SD Gundam Fan Fiction ❯ I'll Be There ❯ I'll Be There ( One-Shot )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

This story and my author's notes can also be viewed on my fanfiction account here:
I'll be there when you say

Time to never hold our love

Ghost Love Score - Nightwish


Everything, from the very beginning, had fallen into place easily enough.

From the moment he was first accepted into the Dark Axis forces by General Zeong himself -- to be both his personal aide and servant -- the General changed his name from Madnug to Gerbera. After his immediate promotion to second-in-command, the meeting that had been called to order between the thirteen commanders of the Musais, the General, and Gerbera himself had been awkward namely because none of the commanders could decide what to make of him. The fact he was Gundam -- let alone one who accidentally stumbled into their timeline from an entirely separate dimension in far the future -- confounded and intimidated the commanders of the thirteen Musais in the convoy. Still, the commanders accepted the science officer for their superior despite his model, though under the condition that he would always wear special armor to hide that he was a Gundam. They worried that the lower ranking soldiers would rebel or panic at the thought of a Gundam amongst their ranks. Gerbera willingly conceded. Many years had passed since Gerbera earned his position and since then all thirteen of those original Musais had become Horns of War. Time moved forward as it always did, new Musais were built, and new commanders eventually replaced the original thirteen that Gerbera had met when he was first placed into the Dark Axis force. One of those thirteen mechs changed his life.

After the Bleakness Musai became the Horn of War in a dimension with a name that evaded Gerbera's memory, despite the successful invasion, the commander of the ship abruptly retired in favor of training Zako soldiers for their military. When the new ship to replace the Bleakness Musai was constructed, the new Royal Musai was in need of a commandant. Many squad leaders enlisted in the military applied for the position, but only one stood out the most to Gerbera. He had been previously stationed on the Bleakness Musai and his record as a squad leader was perfect. He showed obvious promise in paperwork alone, so Gerbera promoted the lucky mech without as much as a second thought. The squad leader had been named Stalemate Sazabi.

On the day of the Royal Musai's official deployment, a meeting had been called to order in the Dark Axis fortress to introduce the other commanders to their new comrade. Customarily, many of them were prepared to daunt the new commander from the moment he would walk into the room -- it was more or less a tradition amongst them -- but, when he did, it was very clear that Commander Sazabi wasn't a mech who was easily intimidated. In fact, many of the other commanders in the room shrunk back into their seats without as much as a word feeling intimidated themselves. Sazabi himself had adapted to his new body upgrade nicely and his armor, just as decorative as it was useful, made the already large mech seem even larger. The very few commanders who still had the gears to try scaring the 'newbie' were met with cynical, witty remarks from Sazabi as he took his seat at the conference table beside Gerbera. His voice was cold with an almost hypnotizing drone so that it was just as attractive as his physical appearance, and Gerbera had to force himself to snap to attention when he realized that he had been staring at the new commander from the moment he walked into the room.

When Gerbera announced that the meeting was underway, Sazabi immediately stood and made optical contact with every mech and femme at the table. His flashing pink optic radiated a cool heat that was reminiscent of dry ice. Gerbera, strangely enough, felt the flame in his souldrive heat and his engine momentarily flutter. It was an odd sensation that was provoked when Sazabi spoke again, sweeping his gaze across every person in the room for a second time. "Skipping the pleasantries and going straight down to business, my name as a squad leader had been Stalemate Sazabi. Formally, you will all refer to me as Commander Sazabi from this point onward. In spite of being the newest addition to this table and only having been recently promoted from my previous squad leader position, rest assured that I will break every single one of you if you go as far as to cross me for those reasons. I have taken the liberty of reading up on all your exploits as commanders, and to say I was less than impressed with some of your records is a severe understatement. Do not underestimate me. Ever." With that, he swept his piercing glare across the room a third and final time before seating himself again.

