Summary: What Gareas was to Ernest, Zero is to Erts. But other than his brother, Erts won't let go. OneShot.
Set: story-unrelated, future fic
Disclaimer: Standards apply.
Today, I'm updating on two fandoms I seldom write in: one old, one rather new. Imagine which one this is for.
Erts Virny Cocteau felt the universe.
It was everywhere, reverbrating through the body and forming the heart beat of the beautiful, huge Goddess he was piloting. Luhma Klein's pulse beat in the same rhythm as his. The silence was profound but that was little wonder: all around him, the darkness of vacuum expanded infinitely wide. A screen flickered at the periphery of his field of vision. It was his only connection to mankind.
When he turned his head, Zion appeared.
Blue oceans and golden deserts, green continents and white Polar Regions were barely visible from the distance. Humanity had lost everything it had held dear. Now, it clung to this last planet with the raw strength of desperation.
"Erts, are you there? Erts, come on, stop daydreaming!"
The voice boomed from Luhma Klein's audio speakers as loudly as it resounded in his head. Zero's emotions always were a vivid mix of colors: red for his impatience, blue for the happiness of finally having reached his dream, yellow for the worry he felt for his partner and the other pilots and for the planet they were protecting. There never was the black hate Erts sometimes felt in the other three pilots, the acidic-tasting anger and furious wish to kill every single Victims. Rather the opposite: sometimes a violet tint of sadness colored the edges of his consciousness, the same sadness Erts had felt the few times he had met Teela Zain Elmes. Zero was impatient, yes, and determined to protect both Zion and mankind alike. But he didn't revel in the fact that it was his task to kill for this protection.
"What's the matter?" Erts asked and couldn't help himself: he smiled as Zero's face appeared on a screen. Luhma Klein adjusted it so he could look at it directly.
"We've been here for hours! Are they coming or not?"
Zero's trademark impatience hadn't diminished even though almost five years had passed since he had entered the GIS. It was his first year as the pilot of Eeva Leena, the midnight-blue Ingrid, and his fourth year as Erts' regular training partner. They knew each other perfectly by now. Which meant Zero hadn't contacted him to ask when their enemies would appear, but to pull him out of the reverie Erts often fell into when being left to himself.
Erts never had had many friends.
It was partly due to his EX – people tended to overreact whenever they realized he was able to read their minds by touching them or simply being close to them – and partly due to the fact that he never had truly felt at home in the GOA. He had had room-mates and training partners and some people he might have called friends some day. But Zero was different. He hadn't cared about the fact that Erts could read his mind easily. He hadn't been afraid or disgusted. Instead, he had accepted him the way he was. Nobody could make Erts laugh as Zero did and he wouldn't have wanted anyone to have his back the way Zero had his. Zero was what made him able to move forward when he felt too tired to even think. To him, Erts suddenly realized, Zero was what Gareas Elidd had been to Ernest Cuore.
And the thought scared him to death.
Erts' brother, Ernest, had had the same EX as Erts. They had been three years apart in age and light-years in life. They never even had talked to each other. But they hadn't been remote, either, since both had been gifted with the EX of telepathy. And it was this that had granted Erts a great gift. Or burden, because Ernest had died. It had happened four years ago, right in the Ingrid he was piloting right now, and Erts had felt his brother's farewell. Along with it, memories had been carried along their link. Somehow, Ernest had become a part of him when he died, even more than he had been when he was alive. And with him, Gareas had become a part of him.
The parallels were striking.
Ernest had been the pilot of Luhma Klein. Now, Erts piloted the silver and grey Goddess. Gareas had piloted Eeva Leena. She was the blue Goddess Zero was connected to. Gareas had been the first one who didn't care that Ernest could read his thoughts. Zero didn't care about Erts' abilities, either. Gareas had been the reason Ernest had decided to become a pilot, because Gare had been the first one who needed Ernest. Zero had helped Erts overcome his fear of fighting, had supported him and had been there. And, in return, Erts supported Zero whenever he needed support.
