Takaya ran through the halls and corridors of OSDG Headquarters, not knowing just where he was trying to get to. The only thing he could see at the moment was the image of Shinya, lying helpless and injured in the medical center. Father, wherever you are, please forgive me; I couldn't protect him. Shinya was injured because of me. All these thoughts and more were running through Takaya's mind as he ran, and when he finally managed to make himself stop and look around, Takaya was only mildly surprised to find that he was standing just outside the gym.

Walking inside, Takaya found that he was the only one there at the moment. That suited him fine. Takaya strode over to one of the weight machines. Moving the selector pin to the highest possible weight setting, and then taking off his padded vest, Takaya sat down and began to methodically pump iron. He had soon gotten himself into a comfortable rhythm, and was even able to put the image of Shinya lying unconscious in the medical wing out of his mind.

Once Takaya had tired of working out on the weight machine, he went over to one of the punching bags and started beating on it. Takaya hadn't bothered to get a pair of gloves or even to wrap up his hands, so the rough material of the bag had soon taken most of the top layer of skin off of his knuckles. Takaya was too focused on the image burned into his brain; that of his brother lying unconscious in the med bay, to notice the splatters of his own blood that now decorated the punching bag.

Takaya's shoulders were soon heaving with exhaustion, but he forced himself to go on, working through a kata that he knew by heart. Running though all the martial arts katas that he could remember, Takaya tried again not to think about how badly he had failed. Shinya, I'm so sorry; I couldn't protect you. I promised Father that I would, and I promised you, too. I'll do better next time, Shin-chan. I promise.

After a long time, even Takaya couldn't deny his failing body the rest it needed. Leaving the gym, Takaya made himself a promise to return early tomorrow. As he made his way back to his room, Takaya really felt all the aches in his body for the first time since he had started working out. By the time he had gotten back to his quarters, Takaya was at last ready to collapse into bed and sleep for the rest of the night.

I

Takaya woke up earlier than he had planned, driven from sleep by another nightmare. Takaya had never asked Shinya if he ever had nights where he couldn't get to sleep; nights where his fears and uncertainties kept him awake into the small hours of the morning, or made him wake up earlier than he ever would have wanted to, because they simply weren't the type to talk about such things.

Takaya breathed deeply, steadying himself and reminding himself that it had only been a dream. Shinya was strong, a small wound like that wouldn't be enough to kill him. Shinya, please don't die. Not you; not my Shin-chan. Takaya got up to go take a shower, trying to keep from thinking about the things he couldn't help.

Once he was done, and dressed in a clean uniform, Takaya tried to decide whether he would prefer to go down to the cafeteria and have breakfast first, or just go back down to the gym and work out some more. A persistent growling in his stomach made the decision all the easier for him, so once he had gotten out of his room, Takaya made for the cafeteria.

As he walked, Takaya reminded himself not to think about the fact that he would have to eat alone today. Shinya would normally be there, just to keep his brother company. It made the days just a little less lonely somehow. Takaya, knowing that he would have to do without that comfort for today, made up his mind not to let anyone know just how much it affected him.

Takaya had learned a long time ago that there were very few people in the world that he could share his weaknesses and insecurities with. With Shinya gone, at least temporarily, that number had gotten even smaller. Walking out of his room, Takaya put on his usual mask of stoic indifference. Walking down the halls without his brother by his side was an experience Takaya wasn't at all eager to repeat.

II

In the cafeteria Takaya sat as his usual place, at his usual table, and tried to make himself forget that Shinya wasn't just up getting some food for himself. It was better if he didn't think about things like that, Takaya had learned. Shinya was really the stronger one when it came to dealing with messy things like emotions, or maybe it was just that his brother wasn't one to let his emotions control him.

Either way, it didn't change the fact that Takaya needed his brother to lean on, even if he wasn't going to admit it out loud. Once he was almost finished with his breakfast, Takaya heard the familiar sound of the alert. He had long since learned how to distinguish between the so-called 'general-alert' and the 'emergency-alert'. This was the former, which meant that Takaya was due in the briefing room.

Since he had already had enough time to finish his breakfast, Takaya made his way down to the briefing room. All of the other Space Knights were sitting at the table, apparently having waited till Takaya joined them to start the meeting. There was a discussion of the battle that had happened the previous day, one that Takaya wasn't at all interested in joining.

Going through that battle once had been more than enough for him, and to make it all worse, he was still dealing with the aftermath of that battle. Chief Freeman was the first to notice Takaya's silence, or at least he was the first to comment on it.

"D-Boy, we're not blaming you," Freeman said, obviously taking in Takaya's slumped posture, hopeless expression, and general air of dejectedness. "We would just like to understand why you abandoned the battle; I know that you had to protect your brother, but you acted even before D-Two had been incapacitated." Freeman paused for a moment, and Takaya could feel the man's gaze boring into him. "This is just speculation on my part, but did it have anything to do with the performance of the Tek-System itself?"

Noal, who had been sitting quietly after having given his report, looked over at Takaya. His expression was unreadable for the most part, and Takaya didn't have the time to decipher it. He was probably angry like the rest of them, anyway.

Just then, the main screen activated.

"Good afternoon, everyone," General Colbert said in his usual solicitous tone, and with his usual arrogant smile.

"Uh-oh, it's that bald geezer," Levin said.

"Keep your voice down," Honda said urgently, covering the other man's mouth with both hands.

"I observed your Tekkamen in battle the last time they were sent out," Colbert said, his flat expression becoming an amused, condescending smirk as he spoke. "It seems even with two of them, your Space Knights weren't able to secure a victory over the flying Radam monsters."

"Perhaps you should come to the point, sir," Freeman said.

"It's nothing particularly urgent, but there is some information that I'd like to pass onto you and your people," Colbert said, a small smirk still in place.

"Specifically?" Freeman asked calmly.

"You're likely to find this out officially from the Outer Space Development Organization later, but the Space Knights' next mission has already been decided upon," he smiled in that arrogant way of his. "Your goal will be the complete destruction of the flying Radam monsters' nest: the Radam balloon," he leaned forward, setting his chin on his folded hands, his smile seeming all the wider for his more casual posture.