A handful of the present commanders -- namely Krieger, who eventually became good friends with Sazabi -- had lost their sense of intimidation and were now thoroughly impressed with the newcomer's level of confidence. They gave him their personal regards and welcomed him heartily. The rest of the commanders who were still perplexed with the new commander's otherwise impressive show of fearlessness remained silent.

When the occasion arose to reveal the two largest secrets of the Dark Axis to Commander Sazabi -- that anyone with the rank of a commander or higher would be given a souldrive, and that general Zeong's second-in-command was actually a Gundam -- Gerbera announced that there was something the newcomer needed to see and Sazabi merely flashed his optic before sitting up expectantly. Gerbera took his garnered attention as a silent gesture to continue and he stood, taking a step back and disengaging his Dark Axis patented armor. It fell to the floor with a rattle and Gerbera looked up with his true optics to meet Sazabi's gaze. Unlike the other commanders when they first bore witness to Gerbera's true form, Sazabi didn't seem as initially shocked. The worst reaction that Gerbera had ever received upon exposing his true identity was a shout of surprise mixed with terror -- that had been from Gatsha, a femme commander who was now only the second most recent promoted commander -- but Sazabi's had by far been the most calm. The scarlet mech's optic flashed brightly when he met Gerbera's black and grey Gundam form, but then his gaze shifted upward until his caught sight of his lilac colored optics.

Sazabi's gaze locked on them like a vice, almost as though he was drowning in their color. The newly promoted commander looked dazed all of a sudden -- he looked that way for maybe ten or so seconds -- but then he shook his head and halfway snapped himself out of his apparent trance. "Hm. Interesting," he said with a distant, distracted voice. Gerbera was about to question his odd behavior when Sazabi seemed to completely snap out of his bewildered state. The commander looked up with a grin that flashed behind his optical lens. "Well then, I suppose not all Gundams are all that bad after all. This is certainly a reassuring discovery, Gerbera."

Gerbera nodded and reseated himself. He announced that Sazabi would also immediately be fixed with a souldrive -- that seemed to catch him by general surprise, which was far more akin to the reactions of the other new commanders when they discovered they would be fitted -- and the meeting broke off. While the other commanders prepared to return to their ships' awaiting Komusais, Gerbera led Sazabi towards the medical lab to equip him with his souldrive. "I'll have to put you out for a megacycle or two," the science officer started in a bored tone. He had done the souldrive equipment procedure with other newly promoted commanders so many times prior that it was now like clockwork to him. "It will serve as a power boost for you if ever needed. We give them out to commanders and anyone higher ranking only because of our lack of resources to make them. It's an astonishing device, really. Despite being a Gundam orientated mechanism, it serves other robots who wield them just as usefully."

Sazabi said nothing. In fact, the commander seemed strangely quiet ever since Gerbera revealed that he was a Gundam, and that same silence was beginning to nag on his nerves. He said nothing to bring the subject matter up of course, although Gerbera did notice that the other mech was nearly always watching him. When Sazabi set himself down on the operating table in the lab, Gerbera turned to retrieve a blank souldrive from the safe before turning to regard Sazabi. Their optics met and, just like that, Sazabi seemed lost in Gerbera's violet colored irises once more. Gerbera watched him for a minute to see if he would recover from his bemusement, but the scientist eventually had to clear his throat to garner the newly appointed commander's attention.

"I apologize," Sazabi said. He sounded dazed, almost as though he had been stuck over the head and was recovering from a bout of suffocating puzzlement. "It must be my caution circuits acting up. I was only unconscious for a few cycles when they moved my AI chip from my old squad leader body to this new one. Being vulnerable and defenseless for more than an extended period of time never settled particularly well with me."

