Coming up with titles for my fics has never been a strong point. ^^;;

Candra

Disclaimer: I don't own Zoids or any other Zoids characters, much to my sorrow.

Anyhow, feedback is greatly appreciated!

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Desert Son

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Cocking his head to one side as he heard the soft scrape of boot heel on metal, Bit smiled to himself. No doubt Doc had sent one of the others to drag him back inside for a pre-battle briefing or something equally as boring and drawn-out.

Not that he minded exactly. He always looked forward to battling - it was the things that went with it that irritated him. The annoying bureaucratic nonsense that wasted precious time that could have been spent fighting. He hated that aspect of zoid battles - almost as much as he hated having to fill out replacement part forms. In triplicate, of course.

Shrugging to settle his coat more comfortably on his shoulders he went back to studying the view spread out before him. He'd never seen anything like it, not in all the time he'd spent wandering. A million shades of brown and red blended seamlessly together to present something...beautiful.

He'd never thought that the desert could be anything resembling beautiful - but there it was. Nature in all its untamed glory - as the saying went.

There was nothing artificial about the way the sand glittered like diamonds under the hot mid-day sun. There was nothing manufactured in the way the rocky mesas glowed golden-red when the sun set. There was nothing synthetic about the way the wind cried at night, winding through dry canyons and around ancient rock formations.

Perhaps that was what made it so beautiful. The fact that none of it was manmade. None of it was made to be beautiful...it just was.

He'd spent the better part of a day exploring the surrounding area once. He'd never stayed anywhere for too long, and never in the desert. He'd watched sand-colored lizards sunning themselves on rocks. He'd seen hawks soaring overhead carried on air currents. He'd heard what sounded like wild dogs howling at night. A mournful cry that had touched some inner part of him.

Deep down he knew that he'd finally found a place to call home. A place that called to him in ways other places had never been able to. Maybe it was the way the desert seemed to be made for wanderers like him. Few people chose to live in the desert...it was more like the desert chose them. Not everyone could adjust to the blistering heat and harsh way of life the desert demanded from them. Not everyone could appreciate the raw beauty around them. And not everyone could feel at home in the desert no matter what part of it they were in.

But for some reason...he did. It was strange and frightening in a way that he couldn't quite explain. For someone like him who had spent most of his life wandering wherever the winds blew, it was unnerving. To finally find a place that seemed made for him. A place out of his most secret dreams made real. A place where he could take the time to look around himself and appreciate it. A place where he could live - and not just for moments at time, but the for rest of his life.

Here he could run to his heart's content - and still not reach the horizon. Here he could scream and hear it echo off canyon walls sweet as any wine. Here he could finally let that part of him that had been confined by polite society out and run with his Liger. Here...here he was free as he had been nowhere else.

There, off to his left was the sandstone arch formed over countless millennia. To his right the mesa where he liked to take his Liger Zero he ran. Straight ahead of him nothing but endless miles of desert and scrub brush. Behind him...rocky cliff walls that surrounded and protected his new home. Like a fortress with its impenetrable walls.

"There you are."

Glancing over his shoulder, Bit lifted an eyebrow as Brad's head came into view over the edge of the roof. It wasn't as though the others didn't know that he liked to go up on the roof. He did it nearly every night hoping to catch the sunset. Sometimes he did, others he just sat and thought about nothing in particular.

"Great detective work, Brad. Should I give you a medal?"

Snorting, Brad climbed the last few rungs of the ladder and hauled himself over the edge of the roof. Swearing softly as he cut his hand on the last rung of the ladder, he made his way to where Bit sat at the edge of the roof.

"What are you doing up here?"

It was an innocent enough question...on the surface. Bit had learned that with Brad, things were never quite what they seemed. The older man harbored a deep suspicion about any and everyone that crossed his path - until they somehow proved themselves to him. Bit wasn't surprised to discover that the list of people Brad trusted was a depressingly short one. He wasn't sure if he had made it onto that list just yet - and he was positive that asking would be considered a major faux pas on his part.

"Doc ask you to look for me?"

Brad shrugged, the motion drawing Bit's attention to the smooth rise and fall of his shoulders.

"No." He replied, taking a seat next to Bit, long legs dangling over the side.

They sat in almost friendly silence for a while, watching the sun sink below the horizon.

"Not that I mind the company, Brad, but why'd you come up here?"

Blue eyes sliding to meet Bit's green; Brad shrugged.

"Why are you up here?"

Bit smiled to himself. A question for a question...how very Brad.

"Just thinking."

Brad's lips quirked.

"Does it hurt?"

Glass-green eyes narrowing, Bit looked away from Brad, focusing instead on the stone arch.

"Oh real funny, Brad. Real funny."

Shrugging, Brad leaned back on his hands, regarding Bit through narrowed eyes.

"Thinking about him?"

Starting at Brad's almost painfully blunt question, Bit stared at the older man, at a loss as to how he should respond.

Snorting, Brad flicked a loose stone off the roof making a point not to look at Bit. To do so would have made him even more uncomfortable than he already was.

"You'll see him again, you know. People like him can't resist a challenge when they see one."

Brad smiled to himself as he saw Bit settle back down next to him, the look on his face less...worried. Less anxious.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Oh come on, Bit. You and that Liger of yours are tearing through the competition like they're practice targets. Leon would love to go up against you when he gets the right zoid."

