"Ms. Prairie, are you sure you'll be okay by yourself? We could detail one or two people to accompany you, just in case something happens. You never know when or where the mavericks will attack these days. You can never be too careful."

"Fleuve, stop worrying about me so much," Prairie admonished her little second in command, waving away his incessant protests with her favorite stuffed animal, clutched in her right hand. "I'm flattered that you care about me so much, but I'll be fine. I'm just going into town to do a little afternoon shopping, nothing bad is going to happen to me. I haven't taken a day off in months and I'd like to have some time to myself for a change."

"But you're the Commander of the Guardians! What if something were to happen to you? Please reconsider, surely just one guard wouldn't be too much of an--ow!"

"Stop treatin' the poor lady like a little girl, Fleuve," Silure said after cuffing the worrywart on the back of the head. "I'm sure she'll be fine." Silure smiled broadly as he turned to Prairie. "And don't you be worrying about us either, y'hear? This ship ain't gonna fall apart if you take a day off, and if it does you can be sure we'll let you know." He tapped the side of his head to indicate Prairie's communicator. "Now you go down there and enjoy yourself, and if I see you on this ship again before tonight I'll throw you back off myself."

Prairie grinned - if anyone on board the Guardian Base could manage to pick her up and toss her around, it would be her broad-chested chief engineer. "Well then, I'll see you all later this evening," she replied as she keyed in the sequence for a transceiver station in Innerpeace's shopping district. "And take care of Fleuve for me, Silure. He looks like he's got something stuck up his rear end."

Silure laughed loudly and heartily as the young woman pressed the transmit button and disappeared in a flash, denying Fleuve the opportunity to respond.

"Relax, man," Silure admonished his little companion, putting a friendly hand on Fleuve's shoulder. "Prairie knows how to take care of herself. She just needs to get away from the ship for a little while, spread her wings a bit, know what I'm sayin'?" Then he chuckled as he thought about Prairie's parting jab. "Never thought I'd see the day she started talkin' like that though. You think I might be rubbing off on her?"

Fleuve grunted in disgust. "Yes, all we need is for her to begin mimicking your unrefined mannerisms." He looked at his shoulder and, noticing Silure's hand on it, brusquely shrugged it off. "Don't touch me, your hands are filthy. And there's nothing wrong with my back end," he finished angrily as he stalked out of the transerver room.

Silure sighed. "She's right, it does look like there's something shoved up there."

Giro sighed heavily as he stretched and shook out his arms and legs, cramped from sitting in his rolling desk chair for the past two hours. He'd left all of the afternoon's regular work to Vent and Aile so that he could finish up all his paperwork, as well as get started on setting up the next day's orders. He was looking forward to his first day off in over six years - a rare thing indeed when you were in charge of your own business. Hopefully Vent and Aile would be able to handle everything he left them so that he wouldn't get a panicked phone call in the middle of the day and have to come in to solve some sort of crisis. The twins both had a good set of wits about them, but they weren't quite cut out for running everything by themselves quite yet.

I guess that's enough for today, Giro decided as he closed down the document he'd just finished clearing, tossing the terminal casually on top of his already cluttered desktop. He flipped the off switch on the monitor of his workstation as he stood up, pushed in his chair, grabbed his coat off the old-fashioned coat rack he kept in the corner, then headed out his office door.

The main office of Giro Express was a tiny little thing, broken down into only two rooms. In the back was Giro's office, where he did most of the business paperwork and organization, while the front room held the reception desk, where customers could place delivery orders. The desk was currently manned by Vent, who was bouncing a rubber ball off the ground and catching it with an incredibly bored look on his face. He failed to notice Giro's approach until the older man grabbed the ball out of the air before Vent could catch it. "Oh, hey Giro."

"Good to see you're being as productive as always," Giro said dryly.

"Well it's not like there's anything to do. We don't have any more deliveries for the afternoon and I already filled out everything for that trip we made to the garage earlier."

"What about that shipment that was supposed to come in fifteen minutes ago? You get that taken care of too?"