Ironically, Gerbera found that he could sympathize. He did not let it show through his voice when he spoke up again though, as he didn't like revealing too much of his emotions to others. Part of that paranoia came from being abandoned by the SDGF when he was left to die alone in space. There had been a problem with the new spacebridge technology they had assigned him to experiment with, and one of the transwarp rings had detonated as his ship had passed through it. The resulting explosion had thrown him into a seperete dimension. He had expected a rescue party to somehow find him, but none ever came. "I can assure you that I wouldn't let anything go wrong while you're out."

Sazabi nodded almost absently, lying down on his back against the berth beneath him. "I know. I trust you."

That admission alone startled Gerbera to a considerable extent. Regardless, he injected the serum that would temporarily put the larger mech offline for all the time Gerbera needed to perform the installation surgery. Sazabi struggled valiantly to remain awake for several seconds as an instinctive reaction to the drug before his head lolled back, his body going into a comatose state. Gerbera tested his vitals to ensure that nothing would potentially go wrong before he proceeded to open and modify the interior of Sazabi's chest plate so that it would be able to sufficiently hold his new souldrive. Still, the entire time he worked, Gerbera had to force himself to keep from losing his focus. His mind almost persistently wandered off to mull almost obsessively over what Sazabi had said to him. 'He trusts me? The mech just met me for the first time today, and the fact that I revealed myself to be a Gundam should have made him even more wary of me to begin with. The way he looked at me earlier… he saw something in me, but I have no idea what. What a curious mech he is…'

Sazabi's vital signs wavered a little and Gerbera cursed to himself lightly when he realized his mind had drifted again. Eventually, once all the modifications to Sazabi's chest plate had been made -- a process that took twice as long to complete because of Gerbera's uncharacteristically short attention span -- he prepared himself to finish the operation by placing the souldrive in its new home. As soon as the small device made contact with the cockpit where it would be seated for the rest of the time Sazabi functioned, a flame suddenly combusted within the sphere and the two rings around it began to whir and rotate with the unmistakable essence of life. Sazabi's deep breathing momentarily hitched and his vitals fluttered, but he remained otherwise undisturbed.

Suddenly as if on a whim, Gerbera's own souldrive fluttered. It was a queer sensation but he thought nothing serious of it. When Sazabi awoke nearly half an hour later, the first thing he did was groggily sit up and open his chest plate to examine its contents. Gerbera watched from across the lab as the commander stared at his own souldrive in awe. "It's… It's warm."

"You'll get used to it," Gerbera said. The Gundam stood and helped Sazabi off the table, who at that point closed access off to his souldrive by refastening his chest plate. "Now then, the Komusai for the Royal Musai is waiting for you in the hangar port. I'd recommend that you take it easy for the rest of the evening due to the fact your body is still adjusting to the new hardware it's been given."

Sazabi nodded. "Thank you. I hope to see more of you in the near future."

"Granted I will," Gerbera concurred.

From the moment Sazabi walked out the door, Gerbera didn't think much further of him. Sazabi rose through the ranks of the commanders very quickly though.

Very, very quickly.

He took the Dark Axis army by storm, successfully conquering twenty-two dimensions and turning his assigned ships -- including his first one, the Royal Musai -- into Horns of War as the years passed. Sazabi had beaten the past record holder of most successful dimension takeovers -- a record once held by the infamous Commander Tetra -- by seven, and that alone was an amazing accomplishment considering that he was the youngest commander for the Dark Axis in history. He quickly rose through the ranks of the commanders until, astonishingly, Gerbera announced at another one of their meetings that Commander Sazabi's newly appointed ship, the Magna Musai, would be the new head vessel in the fleet. By far, it was one of the largest Musais ever constructed with the capacity to house nearly three hundred soldiers. It would be equipped with the Zakorello Gate as well which, again, was considered to be a crowning jewel when a ship was promoted to be the head of the Musai convoy. Sazabi had been honored and many of the other commanders -- save for a select few -- were supportive of the young commander's huge promotion. He had deserved it, after all.

