winds; if somebody happened to have a patch of earth, it was used for vegetables or a bunch of chickens, but sometimes, you could find an interloper or two growing on vertical stone walls and chimney exits, tenacious little weeds clinging to life in the margins. The adults didn't like them, claimed their roots would ruin the walls, but they were prizes among the children, sun coins and moon coins to be traded for sweets or marbles. Offering flowers as a gift was a fancy of the ground people, and inventing a language for them an even bigger idiosyncrasy, but as she left the shop with regret and reconciliation perched close to her chest, it didn't seem like such a bad idea, letting something else stand in for words and all their deceitful inadequacy.

Here, with the flowers beginning to shed their petals in the afternoon warmth, the idea once again felt ridiculous — her, a stranger, fumbling her way through an alien custom, offering up something so plain in comparison to all the flowers drifting across the surface of that pond, vibrant and heavy with the sentiment with which they had been bedded there.

The guards certainly seemed to think so; bound as they were by duty, they could still regard her with suspicion and contempt, and wasn't it amazing, how much it suddenly mattered? Unlike her, the giant — Potemkin, Lara tried to remind herself, though he'd never offered his chosen name to anyone but Sir Kiske at the banquet — appeared more at ease than she'd ever seen him anywhere, studying his surroundings and exchanging curt nods with the officers with the courtesy she'd seen most military men extend to one another, a silent acknowledgement of their common ground. Funny, that it could make her wonder now, when she'd previously hardly seen him as alive, never speaking, never doing anything but bowing and obeying as Meirth's personal lap dog. There was something different about him that had grown with every step they'd taken towards the police building, until the perpetual slump was gone from his shoulders and he was moving to look around, alert and perceptive in ways that didn't fit this unwieldy, bumbling shadow she had come to know.

I don't see why you're so surprised, when you never bothered. Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas, as they say.

"Doctor."

The greeting made her jump, Ky Kiske stepping out of the Palais entrance with all the calm and good grace of someone receiving a guest instead of his own would-be murderer. Looking at him, the past week might as well have been a dream, no scars, no bandages, the only hint that anything was amiss the slight pallor to his skin that might as well have been due to the strain of the morning's address.

"Sir Potemkin." That nod again, and out of the corner of her eye, she could see the bodyguard straightening just that extra bit more as he returned it.

"I would propose we go inside, but I thought you might prefer your visit to remain informal?"

Impossible to tell whether he was being sarcastic, his tone so polite and friendly that it was as if nothing had happened at all, as if they'd just met for the first time and he was going to comment on the lovely weather next, suggest they go for a stroll. He didn't, just signaling the guards to withdraw and looking at her expectantly. It took Lara a moment to realize that he was honestly expecting an answer.

"I, no. I mean, yes." She bit her tongue to keep herself from babbling nonsense, once again floundering for balance in the face of that absolute lack of rancor. "Yes, I would prefer that."

"Then..."

"Captain, I—" No words, no words that were sufficient enough for an apology, nothing but the artlessness of her own upbringing, where 'pardon' and 'sorry' were phrases to be shouted across the street and waved off with the casual flick of a hand, the language itself lacking any kind of grandiloquence, and she found herself wishing that she'd paid a little bit more attention to the rituals of the other world, so that she might know how to express regret without the implicit expectation of forgiveness.

"It's... it's odd. I thought about all the things I was going to say before I came here, and now I can't remember a thing." The paper crinkled in her hands, and she noticed that she was clutching her load too tightly, crushing the fragile buds. "I... I know I don't have the right to ask anything of you. But I swear on my life that this wasn't supposed to happen. It won't make anything undone, but I want you to know that won't rest until I know why. I'm afraid there's nothing else I can offer. Well... there's this."

The motion brought on a new shower of petals, the weakened bouquet not appreciating getting thrust at someone, and Lara realized she hadn't even managed to look the captain in the eye, fixing on the flowers in the fool hope that they would accomplish what she had failed to do. Then, they were lifted from her hands, and her gaze was forced to go with them, away from herself, up and past that convenient, indefinite point over another person's shoulder.

Captain Kiske was smiling. "You picked these?"

