This has absolutely nothing to do with my previous Eagle x Sami story. I thought it was a bit inaccurate.

A Ruined Image

"I don't know what to do," Sami stirred her non-alcoholic drink with the tiny umbrella. "On the one hand I've had such a crush on him for a long while, but on the other I don't know him. And... not knowing him makes me think of him as this hero image instead of a real person, but I can't get to the real person because the hero is so unapproachable. Agh! I don't know what to do!"

"Why are you telling me this," Hachi said in a flat voice.

"But... you're always listening and giving advice so I thought that..."

He squinted at her. "Not this time. Go talk to some other girl and leave an old man with his drink."

"But I can't talk to Nell or Sonja about this." No, Nell would probably just laugh at her, or not understand at all. She had never had problems with approaching men - rather having too many approach her.

Sonja probably knew as little as Sami, or less. Kanbei's daughter had been surrounded by chaperones and bodyguards while in the academy, while Sami at least had gotten some experience, although never anything lasting. Even if Sonja had known anything of use, she had never been a real friend. More of a rival who always was smarter and better at everything. Nell had always been both prettier and smarter, but at least not as conceited. Sami was more of a physical person, but unfair enough that only made males more popular. As a female... and having red hair did not help either. Just thinking about it made her want to find a punching bag.

"So, talk to Jess. She knows the man at least." Hachi waved at her to go away.

"Yes! I knew your advice would be sound and good, Hachi. Thank you." She darted off, hearing Hachi grunt behind her back and order another drink.

This was a smaller gathering after the more formal dinner following the declaration of the Allied Nations. Now when they were no longer risking standing at opposite sides of a battle field, it was no longer as outrageous to approach an officer of Green Earth on a more private level. That did not make it easier though.

Sami found Jess near a dart board where Max and Grit were trying to impress Nell. Of course Grit won easily, while Max managed to slam the darts sideways into the board, or even the wall beside it, with such force that they bounced back with dangerous speed.

"Do you have a moment?" Sami asked Jess. She immediately liked the woman, thinking that they had to have much in common.

"Well..." She jumped as a dart landed in her beer and nearly splashed her coat. "I think it's best to leave this place. I'm at your disposal." The Green Earth CO left the glass with the dart in it on a side table and joined Sami. "Let me get a new beer."

Sami nodded and followed her to the bar, where she idly read a sign. Far down, near the bottom she picked up the magic words. "Hot chocolate! I'd like hot chocolate!"

"Green Earth Hot Chocolate," the bartender said. "It's not quite the normal kind."

"As long as it still has chocolate in it."

They left the bar for a more secluded couch, facing away from the room, and put down their drinks on the table.

"So, what did you have to say?" Jess sat stiff-backed.

Sami had not really thought of a good excuse yet. "Um... oh I didn't really have anything super special to say. I just needed someone to talk to."

"All right then." Jess picked up a deck of cards from the table and started to shuffle it.

"Where is Eagle?" Sami asked, trying to sound innocent.

"I think he's still helping Drake to his room. He's a bit heavy, so it takes a while I guess. Drake got a little too happy being offered free drinks. Sailors." She shook her head.

"What is he like? In private, I mean." She tasted her chocolate and was startled to find that there was alcohol in it. It was delicious though.

"Very sweet and helpful. Always cheers you up when he's around. Always there for support and just grasping the moment." Jess started to put down the cards in a simple solitaire game. "Without Drake mediating and pulling us down to earth we would have lost, so I guess he's entitled to getting stone drunk as celebration tonight. "

"Oh I didn't mean... and how is Eagle?"

"He is an arrogant bully with an inflated ego. Rude, rash, quarrelsome and quick to judge. Given the chance, he'll grab every opportunity to do everything himself and shine, while closing the door on someone more qualified."

