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fic - the faithful and the brave : 3 [novella] - the turnip patch
version 2.0
turnippatch
turnippatch
fic - the faithful and the brave : 3 [novella]
Title:  The Faithful and the Brave
Part:  3



The Faithful and the Brave
Part 3


They rode as far as they safely could in the falling light, putting some distance between themselves and Zirekile Falls before they stopped for the evening.  In the morning, they would acquire another chocobo for Noin, who would hand hers over to the princess.  They could not long ride doubled up as they had been.  The woods here were not known to be a popular chocobo stomping ground, but Trowa had a keen sense for the birds, and the line between a feral chocobo and a domesticated one was composed mostly of a handful of gysahl greens and a liberal amount of petting and scratching.  They did not expect any difficulty.

They made camp, concocted a dinner from the contents of their saddlebags, and kept things low-key and wary.  There was no telling if Barton would send more men after them.  They had a few minutes before settling in for the night, and into this unoccupied stretch of time, Duo finally asked what he had politely put off asking earlier.  "So.  Who's this Zechs guy?"



Heero settled beneath the broad ash tree with a lazy stretch that ended in a faint wince.  He set to massaging his wrenched shoulder as best he could.

Zechs sat down beside him.  "You've no one to blame but yourself," he said chidingly.

He smiled, and shrugged with his other shoulder.  "I had to pull my blow.  I would have hurt Kai otherwise."

"And he would have deserved it.  It still would have been far less than what he would receive on the battlefield, were he to lose his balance like that.  Weapons practice is a fine time to have such lessons hammered into a cadet."

"He's not a senior yet, and we are.  There's plenty of time yet for him to learn his lessons, and not all lessons need be 'hammered' in with a blunt weapon."

"The Weaponsmaster disagreed.  He stopped just short of calling you 'soft'."  Zechs made a minorly disgruntled sound.

"Well, I don't consider it a virtue to decide one's course and simply expect everyone else to cooperate or get out of the way.  One must be able to respond and adapt to a changing situation."

Zechs was silent for a moment before responding softly.  "You'll make a good lord, Heero."

Heero laughed lightly.  "True, Father specified that certain lands be granted to me when I come of age, but I doubt I shall be present to be doing much lording.  I'll be out, earning my keep."

"But with land comes income.  Your father was generous, I'm sure."

"And equally understanding about not wanting to sit in a keep all day, being a wastrel younger son.  I can't help it.  His service to crown and country has set too fine an example for me not to follow."

"Treize will be well-served to have you as his right hand."

"I wouldn't dream of prying Une from her place.  No, I was thinking perhaps serving with General Noventa.  What do you say?  Will you join me?"

"Need you ask?  It would be an honor to fight by your side, and under General Noventa."

"I know his command is a bit far from Sanq, but..."

"When I left Sanq... I knew I would not return to follow in my father's footsteps.  It would rather defy the point of your father's sponsorship of me, wouldn't you say?"

"There you are," a familiar voice called out to them.  "I've been looking for you."

"Quatre," Heero called in return, watching their fellow cadet confidently stride up to them while incongruously holding the hem of his white novice's robe a fastidious and ultimately futile handspan off the ground.  "I thought you gave up on trying to keep your robe crisp and clean?"

The mage-in-training released the fabric to pluck irritably at the red triangular trim on his sleeves.  Its existence helped with the effort, but only barely.  "I'm half convinced they make us wear these things just so they can know if we've gotten into any trouble."

"If it's supposed to be a deterrent, I don't think it's worked with you.  Shouldn't you be in summoning?"

"Class was cancelled.  We've all been called to gather in the great hall in about fifteen minutes."

"An announcement?"  They dutifully stood and brushed themselves off.

"Yes.  They haven't said what it'll be about, but rumor has it that they'll be sending some of us out into the field."

Heero frowned thoughtfully.  "I know we've been spread thin for the last month, between the aid and the unrest, but I hadn't realized we were quite that short-handed."

"It would be worrisome indeed if our generals were to start openly showing concern over their deployments," Zechs pointed out.

