Disclaimer: Don`t see why I bother with `em when they don`t do any real good but: I don`t own it.

Foreword: I suggest 'Not an Angel,' off the Trigun soundtrack, for listening to while reading this. Also note that any apparent OOCness and what-have-you will be explained at the end.


Flowers



Pain.

White, hot, dulled pain, filled with an underlying tingle, like the feeling from rubbing a static charged balloon over one`s skin.

Everything hurt, the senses were almost all numbed. She could barely smell herself, though she already knew that she probably stank like a burnt roast, and her mouth was dry to the taste. Her sight had gone missing in action, everything was white with black sunspots filling her eyes, sometimes giving way to the vaguest of shapes and the fuzziest of details, while her sense of touch had been sufficiently knocked down enough that the only things she could really detect were the pain and her own weight, bearing down on two familiar supports.

Not to mention the barreled chest those supports were holding her against.

"Vintage Rosso," Viola mumbled out hoarsely, cracking a half-dead smirk as she let her arm flop down to the side, craning her head up and turning to the direction she assumed was the one they were moving in. His only response was a labored grunt, every step he made causing a slight jolt that allowed her to know that he was probably limping with his right leg.

"Can`t just let a girl die, can you?" She asked, reaching up and rubbing her eyes as the world started to become a bit clearer. She was still colorblind, but at least now she could make out certain things. A tree here, a fleeing deer there, maybe a rock or two. They were obviously moving through a forest, that much she knew because of how they`d gotten there.

"Not a chance in Hell," he finally replied, his words sounding about as exhausted and beaten as he no doubt felt. "We`ll make it through this..."

"Just like always," she commented a bit mockingly, though her voice lacked the spunk she`d hoped to convey with it, her rubber-feeling neck giving way as she pulled out what little remained of the strength in it to pull her head back against the bicep of the arm that was wrapped under her shoulders. How Rosso was even holding her up was anyone`s guess, Viola was not a shrimpy girl and he was not in any condition to even be walking at this point.

"Any idea when we`ll stop?" She asked tiredly, staring blankly at what little details she could make out of his chest.

"When I drop dead or when we find some help," Rosso answered with the same tinge of honesty that was usually found in the half-truths and minor deceptions that he was sometimes prone to throw at people.

The same tinge of honesty he`d had back then.

["No, just... I`m a soldier, my squad got wiped out by the Republic in battle a few days ago..."]

And if she had seen his eyes, she probably wouldn`t have been the only person alive who could spot the look of near insane resolve boiling in them.

Vintage Rosso.

Battered senseless three times over, ruthlessly calm, mad as Hell and twice as dedicated. The kind of look that could knock the wind out of someone in an instant.

"Plan on walkin` four days this time?" Viola asked with an irrational chuckle as the two continued on.

"It was worth it last time," he answered with what sounded like one of the most beaten smiles in history, one that she felt more than she would`ve ever seen.

[Two pounds of shrapnel lodged into his back and legs from having to dive out of the cockpit of his Molga, the ejection seat having proven faulty. Five gunshot wounds from where one of Corporal Hermann`s troops had tried to gun him down as he made his escape.

Even if none of the wounds had proven instantly fatal, by all means, Rosso should`ve been dead four or five times over. He had walked for four days straight through a desert, bleeding from untreated wounds, no food or water and no sleep. How he was even alive was a mystery, but as the realization hit him that he was no longer in the desert, it seemed that the mystery was more about how he had stayed alive as long as he did, rather than whether or not he could continue to do it.

His knees buckled, the sound of dried blood crackling in the legs of his pants followed suit. He didn`t even have the strength to take his hand from where it had seemingly dried into place on his other arm, the one that had taken two bullets into the bicep and shoulder, to try and stop from falling onto his face. It hung limply for a few moments, then went rigid with the rest of his upper body.

He stood on his knees for a few moments. The expression of hardened, desperate determination faded as death started to set in. His already blurring vision cleared for a short while, details that he had missed becoming more apparent now.

The flowers were beautiful. He was practically waist deep in them now, which said a lot since he was still a fairly tall young man, albeit a bit on the thin side. The grasses they grew from were as green as emeralds, and the flowers themselves varied, from a soft pink to a bright white, all but covering the side of whatever obscure mountain he had unwittingly chosen to die on.