"...It seemed like a good idea at the time," she said, resisting the urge to shrug and demean the moment any more than she already had, the gesture of a sullen child.

"Hope."

"Pardon?"

"In the language of flowers, the star of Bethlehem equates to hope." He huffed quietly as if at some private joke, and Lara found herself wondering whether it was possible to get bruises from bouncing between what should happen and what actually did, amusement the very last thing she had expected.

"I was told they stand for atonement," she ventured awkwardly, and forcefully stopped her left hand before it could start tugging at her hair again.

"Is that so?" He stepped towards the edge of the pond, crouching down. "Perhaps they don't mean anything, and it's just about what either of us feels they should be."

With a little flourish, the paper and bow came off, the entire bouquet unraveling, and with the next gust of wind, they were set adrift, white-studded sprigs spiraling towards their more dignified counterparts. All but a handful of them gone, the captain rose again, retying the ribbon and turning to face her.

"I appreciate your sincerity," he said, his expression growing serious. "And I don't doubt that you will do as you say. But your sincerity is why I must warn you."

"Warn me?"

"Surely your scrutiny doesn't extend only to your own abilities."

Lara frowned, at once aware of what he was implying, and felt the welling of the pride that had been with her all her life, anger against an outsider's judgment of her homeland.

"I don't mean to voice baseless accusations," Sir Kiske continued, "but I believe the past days have made clear that there are a number of parties interested in seeing both of our countries go to war. If you insist on proving your integrity, I fear your life might be in danger."

"You..." She hesitated. A part of her wanted to outright refute the concerns — it was her work, she was valuable, she had the support of her entire team, and did he really think this was how Zepp did business? — but the words wouldn't come. Her team was made up of loners and tinkerers, disconnected from the rest of society, just as underinformed as her... and Meirth had the blueprints. She rubbed at her arms, trying to ward off the sudden chill. "What would you have me do, then?"

"There is little I can do for you, should you return home. However, if you stay here, the IPF can protect you, even if you don't wish to share information. You would be given a new identity and could settle in a place of your choosing, start a new life in any way you see fit. You, and any of your team who wish to remain."

"That's..." For a moment, the offer was tempting. The idea had something going for it; a clean slate, running away from the realization that all this time, she had been digging her own grave, trusting the wrong people, smothering her instincts, not smart enough to arrange for an exit strategy. Going somewhere, and living out her life in peace. And then, the childish fantasy of fleeing her responsibility toppled as she really tried to imagine it, walking through the streets of some small town in the middle of nowhere, working at a bakery, or a tailor, or a smithy, visiting the house of an entity she couldn't believe in, mouthing prayers in an attempt to fit in, surrounded by those whose lives were built on ignorance and superstition, until the day she died.

"Thank you for the generous offer, Sir Kiske," she said, shaking her head. "But... I can't do that. Zepp is my home. It's the place I belong, for better or worse. I can't just run away."

He nodded slowly. "I thought so, but I had to ask."

They stood in silence for a while, Captain Kiske gazing out at the flower carpet swaying on the water's surface, her taking in the cloudless day and the smell of warm grass and remembering Lacie, all dignified in her brass-buttoned uniform, kind and forgiving and aware, always more aware than her, where a choice would lead.

Try harder... as long as you were there, I felt I could try harder, be a better person just for you.

From the gate up ahead, a shout rang out, Miren and Anis waving to her from a horse-drawn wagon laden with empty container boxes.

"I fear this is my cue," she murmured eventually. "Thank you for everything. Could you... could you tell Lieutenant Andreyev...?"

"Of course." Another nod, and if the captain was disappointed by the outcome, she couldn't hear it in his voice. "You will find the entrance to storage in the west building. My people will be waiting for you. Good luck, Doctor."

Closing her eyes, Lara steeled herself. The Zepp way to say goodbye would have been to offer her hand, and the ground way would have been to bow, but she found her head too full to decide on either.

"It really is a shame," she heard herself say instead, as she turned to go, "that I didn't meet you sooner, Captain. I feel some things might have turned out rather differently, if I had."

"They still might, Doctor." The look in his eyes nearly made her stumble, steady and startling in its earnestness, full of a conviction whose depths she couldn't fathom. "They still might."

-------

"You're not going with them?"