It wasn't that kind of love. Zero had a girlfriend, his former mechanic, Kizna Towrik. Gareas had had a girlfriend, too. But again, it wasn't that kind of love Erts felt for Zero (and Ernest had felt for Gare). It was love tinged by friendship, by mutual agreement and thanks. And understanding. Gareas had understood Ernest and Zero understood Erts. Gareas had needed Ernest and Zero would need Erts, too, one day.
A silver point of light appeared in his mind, tracing a blindingly bright path across the darkness.
"They are coming," Tune said, her voice controlled. His mechanic had learned to read the signals his EX gave whenever he sensed Victims. But she had been Ernest's mechanic before. Erts wore Ernest's uniform and piloted the same Goddess. He worked with the same woman Ernest had worked with. He was fighting Ernest's fight, as he had promised he'd do, because Ernest had wanted to save mankind.
"Here they come," he informed Zero and the other pilots. "Approaching from three o'clock, four, maybe five Victims, class A. They're moving towards Zion. They're the ones we're waiting for. Aqui Keimeia, prepare shield. Tellia Callisto, Errn Laties, Eeva Leena – proceed as planned."
Several voices confirmed his orders and he concentrated on doing the same he had asked of the others. While his hands rushed across the controls in front of him, he couldn't suppress a smile. Zero was fully concentrated now but still the boyish impatience and the undeniable hint of battle fever was lingering in the background of his mind.
"Ingrids, Battle Control," the voice of the battle coordinator of the GIS chimed from the speakers. "Enemy contact in ten seconds… nine… eight… seven… six… five… three… two… one!"
No battle ever was the same.
With the same excruciating force as always the thoughts and emotions of the Victims hit Erts. Clenching his teeth, he concentrated on Zero's calm presence and inner strength and fought. Five Victims at once weren't a lot, five class A Victims more so. But this encounter was planned, had been prepared by many battle coordinators and trained and experienced strategists and Erts had been questioned on its functionality himself. They just had to…
The pilot of Aqui Keimeia sounded calm. "Shield down to seventy percent. Minor damage at the compensating systems. Rerouting power."
"One is separating from the group," Tellia Callisto's pilot reported. "Number One?"
The honorific still sounded strange to Erts' ears. It was his title, even though he was by far younger than the pilot of Tellia Callisto. For the first time, Errn Laties, the oldest and strongest Goddess, wasn't piloted by the leading pilot. Erts needed the reckoning and monitoring systems only Luhma Klein, a Goddess designed specifically for pilots with telepathic abilities, could provide. Still, his abilities and his experience (and Ernest's experiences) had made him the best choice for their leader. He hadn't wanted to be but he accepted the necessity and rationality of their choice. It always was the same.
"I'll get it!"
Zero, of course. In the back of his mind, Erts heard the battle coordinators curse silently and almost smiled. Zero was piloting a Goddess specialized for long-range attacks. They couldn't expect him to just lean back and wait after having given it to him. Eeva Leena went along with him effortlessly, a sign for how well pilot and Goddess were adjusted to each other. Erts turned his concentration towards the remaining four – no, three – Victims and suddenly felt something odd.
When he realized what it was, his EX reacted.
"Erts?" Tune's calm voice held a tinge of panic.
"They knew!" He almost shouted as he felt his and Luhma Klein's pulse pick up speed. "There are more of them coming towards us, from behind the black star! I sense seven hundred – no, more – Victims moving towards us at high speed, they'll be here in fifty seconds!"
Battle Control sounded calm as usual.
"Is there a chance to go on with our initial plan?"
Erts tried to recalculate. "Yu?"
The pilot of Tellia Callisto was the last one left of the last generation of pilots. He was the one who had the most battle experience but had accepted Ert's superiority without a comment. He was famous for his quick and exact evaluations.