"Aile was even more bored than me, she offered to take care of it." Vent gave his boss a cursory glance up and down, noticing that he had his coat on. "You leaving early or something?"

Giro nodded. "Yeah, got an important meeting I need to get to on the other side of town, then I'm just going to head straight home. I'm taking the day off tomorrow too, remember."

"How could I forget your first day off in six years? I even marked it on the calendar." The boy pointed over his shoulder to indicate where he had, indeed, written "HELL FREEZES OVER, GIRO TAKES DAY OFF" on his wall calendar, earning him a chuckle from Giro.

"All right, I get the point, smart guy. But you call me if anything pops up that you and Aile need me to deal with, all right? I'll have my communicator with me and I won't be leaving town, so I can head over if you need me to."

"Relax boss, we'll be fine. If the place starts burning down you can be sure I'll call you first, even before fire services. Now can I have my ball back?"

Giro shook his head in disbelief as he tossed Vent his ball. "One of these days I'm going to find the guy who gave you that smart-mouthed attitude and give him a piece of my mind," he remarked with a lighthearted chuckle. "Just don't break anything with it," he scolded, then walked out the office door and into the street.

"Because there's no way I could have gotten it from you!" Vent yelled sarcastically after him before he resumed his bouncing.

Prairie sat down heavily on a street bench, dropping her two bags of purchases on the ground in front of her. She'd had a busy afternoon looking through the stores lining the streets of Innerpeace buying all sorts of interesting things for her friends back at the Guardian Base. As she looked through the bags she realized that she hadn't bought anything for herself, though she hadn't really expected to. Prairie always enjoyed buying things for other people more than for herself.

But I still haven't found what I originally came out here to buy, she sadly remarked to herself. She'd looked in every store she could think of but hadn't found anything that she thought would make a good enough present for Giro. Even though she hadn't seen her friend in the six years since he'd left the Guardians to take care of those two orphans he'd saved, Prairie was determined to find something special for him. Unfortunately, despite looking through dozens of stores over the course of the afternoon, she'd come up with nothing. She just couldn't seem to find anything that fit the occasion, and said what she wanted to say...

Prairie glanced upward just in time to see a flash of blonde hair on a red motorcycle speed by. Wait a minute...red motorcycle, blonde hair, driving well over the speed limit...was that him? She squinted her eyes and picked out the rider as he stopped at the nearby intersection. That was Giro! I guess he left the office early. But...doesn't he live on the other side of town? I wonder what he's doing around here...

Her curiosity piqued, Prairie picked up her bags and ran after the motorcycle as it turned right and disappeared down the next street. Her reploid legs carried her fast enough that she turned the corner just in time to see the red vehicle pull into a nearby parking lot.

Prairie tried to recall exactly where she was at the moment. That parking lot...that's where we found Giro hiding after mavericks leveled the entire block thirteen years ago. Why is he back here...? The facts suddenly clicked together in her mind. This is the same day we found him, so that means Giro was here on his...Prairie gasped as she had a sudden realization. Oh, Giro...in the thirteen years I've known you, I never realized...how could I miss something so obvious? And why didn't you ever tell me?

Filled with a sudden worry for her friend, Prairie hurried down the street after him.

Pulling quietly into the empty parking lot, Giro drove into a spot under a nearby tree and cut the engine. He removed his helmet, sat it carefully on the seat of his motorcycle, then walked over to the base of the tree.

It was a old, gnarled thing, hardly a tree that anyone would take the time to pay any attention to. It was only about fifteen feet high, with so few leaves on its half-dozen branches that it barely made any shade at all on the paved ground below. Its bark was torn and scarred in several places, with some sections not having any bark at all. None of this seemed to bother tree, however. It simply stood its ground and continued to grow ever so slowly, one leaf at a time, remaining constant as the entire world changed around it.

Giro ran one of his hands over the rough bark, feeling every little indent as it passed over the tiny little receptors in his fingers. It still felt the same now as it had in years past, never changing, even if the place it called home did.

