Disclaimer: They are not mine.
Warnings: A/U
Notes: I think that anybody who was waiting for this chapter is dead now. I am so sorry!

Colonel Tezuka looked up as his door chimed and slid open. "Ah, Mr. Curoe. I am glad that you could make it on such short notice."

Ernest Curoe nodded. "I was surprised by your call, but of course I would be happy to fill the position."

Tezuka smiled and motioned for the young man to take a seat. Ernest Curoe was a top-notch former pilot. Unfortunately, his last flight with his Goddess had left him badly damaged. The blonde walked with a slight limp, a lingering wound that would not heal properly despite the medical team's best efforts. He hid the extent of the damage well, but Tezuka knew that Ernest still had lingering pain as he executed tasks as simple as walking across the room.

"Thank you," Ernest returned his smile polite as he gracefully took the seat. "You mentioned that you did not wish to discuss recent events over the comm. Would you like to bring me up to speed now that we are face to face?"

Tezuka nodded solemnly. "We have had some problems with one of the instructors. Azuma to be exact."

"What about Azuma?" Ernest peered at the Colonel curiously.

"He was abusing one of the candidates."

Ernest's blue eyes widened in shock. "Which one?"

"Candidate 88. Zero Enna."

Ernest frowned. Zero was one of his brother's best friends. He'd heard Erts talk all about the fiery boy who was afraid of nothing. Well, he was afraid of space, but he wasn't afraid of the touch of a psychic as most people were. That was the reason he and Erts had become such fast friends in such a short time, Zero had no inhibitions or secrets that made him shy away from Erts and his powers. Though Ernest had never really sat down with the boy, he had met him in passing and thought highly him. He sounded a lot like Gareas and that only raised Ernest's estimation of the boy.

"How did this happen? What exactly took place?" Ernest's voice was firm as he made it his mission to seek out the answers to these questions and try to fix them as well as he was able.

"It appears that Azuma was "disciplining" Zero to make him into a better pilot. The abuse was physical, mental, and of a sexual nature."

"Sexual? He didn't..."

"I'm afraid so." Tezuka sighed.

"How could this happen?"

"We are not sure, we are hoping that your presence might also allow us some insight."

"I shall do my best sir," Ernest said firmly.

"Eat up Zero!" Kizna demanded glaring at Zero's full plate.

"I'm just not hungry," Zero replied, not looking up from the single slice of toast he was crumbling.

"I know you have a bigger appetite than that Zero. Just go ahead and eat your eggs." She poked the pile of eggs with her fork.

"He said he's not hungry," Hiead growled at the cat-eared girl.

Kizna quickly drew her hand back across the table as if Hiead would bite if off. "Geez, what's your problem? I'm just trying to get my partner to eat. Unlike you, I care about my partner," she shot back.

"Kizna, I don't think you should fight," Ikhny said softly from her side.

"But Ikhny-"

"Hiead does things his own way," Ikhny replied. She looked up briefly to meet Hiead's eyes before lowering her head and returning her attention to her food.

Kizna snorted, but let it go. Zero succeeded in crumbling his toast into pieces too tiny to eat. He looked up, surprised, as Hiead slid his own toast onto Zero's plate. Hiead merely glanced over at him and slid a bite of eggs into his mouth. Zero could almost hear the unspoken command ringing in his ears. Eat. Zero stared at the browned toast with its yellow buttery center. He could feel Hiead's eyes on him as he brought the toast to his lips and nibbled at it. Hiead's eyes slid away and Zero took a few small sips of orange juice.

He knew that Kizna was staring, but he didn't look at her. Hiead seemed satisfied that he had eaten the piece of toast and left him alone as he finished his own breakfast. Yamagi and Roose held a loud conversation about something they'd heard from an older candidate, but for the most part, Zero ignored everything around him.

"C'mon Zero. Time for class." Kizna said as she stood and picked up her tray.

Zero nodded and mechanically followed her lead. He ignored the disapproving look of the cafeteria monitor as he dumped his full tray. He silently followed the other candidates, watching Yamagi and Roose's backs as they walked along. He was vaguely aware of Clay walking beside him and he could feel Hiead's eyes drilling into his back. They trooped into the classroom for the day and took seats. Zero hung back, waiting till the others were seated until he took a seat at the back of the room. The scrape of a chair on either side of him alerted him to the fact that Clay and Hiead were flanking him, settling on both sides. Clay smiled, but Hiead ignored his startled gaze.

Yamagi and Roose's conversation was the only thing that broke the silence of the room. Clay pulled out his data pad and started clicking away. Zero put his arms on the desk and buried his face in them. He sighed as he tried to relax. Sitting in the classroom was making him nervous. Classrooms were for lessons. Asuma's lessons had meant pain. Zero knew that he was making wild leaps by linking such things together, but he couldn't help his sudden fear of the classroom. It seemed to close in on him and he felt his breathing hitch dangerously. He shuddered as he clenched his fists. A comforting hand rested discreetly on Zero's hip and the boy looked up suddenly. He met Hiead's serious red eyes and felt himself slowly relax. They were both distracted as someone entered the room. Zero turned warily and blinked in shock.

"You're Ernest Curoe! Former pilot of Luhma Klein and Erts' older brother!" Clay said, pointing at the blonde man that walked slowly into the room.

Ernest smiled and nodded. "Yes, that's would be me Clay Cliff Fortran."

"Wow! What are you doing here?" Roose asked.

"I am your new instructor."

"Really? That's awesome!" Yamagi declared.

Ernest smiled gently. "I'm glad that you think so. I am happy to be here." The former pilot looked from the two boys in the front to the three settled in the back. He noted how Clay and Hiead had sat down, flanking Zero. He did not miss Hiead's piercing, hostile gaze. Ernest returned his gaze, radiating calm. He was not here to hurt, merely to help and the sooner everyone realized this, the better. Hiead's gaze calmed, but still remained alert and suspicious. Ernest was glad to see that Zero had found himself a protector during this trying time. He would need all the support that he could get.

Ernest turned to look at Zero. The boy was looking up at him with a mix of surprise, relief and fear. He could easily feel the confused swirl of emotions that rolled off of the boy, but for the moment he let it go. It wouldn't do to overwhelm him. He'd already been through so much. There would be plenty of time later on for questions and discreet inquiries. Now was not the time for confrontation, but the small comfort of routine. Ernest smiled at Zero as he put a small data pad on the desk.

"Now then, I have been informed that today we are to move straight into emergency navigation using star maps and gravity patterns. I hope you've studied, we may have a quiz." Yamagi groaned and Ernest noted how some of Zero's tension eased away. It was a small step, but any step in the right direction was a good one. "Now if you'll call up section 25 on your data pads, we can begin."

After this chapter, I make no promises that the story will continue. As you've noticed by my update record, I takeforever. There could potentially be another chapter, or this could be the end. If you truly enjoyed this story and wish for more, let me know and I can put it on my priority list ok. Thank you for reading!