And as he felt the life continue to seep out of him, his vision starting to blur again, he set his eyes on the prettiest flowers of the field. Two of them, one taller and infinitely more beautiful than the other, but the shorter still holding a charm that made him feel at home, like he`d seen them in his dreams since he was a child.

"What a way to go," Rosso muttered out with a dying smile, promptly giving out from what little strength had kept him upright and falling the rest of the way onto his face.
]

"Call me a flower again and I swear to God, Rosso, I will shoot you," Viola sputtered out half-heartedly, drawing out a ragged chuckle from her larger companion, not to mention a slightly worsened limp in the process. He came to a stop briefly and dizzily, heaving her up as if she were nothing but a lightweight bag in his arms, readjusting to the weight change and then continuing onward as if he`d never stopped in the first place.

["Ow," he complained with a raspy voice, his eyes slipping open tiredly. Instantly, he noticed two things, the first being that he was covered in bandages and had at least two IVs sticking into one of his arms, and the second being that -

"Oh! He`s awake! Viola!"

- he wasn`t alone.

The first thing to his eyes was the glare of the early morning sun, turning the world silver for a few seconds before he registered the sounds of curtains rustling shut, leaving him to stare straight up at the ceiling, but only for a few moments.

Then, a young woman, about his own age at least, bent over his side, her face bearing out a pleasant, radiant little smile that almost made him wince at. Not exactly the most law abiding citizen of the Empire, Rosso had worked a few con jobs against people with that kind of smile before, usually for the sole purpose of putting food on the table while he was waiting to be accepted into the military. He hadn`t even been allowed into the Academy yet, given what was supposed to be a training mission after a few days of training in a Molga.

"Feeling better?" She asked, a smaller, younger face poking into his sight right next to her, obviously identifiable as her younger sister. If it wouldn`t have hurt like Hell, he probably would`ve laughed at the inquisitive looks on their faces.

"Thought I saw some flowers," he muttered out in oblivious affirmation before passing right back out, earning a girlish giggle of flattery from the younger of the two and a raised eyebrow and matching blush from the older.
]

"Not my fault you can`t take a compliment without losin` it," Rosso shot back with only a fraction of any actual resistance.

["How long was I out?" He asked, able to sit up on his own now, even if it hurt to do so. His once short red hair had started growing a bit over the past week or so, even if it wasn`t by much. "Eight? Ten hours?"

"Two days, then another on top of that," the little girl now identified as Rosa answered with a bright, beaming smile, always so eager to please the mystery man who had stumbled onto the mountainside out of nowhere.

"Three days..." He echoed a bit dumbly, craning his head down until there was a pop at the back of his neck, something that caused his entire face to flench briefly before he straightened up and looked himself over. Aside from a pair of obviously loaned shorts, all he wore were bandages, and most of those looked to have been changed very recently. His arm felt limp, still, as did one of his legs, but he was able to move them. Surprisingly enough, for all of the damage he had inflicted on him by the fighting and the elements, none of it would prove to be permanent. That alone was a miracle in and of itself, as was the fact that he had been taken in by such nice people...

"If you don`t mind my asking," he began, taking a pause as Rosa looked up from where she had sat back down at a desk in the corner. She`d only gotten up to shut the curtains, and even then it was bright enough that none of the bedroom - at least it seemed like a bedroom - lights had to be turned on. "Where am I?" He asked, wiggling his toes just to be sure that they were alright.

"The village at Mount Iselina," came a new voice, more mature but still quite innocent in comparison to Rosso`s own.

"Doesn`t the village have a name?" The red haired cadet asked blankly, turning his gaze up from the floor at the side of his bed to the young woman now standing in the doorway. She was dressed similarly to little Rosa in a sleeveless dress that ran down to just beneath her knees, though it more than snagged Rosso`s eye at the fact that she filled the thing out.

If he weren`t more experienced around not getting slapped senseless for bad manners when approaching women, he probably would`ve let his jaw come unhinged.

"Nope. Sorry if it seems weird, it`s just that we get so little contact from the outside world and all..." She said apologetically, walking into the room with a tray of drinks in hand, only two though. They probably hadn`t counted on him being up again after the last time he had passed out.