Ky kept his eyes on Kahren's retreating figure, waiting for her bodyguard to come closer. Throughout the exchange, he had remained quiet, keeping a respectful distance, but Ky didn't doubt that he'd heard every word, wouldn't even have said anything if Kahren had chosen to betray her homeland. It should have been impossible for such a large man to become so thoroughly invisible, to simply blend against the scenery or the side of a building and remain unnoticed, but the doctor had obviously forgotten all about him in a matter of minutes, or she wouldn't have spoken so freely, the desire for closure stronger than her caution.

Ky had met people like this before, mostly in convents and monasteries, men and women who practiced humility and silence until they became one with the cloisters and the halls, fortresses in human form. A demeanor expected of a slave soldier, perhaps, but also the demeanor of someone who had long since grown used to using it to his advantage. He was quite certain that Potemkin's discomfort during the banquet had been real, reduced to a curiosity by his employer, but now, almost the opposite seemed to apply, the man using his own size as a way to deflect wariness and suspicion.

If he was surprised to find himself addressed, he didn't show it, stepping to Ky's side with little of the awkwardness that had characterized their introduction, allowing the calm to settle.

"...I would get in the way," he finally said, and in a flash, the self-consciousness was back, Potemkin examining his massive palms as if in apology. "I don't think I will be missed for a while yet." He lifted his head, surveying the gardens. "It's not often that a place has such a good air about it."

"It is a good place to be, I think," Ky said, brushing a finger along the petals.

"Hard work, and a vision for the future." Potemkin was nodding to himself, as if satisfied with his observation. "It reminds me of a place I left behind."

"In your hometown?"

"An interrogation, Commander?" he asked, raising an eyebrow, and Ky shook his head.

"When I said I wished we would find the time to talk... this wish hasn't changed."

Potemkin hummed. "You have a way of making people say more than they mean to, Commander. There is nothing as disarming as an open ear."

"I suppose I do," Ky said, smiling a little.

Silence was his only reply, Potemkin rubbing at his knuckles in the way a fighter would often touch his sword arm in moments of conflict, the beginnings of a frown lining his forehead. The bout of joviality was fleeing fast, and though Ky would have preferred it if the other man had started talking on his own, if he didn't press on now, the moment of connection was going to disappear as quickly as it happened.

"How about we put our cards on the table, then, Sir Potemkin?" he suggested. "You didn't stay behind just to admire the scenery, did you."

More silence, but Potemkin was listening.

"I admit it took me a little bit to put two and two together. There was this feeling that I knew you, even though we hadn't met. And then I remembered... the hunt for subject G-736, the alleged lost Command Gear. Someone of a description similar to yours left quite an impression in a few places. This is, admittedly, mere conjecture on my part — and do forgive me, but I seldom believe in such coincidences."

"...You are a very resourceful man."

"One must be, I fear, in a world such as ours. As are you, I might add. For an ordinary bounty hunter to have access to a government blacklist is quite something."

The deep rumble came as a surprise, a sound like rock shaken loose from a hillside, and though Potemkin's face betrayed very little, Ky realized he was chuckling, his chest shaking with a tightly controlled mirth. "Indeed, Commander, indeed. It seems few things manage to escape your notice. ...Very well. Though I have been ordered not to speak of this to anyone, for the sake of my country, I now feel I must."

Heaving a great sigh, he returned his attention to the water, squeezing his knuckles again. "I unofficially stand in the service of President Gabriel, head of the ruling house of Zepp. I don't know how much has managed to penetrate to the outside, but suffice it to say, our unity is waning. There is a lot of disagreement on the course Zepp should take in the future, and the council of houses has long since fallen into disarray."

"Not so different from the way things are here," Ky agreed, but it was more an expression of his empathy than anything else. Although it was easy to picture Zepp suffering from the same changes as most of the world, the same loss of direction and fragmentation, it was but one city miles above the ground, enclosed, bound by its traditions with no way to share its plight, no way to draw strength from the fact that there were millions of other people trying to rediscover a way to live, other leaders to meet with, new bonds to form. No one in Europe had ever been alone, truly and utterly alone, and he had seen that realization dawn on Kahren's face when she refused the offer, the sudden awareness of her own isolation. In a way, Zepp was like a pot, sealed tight and left to sit over a fire, with no way out except for the pot to explode or the contents to burn.