"Radam Balloon," Takaya muttered, too low for anyone but Shinya to have heard or taken notice of; if his brother had been there with him, if he hadn't failed so badly.

"So long as these flying Radam monsters exist, we won't be able to deal with the Radam monsters falling from the Orbital Ring," Colbert said, his demeanor becoming more serious. "I fully expect you Space Knights to annihilate the Radam balloon, the nest for the flying Radam monsters," he grinned down at them, his demeanor jovial again. "And, one more thing: should you fail this mission, it's been decided that your Tekkamen; no, rather the entire Space Knights Unit, will be transferred and henceforth operate under the supervision of the Allied Defense Force."

"No way!" he heard Milly shout.

"So, if this mission fails, Tekkaman Blade and Tekkaman Varis will be confiscated by the Allied Defense Force," Honda said derisively.

"But that's so underhanded!" Levin exclaimed.

The meeting broke up not soon after that, and Takaya left quickly; he wasn't really in the mood to deal with people more than he had to today, and he knew that Chief Freeman would call him when it was time for him to hear about the specifics of whatever operation they were going to launch to deal with those tekkapods the Radam had been sending down. He just wanted to go back to his room, just to lay in his bed and try not to think of anything. Not sleep; too many nightmares awaited him there.

Hearing someone fall into step beside him, Takaya made a concerted effort to ignore them. It was either Aki or Noal, and he didn't want to deal with them, for one reason or another; Noal would be taunting him, and he wasn't in the mood to deal with Aki's mothering at the moment.

"D-Boy?"

It was Aki after all. He moved faster, not wanting to look like he was running away, but also wanting to get away from her if he possibly could.

"Wait, D-Boy," she said, catching hold of his arm as he was just about to turn a corner. "Why don't we go see your brother?"

"Why?" he demanded, pulling away; he didn't want to spend the time staring his failure in the face, despite the fact that he knew that he would be doing so sometime later.

And probably not so much later, either.

"It'll be good for you," she said, reaching out for him again; this time he let her, since it was obvious that she would keep trying until she got ahold of him. "To see that things aren't as bad as you think."

"Fine." Shinya would have sighed under the same circumstances, trying to throw her off with humor and exaggeration.

She smiled, and he let her lead him back through the halls toward the infirmary. The door slid open in front of them, the same way that every door in OSDG Headquarters did, but what was behind them was something that he hadn't honestly wanted to see for at least a few more hours. Shinya lay there, a breathing-mask fixed over his face, and the not-entirely-reassuring beep of the heart-rate monitors loud in the silence. Everything else was the same as he had seen while he was with Noal: the white bandages that contrasted so sharply with Shinya's black hair, the slow, even breathing through the tube that provided his brother with oxygen. Everything was just like last time; nothing had changed.

He didn't want to see this; it was his failure that had caused Shinya to end up like this, and he had wanted to at least avoid confronting this for the morning, to at least have time to wake up properly before he saw this.

"See?" Aki said, turning to smile at him. "D-Two is going to be fine. He'll be up before you know it."

Sticking his hands in his pockets, not wanting to make this situation anymore real than it already was, Takaya just stared down at Shinya. He knew that his brother was beyond him; out of the reach of even their telepathy, and he would have given anything to make that not be true. He just wanted to have it be yesterday; to have the last of his brothers back by his side.

Hearing the general-alert was almost a relief; knowing that he wouldn't have to think so much anymore, that he could just do things. Knowing that there would finally be something to take his mind off just how badly he had failed. Even facing Noal wouldn't be so bad, with the promise of something to take his mind off Shinya.

When they both arrived back in the Space Knights' comm. room, Chief Freeman nodded to them. He seemed to be waiting on someone else, though. When Noal brushed past them, with a smile for Aki that turned into a leer when he passed by into Takaya's line of sight, the Chief nodded and went to the computers.

He'd obviously activated some sort of battle-sim, since the next thing Takaya saw on the holo-screen was a figure that he took to be himself, and a ship that seemed to be the Blue Earth, orbiting one of the Radam Balloons while shooting at it. The simulated Radam Balloon was soon reduced to nothingness; his role seemed obvious enough that Takaya didn't feel the need to ask about it.

"That concludes our mission-briefing for Operation Radam Balloon Attack," the Chief said. "We'll begin the operation at 1200 tomorrow."

"D-Boy, hang in there, okay?" Levin asked, drawing Takaya's attention with a hand on his left shoulder, and then clasping his own hands under his chin. "If the mission fails tomorrow and I have to be separated from you and D-Two, I'll just die of sorrow!"

"Confiscating those Tekkamen might not be such a bad idea; I'm sure the Allied Defense Force would at least manage to keep D-Two out of danger. Especially since he can't rely on his older brother."

"Noal!" Aki snapped, an obvious warning in her voice.

"What? It's only the truth." Takaya tried not to let Noal's words get to him; he was an idiot, and a jackass, and he didn't know what the hell he was talking about. Shinya would have said just as much, if he'd been here to hear any of this. "D-Boy was the one who left his younger brother to get his skull split open like that, not me. Ow!"

"Shut up, Noal," Aki hissed, her fist still slightly raised from hitting Noal's hard head with it. "You don't have any right to say things like that!"

"That's a good swing you have there, Aki," Noal said, still rubbing his head; he knew when someone was playing dumb, and Noal was obviously determined to do so.

Best to ignore him, then; nothing would be resolved if he let himself get dragged into a fight, despite the fact that Noal was so obviously trying to provoke one.

"D-Two has not regained consciousness yet. The medical staff is treating him to the best of their ability. However, they are still uncertain as to just when he will finally wake up." Chief Freeman's voice was calm as ever, yet it had the undertones of a harsh reprimand; almost reminiscent of... someone else. "So, that means that you will be on your own during the operation tomorrow, D-Boy."

"Yeah," he said, looking again at the gap where Shinya was supposed to be standing.

"Good," Chief Freeman said, with a nod to him. "One other thing: Honda, in addition to repairing the Blue Earth, I'd like you to equip her with weapons."

"Sure thing!" Honda said, sounding pleased. "I can take care of something like that in three seconds!"