"... Kinda quaint, actually," Rosso shrugged, reaching down and plucking the fluid IV from his arm. They had taken the blood IV out during the time after he had lost consciousness again.

There was a lingering discomfort though, something that the older sister seemed intent on unraveling.

"Mind if..." Both stopped short of asking the same question, causing Rosa to perk up a brow from the desk where she was studying. "After you," the older sister ordered pleasantly.

"I already know her name is Rosa," Rosso indicated with a thumb, though the little girl paid about as much open attention to him as a fly on a distant wall. "So what`s yours?"

"Viola. And you?"

"Rosso," he answered, waiting for the inevitable question that she had been about to ask in the first place.

"How were you injured so badly, anyway? You`re not a bandit, are you?" She asked a bit edgily, and for the first time, he could spot something else behind the innocence. A talent perhaps, an ability to see the good in someone, but the bad as well. For all of their naivete, both of the sisters had it, he`d only just noticed it now.

"No, just... I`m a soldier, my squad got wiped out by the Republic in battle a few days ago..."

A half-lie, a half-truth. Just enough of both to cover himself. He was a soldier, after all, and his squad was wiped out by the Republic a few days earlier. Why he had added the bit about it being a battle, he didn`t really know, maybe some part of him wanted to impress her, but either way, it wasn`t that important. He hadn`t known any of his squadmates well, it was only the first mission after all...

That and it had been an ambush. A squad of green cadets being confronted by a half-squad of the Republican`s Black Dog Patrol, lead by no less than Corporal Robert Hermann, an ace Command Wolf pilot with dozens of trashed and apprehended bandits and Imperial scouts, raiders and spies to his name. Rosso`s squad hadn`t even gotten the chance to shoot back.

"Did you desert?" Viola asked patiently, taking a seat at the foot of the bed, near her sister but away from Rosso, who was nearer the headboard. The bed itself wasn`t even really wide enough for him to be comfortable sleeping in, but since he had been nigh-comatose for three days, that didn`t really matter.

"My Molga was blown in half and the ejector seat didn`t work. My squad had already been shot down by then, it isn`t really desertion if you`re the last one left, now is it?" Rosso asked right back, a bit defensive over the matter. Getting shot five times and running for his life with two pounds of shrapnel in his back and legs was just a bit damaging to have criticized by someone who`d probably never even gone more than six miles from their home town.

"... No, I guess it`s not. Sorry if that didn`t sound right."

"It`s fine. Do you know where my clothes are?" He asked, keeping the questions going. He really did want to know where his clothes were though, that uniform happened to be a body-sized badge of honor, even if it was only ranked for a cadet.

"Your uniform needed to be sewn back together. It was ripped up pretty badly in the back, and had a few bullets holes in one of the arms and a leg, so I handed it over to Mrs. Bluesmith for repair. She`s really good with that sort of thing..."

"Oh. Am I gonna have to pay anyone back or anything?"

"Not likely. Most of the people here just want you to hurry up and go back to wherever it is you came from, so they`re happy to help you get to where you can," Viola answered a bit dryly. "Being cramped up here for so long can close people`s minds off, ya know?"

"Not really," Rosso shrugged.

There was an uneasy silence for a short while, underscored by the sounds of Rosa`s writing and page turning. She must have been taking a test or something.

"Did you mean what you said?" Viola finally asked, looking away a bit shyly as she did it.

"Mean what I said about what?" Rosso questioned with a blink and a tilt of the head,taking a passing glance Viola`s way.

"About seeing flowers..."
]

"Not my fault you can`t give one without being half-dead to do it," Viola shot right back at him.

"Sure I can. I`m just more casual about it when I`m half-dead," came the retort. Only in private, and only after surviving a fairly violent confrontation with Raven would this sort of conversation take place.

"Mmmn... Just shut up and keep walkin`," she finally said after a lull in their talk, noting that her eyesight had almost completely returned by now. From up above in the Redler, the trees were so miniscule, but now that she was being carried slowly through it, the forest actually was rather pretty to look at.

"Just like a flower, eh?" Rosso asked as if he had practically felt how she was regarding the area around them. His comment earned him a deadpan glance and a dulled, somewhat cynical nod.