"It's on account of White Fang, I dare say," Quatre put in.  "Their agitating has begun to stray perilously close to banditry in some areas."

"Father used to say that desperate times can push good men into doing desperate things."

Zechs' lips twisted with displeasure.  "Too bad men like your brother think differently."

"He doesn't disagree," Heero protested mildly.

"He just doesn't think they're good men.  He just thinks the men of White Fang are entitled peasants, turning against their masters, trying to rise above their station.  But was it not the nobility that turned against them first?  Used them and tossed them aside when they were done?"

"Things have been hard for everyone since the end of the war," Quatre interjected neutrally.

"For some of us, harder than others," Zechs countered.

Heero slapped him companionably on the shoulder.  "Things will work themselves out.  Come now, let us make our way to the great hall and see what they have in store for us."



Duo waited patiently for an answer to his question, and the expectant look on his face indicated a willingness to continue asking until he got his answer.

And after a minute of silence, Heero finally answered.  "An old friend."

Duo waited a few seconds more, but Heero appeared to consider that a sufficient answer.  "Uh, yeah, I got that much, thanks.  But who is he?"

Heero remained still for a moment longer before turning away to take his place on the far side of their loose circle.  The princess would be kept safe in the middle.  "We need to get an early start in the morning."

His first instinct was to not let it go, to jump after Heero and demand some answers.  His hand even rose in that direction, his lips parted to speak, but then everything he knew about the man flashed through his mind and he held his tongue.

"Heero," Wufei said quietly, as the quiet swordsman walked past him.

Heero paused, and their eyes met.  At length, Heero nodded once, a slight tilt of the head in acknowledgment, in acceptance, in promise, in silent plea for a little more time with his thoughts.

Wufei squeezed his shoulder and let him by.

Well, if Heero was going to refuse answers even to his best and most loyal friends, then Duo would certainly get nowhere tonight.  He turned instead to Quatre, and made his carefully innocuous inquiry in a low tone.  "Well, at the very least, when he says 'friend', does he mean like an actual friend, or just some guy you used to know?"

Quatre didn't visibly hesitate, but he was clearly considering his answer.  After a brief glance at Heero, who by this time had settled into a wary sleep position, he answered.  "An actual friend."  He smiled with a hint of apology and moved off to find his own rest.

One scrap of information at a time.  Duo spent the rest of his first watch with Wufei pondering the possibilities.



Duo simply followed Trowa's lead as the lancer scouted out the best place to find a cooperative chocobo.  Trowa knew what he was doing, after all.  Duo was just there to watch his back.  And make a little quiet, idle conversation before the real work got underway.  "So what do you think?"

"Of what?"

"What, indeed."  Duo let out a little snort of laughter.  "Alright, let's go in order.  Odin?"

Trowa shrugged.  "No big loss there."

Duo nodded agreeably.  They'd fit in well enough, but it wasn't as if they'd been like family.  Now with good experience under their belts, they'd no doubt be able to find a living elsewhere, with or without a possible price on their heads.  "The princess?"

"Not my type."

He laughed softly.  "She's pretty, in that never-worked-a-day-in-my-life kind of way.  At least you don't get pampered in a cloister.  I don't think.  But... I don't know if the nobility's the type I wanna get mixed up with."

Trowa threw a pointed look at him.

"Well, okay, fine.  That's totally different, but you've still got me there.  I guess we're just escorting her to Lionel, which is pretty much the same as it'd be if this'd been a real job for the Bolts.  Just picking up the contract, in a way.  Guess the real question is, think things are going stay that simple?"

Trowa paused, scrutinized their vicinity with a little extra care, then folded and creased a few gysahl leaves with care, trying to release just enough scent into the air to attract their quarry without getting it all over his fingers.  He'd done this enough times now to realize that some chocobos were unreasonably persistent in trying to figure out why he refused to feed them the abundance of greens that his gysahl-stained hands were obviously hiding from them somewhere.  It wasn't so much a problem when he was in a position to wash his hands thoroughly, but they had left the river behind last night.  "You have a bad feeling about this?"