"Yeah, that would be perfect," Noal interjected, obviously pleased himself. "Once the Blue Earth has weapons, we won't need that useless Tekkaman Blade anymore. I'm sure D-Two will be happy to hear that, if he wakes up."

He just knew that Noal was leering at him, or else he had that sickening grin on his face; Takaya wasn't going to let himself be dragged into a fight. Not here, and not with people who'd taken him and his brother in when they didn't even have to. He wasn't.

"Don't say things like that!" Levin snapped.

"Noal, shut up," Aki said, clearly at the end of her tolerance for Noal's antics; she wasn't the only one. "That isn't the kind of thing you should be saying to a comrade."

"Hey, D-Boy," Noal said, his voice quivering with barely suppressed mirth. "If your brother dies in the infirmary, maybe you should kill yourself, too."

Shinya would have kicked him, or stomped on his toes in passing; Takaya just turned and left.

III

Watching as D-Boy walked away, his shoulders hunched, and tense as any number of whipcords, Noal had about a second to feel the change in the air before Aki belted him right across the cheek.

"Oww," he said, reaching up to touch his stinging cheek. "Aki-"

"Noal, you idiot!" she all but snarled; he might have gone a bit too far with that last dig. "How could you say such a horrible thing?"

"You should go apologize," Levin added; okay, he'd definitely gone a bit overboard if Levin was looking at him like that. "Well, get going!" he snapped, when Noal started to open his own mouth to apologize.

"We're not the ones you should be apologizing to, Noal," Aki informed him flatly.

No one would speak to him after that; heck, even the Chief was giving him the gimlet eye, so he turned and left. He knew where D-Boy was bound to be headed, and as much as he didn't actually want to do it, he knew that no one would be particularly happy with him until he'd made up with D-Boy. Still, thinking back on the expression he'd seen on D-Boy's face, just before the kid had turned to leave, he started to feel like a bit of a heel.

D-Boy and his brother had protected them from some pretty horrible things; the Radam and those weird Tekkamen of theirs being foremost among them, and he'd gone and mocked the kid after his twin brother – someone who was closer to him than anyone else – had been injured. It hadn't even been the kid's fault; he'd been conked out just like his brother, dead weight in the back of the Blue Earth's cockpit.

He hated to say it, but he just might have been a bit too hard on D-Boy.

When he reached the infirmary, he went to the observation area outside D-Two's room. He didn't want to crowd the kid, but he also wanted to see just what D-Boy was doing. He might have misjudged the kid, but then again he might not have; he wanted to take the measure of the kid before he said anything, and the best way to do that was to just let him be himself when he thought he was alone.

Switching on the audio-receiver, he waited to hear what D-Boy would say to his brother. He didn't have to wait that long: "I'm so sorry," he heard, followed by a quiet sigh. "It's all my fault. Please, forgive me."

Noal nearly laughed; it looked like he'd been way off base, this time. D-Boy was one of those types; the ones who wanted to take the world on their own shoulders, no matter if it broke them in the end.

The sad monologue continued: "I'll fight, for the both of us, but please; you have to survive, too. Don't die before I do, brother."

He saw D-Boy tuck his brother's right hand back under the covers, and sighed as the kid left. And I usually consider myself such a good judge of character, he thought, with a subdued chuckle. Nothing for it now, though; he'd have to make some form of amends, or else he wouldn't be able to live with himself.

Sighing again, he walked into the treatment room where D-Two was convalescing.

"Sorry, kid," he said, wanting to get the easy part over with first. "I guess I might have misjudged your brother," he sighed again, listening to the deep, rhythmic breathing of someone who might as well have been a coma patient. "I admit it; I was kind of bull-headed about... well, pretty much everything where you boys were concerned. I'll make it up to you, though: I won't let your brother die out there, no matter how much that idiot might think he has to."

His piece said, Noal turned and left the infirmary in search of D-Boy. It was time to flagellate himself in service to the greater good...

IV

When he'd found himself wandering the halls of OSDG Headquarters, trying to avoid anyone and everyone – especially Noal, who'd seemed to be following him for some reason – Takaya had decided to stay in Shinya's room for awhile. It wouldn't have done him any good to shut himself up in his own room, since anyone who was looking for him would check there first.

Besides, he needed this; needed to be surrounded by the reminders of his brother, what few there were in this room, so that he didn't forget just what he had done. Or who he was really fighting for.

When he started to feel trapped in that room, too, Takaya decided that the best thing for him would be to go outside. The fresh, brisk desert air might do him some good, or at least take his mind off of his problems for awhile.

Levering himself up and out of Shinya's bed, Takaya opened the door and checked the hall on both sides. He didn't want to deal with people, Noal in particular, and the best way to not have to deal with people was to not encounter them in the first place. He knew that better than most, having encountered his fair share of people who he would have just as soon avoided.

It was always better to be out of sight when you wanted to stay out of mind.

Making his way out of his brother's room, Takaya quickly and quietly made his way through the corridors of the OSDG Headquarters. He didn't have any particular destination in mind; he just wanted to be out in the open air, to try to clear his head before the battle tomorrow. Finally making it out of the now-stifling air of OSDG Headquarters, he found that true night had just started to fall.

The moon was just starting to rise to its apex in the sky, and Takaya found himself looking up at it, and trying not to think. It was almost like being back home; though their house was far enough away from the lights of the city that you could have seen about a million stars in the sky while the moon was out. That wasn't the case here, though, but he could still pretend…

He could pretend that, if he turned to look back over his shoulder, he would see their old, comfortable two-story house; that if he scuffed his feet against the ground, he would hear the soft rustling of the grass; that if he just waited long enough, one of his siblings would come out to tease him about his mind constantly wandering and then tell him he was late for dinner... he could pretend all of that, but none of it would be true. So, all he did was to continue to stare up at the moon. There was something about the moonlight; something that soothed and unsettled, something that simultaneously drew and repulsed, him at the same time.

It was almost like there was something he should know, but didn't; he was probably over-thinking things again, though.

"D-Boy?"

Turning to look behind himself at last, and breaking the illusion that he was anywhere familiar, Takaya faced Aki.