"Don`t. Even. Say it."

"Say what?" He asked, the sudden, usually imperceptible bounce showing up in his walk at every step he took where he wasn`t slightly limping.

"You know what," Viola complained, trying to avoid being drawn in and -

"That you`re pretty? Now why would I say that?"

- failing magnificently.

"You big dope," she muttered out. "We`re both probably gonna die out here and you`re spewing out compliments like Don Juan."

There was a faint snickering sound.

"Don`t make me smack you, Rosso," Viola muttered, even if he just kept going until it finally broke into an outright laugh. Near-death had a way with Rosso, he usually wound up loosening up quite a bit when he was on the verge of keeling over and dying, after all.

"Vintage Viola," he said with a smile, that same kind of smile that was reserved specifically for her and the other members of the Desert Alcavedo Gang, and even then it was the rare type. She`d only seen it a few times in all of the years they`d known each other, but it always had the same effect of stifling any protest she could try and throw at him. "Just can`t take a compliment without losin` it, can ya?"

That laugh returned, the smile remained and her formerly testy mood faded to something of relaxed resignation with an equally silly little smirk on her lips as she leaned her head against his arm.

[The entrance of the Guygalos Military Academy - also just known as 'the Academy' in more than a few circles. It was the premier military school in all of the Guylos Empire, dating back to when Guygalos itself was just another city in the once-sprawling Zeneban empire, more than three hundred years earlier.

The building that the Academy itself was run from was a gigantic, ancient fortress, originally built from the remains of the EPS Exile XI, though centuries of additions, subtractions, renovations and modifications to the structure had left it resembling more of a gigantic college institute crossbred with a medieval castle than the towering facility it had once been. The steps at the front doors alone were probably as tall and numerous as some shorter Zoids, dwarfing the two young people sitting near the bottom as if they`d just gone through a warzone.

At one side was Rosso, considerably more built and now wearing his hair down to his shoulders, wearing an Imperial officer`s uniform with a tired smirk on his face. On the other side was Viola, decked out in a similar uniform to the one that her room mate, best friend and guide to the outside world at large was wearing.

They had done it.

Against all odds, they had passed the entrance exams with no preparations and little piloting experience, with Rosso ranking in at number four on the initial test scores - after only Karl Schubaltz, Marcus Cain and Helena Ardin, and Viola coming in a close number five after him. She and Helena were among the first women to ever make it into the Academy, something that would`ve filled her with joy were she not a bit brain fried at the moment.

"You never said the tests would be that hard," she complained, though she did it without spite.

"I didn`t exactly know they`d be that bad," he offered, leaning back onto his elbows with a loud sigh of relief. "Just means we`ll have to study harder though, right?" He asked, taking a glance over at where Viola was sitting with her head in her hands.

"Hurts to think right now..."

"You know you at least loved flying the Redler," he commented knowingly, drawing a slightly devious little grin out of her.

"Never figured you to be one for Red Horns, though," she replied, picking her head up. Rosso was about to make what was likely to be a cocky reply, but he never got the words out of his mouth.

"Holy crap! Rosso?! Is that you?!"

The larger of the two blinked and looked away from Viola, laying his eyes on none other than the mildly overweight, oafish looking blonde man known as-

"Welda?! What`re you doin` here?!"

"You two know each other, huh?" She asked pleasantly, standing up at the same time as Rosso, only to find the vastly larger man all but yanked off the steps in a bear hug that probably popped his back out of alignment and made his legs go numb.

"How`d you get so big, man? And what the heck happened to your hair?" Welda asked excitedly, setting the wincing, twitchy looking Rosso down on his feet and then watching him fall to the walkway with a dull thud. "Er... Ross?" The hefty blonde asked, idly poking the downed red head with his boot.

"Ow..."

"He`ll be fine, he`s survived worse, after all," Viola offered, extending a hand to Welda with that same smile as before.

"... Who`s the babe?" Welda asked with all of the social skills of a fat guy who spent ninety percent of his off-duty time reading comic books and playing video games. The other ten was spent sleeping and eating.

"Er..." Viola blinked, lowering her hand. "Babe?"

"Yeah, she is, huh?" Rosso asked from the ground, promptly getting a well earned stomp in the chest from her for it.
]

"Not from you, anyway," she said. "Anyone but you..."