From the look Potemkin gave him, it seemed he understood, as well.

"My president has received a lot of criticism for his forward-thinking ways. He proposes that we begin to seek out the outside world, that we trade and learn to coexist. I was... happy to learn that your world yields some leaders that might share his vision." A fleeting smile. "Yet there are those who call this treason, and propose we take by force what has been denied to us. The manufacturing and mining barons that grew rich on war are dissatisfied with the president's decision to direct our efforts elsewhere. Zepp is full of businessmen of ill repute striking deals behind closed doors, and the council has given them the means to such secrecy. Money is disappearing, and we don't know where to. And what keeps appearing in its place... are things like those robots."

"A coup in the making."

"So the president fears. He is growing old, and his position is worsening. His son is a fierce defender of his father's policies, but his youth stands against him." Potemkin shrugged his shoulders, the movement as heavy as the shifting of a mountain. "If the house of Gabriel were to fall... there is no telling what might rise in its place."

Ky nodded gravely, but found there was little to say that would actually assuage him, ease the distress that would have led someone like this man to break his employer's confidence and speak to an outsider. The IPF was no army, and no political body, and no matter how much he might have wished for peace and a united world, he couldn't begin to start meddling in other countries' affairs, or there would be no stopping it. He had turned away pleas like this before, petitioners and high-ranking officials showing up incognito on his doorstep, asking for his support and guidance, or sometimes, less idealistically, just for his face on the posters for their campaign.

Every time, he had refused, knowing full well what would come out of positioning himself; not just in the short term, but farther into the future. The Order was proof enough, how quickly it had broken up without him at the helm, succumbing to all the things that had been long boiling beneath its surface — things that, even with all the power bestowed upon him, he'd never been able to influence, or even see in full. Allying and ruling, or, as some brazen tongues suggested, seceding and forming his own reign, was no way to help anybody — just a reminder for himself, a warning not to get involved.

On some level, it seemed Potemkin even knew that because he didn't ask anything further, didn't voice the damning request that Ky would have to refuse.

"Tell me something," he said, pulling out the folded sketch. "Have you ever seen something like this before?"

Potemkin stooped, his frown deepening as he studied the picture. "No. Is that...?"

"A part of the robots, yes. My engineers tell me they have never seen anything like this come out of Zepp."

"Unfortunately, the labs have always been too tightly guarded. In fact, I was about to give up on my investigation, when they decided on this side-trip." He stroked his chin. "However... Young Master Gabriel has also voiced suspicions to this effect. That the new weapons we're seeing may be the result of outside meddling."

Meddling that nearly killed a man, caused a mass panic, and sparked a new war. Refolding the drawing, Ky tilted his head back to properly look Potemkin in the eye. "What do you suppose your young master would say to receiving a visitor?"

The only indication of his surprise was a slight widening of his eyes, before he said contemplatively, "The young master is very hospitable. I'm sure he would be delighted, should a visitor find his way to him." Reaching into his pocket, he drew out a slim, white card, holding it pinched between his thumb and forefinger. "It would... open doors."

Slowly, Ky smiled.

------

He had known for a long time that it would come to this.

The world he was allowed to see and the world that was were two different things, separated by two centuries of lost history. Like an opaque window, with something from the outside looking in, watching the proceedings and occasionally thrusting it open, to alter events as it saw fit. It was all the inconsistencies he'd never been able to explain away, all the things that were called 'forbidden,' it was what had tried to seal Justice and what had stolen the life of Kliff's first son, leaving him forever changed. It was what would hunt Dizzy until the ends of the Earth, and what had gotten a hold of Sol, somehow and sometime, turned him hostile and quiet, with a legacy only he knew.

/Tell me, child... if you had to choose.../

He could no longer count how often the words had come to him at night, chasing away any thought of sleep, even though he knew he wouldn't be able to find an answer. Justice had been willing to eradicate humanity just to get at whatever was out there, had understood the odds, the bigger picture, and decided that the only way to prevent something even worse from happening was to bathe the world in blood. Had believed, until her last breath, that it was the right thing to do.