"Aki, why are you here?" he asked, not sure if he was grateful for the interruption or not.

"I just thought you could use the company," she said, as she walked up to stand beside him. "It's a beautiful night; I wouldn't want to spend it alone. Are you still thinking about what Noal said, though?" she asked, and he turned to look at her as she put a hand on his left shoulder. "Don't; he shouldn't have said any of those horrible things to you. I'm sure your brother's going to be just fine, just give him some time to heal."

He sighed, staring up at the full moon for a few, long moments. "Brother's strong; he won't die so easily," he said, not looking away from the satellite, large and full in the sky above him. "But, this might be the last time that I have a chance to see the sky at night."

"What?"

"Aki, if something goes wrong tomorrow, I want you to kill me," he said, continuing to stare at the moon; there was something about it that continued to draw him in.

He could also feel her fingers digging into his shoulder as she gripped it harder, and he turned to look at her. "What? What are you talking about, D-Boy?"

He sighed, looking back up at the moon; he shouldn't really have expected her to understand. Not that, anyway. "I can only function as a Tekkaman with a human heart for thirty minutes." He turned to look her in the eyes again, wanting to convey the full seriousness of the situation. "If I exceed that, even for a single second, my Tek-System will go out of control, and my mind will be possessed." He could remember the feeling more clearly now, now that he wasn't the only thing standing between the last of his brothers and a cold, lonely death at the metaphorical hands of Radam's monsters. "Then, I'll become a demon who will bring destruction to the Earth, and I'll never be able to return to my human self."

Glaring down at the inoffensive steel-plating of OSDG Headquarters' floor, he breathed deeply. Not so much from all the talking that he'd just done, but to avoid the gaze of the one Space Knight who had seemed to actually accept his presence, and that of his brother. What must she think of him now? He'd just revealed that Noal had been perfectly right to mistrust the two of them when they had first appeared: they were just as dangerous as any of the Radam, when you got right down to it; maybe even moreso, since they could convince people by their actions that they were all on the same side, and then they could turn on them with almost no warning.

It would have almost been better if they'd just been the enemy, with no pretense of being on the same side in the first place. No; they should have just left when they first had the chance, and dealt with the consequences on their own. That way, there would have been no one else to suffer the consequences of their own actions.

No one else to be hurt if they failed.

"What? That can't be true. I can't believe that you'd ever become an evil Tekkaman. You're one of our comrades, D-Boy," Aki sounded worried; he looked back at her, and saw that it wasn't fear of him, the way he'd honestly been expecting, but fear for him.

"Aki, it's true," he said, closing his eyes; this had to be said, he had to say it. "It won't only affect me, though," he looked her dead in the eyes; she had to know how important this was, she had to understand; much as he didn't want to say it. "Brother will-" A second of hesitation, before he forced himself to go on. "Brother will be affected by this, too." He breathed deeply, feeling for a moment like he had just swallowed broken glass; he and Shinya had sworn to protect each other, but some things had to be said. "The moment our minds are afflicted, we'll lose our ability to fight. We'll be vulnerable for that time. And if- if any of our battles go on longer than thirty minutes, you have to tell Noal."

"Tell Noal?" she looked stricken, and for a moment he almost stopped; but this had to be finished.

"Tell him to kill us!" he locked gazes; eye to eye, willing her to understand at last.

She took a breath, looking down for a moment, before clenching her fists and planting her feet. "I will," she said, her voice holding a small quaver, but the gaze she locked on him was nearly as firm as his own.

"Thank you," he said.

Touching her right shoulder in passing, he turned and made his way back into the OSDG Headquarters. He didn't want to stare up at the moon anymore; Aki was right, he was going to need all the sleep he could get. Especially since he was going to be alone out there this time.

V

It felt like someone had pulled the world right out from under her; knowing that D-Boy had just asked her to kill him; even if Noal would be the one to pull the trigger in that situation, she was going to be the one to give the order. That made it just as much her responsibility. Looking up at the moon for a few moments, she wondered briefly what D-Boy had found so enthralling about it. It was almost like he'd needed to see it for some reason; that didn't quite make sense, but then again, not much about the situation did.

She certainly hadn't seen any evidence that D-Boy was... losing himself to his powers. He'd just seemed to be exhausted, and later dispirited by the loss of his brother's constant presence. Still, it wasn't as if she could conclusively say what D-Boy was overreacting; he knew much more about his and D-Two's powers than any of them, and as much as she might dislike the conclusions she had to draw from that, it didn't make them any less likely to be true.

With a last look up at the full moon, Aki turned and made for the comfort of her own room. She needed sleep, and then she needed to think. Neither of which would happen if she just stood out here under the moon.

VI

The night passed with varying degrees of ease; Takaya, as he settled into his bed, was troubled by visions of what might happen to his brother; Aki and Noal slept comparatively well. Though Noal moreso than Aki, since he didn't know what she knew. Eventually, however, all of the Space Knights found their way to a restful sleep.

VII

Once he had regained enough awareness to recognize his surroundings, which didn't happen until he had thrashed himself out of bed, Takaya stared at the wall for a few moments, before pushing himself up off the floor. He'd called out for Shinya in his sleep, or at least he remembered doing it. Maybe he'd just been dreaming that, too; there was no real way for him to know, since he was cut off entirely from his brother.

About the only thing that he had completely accepted as a benefit of working with the Space Knights was the fact that his quarters had their own bathroom. That meant that he could easily get in a shower before he went out to have breakfast. Or, sometimes just when he needed to relieve some stress.

Once he'd finished with his shower, and toweled himself dry, he threw his old clothes in the hamper on the wall by the door, and left his bathroom to get himself a new uniform. Dressing quickly, not in the mood to linger over things, and having no one else to talk to during his morning routine in any case. Sooner than usual, or else all too soon, Takaya was ready to leave his room in search of breakfast.

Doing so without a look back, Takaya made a decision: he would go and see Shinya afterward. This might end up being the last day that he was alive to see his brother, and he didn't want to have any regrets. Noal would know about his problem soon enough, and he would probably be more than willing to pull the trigger at the slightest hint of trouble.