"Anyway," Rosso switched subjects, though not casually by any means.

"How long`ve you been carrying me?" Viola asked, feeling her eyelids starting to become heavy again. Rosso might have been used to almost dying - God knows it happened to him often enough - but Viola wasn`t. It took a far heavier toll on her than it did for him.

"Not too long. My arms could use a break though," he answered calmly, even if it had probably been two hours since the squash match with Raven.

"Well... Stop and I`ll switch onto your back," Viola ordered more than offered, to which Rosso complied by limping to a stop and letting her down on her feet. Even when he was slumped over, she still only barely came up to his collarbone.

The switch took them all of a minute, Rosso trying to balance mostly on one foot, Viola staggering exhaustedly around him and then both trying to get her up onto his back, but eventually, they succeeded. It took him a few seconds to adjust, given that one of his legs was still shocked into an almost numbed state that made it hard to get around, but he was soon walking again, Viola`s legs draped around his mid-section and her arms wrapped around his neck, his own arms tucked up under the bends of her knees.

"How do you do it, Ross?"

"Hm?"

"How do you keep going everytime you almost die?" She asked curiously, resting her cheek on the base of his neck.

"You get used to it after all. Gets a bit easier everytime," he answered morbidly, but truthfully. "Just get some shut-eye, you need it."

"Don`t order me around," Viola complained with ragged annoyance, briefly tightening her hold around his neck for emphasis. The only response she got was a dulled chuckle, and it was that chuckle that eased her out of consciousness and set her back asleep - lightly, but restfully.

Rosso, on the other hand, kept awake and kept walking, moving through the forest with Viola on his back for hours on end. How long it really was, he didn`t know, nor did he care. His objective was clear and he kept going for it with every weighted, hard fought step that he took, sometimes pausing to catch his breath, sometimes zoning out from reality and coming to a few minutes later, not even realizing where he was or how a fairly comfortable weight was pressed onto his body, but coming to his senses a few seconds later.

By the time he came to a stop, they had made it out of the forest, halting at the edge of a dirt road, which itself was situated on the outskirts of where the trees grew, boardering between the forest and a lake, the waters shuffling along, a dark blue and silver to match the early evening moon.

It all brought a slightly cracked smile to Rosso`s face as he started walking again, oblivious to the sounds of a Gustav convoy in the distance and heading for the other side of the road, if only because of the familiar details of the grass, the plants growing out of them with all of the colors that he`d noticed so long ago.

"Thought I saw some flowers," he began, turning his attentions back to the road with a fading smile. "But I guess I could only take one with me," he said, and meant it in more ways than he would ever be able to put into words.

End




Author`s Note: Any apparent OOCness from Rosso and Viola as a pair can simply chalk it up to one of two things: They got fried by electro-shock and the Zoid they were both fighting in got blown to mechanical giblets, remember? As for Viola`s seeming shyness - it`s something that applies only to Rosso. She may be a kick-ass pilot, may be a tough bitch and all that spiff stuff, but she`s still a small town girl who doesn`t quite know how to deal with her feelings in depth. She left her home as a teen and kinda got shellshocked into the way she is now, Rosso and near-death are two of the only things that can really bring out how she used to be anymore.

I had also wanted to put in a scene where Rosso was working out in the fields and all that to repay his debts to the villagers(and show how he and Viola started growing closer) as a way to explain how he went from looking like a taller, blunter-nosed, shorter haired Hiltz to being a big, long haired Arnold-lookin` bastard, but it never quite fit in.

And if you`re wondering, that Gustav convoy was the one that Viola mentioned in my fic, Storm Sworder. It was the one carrying the parts for the prototype Storm Sworders, and it was overseen by Doctor D. I had intended for him to make an appearance and all, as a way to explain how they ended up becoming the pilots of the Storm Sworders, but it just didn`t fit.

And also if you`re wondering: Helena Ardin is Lt. Hardin, Prozen`s female lackey in Chaotic Century. Marcus Cain is the officer who kept making mistakes because he was only after glory, I had to invent a last name for him, and Welda is that fat, sunburnt blonde dude in Rosso`s gang.

Thoughts, comments, critiques? Fire away.

The Sh33p