Giro pulled back and put his hands on his hips, staring intently at the poor tree. "Well, it's that time of year again," he said aloud. Although there was nobody nearby, he always felt as though the tree were listening to him when he talked to it. "Looks like you're being as stubborn as ever, old man."

After standing in silence for a few moments, Giro sighed. He knew he was probably crazy, standing here talking to a tree, but he always thought that maybe, just maybe...he closed his eyes as memories ran past his mind's eye, memories of happier times, when he didn't have quite so many things to worry about as he did now...

This hadn't always been a parking lot. Many years ago, the area where Giro now stood had been a park. It wasn't a large park by any means, having only a small play area and a single set of swings - despite all of technology's advancements, children were still amused by the basics. There'd been a path leading from one end to the other, with bright green grass filling in the spots in between.

The last time Giro had seen it that way the sun had been shining brightly in the clear blue sky above. He had been walking back to the base of this very tree after buying two ice cream cones from a stall that an industrious vendor had set up, carrying one of the frozen treats in each hand - one for himself, and one for Claude.

Since he was a reploid Giro didn't technically have any parents, but during the twelve years he'd been alive at the time, Claude had become the closest thing he'd ever had to one. The kindly old man had been Giro's mentor as he tried to find his place in the world, imbuing the young reploid with the strong sense of justice and courage that anyone who knew him now thought of as his trademark.

But it's not just me. I picked it all up from you, you stubborn old fool...

Claude had been standing beneath the tree, looking up at the peaceful blue sky through the leaves as they swayed in the gentle afternoon breeze. He'd planted that tree in the park himself twelve years ago, the same day he'd met Giro. They'd watched it grow together over the years until it stood a little more than twice Giro's height, making it the tallest tree in the tiny little park. The man had seen Giro returning and smiled as he began to speak, but was interrupted by an ear-piercing scream that ended as abruptly as it had started a moment later.

Giro squeezed his eyes shut as the painful memories of that day came rushing back to him. The mavericks had descended on the park without warning, killing indiscriminately and without reason. Claude had wasted no time in pushing Giro behind the tree to hide him from their searching gazes. Somehow they hadn't managed to find the frightened young reploid, but unfortunately the old man wasn't so lucky. The last memory Giro had of Claude was the panic on his face as the mavericks dragged him around the side of the tree, his hands clawing at the bark as he fought them to his last breath. All he could remember after that were the sounds that filled the air afterward, a sickening chorus of screams, wails, and crunching bones as the mavericks did their grisly work out of his sight. He'd sat in a numb terror in his hiding place, concealed between the tree and the park fence until long after the sounds had stopped, afraid to leave his hiding spot.

Returning his thoughts to the present, Giro leaned forward and opened his eyes, running his fingers across the bark of the old tree again. Even thirteen years hadn't been enough for the tree to fully heal over the wounds caused by the plasma rifles, leaving faded grey patches where bark refused to grow all along one side of the trunk. Looking down, Giro could still pick out the deep gouges left in the wood from where Claude had dug in his fingers, fighting a desperate battle with his attackers that he never really had a chance at winning.

His next memory of that fateful day was what seemed like hours later, when the Guardian recovery team had arrived and found him where Claude had left him, his entire body quaking in terror. Of all the people who had been at the park that day, he was the only one left. Giro could recall quite easily the face he'd seen when he finally looked up from his hiding spot and saw the Guardian who had found him. She'd been a beautiful young woman with the gentlest smile he'd ever seen, her long blonde hair falling past her shoulders, framing a pair of beautiful cerulean eyes brimming with concern for the traumatized young reploid.

You've always been there for me Prairie, right from the very beginning. Giro sighed. If only you knew how much that meant to me...

After the mavericks had destroyed the park Slither Inc. had simply leveled the entire area and paved over the scorched ground - nobody wanted to spend time in a park that had such a bad atmosphere about it. But for whatever reason, the construction teams had left this one tree here, all by itself. It wasn't in the way of the new parking lot, so Giro supposed that it had been easier to just leave it here rather than take the time to remove it. Regardless, he was glad the tree was still here, the only thing left in the world to remind him of the man he'd come to think of as a father.