Takaya wasn't quite sure how he felt about that; he wouldn't want to end up killing any of the Space Knights if something happened to him, but no one in their right mind would relish the thought of dying.

He was no different. Leaving those morbid thoughts behind him as he settled down at an empty table at the far end of the cafeteria, Takaya began to eat methodically. He didn't hurry, since that would have caused more problems than just a bit of unease on his part about the delay. So he ate at a normal pace, steadily working through the large meal he had in front of him.

He was going to need all the calories he could get, if he was going to be any good to the Space Knights on this mission; especially since he was going to be fighting alone this time.

When he started to hear footsteps, Takaya dismissed them initially. He'd been hearing footsteps ever since he'd sat down; just the normal comings-and-goings of the people eating here. When the footfalls drew closer to him, he just figured that they were heading for one of the few tables nearby. There hadn't been any real way to completely avoid the people in this room, but he'd separated himself from them as much as he could.

He didn't particularly feel like dealing with anyone at the moment.

"D-Boy?" Looking up from his meal, he saw Aki just settling down into a chair opposite him.

Shinya would have sarcastically offered her a seat at the table, or else just given her an annoyed look as she settled herself down; all he did was to watch, and then turn his attention back to the little food that still remained on his plate. Once he was finished, he could leave; he could go say what might be his last goodbye to his twin brother.

"I wanted to talk to you about what you said last night," she said.

He could have ignored her, and just left, but she had pushed over a bowl of food just before she had finished speaking; the smell of it was making his mouth water. He hadn't even known that dango was an option here, much less that they could be served for breakfast. In a way, he almost felt nostalgic, before he ruthlessly quashed the feeling; now wasn't the time to think of home, and it probably never would be again.

Relaxing his legs, having tucked them up under his body in preparation for getting out of the chair he was sitting on, he stretched back out.

"What did you want to say to me?" he asked.

"I just wanted to let you know, no matter what happens out there, I'm going to do my best to ensure that all of us make it back home safely."

He sighed. "You know how dangerous I am, Aki," he said firmly. "Don't try to pretend everything's still the same."

VIII

D-Boy was looking at her with that intense expression of his; he was clearly still troubled by their discussion last night, and just as clearly, he wasn't going to talk about it. He'd finished eating by now; he'd seemed to have enjoyed that dango, so that was something to remember in the future.

"Where are you going now, D-Boy?" she asked, though she thought she could guess.

He paused for a moment, as if he was going to say something, but then he continued walking without another word.

Gathering her own tray and dishes, Aki left the cafeteria. D-Boy would prepare himself for the coming battle in his own way, and so would she. It was the only thing they really could do.

IX

Standing in the treatment room, listening to the soft sound of his brother's breathing, Takaya squeezed Shinya's hand. He wanted his brother to know that he was still all right. Since he knew that his brother was beyond the reach of their telepathy, he didn't waste his time calling out to him that way. He was already facing his failure, he didn't need any more reminders of it.

"Shin-chan," he squeezed tighter, briefly. "Please, forgive me, Shin-chan."

The door hissed softly open; he thought it was one of the doctors, right up until the new person spoke: "I was wondering when I would finally manage to pin you down, D-Boy," Noal said, with a soft chuckle. "I'd swear you can almost walk through walls when you want to."

Shinya would have said something, probably something sarcastic, to get Noal out of the room; more than that, his brother probably would know just what to say to get Noal to leave. Shinya was good at reading people like that. He just stayed silent, hoping Noal would leave him alone.

"I want you to know that I'm sorry about what I said yesterday," he sighed. "I was out of line. I admit it, and I apologize. If it means anything to you, I'm going to do my best to make it up to you. I just wanted you to know that, D-Boy."

That... really hadn't been what he had expected at all, and as he turned to watch Noal's departing form vanish behind the sliding door, he sighed. Once Aki told him the truth, things were likely to go back to the way they had been when he, Shinya, and Noal had met for the first time. Only now, he would have a reason for mistrusting them, rather than doing it out of spite the way he had seemed to be before.

X

Seeing D-Boy so depressed, where it would have given him a certain degree of satisfaction, only made him realize just how important the kid's brother was in his life. Those two must have gone through one hell of an experience to have bonded so closely; probably not a pleasant one, either, with the Radam's invasion and their constant rain of mutant space monsters.

Checking his watch, he figured that now was as good a time as any to start heading for the Blue Earth's hangar. He still had about eight minutes or so, but there wasn't really anything he could do in eight minutes. At least, nothing that wouldn't also run the risk – however small – of absorbing his attention and making him miss his launch deadline. He didn't intend to miss this or any chance to inflict pain and devastation on the aliens invading his home.

On his way to the hangar, he met up with Aki, and the two of them walked side-by-side for awhile. She seemed preoccupied with something, so he didn't disturb her. When D-Boy joined up with them, there was a look of resigned sorrow on his face; his twin brother was still flat on his back in the infirmary, though, so Noal didn't look to closely at him.

He probably still wanted to be alone.

When they finally made it inside the Blue Earth, with nothing but the sounds of their own footfalls accompanying them on their way through the corridors, Noal settled gratefully down into the pilot's seat. Now wasn't the time for distractions; now it was time to go hunt down whatever it was that those stupid aliens were trying to drop on them, so Tekkaman Blade could fry it and the three of them could head back to OSDG Headquarters.

And so D-Boy could go back to watching over his brother.

The last wisps of atmosphere vanished from the cockpit windows, he let out the deep breath he'd drawn. The launch itself was always exhilarating, especially in the Blue Earth, and he relished it. Not for long though; Aki's next words reminded him that they weren't here to sightsee:

"Confirming target," she said. "It'll be coming into view soon."

There was a definite feeling of apprehension as the large, lumpy purple shape became visible outside of the left-side window. He knew full well what those mutant space monsters were waiting for; and so did D-Boy, since the kid was out of his seat like a shot and heading for the aft section and their main air lock.

"D-Boy, if the battle seems like it's going to drag on, do whatever you have to to end it quickly," Aki said, pinning him with a look, even as he stopped to look back.

"Yeah."