/If you had to choose... would you...?/

He couldn't even say he knew it would be worth it. That pursuing the things beyond the veil would change anything for the better, wouldn't make everything even worse. The suffering of a few over the suffering of many. How many times had he been told it would be an acceptable loss? How many times had he argued against it, debated, pleaded, dodged and disobeyed not to see it happen? And weren't they the worst, who chose inaction, who staved off decisions behind pretty words, all in the name of neutrality?

/...would you?/

Rubbing the towel through his hair, he noticed it was still coming away slightly dark, the smell of walnut strong in the room. Over the edge of the desk, the police coat was resting, exchanged for a set of plain traveling clothes, along with the unmarked white card, a special clearance security key to the higher quarters of Zepp, where the rich had built their homes. A risky gamble, certainly, but the only way into Zepp was as a dissenter, the city permanently in need of new hands to keep things running. A former holy knight doing his best to fit into a city of heretics — Sol would have delighted in the thought, no doubt.

Bernard hadn't, neither had Jarre, and Miss Eloise would be upset with them for not stopping him, and him for leaving on another 'special mission,' but there was no way around it. No way to take a task force with him, to endanger even a single soldier when he didn't yet know for what, when there was no telling what they might run into. The world needed the IPF much more, needed able hands to hold the fort and make sensible decisions, and he knew that at the end of the day, they would all do as he asked, even if they were reluctant to let their captain go.

Ky lifted his head to observe his appearance in the mirror, a slight push of magic forcing the color of his irises towards a soft shade of green. It would have to do. All that was left, then, was to seek out the one who would worry the most, the sole person who would try to follow him against any orders he might leave behind.

-------

Closer to morning, headquarters was nearly deserted, leaving only the night staff to perform their duties, silent and, except for a bright window here and there, mostly unseen. In the hospital wing, the lights were out, the only lamp glowing at the nurse's station. It made Ky feel like a thief, creeping about in the dead of the night without drawing attention to himself, but the fewer people saw him and wondered, the better. Bernard and Jarre would explain his absence to anyone who needed to know, and keep it under wraps from everyone who didn't, to prevent further tensions.

The lieutenant's room had changed very little; the marguerite had since been joined by a few more vases, spring flowers filling the air with their sweet scent. The window had been left ajar probably for just this reason, the curtains billowing in the warm evening air. The most obvious difference was the lack of wards, the heavy aura of the sleep spell gone along with two magic units, leaving Andreyev to rest naturally. He no longer looked quite so pale, the slackness of his features one of relaxation instead of utter exhaustion. Ky couldn't have said what woke him, whether it was the rustling as he placed the remaining stars-of-Bethlehem in the water, or whether it was the sound of his footsteps when he approached the bed, but by the time he came to stand next to the headboard, Andreyev was squinting up at him, eyes still cloudy with sleep.

"Lieutenant. Please, don't be alarmed."

"...Sir?" The word was more a groan than anything else, Andreyev shifting his arm to rub his eyes and wincing when his wound made itself known. "...are we... am I dead?"

"No," Ky said, and had to hold back the chuckle that wanted to escape him at the lieutenant's vaguely cross look. "No, I am glad to say that you are still very much alive."

"Oh. I jus' thought..." He waved his hand weakly in Ky's general direction.

"We're back at HQ. Try not to move too much, you're still healing."

"'K, sir."

"You took quite the beating out there. Do you remember what happened?"

"'S hard," Andreyev mumbled hoarsely, "t'forget the bastard who stabbed y'in the back, sir."

"That it is," Ky said, trying hard to rein in the amusement in his voice before the lieutenant could think he was being made fun of. "There's no reason to worry, though. It's all been taken care of."

"Y'mean... you took care of it, sir. 'm sorry. Wasn't... the plan." Andreyev heaved a sigh, which tapered off into a coughing fit as he tried to push himself into a more upright position.

"You've done more than enough, Lieutenant. Please, be careful." Letting his traveling bag slide to the floor, Ky reached for the cup of water on the nightstand, and held it for the lieutenant to take a few sips. If Andreyev had been even a little bit more awake, he would have protested the move, determined to appear reliable and not allow himself a sign of weakness, but for the moment, he seemed to have resigned himself to the fact that it would still be a while before he could sit up straight again. "Don't strain yourself."