Duo took a moment to ponder it.  "No, not really. I just think nobles have a way of mucking things up for everyone around them, consciously or not."

He made a sound of agreement.  "So we finish the escort, and re-evaluate our options."  He waited a bit for the next question, but when Duo gave no indication of asking any time soon, Trowa went ahead with it.  "Heero?"

"Even more of a broody bastard than usual," Duo answered readily, as if he'd expected the question, or perhaps had spent half the night pondering it.

"This Zechs guy?"

"All three of 'em know him, so he's gotta be an old friend from the Academy.  Seemed a bit like a jerk to me, don't you think?  Don't know why they'd all be friends with him."

"Well, we didn't get why Quatre and Wufei would be friends with Heero at first, either."

"Quatre always claims Heero was a cheerful kid, not too long ago.  Not entirely sure I believe him, but... maybe this Zechs guy was different back in the day, too."  His sour expression conveyed his disinclination toward such a charitable thought.

"Think maybe he's the reason Heero...?"

"Hmmm.  I'm not sure I like that."

Trowa snickered.  "Don't want to get involved with nobility, my ass."

"The guy was a jerk," Duo grumbled irritably, all he was willing to say in his defense.  "Shows up feeling all high and mighty, and if Heero hadn't said anything, we would never have known they even knew him."

"Not true.  He bothered to make some crack about Heero's brother."

This only inspired a deeper frown on Duo's face.  They didn't know much about Heero's family, except to understand that there was tension there.  Even worse then, that some uppity stranger use it as a jab.

The hail of a curious chocobo spared him from further contemplation.



Wufei liked to think of himself as calm and even-tempered.  He had to be, because spellcasting could not be rushed, even when he felt the tingling of another's spell targeting him and it was a race to see who would finish things first.  But this morning, he was feeling impatient.

While Quatre chatted amiably with the women over a light breakfast scraped together from what they could find in their packs, Wufei sat next to their quiet friend, chewing over their current situation as much as he was chewing on his dried fruit.  He couldn't help the ping of annoyance he felt toward the women.  They were in need of assistance, and he would not withhold it, but their presence here now kept the others from talking freely amongst themselves.

He glanced sidelong at Heero beside him, suppressed a sigh, and returned to his breakfast.  He made no attempt to dampen his irritation at Zechs, who surely was the cause of his friend's pensive mood.

Until yesterday, he'd never had a real problem with Zechs.  While there was some measure of disapproval for his brash actions on that night that changed everything, he did not hold Zechs responsible for what happened.  His anger had been justified, and had he acted with more restraint, events would still have unfolded the way they had, except perhaps that Heero would not have had to witness it firsthand, and perhaps would not have been affected so deeply.

And yet Wufei could not wish it otherwise.  Truth could cut to the bone sometimes, but it was still better than living in ignorance.

While he harbored no resentment towards Zechs over the past, the present was a different issue.  Here he showed up without a scrap of remorse, explanation, humility, or consideration, and he expected them to trust him?

"I don't know."

The quiet words bumped the righteous frown off Wufei's face.  "Hmm?"

"Whatever questions you have on the tip of your tongue that you are holding back... The answer is most likely 'I don't know'."  Heero threw a faint, rue-filled smile in Wufei's direction before returning to his contemplation of the trees around them.

Wufei echoed the sentiment with a gentle huff.  "Fair enough, my friend.  Fair enough."  Far too many questions only time or Zechs could answer, and yet more questions still that would likely require somewhat more introspection.  He gave quick thanks for Heero's honesty and willingness to engage before moving to take advantage of it with a question that could be answered.  "You saw him at Orbonne?"

"I saw him at Orbonne.  Just as he was carrying the princess away.  I didn't believe it at first.  I'm not sure I believe it even now."

"He has changed."

"So have we all."  He sighed.  He wasn't prone to loud, dramatic sighs, but soft as they were, they managed to convey the weight dragging at his shoulders.  "Have I apologized lately for dragging you into this?"

'This' was this, and so much more.  "I thought we were past the apologies by now."