"Make sure you come back to us," he said, winking. "You've got someone waiting for you back there, you know?"

D-Boy gave him an inscrutable look for that; it was gone too quickly for him to make heads-or-tails of it, but given the way he'd treated the kid and his brother while they were trying to settle into their new roles, he guessed that he shouldn't really be expecting anything else.

XI

Standing in the air lock, alone with the sound of his own breathing, Takaya made a concerted effort to ignore the pangs in his heart. He was going to have to focus on what was happening in front of him, not back on what he was wishing hadn't. It was the only way that he was going to be able to do anyone any good.

Especially now, when he was going to have to fight alone.

"Teksetta!" he shouted, all the louder, to distract himself from the sound of his own voice; and the lack of Shinya's.

Flying free into the void of space as he transformed, Blade took a deep – though admittedly unneeded – breath to steady himself. He knew what he was facing now, he knew the dangers, but he also knew that if it came down to the worse case scenario he would be able to count on Noal to do what was necessary. Somehow, though, that thought didn't comfort him as much as he had been expecting it to.

"Tekkaman Blade!" he exclaimed.

The Radam monsters were on him before he had finished speaking, and he drew one of the halves of his tekkalance and started slashing. Normally, he would have had at least someone to speak to while he slaughtered his way through Omega's legions; but now he was fighting alone, and he didn't feel anything like his normal self. The Radam monsters came at him in silence, and they died in silence.

It didn't feel quite right, but then nothing about this situation really was; things hadn't been right for too long, and there was no reason to believe that they ever would be again.

When the Radam monsters started to spit streams of sticky venom at him, Blade gritted his teeth and hissed in fury. This was the same thing that had caused him so much trouble before, and had nearly ended up getting him and Shinya killed. It might still end up getting him killed, if he got caught by them and ended up being forced past his time-limit.

Dodging and weaving through the swarming mass of Radam monsters, he growled deeply in his throat as one of them managed to latch onto him. Drawing the other half of his tekkalance, he jammed it into the thing's head deeply enough to kill it, then joined the two halves together and slashed another one in half before it could make another aggressive move. Pausing for a moment to collect himself, he flew back into the fray with renewed purpose.

This wasn't going to end until he ended it; and he had to do it quickly, for everyone's sake.

Slashing, hacking, and thrusting with his tekkalance, Blade abruptly decided to take more drastic measures. There were too many for him to deal with using conventional methods, at least with any degree of confidence that he would have time to do so. So, it was time for more unconventional methods.

"Crash Intrude!"

His armor folded down, rearranging itself into what felt like a much sleeker, more dynamic shape, and he felt energy almost literally exploding out of him. Slamming his way through the onrushing ranks of Radam monsters, he felt a dull sort of satisfaction as they exploded or were burned out of existence in his wake. But, when he turned around to deal with the tekkapod, he found himself facing rank upon rank of fresh ones.

Cursing under an unnecessary breath, he raised his lance. He didn't have the energy left for another Crash Intrude. And this time, he was on his own.

XII

Watching D-Boy as he fought the advancing swarms of flying Radam monsters, swarms that never seemed to end, Aki knew that she would have to do something. He'd been out there for twenty minutes; understandable considering what he was facing, but if he stayed out there too long... She didn't like to consider the possibilities, but D-Boy had certainly sounded sincere when he was speaking to her.

At the very least, he had believed what he was saying to her.

"Noal, we've got to back up Tekkaman Blade," she said, turning to look back at the man who D-Boy had chosen to trust to kill him when... if the time ever came. "He's completely outnumbered."

"I don't like it, Aki, but I don't think even both of Blue Earth's laser cannons will put even a dent in that swarm" Noal said, sounding like he was trying to be reasonable; heck of a time for him to start.

She was just about to say something, maybe bring up a few of his more hair-brained stunts back in the day, when the Blue Earth was rocked by a sudden, harsh impact. The face of a flying Radam monster, looming outside the forward windows, gave her no possible doubt about what had hit them.

"Noal, it isn't as simple as you think," she said tersely; then, as electricity crackled over the panels in front of her, she screamed.

"Damn you, you're not dealing with the same Blue Earth as before," Noal said roughly, and she heard the hums and beeps of the targeting-computer locking on. "Take that!"

She could see the lasers as they were fired, burning through the intervening space and driving off the Radam monsters that had attacked them.

"We did it!" he said, with a relief in his voice that she couldn't feel a bit of.

"Noal, please," she said; she'd been hoping that this situation wouldn't come up, that she wouldn't have to tell Noal what might happen, and to have him worry the way she herself was doing. "We have to help Tekkaman Blade. He's nearly our of time!"

"What? Nearly out of time? What is that supposed to mean?" he looked just about as confused as she had felt, last night while D-Boy was telling her nearly the same thing.

"D-Boy said so last night," she said, taking a deep breath and trying to steady herself; it didn't work very well, but then this wasn't really a normal situation. "He has a time limit; he can fight only for thirty minutes. He said… he said that he would rather be killed by one of his comrades than join the Radam."

"Comrades?" he asked, clearly startled by D-Boy's sentiment.

"If the battle keeps going on like this, D-Boy is going to become an evil Tekkaman," she trailed off, unable to continue for a moment, but then she forced herself onward. "He'll end up attacking us, even though he won't want to."

The only upside that she could see to D-Two's not being there at the moment, was that she didn't have to tell Noal about what might happen to him. She wasn't entirely sure how he would react. Especially with D-Two helpless in the infirmary the way he was now.

"Damn him! What time did Tekkaman Blade mobilize?"

"1230 hours, almost exactly," she said quickly.

"Only three minutes, then," Noal said, after quickly checking his watch. "Aki, you'd better hold on tight!"

XIII

He was starting to sympathize with Shinya now, now that he was starting to become weak and dizzy. When he felt something slam into the back of his neck, he only realized that it was their venom from the way it wrapped around his neck. That wasn't all of it, though, since the next part of his body to be coated with venom was his left arm, and then his stomach and his left and right legs.