Thinking back on it, that was probably what had inspired him to volunteer to look after Vent and Aile when the same thing had happened to them. He wanted to be to them what Claude had been to him: someone who cared for them, taught them about the important things in life, and served as an example for them to look up to. He didn't really know much about being a parent - or a child either, for that matter - but he'd tried his best, and whenever he didn't know what to do he just tried to think about what Claude would do in his place. It was a learning experience for him as much as for the twins, but everything seemed to be working out all right so far.

Giro knelt down beside the tree, running his hand over a spot only inches from where it met with the pavement. He smiled as his fingers ran over a familiar set of thin grooves, still there after all these years. Although the old man had never been buried, Giro couldn't think of anything better to serve as his grave marker than the tree he'd spent so many years of his life raising, so one day he'd taken a small laser cutter and carved a message into the bark of the tree near the ground, hidden from casual view. He was glad that the passing of time hadn't faded the letters in the least.

Pushing himself back to his feet, Giro stepped back and took a deep, steadying breath. He always got nostalgic and reflective whenever he came to visit the old man's tree, which is why he only came by once a year - Giro wasn't really a very sentimental person. The past was something that you learned from, not that you lived in. He had long ago come to terms with what happened that day in the park and moved on with his life. But he'd also promised to come back here every year to remind himself of where he'd come from, why he was living life the way he was, and to honor the memory of the man responsible for shaping Giro into the reploid he was today.

"Well, that's it for another year," the young man said, a sad smile creeping its way onto his face. "I'll see you again next year, same time, same place. Take care, Claude."

As Giro turned back to his motorcycle a light breeze kicked up, sending a swirl of dead leaves and dust into the air around him as it blew through the branches of the gnarled old tree. Giro wasn't the type of person to be superstitious, but if he were, he might have said that the rustling leaves sounded vaguely like someone whispering...but that was silly.

Almost as silly as driving across town to talk to a tree, his eternally cynical inner voice quipped.

"Shut up, Giro," he admonished himself as he prepared to leave.

Prairie watched from her hiding place as Giro climbed onto his motorcycle, revved the engine a few times, then took off down the street, leaving her sight as he sped around a corner. She hadn't meant to spy on him, but when she saw him staring so intently at that old tree she hadn't wanted to interfere with...whatever it was he was doing. Instead she'd ducked behind a nearby parked car and waited, observing his curious little exchange with the old tree in the parking lot. Her reploid hearing had also been able to easily pick up every word Giro had said, as little as there had been.

Certain that the coast was clear, Prairie peered into the parking lot at the plant Giro had just spent several minutes staring at. She was amazed that it had somehow avoided being torn down when the new parking lot had been built - Serpent's construction crews were known for being efficient builders, not avid environmentalists. Still, it was a rather nice looking tree; she was glad that it had managed to hang on all this time. With all of the maverick raids that were occurring lately it was hard to find any natural greenery left in Innerpeace.

Emerging from her hiding place, Prairie wandered up to the tree. Other than the fact that it was growing in a parking lot, Prairie couldn't see anything remarkable about it. I don't understand. What does Giro see when he looks at this tree? Why does it mean so much to him?

She stared at the plant for a few more moments before giving up with a sigh. However, as she turned around to leave she caught sight of something odd at the base of the tree, close to where it met with the pavement of the parking lot. She set her bags down on the ground and crouched down for a better look. Someone had carved a short message into the bark of the tree in tiny little letters.

A Man Lies Here
Gone, But Not Forgotten
The Father I Never Had
But Always Needed
2345 - 2434

Did Giro write this? As Prairie got back to her feet she thought back to what she'd heard him saying. I never asked Giro what he'd been doing in the park that day, I thought he wouldn't want to talk about it. I guess...he wasn't alone that day. Someone important was with him...I think he said the name Claude? He was killed right in front of him...poor Giro...