Pausing when he saw that Bit looked as though he were about to argue the point, Brad sighed.

"Leon was pretty good with that Shield Liger of his, but he knows there's no way he could fight you and hope to win with it. It's too slow for one thing. Not to mention under-armored - energy shield notwithstanding. And for another thing, it doesn't have the agility he'd need just to be on equal footing against you and the Liger."

Bit subsided, a thoughtful look on his face.

"You sound like you know him pretty well."

Brad shrugged, flicking another loose stone off the roof.

"Well enough, I guess. I've met people like him before. Content with the way things are going, but deep down they're looking for a challenge."

Bit smiled, relaxing a little more now that the conversation was headed in safer waters for the moment. It was rare when Brad went so far as to actually seek him out. It was even rarer when Brad actually felt compelled to talk to him and perhaps offer bits of information about the people around him that he had not previously known.

"He likes you, you know. I've never seen him back someone up like he did with you. Usually he hung back and waited to see what the rest of us had to say before offering his opinion."

Bit didn't know what to say to that.

"So what are you going to do next time you see him?" Brad asked, glancing sideways. "He'll want to challenge you. Think you could fight him?"

It was an honest enough question, but Bit couldn't help but wonder exactly why Brad was asking him that. Was it because if and when Leon finally challenged him it would be on the terms of a sanctioned zoid battle - or was there some other reason for it?

"I won't let the team down, if that's what you mean. Don't worry about losing any potential individual points or the team sliding back a few ranks because of me." Bit ground out, trying to stifle the flash of hurt he'd felt at Brad's question.

It was difficult enough trying to fit in with Leena and her father's eccentricities and Jamie's precise schedules and way of doing things. Brad and his cool standoffishness and the way he would look at you as though trying to decide if you were worth his time or not didn't make things any easier. And then there was Leon and the fact that he had simply taken off shortly after he had arrived - thereby making it seem as though he had taken his place.

Not that he had deliberately done anything to make it look that way. Bit knew from personal experience that if he had he would have been met with thinly veiled hostility and resentment for trying to replace Leon. He thought of himself more as an addition to the team, not a replacement for someone who obviously still held his former team's loyalty and concern. Hearing Brad asking him if he would be capable of fighting was almost like a slap to the face.

Brad must have sensed that, or perhaps he'd heard something in his voice. Sighing, Brad leaned forward, resting his elbows on his thighs, avoiding Bit's eyes.

"I didn't mean it like that, Bit. Leon was an integral part of the team before you joined. He's also Leena's big brother and Doc's son. Jamie adores him - even if you couldn't get him to admit it. I don't think any of them would be able to handle fighting him in a battle - and you can bet for sure that he'll be fighting at his best. I just wanted to know if you could handle fighting him."

Startled, Bit glanced over at Brad. He was still avoiding his eyes, studying something by the dirt road leading to the main entrance of Toros base.

"What about you, Brad? Could you fight Leon?"

Snorting, Brad gave Bit a half-smile, blue eyes narrowed.

"I asked you first, Bit."

For the first time Bit knew what having an older brother was like. That easy confidence and arrogant attitude that was enough to make you want to knock them flat on their back. The annoying way they had of reading your mind and digging into the spots that hurt the most. The way they would continue to do that until you'd had enough and demanded why - and they told you it was for your own good.

"Dibs on the Liger..." Bit murmured, green eyes sliding to blue.

"What?"

Shaking his head, Bit smiled to himself at the confused look on Brad's face. Explaining would take too much time...and he wasn't sure he could, exactly. But it was a good feeling to know that Brad was like that older brother. Protective in a way that had you grinding your teeth in frustration - but doing it in a way meant to make you feel safe. Protected. Cared for.

"Nothing. Just thinking again."

"Better take it easy doing that. I wouldn't want you to strain anything."

They lapsed into another one of those comfortable silences. The ones that come from fighting side by side in battle and knowing you can count on the other person. The kind of comfortable silence that comes from knowing a little of how the other person's mind works. The kind of comfortable silence that comes from mutual understanding.

Eventually though...Brad needed to know for certain. Fighting other teams, strangers, was something they could all do without so much as a twinge of conscience. It was what zoid battling was all about. Testing your skills and ability against someone else to see who was better. To find out who would come out on top in the end. Fighting someone who was a friend or in the case of Leena and Doc - family - was something completely different. Emotional ties were dragged into the fray making the entire situation unstable.

"Could you fight him, Bit? When the time comes, could you fight him and not hold back?"

Smiling, Bit turned to look at Brad. The answer was almost horrifyingly simple. For a question like Brad's, one that demanded he stop and think about his answer that was.

It all came down to one thing and one thing only: When Leon challenged him, it would be to a zoid battle. And if he wanted to fight Bit and his Liger enough to leave the Blitz team to become a better warrior, then the least Bit could do was honor that challenge to the best of his abilities. Even if he lost it would have been worth it, fighting against someone as driven as Leon seemed to be. Fighting against someone who pushed his skills and abilities to their limits.

"Yeah."

Hardly the answer Brad was expecting, but it was one he could live with. And to judge by the look on Bit's face it was one he could live with as well.