Gerbera then announced as a reminder that his rounds to inspect the ships would begin in a week. His visits to the flagships were common and originally for business only -- namely to assess the working order of the ships and the dynamics of activity that they were engaged in -- but his roundtrips to the Magna Musai in particular after its official deployment became more and more… personal. He and Sazabi had quickly gone from acquaintances to something else… and then everything changed when General Zeong assigned Commander Sazabi a new dimension to conquer. Neotopia.

Everything, from the very beginning, had fallen into place easily enough… to think it would someday fall apart with such tormenting force was unfathomable, but adequate truth enough.

It started out as a typical morning for him on the Magna Musai, even though he was only a visitor on the occasions that he was ever there. Unfortunately for Gerbera, he was blissfully unaware it would be the last typical morning he would ever have.

Sazabi's personal quarters were piercingly and frighteningly dark. Save from the light of the holographic alarm clock on the bedside table -- which provided very little adequate light to even consider -- and the purple and yellow glow of his own optics, the entire room was coated with blackness. Even if Gerbera wanted to turn on some form of light, the feat would be impossible noting that the only legitimate light source in the entire chamber came from the window that overlooked the Magna Musai's front deck, and that same front window was currently fitted with a smothering black sheet of flexi-metal that served as a shade. Sazabi was never a mech to take into luxuries and light was apparently one of them. Of course, Gerbera had no reason to be afraid in the slightest. He was afraid of the dark, but that phase of his existence quickly faded into oblivion whenever he was with Commander Sazabi. He would never let anything happen to Gerbera. "Unless he is successful with his invasion in Neotopia," Gerbera thought. "Because I haven't been created in that time yet, I may cease to exist entirely if he is successful. Not that it would matter. The only thing that is important is the survival of the Dark Axis. If the General wants me to throw myself into his acid pits, I will do so. If he wants me to die I will do so. That is simply the order of things." Of course, he realized, it would never settle well with Sazabi in the slightest. Which was why, of course, no one but General Zeong himself knew what dimension Gerbera had come from.

The dark Gundam obviously was not going to sleeping any longer -- his internal alarm had gone off several hours prior -- but the mech he shared the recharge plate with was still deeply unconscious. Gerbera glanced at the clock on the bedside table to note the time and he sighed. So far, over the course of an entire hour, he had to put the alarm clock on snooze-mode when it went off several previous times beforehand. Sazabi needed an actual alarm in hopes of ever waking up from recharge because, as Gerbera had learned, he was a very heavy sleeper. Even with the assistance of the alarm though, Sazabi usually still didn't wake up. The only reason Gerbera gave him the clock to begin with was because, as a commander, Sazabi would occasionally get behind on paperwork that needed to be sent to the Dark Axis fortress. Gerbera said that the clock would help him get things done sooner and earlier. Sazabi merely shrugged it off in distaste towards the silly thing.

Although, on the occasions he resided at the Magna Musai for inspections, it didn't stop Gerbera from letting Sazabi sleep in every once in awhile. Especially considering that Sazabi hadn't retired to bed until late the previous evening.

…Except, an entire three hours after deciding to let him sleep in, the whole arrangement was becoming a little ridiculous. His partner had been recharging for long enough.

Gerbera turned his head as best as he could so he could attempt regarding the robot sleeping behind him. He lightly elbowed the larger mech in the chest to garner his attention. "Wake up."

Despite the fact that Sazabi had been deeply unconscious beforehand, Gerbera's movements jarred him out of his recharge regardless. He groaned tiredly and shifted. The arm he had across Gerbera's lower torso moved so it was splayed on his chest. The Magna Musai commander settled down again and was silent with the exception of his steady breathing.

Gerbera sighed and tried to sit up. "I've let you sleep in long enough. The alarm has gone off seven times already."

Sazabi's voice was muffled from speaking against the berth underneath him. He did not bother to look up to face Gerbera. "Ten more cycles."

"Not this time."