Prairie knew what it was like to have someone you loved suddenly taken from you. She could still feel herself get teary-eyed whenever she thought too hard about it. When she'd found out what had happened to her Sis all she'd wanted to do was curl up in a ball and cry until she couldn't feel anything anymore. It wasn't until she looked at the doll her Sis had given her, the one shaped like a cat, that she managed to crawl her way up from the depths of her despair. She'd just pictured Sis looking down at her with that stern yet caring gaze, a smile on her lips even as she lectured Prairie like she always did when she was being silly.

"Now Prairie, stop acting like a child," she would have said. "There are people relying on you, looking up to you for guidance. You have to be strong for them. So wipe your tears, hold your chin up high, and keep your eyes looking forward. Be brave, Prairie. They're counting on you."

As she thought back on those painful times, Prairie reached down into one of her bags and pulled out the doll in question. She'd taken it with her when she left the Guardian Base, but had eventually been forced to put it into one of her bags after dropping it several times - she only had two hands, after all. It was her most important possession, her own personal remembrance of her Sis - not as the Guardian Commander that everyone else knew, but the woman with whom Prairie had shared both her hopes and dreams over the course of the over one hundred years they'd been together.

Prairie couldn't help but begin to reminisce about times gone by as she stared at the little stuffed animal, its wide open mouth and pink button eyes smiling back at her without a care in the world. She'd owned that doll for as long as she could remember; she had so many memories built up in it that it was hard to believe she'd ever been without it...

...and then it hit her.

That's what I'll get him!

Prairie carefully put the doll away, grabbed her bags of presents, and took off at a run for the shopping districts. She had to hurry if she wanted to make it back before the store she wanted to visit closed for the evening.

Bzzzzzt! Bzzzzzt!


Bzzt bzzzzzt!

"Ugh...all right, all right, I'm up!" Giro shouted angrily at the door, though there was no way whoever was ringing the bell could possibly hear him. He glanced over at his clock and sighed - nine fifty-three. He'd stayed up late reading a book with the intention of sleeping in the next morning, but now that plan was ruined - Giro could never get back to sleep after he was awake. He rolled out of bed and stumbled to his feet, determined to be angry at whoever was responsible for waking him up at such a reasonable hour.

He somehow managed to get down the stairs without tripping over his own feet, the doorbell ringing incessantly the entire way. "I hear you already, geez! You don't have to break the damn thing, you little son of a-" He stopped mid-threat as he swung the door open and saw who was standing there. "Vent? What are you doing here? It's almost ten o'clock, why aren't you at work?!"

"I am at work!" the young boy replied with a cheeky grin as he held up a small paper-wrapped package in front of him. "Special express delivery for a Mr. Giro, two forty two West Lane!"

Giro blinked. "A package? For me?"

Vent nodded. "Yeah, some lady came in last night just as Aile and I were about to close up and asked us to deliver it first thing in the morning. She paid extra for it and everything - and I mean extra. This girl must have been loaded. What are the chances that someone wants to send you a package on the one and only day you've ever taken off?"

Giro nodded absently as he took the package from Vent's outstretched hands. It wasn't very big, only slightly larger than a shoe box. It didn't weigh much either. Whatever was inside was very light.

He looked at the shipping label and saw that half of it was blank. "Hey, there's no return address on this."

"Yeah, when I asked her for one she said you'd know who it was from. I tell you, she was a pretty one - even Aile agreed with me on that. Long blonde hair, light blue eyes, wore a bright pink coat." Vent gave his boss a suspicious look. "You got a secret girlfriend you haven't been telling us about?"

"If I do then it's a secret from me too," Giro said with a chuckle, then shooed Vent away. "All right, thanks for the prompt delivery, my good sir. Now get back to the office, you two already have enough work to do today without wasting time around here."

"Aw, aren't you going to open it?" Vent whined.

"Of course," Giro replied as he pointed over his shoulder, "over there." Then he swung the door closed behind him, shutting out any further protests.