He tried to slice through it with his tekkalance, but all that accomplished was to give the Radam monsters a chance to snare his right arm with their venom. Screaming curses that went unheard in the airless void, Blade began to feel the now-familiar, hated disorientation that meant that he was nearly at his absolute limit. Trying to brute-force his way out of their trap with his thrusters didn't seem to be working, so when the Blue Earth's new laser cannons sheared through a good deal of the strands holding him in place, he was both pleased and relieved.

Cutting through the remainder, he jetted away; kicking his legs over his head in a backwards flip, he landed atop the Blue Earth and gratefully let it carry him closer to the tekkapod.

"I owe you one, Noal," he said, tapping the Blue Earth's radio through some means he wasn't in any mood to look too closely at.

"Yeah," he heard the man respond. "Let's go, Tekkaman Blade."

Raising his tekkalance, he bisected a pair of Radam monsters that had tried to approach the ship; it was possible that they'd been so concerned with his welfare that they'd forgotten the reason they'd come out here in the first place, he didn't really believe it but it was possible.

"What are those things?" he heard Aki gasp over the radio.

"So, the Radam Balloon was the enemy's colony?" he heard Noal demand of no one.

He flew off the Blue Earth and began charging up his Voltekka. "Thank you, Noal, Aki," he said so that only he could hear. "Voltekka!"

With the energies roiling inside him, he fired the Voltekka he'd been holding back and watched with grim satisfaction as the tekkapod burned. The last of his energy spent, he lay still while he tried to summon the reserve energy to move. He could hear Aki calling for him, and she sounded worried enough that he wanted to answer. He wanted to, but his body just didn't seem to want to respond.

He needed a bit more time to recover, that was clear.

When the Blue Earth fired on him, though, he managed to tap a heretofore-unknown reserve of energy to get himself out of the range of those laser cannons. Making for the Blue Earth's air lock, Blade pushed his failing energy-reserves for all the power they could give him. Landing in the main air lock, his energy all but gone, he let his transformation fade and forced himself to stay on his feet. He still had a bone to pick with Noal.

He panted, standing at the threshold of the cockpit. He had to be quick; he was starting to feel faint. "Damnit, I can't stand people who aren't punctual," he fell to his knees.

Slumping to the floor as his consciousness deserted him, Takaya thought he heard Aki calling for him.

XIV

With D-Boy conked out in the back of the cockpit, and Aki fussing over him the way she tended to, Noal knew it was up to him to get them all safely back to OSDG Headquarters. He was a little disconcerted by what D-Boy had said; Aki had seemed perfectly sincere about what she was saying, and he knew her well enough to know that she had believed what she was telling him. That only left D-Boy; he didn't know why the kid had told Aki that he would need to be killed if he went over some arbitrary time-limit, but he figured it probably had a lot to do with his personality.

He hated dealing with the self-sacrificing types.

The flight back to Earth was blissfully uneventful, at least if you didn't count Aki's fussing over D-Boy the way she usually did. She was back at her station before he could ask her to do so, though, and she had even strapped D-Boy in so there wouldn't be the risk of something like what had happened to D-Two happening to him. Reentry was as smooth as he could ask for, which was good, since he didn't feel much like dealing with Radam monsters at the moment.

What he really needed, what he was keeping in the back of his mind for when they all got back down to Earth, was the fact that he needed to talk to Honda. If D-Boy hadn't gotten out of the way when he did, then he would have ended up breaking his promise to D-Two just a day after he'd made it. Sure, it hadn't ended up happening, but he didn't want to be the kind of guy who broke his promises like that.

Even if he had thought it was necessary at the time, he still wasn't particularly happy about it.

Once the Blue Earth was back in the landing bay again, he helped Aki get D-Boy off and into the care of the medicos, and then went off in search of Honda. He found the man puttering around with his kites, something he did when there was nothing else impinging on his time.

"Noal!" the large mechanic said jovially. "Have you come to return my watch?"

"You wish, old man," he said, with a chuckle. "I won this baby fair and square."

"I am going to win my watch back from you one of these days, Noal."

"You just keep telling yourself that," he laughed, but then quickly sobered. "I was just wondering if you could take a look at it for me; it's been giving me some trouble lately."

"All right," Honda said, with a somewhat bemused expression. "Sit down, and I'll get my jewelers tools."

Waiting while Honda gathered his things, Noal leaned against the wall, folded his arms, and hoped that whatever was going on with his new watch would turn out to be something innocuous. He hated to think of what he might have done if Blade hadn't been awake enough to dodge that laser blast, or coherent enough to berate him for what he'd been perfectly within reason to see as an unprovoked attack. Still, if that lousy Radam monsters hadn't smashed into the Blue Earth, he would have been able to take care of the watch himself.

"Wait, this is completely busted," Honda said, after he'd removed the back of the watch, and was tightening some loose bit with his little jeweler's screwdriver. When Honda looked up, the expression on his face quickly changed from curious to annoyed. "You must have done something to it!"

"What?" he asked, inwardly cursing; five minutes, he'd tried to kill D-Boy when he had only been transformed for twenty-five minutes. The kid had been exhausted, no doubt about that, but there hadn't been a chance of him going evil on them.

He was really going to hate himself awhile for that little near-fatal screwup.

"You must have done something to it. I've had this watch for years, and it's run perfectly," Honda said, starting to sound honestly angry.

"I don't know what you're talking about, old man. I've treated that watch perfectly fine," he said; of course, there had been that time with D-Boy... the kid had run out of the room like the hounds of hell were on his heels, or like he just couldn't stand to be there for even another second. Although, after what he'd been saying to the kid... he'd landed on his wrist after the kid had broken his hold, but he wasn't going to try blaming D-Boy for that.

"Don't give me that! It's inhumane not to take care of machines!" Honda said, lunging out of his seat with a raised fist. He had a brief moment of oh crap, when Honda brought a truly huge double-ended wrench out from somewhere under the table he'd been working on his kites, and then cleared off to work on the watch. The mechanic shouted, the wrench held up over his head. When he lunged out from behind the table, wrench still in hand, Noal got the feeling that it would be best for him to be somewhere else. Somewhere very else. "You stay right there, so I can hit you with this wrench!"