"I don't see a way how we could hold our ground against seven hundred Victims for long, Number One, not even with the GIS's fire power in our backs."
Goddesses had been created for fighting.
Erts never had thought he himself, one day, would fight as if he had been born to do so. But he hadn't been given a choice. Even Luhma Klein, initially made for information gathering and monitoring, was a dangerous opponent. In the background of his mind he heard Tune's murmuring voice, issuing orders to his Ingrid. The sound of her voice was so familiar to him he was able to blend it out entirely. Half of the GIS probably was running around in confusion and fear but she was calm as ever.
"Stay close, damn it!"
"Got your back, Callista! Watch your left!"
"Direct hit! Errn Laties, rerouting Cueval parameters!"
"Erts, watch out!"
"Eeva Leena – where is Zero?"
Yu's voice broke through his tunnel vision and Erts found himself in the middle of hell. All around him, Ingrids were fighting Victims. He even made out a dozen or so Pro-Ings, piloted by candidates, who were fighting as fiercely as the Goddesses Erts and his team were piloting.
"Zero?" He shouted and, at the same time, lashed out at a Victim that tried to sever Luhma Klein's left arm. It would need more than that to break the Ingrids but Victims had a pretty long experience fighting the Goddesses and learned fast.
A flash of consciousness answered, too far away to discern whether Zero was fighting or not. "Establishing long-range contact," Tune said and Erts felt a wave of gratitude towards his mechanic.
"Zero? Where are you?"
"Erts," Zero's voice answered. He didn't seem injured but strain colored his words. "There are more here, too."
"Where are you?"
"Doesn't matter. Can't talk now, Erts. Later. Kizna, close."
The last words had clearly been directed at his own mechanic. A click resounded as their two-way connection turned one-way – Tune didn't close the communication canal immediately. Erts twisted around a Victim, trying to work out a strategy, and took a blow to his shoulder. Tune reacted as quickly as he did and merely a faint electric shock hit him. And another one, this time stronger, reverberated through his body as he reacted seconds too late to avoid being targeted by another Victim. Shit. If he had been someone to curse loudly, now he would have done it.
"Ingrids, report!" He jelled over the beeping alarm of his own Goddess. Come on, Luhma Klein. We can do it.
"Tellia Callisto, energy down to seventy five percent and falling. Integrity intact."
"Aqui Keimeia, outer shields down to twenty percent. There's not enough space to restart them!"
"Errn Laties, damage to the outer core, processing extent. Life support for another twenty minutes."
Shit. Shit, shit, shit.
Their carefully planned ambush had morphed into a death trap – for themselves, not for their enemies. And Zero was somewhere out there. Erts made his decision within seconds.
"Fall back towards the GIS! Control, can you give us fire cover?"
"Pro-Ings, can you hear me? Prepare for incoming Ingrids, then regroup and we'll take them on together. Clear space for Aqui Keimeia's shield. At my count… Three… two… One… Go!"
Three Ingrids dashed into the direction of the GIS.
Erts disappeared into the other direction.
Eeva Leena was almost buried underneath the oncoming Victims. Erts didn't have the time to think of a plan: extending her hand, Luhma Klein grabbed one of Eeva Leena's arms and swung her around violently. Victims went flying in every direction.
"Hey!" Zero complained. "That was mean!"
"That was stupid!" Erts shot back. "You're getting us killed! Come on!"
The Victims were already regrouping themselves.
"Don't think that will work," Zero answered and Erts suddenly felt the green of regret in his best friend's emotions. "Leena is seriously damaged, Erts. Kizna is trying, but… I don't think we can make it back in one piece, not with those guys out there out for our blood."
The universe came to a grating halt.
Parallels were mocking him, laughing into his face derisively.