"So, who do I have to thank for this?" Giro wondered aloud as he walked over and sat the package down on his kitchen table. He sliced the paper open with a table knife and peeled it away, revealing a small pink box tied with a bright red ribbon. "I thought I managed to keep anyone from finding out today was my..." He paused as he opened the top of the box, revealing a crumpled piece of pink paper wrapped around a curiously-shaped object, padding it against the sides of the box. There was also a small handwritten note. He picked it up and read it, recognizing the handwriting instantly.


I know how painful it is to have a loved one suddenly taken from you. But as long as you keep them in your heart, they'll never really be gone.
Never forget; though I may not be nearby, I'll always be here for you, now and forever. If you ever need me, you always know where to find me.
This is my promise. Her name is Alouette. Let her take care of you.

Happy Birthday.

Giro had to read the note over twice before he managed to put it down. He reached down and carefully picked up the contents of the box, a smile slowly creeping its way onto his face as the pink paper padding fell away to reveal the present he now held in his hands.

"Prairie..." His voice nearly cracked with emotion as a single tear made its way down the side of his face. "Thank you."

Vent yawned as he entered the office the following day, waving sleepily at his sister as she tapped away at her keyboard, already hard at work. He didn't notice whether she waved back or not. "Giro here?" he asked.

"Yeah, got here before I did," Aile replied absently, her concentration still focused on whatever she was working at. "He's in his office."

"Figures. The guy takes a day off and then can't wait to get back to work," Vent remarked dryly. "Gonna wear himself out by the time he's thirty if he keeps this up."

"Yeah, whatever. Stop bugging me and go check in. I need to get this paperwork done before I head across town for a nine-fifteen delivery and it's already..." She glanced at her watch and screamed. "Nine o'clock! Oh crap oh crap oh crap, I gotta go! Damn, where're my keys..." She started frantically shifting around the papers on her desk, accidentally dropping one on her keyboard and pressing down a few keys. The computer beeped a few times, then windows suddenly started closing. "What? No, no, don't close on me! Save, save, save! Noooo!" Aile's head fell to the desk with a dejected thump as she lost the past hour's worth of work.

"Cheer up sis," Vent said as he gave her a consoling pat on the shoulder. "Look on the bright side - if your day is starting out this badly, then there's no way it could possibly-"

"Stop right there!" Aile shouted, slapping his hand away. "Don't you even think of finishing that sentence! You and Murphy can just stay the hell away from me!"

"All right, all right, I'm going. Geez Aile, you gotta calm down before start getting grey hairs." Vent chuckled and walked into Giro's office as his sister began a fresh round of tortured groaning.

Giro didn't look up from his work as Vent entered the room, instead keeping his eyes trained on the handheld display sitting on his desk. "Good morning Vent. You're late."

"Only by fifteen minutes!" Vent protested. "Aile and I were here really late last night so I figured it wouldn't be a big deal if I was a little late this morning."

"You know that's not how things work around here," Giro said firmly, tapping at a few keys on his computer keyboard. "You start at eight forty five and work until you're finished, no matter what time that is. Aile was here just as long as you yesterday, and then she was here a half hour early this morning."

"That's just because she wants to leave early so she can make it to some stupid concert on time," Vent replied grumpily.

"I know, and you showing up late isn't making things any easier for her. Now why don't you make it up to her by redoing all the paperwork she just accidentally deleted before she has a nervous breakdown."

Vent sighed and turned back toward the door. "Sure thing boss."

"Oh, and Vent?"

Vent looked back over his shoulder. "Yeah?"

"Good job yesterday, both of you. I'm proud of you." Giro's eyes never left the monitor as he spoke, but there was no doubt in Vent's mind that he was being sincere.

"I told you we'd be fine," Vent said, casually brushing off the compliment as though it were nothing. But as he turned his gaze back to the door something in Giro's office caught his eye. There was...something...sitting on top of the cabinet in the corner. Vent was sure he'd never seen it there before. He had to stare at it for a few moments before he could figure out what it was supposed to be. Is that a...stuffed cat...?

"Is there something else, Vent?" Giro asked pointedly, looking up at the boy over the tops of his glasses.