Sami felt cold to the bone. Was he really like this? Had his rescue of her and her troops just been another show for the records? But unless he had done so she would have been dead. If he had not bravely remained to fight the Black Hole armies and allowing the rest to focus on Sturm himself, they could have lost in the very first war. "Surely you are just mentioning bad sides now. There must be some good too? He wouldn't be helping Drake right now if not."

Jess took a gulp of her beer and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. "Oh, he has good traits too. I guess. He just doesn't show them very often so it wouldn't be representative of his character to mention them. I don't see them much at least. Perhaps you should ask Drake when he sobers up."

"You mean, he's not treating you right?" Sami was already finished with her drink and had to fight an urge to get some more.

"He thinks he does. That I deserve every criticism and humiliation."

"What did you do?" Surely he must have had a reason to do what he did?

"I believe there is a card missing," Jess said suddenly.

"I'll look for it," Sami said and dove down under the table. It was dark down there but she spotted the card fairly quickly.

"What are you doing down here, Red? I could have needed a hand or two." That was Eagle's voice. Sami jerked and bumped her head in the table above. "What idiot built this house and didn't include an elevator?" Eagle continued. Wait... Red? How dared he!

"I thought you'd be man enough to handle everything by yourself as usual, Flyboy," Jess replied.

Eagle grunted. "It took a while to get him upstairs. Getting drunk somehow enhanced his fear of heights to an absurd level. And then Olaf showed up and nearly dragged him down to the bar again... I don't want to talk about it."

Sami crawled up on the couch, handing Jess her card, and peeked up over the back of the couch. Eagle's eyes widened in shock when he saw her. Then he gave her a little smile.

"Red?" Sami had heard that she was scary when she was mad. Eagle's fading smile showed her that it was probably true.

"Oh, that..." He scratched his cheek. "Well..."

"I thought you were a decent and brave man, but now I see something else. I don't like what I see."

Eagle scowled at Jess. "What did you tell her?"

"The truth as I see it," the CO said, now reshuffling the deck to start anew. "But it was you who proved me right just by opening your big mouth."

"What about the truth as I see it?" Eagle growled and crossed his arms over his chest. "Sami, listen carefully. Jess marched out her troops to a volcanic area without permission, risking their lives both to the enemy army and massive chunks of molten rock flying through the air! She's irresponsible and can't be trusted. There is no room for showing off yourself in war!"

"Look who is talking," Jess murmured. "You know I'm a mechanical expert, yet you wanted the neotanks for yourself since you said I wouldn't know how to use them properly and you said you would show off your speciality with them. Neotanks do plenty of things, but they don't fly." She laid out another solitaire game for herself. "As for the volcano you know fully well someone had to face the enemy and it had better be me since you couldn't fly through the ash and Drake could not bring an armada where there was no sea."

Eagle was about to launch a counter argument for that, but Sami cut him off. "Stop. Just, both of you, stop." She sighed. It seemed Jess was a little biased, but Eagle was still far from redeeming himself. "Eagle... can we talk?" She needed to get clarity in this matter before going to bed. In the morning she could find Drake if she was not completely put off. Her precious hero image had shattered already. Now she wondered if she could ever respect what she found beneath.

He turned his head away from the other Green Earth officer and the frown vanished. "Of course."

"What is this thing with Jess about?" Sami asked when they walked through the empty halls, not really knowing where they were going. "You come off as really unfair."

"I suppose you'd have to be there," Eagle said. "It's not what she does, or says... it's how. She... she just returned from her training, having been out of Green Earth for so long, and then thinks she can decide what is best for the country. She's skilled, but inexperienced. It may cause her to go too far and risk lives."

"What does Drake think?"

"As you do, I suppose. That I'm a bully."

"Isn't Drake's opinion as valid as yours? He hasn't been away, has he?"

"No, he has not," he said in a flat voice. "Can we talk about something different or are you just so disappointed with me that you'll go to bed?"

"I will go to bed."

"All right, I don't blame you." He looked down.

Sami reached out her hand and touched his cheek. "See you tomorrow."