"The words, perhaps, but the feeling remains... I want you to know, I don't take you for granted.  Neither you nor Quatre."  His eyes caught those of the blond in question across their little camp, and though he could not make out the details of their murmured conversation, Quatre smiled before responding to something the princess was saying.  "Thank you for standing with me."

Wufei waved it away casually.  "You did the right thing, Heero.  There is no doubt between Quatre and me on that.  As there has never been."

Heero bowed his head with the humility of a man that believed he did not deserve such loyalty.  "Was it truly the right thing... to run away?"

"You could not have stayed there."

"And somehow... I managed to leave Zechs behind as well."

Wufei grunted irritably, adding another item to Zechs' list of offenses.  "How could you have known?  You tried to find him.  Had you tried any harder, you would likely be dead right now.  Nevertheless, he seems to have come through this none the worse for wear.  Your guilt is misplaced."

"I hope he feels the same way."

"Do you think that was why he was so cold toward you?"

Heero could only shrug.  "I don't know."

"Hmmm.  We don't know why he acted as he did, to whom he owes his loyalty, what he's been up to these past few years... There's little point in speculation.  Hence, little point in dwelling on it."

A pause, and then Heero chuckled in the peculiar near-silent way that he had.  "I suppose so."  He tilted his head and listened, then stood, brushing his backside off absently.  "They're back.  We need to get going."

Wufei stood with him, and asked one last question.  "When we're done with this... Would you like to seek him out?"

"We'll see.  But I feel he spoke true -- our paths will cross again."




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Comments
lavendarlizard From: lavendarlizard Date: January 19th, 2014 02:33 am (UTC) (Link)
Zechs is just all kinds of annoying. Suppose he can't help it. Still want to kick him. He made Heero sad. :(

turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: January 20th, 2014 08:03 am (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, but... do you honestly want Zechs making Heero happy? (he was even kinda nice in this part, wasn't he?)
lavendarlizard From: lavendarlizard Date: January 20th, 2014 08:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
Damn, that's true... Hm... Very well; he can avoid being kicked by being slightly nicer than neutral, but not too nice. >_> Someone else might have to kick him if he leans too far in. ^___^

turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: January 21st, 2014 09:12 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm not sure I could write a Zechs that was too nice.  That'd be weird.  Though I suppose I just write very little Zechs in total.  Hmm, he's shown up... uh... only in Touch the World?  One KD episode?
ramenkuri From: ramenkuri Date: January 23rd, 2014 04:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh this is so much fun to read!
Besides being quite gripping in the opening chapters. Can't wait to find out what happened with Heero and Zechs!
I'm squeeing over the gw + ff mix. The boys on chocobos!
Noin was pretty kickass.

turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: January 24th, 2014 08:37 am (UTC) (Link)
Whee, someone else along for the ride!

Yay chocobos.  Bit of a logistical annoyance, though.  Fortunately, they're so easy to release and capture. ^^'

I wish I could give Noin the attention she properly deserves, but I'm already juggling a large enough cast here that sacrifices had to be made.
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 25th, 2014 06:43 am (UTC) (Link)

Yippee!

I always get excited when you post something new. Usually lurk, but just wanted you to know there was someone else following along.

It really doesn't hurt that FFT is one of my favorite things EVER. Way more people need to write fic for it or fic based on it.
turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: January 25th, 2014 08:33 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yippee!

Squee!  Now maybe I'll think about those ultra-nerdy liner notes I was considering... ^^
sharona1x2 From: sharona1x2 Date: January 27th, 2014 11:43 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm feeling so conflicted about Zechs. I want him away from Heero, but I'm not sure Heero would be totally happy with that. I think Heero needs to work through whatever he feels guilty about.

I enjoyed the conversation between Trowa and Duo. It's fun seeing those two hanging out together.
turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: January 28th, 2014 08:10 am (UTC) (Link)
About the only one that doesn't seem particularly conflicted about Zechs is Wufei. =)

I usually write a relationship between Trowa and Duo with a bit too much bite for comfort.  This is a departure for me.
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