'Oh! Uh, er, no, nothing comes to mind," Vent stammered. "I was just leaving." He then quickly made his exit, carefully shutting the door behind him.

He found Aile still slumped over her desk in the next room. "Hey Aile, you better get moving if you're going to make that delivery on time. Don't worry about all that stuff, I'll handle it."

"Really?!" Aile shot out of her chair like a rocket, her face split by a great beaming smile as she hugged her brother happily. "That's so awesome of you! Thanks Vent!" She gave him a quick peck on the cheek then rushed to gather up the boxes for her delivery.

"Yeah, well, it's sort of my fault anyway, I should have been on time. Sorry about that." As he sat down in the chair Aile had just vacated he changed the subject. "Hey, did you notice anything strange in Giro's office?" he asked, keeping his voice low so it wouldn't carry through the door.

"You mean that weird pink-and-white stuffed cat on the cabinet in the corner?" Aile confirmed with a nod. "Yeah, it was just sitting there when I went in this morning. Boss started looking at me funny when he caught me staring at it so I didn't ask any questions. I don't get it either."

"Hmm...do you think it was in that package he got yesterday?"

Aile shrugged. "Maybe. Who knows. Adults can be weird sometimes." She patted the pockets of her shorts, then reached into the left one and pulled out a set of keys. "Ah-hah, found you! Thanks again Vent, I'll see you later!" Then she dashed out the door, leaving Vent alone in the reception room.

Vent sighed as he opened up the document Aile had just been working on, silently agreeing with his sister. Adults sure could be weird sometimes.

So, when I started writing this it was supposed to be a short, happy little story about Prairie buying Giro a birthday present. Needless to say, things didn't turn out quite as planned. However, I am pleased with the results. I guess this is what I get for writing whilst listening to depressing Gundam Seed/Destiny songs rather than my usual fare.

It's not perfect (there are a few spots in particular that I'm still not really happy with - you can probably pick them out yourself), but since I just wrote this for a change of pace I don't want to spend much more time on it. I think it turned out pretty well for only being about 10 hours of work though (probably less, I spent a lot of time zoning out - I was tired). Maybe I'll revisit it later when I don't have quite so much on my plate.

Don't get worked up over the dates carved on the tree, I just made them up off the top of my head. They don't really matter.

I don't particularly like the name Claude, but I wanted to try and keep with the Inti-creates tradition of french names. Since I'd recently been talking to a friend about Star Ocean 2, Claude was the first thing that popped in my head, so I used it. I thought about using Nuage ("cloud") to try and keep with the 'air' theme that ZX uses for its names but it just looked weird so I scrapped it.

Also, I know it gets kind of confusing to keep track of time when Giro starts reminiscing in the park - that's one of the things I mentioned that I'm not quite happy with. So just to dispel any confusion, it goes like this. Giro was created (born, manufactured, rolled off the line, whatever you want to call it) 25 years ago. I don't know exactly how reploids are built, but I assume they don't have the mind of a child when they first wake up, they have some basic behavior programming already so they can function in society, while still leaving room for personal development. He met Claude when he was 6 months old, after struggling to find his place in the world (and failing) until then (or something, it's not really that important). He was in the park with Claude on his twelfth birthday when the mavericks attacked, and afterwards he promptly joined the Guardians for a variety of reasons (revenge, hot blondes, etc...). Seven years later (which would make him 19) he saves Vent and Aile (who are 9 years old at the time) and leaves active duty with the Guardians to take care of them. The birthday on which the story takes place is Giro's 25th, meaning Vent and Aile are both 15, and Giro has known Prairie for 13 years. It also means that the events of MMZX are going to happen in less than a year (Vent and Aile are both 15 in the game). I'm not sure if Giro's age is actually revealed anywhere, I made him 25 but I think I may have read somewhere that he's 21. As far as this story is concerned it doesn't really matter, so I don't really care. Change the number in your head if you want. If Capcom is allowed to be lazy with dates then so am I.

Anyway, this whole thing was one giant experiment for me. If you made it all the way to the bottom here, thanks for reading! Please leave a review and let me know how I did :).