Ernest had died to save Gareas in exactly such a situation. But Erts had come too late and now it was Zero's turn to die while he could do absolutely nothing. And he already knew this feeling of utter helplessness. Ernest had experienced it seconds before he had made his decision and had thrown himself into the way of the Victim that had intended to kill Gareas. Ernest had died and Gareas had survived. This time, either Zero would die while Erts would get away or Erts could let himself be killed first and Zero would follow because where could he possibly go with Eeva Leena damaged so badly?
"Erts, go! I'll keep them busy!"
Zero's voice sounded hollow in his ears. Tune switched in, open fear in her voice now. She, too, knew what was happening. "Erts, we're keeping the docking bay open but if you don't hurry we can't guarantee there will be a place left you can land in when you return!"
If you return.
He fought down the urge to correct her. Instead, he let his hands dance over his controls once again, faster than fast, urged on by the feeling of fear, anger and refusal which suddenly burned in his throat.
"Zero, can Leena still use the cannon?"
As an answer, agonizingly slow, Leena extended her arm as in slow-motion and the huge weapon materialized.
"Come on, Leena!" He heard Zero urge her on. Then, halfway through, the cannon stopped. It seemed to be pulled back into Leena's mechanic body and Zero cursed. Then he whirled around, smashing the half-retracted cannon into another enemy. Erts gripped a Victim hard and twisted his grip. At the same time, three others threw themselves at them.
A scream, a movement, and without a sound a Victim pulled itself back from the hole it had just created in Eeva Leena's chest.
Desperately, Erts continued fighting, trying to fend off as many Victims as possible.
"Zero! Are you okay?"
There was no answer. Eeva Leena remained quiet, as did her pilot.
So this was it. This time, he would remain while Zero left him. This time, Ernest would stay back while Gareas died and…
"Erts? Erts, are you okay?" Tune's voice sounded brittle. She had loved Ernest, had watched him die unable to do anything and hadn't even told him she loved him. So now she would lose her new pilot as well, in the same way she had lost her last one. Through the audio-connection to Eeva Leena, Erts heard Kizna scream Zero's name. Tune had called Ernest's name while Ernest had asked Gare to kill him while he was still able to mark the leader of the huge crowd of Victims, and Lena had listened to Gareas' raging despair as he shot the one who was his best friend.
The thought cursed through Erts, hot and sharp.
Maybe they were similar. Maybe Erts was a lot like his brother and Zero a little bit like Gare had been. Maybe Gare had had to kill Ernest and maybe it was Erts' fate to now watch Zero being killed. Maybe history had a way of repeating itself. Zero was as important to Erts as Gare had been to Ernest. The parallels were undeniable.
But Erts wasn't Ernest. He wasn't his brother. And Zero wasn't Gareas.
And Erts wouldn't act like his brother. He wouldn't sacrifice himself because he had seen what it had done to Gareas. He wasn't sure whether Zero felt the same for him as he felt for Zero but he wouldn't take the risk. Ernest had found a way to save many lives when the only one he really had wanted to save had been Gareas. He had wanted to help Gare cope with his rapidly deteriorating EX, had wanted to stretch out a hand to help the other pilot survive. But Ernest had died, instead, and Gareas had shattered under the weight of the loss. Ernest had seen both a future in which Gare died and one in which he himself died and had chosen the one path that made life easier for himself and living hell for Gare, Tune and so many others. In a way, Ernest had taken the easy way out. Which didn't mean that his sacrifice was lessened. Erts loved his brother, had always loved and respected him. And he knew him, thanks to their last few seconds.
Ernest had only seen two possibilities and had chosen the one he felt was the right one. But Erts wasn't his brother. Erts couldn't accept the fact that there were only two possibilities.
And he wouldn't accept the fact that either he or Zero were about to die. For Gareas, a world without Ernest hadn't held any sense. For Erts, a world without Zero was equally unimaginable.
There was another way.
"Tune," he pressed between clenched teeth. His mechanic would know what had to be done.
Somewhere, the parallels had to end. He would save Zero and himself.
Ernest, brother. Help me.