"Then at least until the next alarm goes off." Sazabi's voice was mildly irritated, but there was more exhaustion lingering in it than anything else.

Gerbera snorted. Whereas Sazabi was completely oblivious to keeping track of time, the dark Gundam wasn't. He had clocked the seconds and clicks between the time when the alarms went off, and there was usually a nine cycle time gap. Sazabi had only ten seconds left to recharge as far as Gerbera was concerned. Albeit this wasn't much time at all, but the science officer still found it in himself to allow the other mech at least that much.

"His insomnia has gotten worse," he thought absently to himself.

Just the previous night, Gerbera had been the first of both of them to retire to the berth in Sazabi's private quarters. The rooming area itself was on an elevated level with a balcony that overlooked Sazabi's main office. Sazabi had seemed restless and he said he would join Gerbera shortly… but the Gundam had been keeping track of the great deal of that time passed. He stayed awake while he listened to the Magna Musai commander aimlessly pace on the lower level of his office before he finally migrated up the staircase to the recharge plate. It had been at least four hours since the time Sazabi should have been recharging. Gerbera faked recharge while the larger mech slipped up onto the plate -- he threw an arm lightly over Gerbera's side as he did this -- but it still took another hour for Sazabi to actually enter recharge-mode. When his intakes slowed to signal his unconsciousness, Gerbera risked the turn of his head to examine the Axian. Commander Sazabi was sleeping facing him on his side, but he looked absolutely exhausted.

Gerbera had hoped that he would look better in the morning. His hopes were dashed almost immediately.

Sazabi's face, despite being immobile, seemed haggard and his optic was completely dark with his lack of energy. It gave the larger robot a weary, ragged appearance that took away from the overall grace his body actually possessed. Gerbera made a mental note to never point that out to Sazabi -- he was overly obsessive regarding the general welfare of his appearance and looks as it was, and it was consequently in anyone's best interest not to irk the mech about it -- but it did not stop him from worrying about the other mech. He looked unhealthy, and that concerned Gerbera a great deal.

Gerbera was half tempted to deactivate the alarm entirely and let him get the rest he blatantly needed, but then it went off and the dark crimson robot beside him flinched back to awareness at the grating sound. Sazabi's body tensed lightly and he groaned. Gerbera imagined that his faceplates would have been clenched if they allowed such a movement. "All right, all right, I'm awake. Just turn that… damn thing off," Sazabi muttered darkly.

Without preamble, Gerbera sat up and glanced over at the bedside table to his immediate right. The holographic timer that projected the time -- military, not standard -- was flashing and he gave a brief voice command to completely deactivate it. Elusive of as much as another wailing beep, it finally ceased its audio splitting screeching and the projected image disappeared. The dark Gundam turned his head to glance back down at Sazabi, but the mech in question had gone still again. Gerbera narrowed his optics in mild agitation. "You said you'd wake up."

The robot who the address was aimed to made a groaning hiss. Sazabi didn't seem inclined to get up now.

Gerbera stared at him before he closed his optics and sighed. It was impossible for him to be angry at the Magna Musai commander. If for whatever reason he did however, it was impossible for him to stay that way. He ran his hand over his faceplate before letting it drop so that it came down to rest on Sazabi's shoulder. Even though it was a general rule of thumb that Sazabi didn't like to be touched unless he gave the offender permission, Gerbera was usually an exception to that same said rule. Whereas the maroon and red plated mech would have reacted to the gesture if Gerbera had been anyone else, Sazabi continued to lie completely still. The dark Gundam wondered briefly if he had gone offline again, but then Sazabi's optic flared online when Gerbera abruptly shoved him sideways so that he was on his back.

Sazabi turned his head so he could glare angrily at Gerbera with his bright pink optic. He said nothing of course, seeing as he did promise that he would get up. If looks could kill, his fierce appearance would have been the downfall of thousands of hundreds of robots. That same decree, however, didn't apply to Gerbera. The Gundam met his glare with a calm stare and Sazabi finally darkened his optic and sighed. He reached a hand up to rub at his face.