"Come on, gimmie a break!" Time to run like hell! He heard Honda shouting from behind him. For someone with his girth, he was pretty spry.

XV

She had come into the treatment room on something of a whim, just wanting to see how D-Two was doing so she could have something to talk to D-Boy about that wasn't as morbid as their last two conversations had been. It was plain luck that she'd seen D-Two's eyelashes fluttering, but it had been her choice to stay, to see if he was actually starting to wake up and not just shifting in his sleep.

When his blue eyes opened at last, though, she smiled.

Just a few seconds later, the door slid open to admit D-Boy himself, who had an expression of such complete, utter relief on his face, Aki almost felt like she was intruding on a private moment just by being in the same room. When D-Boy looked at her for the first time, his green eyes slightly distant, she felt the weight of his gaze on her, and she knew that she was indeed intruding on an intensely private moment. Was about to be, at least; neither D-Boy nor D-Two had actually done anything, but there was a subtle tension in the air.

As if they were both waiting on her to leave; they really were such intensely private people.

"I'm going to go get the Chief. I'll tell him that your brother's feeling better, D-Boy," she said, smiling at the expression of subdued relief that spread across the faces of both twins.

"Thank you, Aki," D-Two said, smiling softly back at her.

XVI

Once Aki had left the room, with the door hissing shut behind her, he wrapped his arms around Shinya, buried his face in his younger twin's chest, and shivered. He had come so close to losing him, in more than one way, that he found he couldn't help the tears that were running out of his eyes.

(Shinya, I'm so glad you're still alive.)

(I am, too, Ta-kun,) Shinya said. (You haven't been bored while I was gone, have you?) There was a definite undertone of teasing in his brother's voice, and when Takaya looked back up at his brother's face, he saw a ghost of Shinya's teasing smile.

"It's good to see you again, brother," he said, standing back up and wiping the tears of relief from his eyes with the long, black cuff of his Space Knight uniform.

And not a moment too soon, as it turned out, because the door hissed open just then, letting the Chief, Aki, Noal, Levin and Honda into the infirmary's treatment room. Noal, after looking over Shinya as if to make sure that nothing was wrong with his brother – as strange a thought as Noal worrying about either of them was – before heading determinedly for Takaya himself.

"D-Boy," the blond said, sidling up to him. "I was wondering if I could have a bit of a chat with you? In private?"

Taking in the expression on Noal's face; one of honestly, and a bit of trepidation, Takaya decided to give the man the benefit of the doubt. He'd earned a bit of trust, though Takaya had to admit that he was still fairly annoyed with him for jumping the gun the way he had. He wanted an explanation for that, at least. If nothing else, he wanted to know if he could actually trust Noal to watch his back without trying to put a laser-bolt into it, or if it was just going to be him and Shinya.

He didn't want to go into battle without knowing.

XVII

"D-Two, I want you to be fully rested before you return to duty," was the first thing that the Chief – the first thing that anyone who wasn't Takaya – said to him.

"Thank you, Chief," he said, with an airy smile. "I'm sorry for all the trouble I caused you."

"Don't worry, D-Two," Honda said, with what he took to be a reassuring expression. "We Space Knights have dealt with troublesome situations before."

"Besides, someone so cute couldn't ever be any trouble at all," Levin said, grinning at him.

Something in Levin's tone of voice prompted Shinya to smirk. "Levin, if you're not careful, someone might start thinking you're in love with me."

"Yeah," Milly said, laughing softly. "Levin is strange enough without giving people ideas like that."

"Oh, and what's wrong with that?" Levin said, making a brief noise of derision. "D-Two's almost cuter than D-Boy," he continued, giving Shinya an exaggerated once-over that he couldn't help but be amused by. "Even when he's not Tekkaman Varis."

"Well, at least you have good taste," he said, grinning at the other man; he was kind of fun, Shinya had to admit.

"You're both weirder than that Radam Balloon," Milly said, the look on her face slightly teasing.

(Ta-kun, what are you and Noal talking about?) he asked, even as he joined in with the laughter echoing around his bed.

(Our place here, Shin-chan.)

XVIII

As Shinya's presence retreated to a warm glow at the back of his mind, Takaya turned his attention back to Noal. He wasn't pleased with the idea that a malfunctioning watch had nearly cost him his life, but willing to overlook it since Noal had said he'd gotten it fixed. There were other, more pressing issues on his mind at the moment.

"I thought, when I told Aki, that you wouldn't hesitate to kill me," he said, facing Noal under the light of the second full moon of the month; he wanted to think it was some kind of auspicious occasion, but the moonlight still had that same, unnerving effect on him as it had before.

"You're right. I don't trust you, and when you finally do turn against the Earth, I'll definitely be the one to kill you," Noal returned; he didn't really know what to make of the smile on the other man's face, but on Shinya, he would have said that it was a teasing one. He didn't know Noal enough to judge his facial expressions, so he wasn't going to try.

There was a moment of silence between them; Takaya let it stretch.

"The moon is beautiful tonight, don't you think?"

"Yeah," he said, turning to face the moon as Noal left for the lighted interior of the command center. "The moon is beautiful."

(So, Ta-kun?)

(I think we might be safe with these people, Shin-chan,) he responded, with a soft sigh.

(Or, they'll at least be safe with us here,) Shinya continued, sounding like he was considering something else entirely.

(Yeah,) he said, glancing back at the moon a last time; he wished he knew what it was that made him so eager to be in sight of it, and yet so unnerved by it at the same time.

That was really all there was to say.

XIX

Buried with his ship on the dark side of the moon, shielded from the humans and their spacecraft by the surface of the satellite itself, Omega considered again the problem of his traitorous little escapees. That they were tenacious and determined, even going so far as to fight alone when the mood struck them just to keep themselves sharp, would have been a great asset if not for the fact that they were fighting for the very species that he was trying to subjugate. It was an annoying situation, to be sure, and all the moreso because he did not quite know how to handle it.

Perhaps he needed to consider different tactics, if he was to deal with the two little half-humans properly.

"So, you've made your stand here, have you?" he muttered, speaking aloud solely for his own benefit; the silence here could truly become oppressive at times. "Fools. Only death awaits traitors."