"Thanks, sir." Running his tongue over his chapped lips, Andreyev frowned up at him, shifting his head to the side as far as it would go. "What... what happened to you, sir? Your eyes, they're..."

"Just a little change." Ky set the cup down. "I've come because there's something I have to tell you, and... I wanted to apologize for being unable to keep my promise."

"Promise?"

"I said I'd chase you around the ring for that performance."

Maybe it was that he'd finally found just the right tone, or perhaps it was the fact that Andreyev was still only half awake, left without most of his self-consciousness, because he huffed out a laugh. "Let... let me get my sword, sir."

"We'll have to postpone the match until after I get back," Ky said, as much a way to make amends as to soften what he was about to demand, the weight of asking someone to take over his duties — not just for today or tomorrow, but an indefinite amount of time, wherever digging for the truth would lead him.

"You're... going somewhere?"

"A lot has happened. Bernard will give you the details once you're ready to resume active duty, but... I'll be leaving to conduct an investigation in Zepp. I can't yet say how long."

"Wait... you're going...?" Andreyev's eyes widened, a hawk-like sharpness lighting in their depths. "Who else?"

"I'm—"

"You're not... you're not taking anyone else, are you, sir?" Stubbornly, he planted his elbows against the mattress, making as if to get out of bed. "Are you?"

"Lieutenant, that's—"

"Sir, that thing— if it'd gotten you, and it was— someone was trying to kill you, sir, you can't—"

"Lieutenant."

Andreyev froze, at once aware that he'd been raising his voice, straining against Ky's calming hand on his shoulder. A minute passed, Andreyev searching his face, before he sighed, the panic-fueled fire fizzling into nothingness. He sank back against the pillow, a shadow stealing across his features that Ky hadn't seen in all the years he'd known him, all the times they'd staggered out of a dirt pit on their very last reserves: Andreyev was looking defeated.

"I'm sorry, sir. I know it's not my place."

"No, that isn't it."

How to explain to someone so fiercely devoted the hundred good reasons why he had to go alone? How to reassure someone such as this?

"That isn't it at all. I don't want you to worry, and if there were another way, I wouldn't—"

"It's not..." Briefly, Andreyev closed his eyes, his hands clenching into fists. "Hell, sir, that's hardly the first time. You never— You're always looking out for us, but you don't really trust anyone to have your back, do you? I know I can't hope to— but we'd all follow you, whether we understand it or not. Everyone would. And yet... it's always just you. Like in the war. It shouldn't have to be just you."

"No, lieutenant. You've got it all wrong." Ky looked at him firmly. "I'm asking you to stay behind because I trust you. Because I need you to have my back, and do the hardest things. I need you to hold it all together while I'm gone, and it's only because I know you will that I can leave at all."

"Sir..."

"I wouldn't know who else to ask, Mikhail."

All he got in return was a stunned stare, Andreyev's jaw working for several seconds as if to chew out the words — and was he really so bad at expressing his appreciation, that it should be so surprising when he did?

"...That's not fair, sir," Andreyev muttered eventually, dropping his gaze. "You can't just say stuff like that."

Ky gave a small laugh, fondness and not a little relief coloring his tone. "You mean a simple order would have worked, too?"

"...probably not."

After a short silence, Ky picked up his bag again. It seemed almost wrong to leave now, not to let the moment pass naturally and savor that new understanding, but time was of the essence. Nothing to add to the goodbye, anyway, except encouragements that meant very little, when they both knew that Andreyev would do nothing if not his very best, always, to live up to whatever ludicrously impossible ideal he thought he should be holding himself to, for Ky's sake. Another thing he had never quite managed to make Andreyev believe, that there was no measuring pole to fall short of, no way to fail in doing whatever he could, and now, all that was left was for Andreyev to realize that himself.

Adjusting the straps, he placed a hand on Andreyev's closed fist, and squeezed. "I'll leave everything in your hands, then."

"...Sir?"

He was already halfway out the door when the question came floating towards him, and he turned to see Andreyev had managed to prop himself upright again, putting most of his weight on his good shoulder.

"I'll be holding you to that match, sir."