Despite how dark it was in the room, Gerbera still perked up with concern when he saw something about the other mech that worried him. As the Gundam was more than aware of, others generally understood that he wasn't a mech to behave as a caring figure. He trained Doga Bombers for the commanders of the Dark Axis flagships when they needed them for invasions, but he was cold when it came to working with them. He never asked about the wellbeing of anyone aside from the General, but he only did that because he was beneath Zeong's rank and therefore inclined to ask and consequently care as a duty.

When it came to Sazabi however, it was personal.

"Your hand is shaking," he said. True to word, Sazabi's hand was shaking. It trembled very lightly while he had it over his face and it looked almost as if Sazabi was shivering. This was illogical of course, seeing as the room temperature was about seventy-five degrees. The temperature itself would have had to have been below freezing where the coolant in Sazabi's valves would actually have a chance to freeze. His trembling would have been a signal that his body was trying to keep that same liquid from crystallizing.

Sazabi moved his hand away from his features when Gerbera spoke and, after he watched his hand lightly shudder, he flexed his fingers and he clenched it in a tight fist before relaxing his digits again. His optic was dull with his exhaustion. "It's just a little glitch from my low energy levels. It happens occasionally," he said listlessly.

"You should let me take a look at that. It could be a sign of circuit board damage."

"It's not anything to worry about," Sazabi snapped back in an agitated manner, although his voice seemed to lack the vigor it normally would have. That worried Gerbera for a moment. The other mech made the motion to prop himself up on his elbows just as he continued." My energy level is at sixty-one percent, so it's no surprise that I'm a little… unsteady right now. I'll be better once I refuel, but I believe it's mostly stress induced. I've had a lot on my mind as of late. I'll be fine, otherwise."

"Like you did last night?" Gerbera kept his voice light so that Sazabi wouldn't suspect that he had been awake until the Magna Musai commander finally retired to his berth the night before. Even though it was uncharacteristic of Sazabi to show compassion, Gerbera knew it would make the commander feel guilty if he knew that he kept him from falling asleep.

Sazabi turned his head to look at Gerbera. "…Yes. Like last night. Did I keep you up?"

"No," Gerbera said. A little white lie wouldn't hurt. "Besides," he thought, "he has to be under enough anxiety as is. With Neotopia being as resistant to our inevitable invasion as they are, it's enough to drive any commander to the edge. I'm amazed that Sazabi hasn't gone completely postal on his squadron leaders for their constant failures. He's feared by most of the other commanders in the Dark Axis for his temper alone, but his patience astounds me."

Sazabi seemed to scrutinize his face in search of any signs that the professor was lying. Unable to detect that Gerbera fibbed, the commander appeared to brush the comment aside when he turned away. He let his head loll back and he growled. "It's occasions like these where I wish I was still a squad leader myself, back when I was Stalemate Sazabi. At least then I got to sleep in for longer than the times I have to get up nowadays. I envy my own squad leaders…"

Gerbera laughed lightly to humor the other mech. He reached out to casually brush the back of his hand down the other robot's maroon shoulder guard. "Ah, but at least you're not on the receiving ends of punishment from a merciless commander from failures."

"I never failed as a squadron leader," Sazabi said with abrupt sharpness. If there was one thing the commander almost never failed at, it was constantly maintaining his reputation… almost, because Neotopia was beginning to become a hassle to him. The commander never turned his head to look at Gerbera, but he suddenly shivered.

Gerbera blinked. "What's wrong?"


Regardless, Gerbera already pinpointed what was off beam before Sazabi even activated his vocalizer to respond to the dark Gundam's question. The other mech's internal temperature had gone up and his engine and fuel pump were sputtering lightly at a rate faster than normal. Even if he disregarded that, the fact Sazabi was refusing optic contact with him immediately indicated to Gerbera what it was that the Magna Musai commander was urgently needing and wanting. Before Sazabi could object, Gerbera pushed his arm outward to push Sazabi down onto the berth. The mech in question shot a look up at the Gundam with a feral suspicion that made him look dangerous even when he was pinned.