Ky smiled, lips very nearly pulling into a smirk, the expression twin to Andreyev's own. "I'm looking forward to it."






-TBC-

------

A/N: So, this was "the setup." As always, thank you for your patience, dear readers. And since it's probably overdue, a bunch of ramblings about small stuff:

- Star-of-Bethlehem and its multiple meanings. It's pretty.
- If I use my own headcanon, Zepp is stuck somewhere in the 1910-1930s, tech-wise?
- Things I am liberally ignoring, among others, are the novels and scattered supplementary material. That means I'm taking a bit of a detour in most things Zepp, what it looks like, how it's run, and who's in charge and how. I always felt that "president" is just way too modern a concept in that world, so what president amounts to in Zepp is just a word they thought was cool and important and that they applied to the head of the ruling house (think steampunk Medici).
- Lining up the events of X/X2 can be a bit of a clusterfuck. In terms of importance, I just can't imagine that it would be widely known that Dizzy's a Command Gear, or that she'd be put on a generic bounty list for any ol' Joe to pursue when it took 200 years and hundreds of thousands of people to bring down the last Command Gear. I'll try to straighten this out over the course of Imperfect Various Things. *shot for self-plug*
- IPF? It personally always bugged me that Ky, savior extraordinaire, defender of widows and orphans, rescuer of one-legged kittens, and guy whose foremost interest is seeing people happy, would think that what a world recovering from two centuries of global warfare needs most is a police force. Thus the IPF morphed into a sort of independent organization that does a lot of different things, including Gear extermination, mediation, historical research, and running building projects for schools and water reservoirs in battered areas. Ky wouldn't want to become politically tied down, anyway.



Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
verstehen
Mar. 30th, 2011 12:15 am (UTC)
So, when I read this, I start thinking about canon (always a mistake, because canon gives me headaches). And then I realize, in canon, Ky's about 20 years old right around this time frame. Which makes my heart ache along with my head because what kind of screwed up life creates a 20-year old like that? Then I think of all the backstory you've built in and go 'oh, that kind of screwed-up world. Suck!'

Which is to say this chapter makes me go 'owww.' In a good way. ;)
aphelion_orion
Mar. 30th, 2011 08:37 am (UTC)
Oh goodness, yes. It happens to me every time I write him, going over his dialogue and thinking "mhm, that sounds right," and then I get to a part where he does something small that's just younger, for lack of a better word, like picking off sweets one slice at a time, and all of a sudden there's this realization that he's hardly even my age, and yeah, ow.
(Anonymous)
Mar. 31st, 2011 02:01 am (UTC)
I am glad to see my anonymous picketing resulted in more Andreyev!!
I am very pleased with this fanfiction indeed.
Excellent work once again.


(P.S. In my circle of anonymous guilty-gear-loving friends who stalk your livejournal, we talk about you as a god of fanfiction. just to let you know.)
aphelion_orion
Mar. 31st, 2011 07:49 am (UTC)
XD Leaving Andrey behind is going to be really hard on me, as well. Ah well, it's not like it's goodbye forever.

And thank you. I'm glad you're all enjoying the story. :) I do hope I won't take as long with the next chapter.
darkestnight12
Apr. 20th, 2011 09:13 am (UTC)
I can't wait for the next chapter~! I can't believe that it took me so long to read this series! I thought for sure that I'd made my way through all of your Guilty Gear fics. Now that I find myself mistaken, I shall do my very best of correct that oversight. *laughs* When's Ky going to meet Sol again? Is he going to take Furaiken with him? Potemkin was undercover awesomeness, and I totally want Meirth to suffer a horrible death. Or at least to just die.
aphelion_orion
Apr. 20th, 2011 03:09 pm (UTC)
Aw, I'm really happy you liked it. :) I should redo my master list properly, so it'll be easier to find updates.

Ky should be meeting Sol... sometime soon, if I have my way. *laughs* Oh, he won't leave the Furaiken behind. It's too shiny and awesome to leave behind (and also good for magic battles XD). Yay, I love Potemkin, too, so I'm glad you think he came out well.

*cackles* Oh, Meirth. Meirth is a dastardly bastard. XD I needed someone to just be evil like that.
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