"Hey! What are you--Oh."

It was not a fact to be questioned that Sazabi was a very, very dangerous mech. Fully equipped with all his special armor, weapon attachments, and with all his skill as a fighter that he obtained from his near whole life in the Dark Axis army, he was as much of a luminous fighter as he was a strategist. He was not a mech be crossed or taken lightly. He wasn't weak. Still, Gerbera had certain privileges when it came to Sazabi and Sazabi let only him utilize them. One of those privileges involved trusting the Gundam to see him at his most venerable. As soon as the black mech's digits slipped between the plating on Sazabi's shoulder and neck, the red mech's optic flickered and he went lax, tilting his head to the side to allow Gerbera for better access.

After Gerbera became bored of petting the sensitive wires, he straddled Sazabi and traced his fingers out of the commander's sensitive crevasse before raking his hands lightly over the mech's chest, stomach, and abdominal plating. "Quiet. It's painfully obvious to me that you need this. Consider it a jumpstart to your systems for the day."

Sazabi made a mewling noise in the back of his throat and he turned his head to the side. His optic went dull and his voice took on a hoarse shudder in realization of what was about to happen to him. "Madnug…"

Gerbera snorted lightly at the address. As it was, Sazabi was the only individual other than the General who knew the science officer's original name before it was changed. "I don't know why you always insist calling me by my Gundam name," he said. Sazabi didn't answer back. He was either ignoring him or too out of the loop to hear, although Gerbera presumed it to be the latter. The Gundam retracted his faceplate and ran his fingertips over the front of Sazabi's armor.

The mech underneath him made a quietly pleased noise and the plating flipped open so it revealed his souldrive. The flame burning within the sphere was hotter than usual and Gerbera gently set his palm over it. Their energy fields crackled and Sazabi gasped before the sound trailed off into a tight, tense moan. He was tightly fisting the berth underneath him. Heat was radiating off him. He whimpered Gerbera's real name again and his body shuddered with eagerness.

Gerbera didn't call out on him that time. Instead, he traced his fingers over the Sazabi's souldrive and he leaned down to gently kiss the side of his lover's throat.

Sazabi's voice was light when he spoke. There was an almost humorous tone underlining the statement. "They're bonded."

Gerbera turned his head away from the desk to regard the other mech. It was later in the day some time after their early morning encounter and Gerbera had been filling out forums on the Magna Musai's status as his actual inspection period of the ship was already over and finished with. Besides filling the role as the General's personal servant, it was his job to evaluate the other flagships of the Dark Axis. If he found any problems regarding the working capacity of those ships he had the authority to fix those problems as he saw fit. More than once he had to ship soldiers from overpopulated ships to ones that needed reinforcements and he even had the ability to reassign squad leaders to other fleets. Occasionally, he had to remove unfit commanders from their posts. Of course, out of all the Dark Axis' flagships, it was always Sazabi's assigned ships that had the least problems of all of them. The Magna Musai was now one of the older working ships -- it had been operating for ten years straight, which was the longest time Sazabi was ever in command of a single ship -- but that was only because the commander had taken a break from invading dimensions to assist other commanders with their own dimensional takeovers. "What?"

Sazabi was standing by the huge round window that overlooked the rest of the ship deck below with his hands crossed behind his back. The light that wafted in through the window was the only source of luminescence in the room aside from the glowing computer monitor on the commander's desk. From the outside, the window itself was an opaque pink that Sazabi had control to distort the image of his appearance standing behind it, showing him as an eerie and shuddering pink silhouette when he addressed his troops -- namely his squad leaders -- on the other side. From inside however, it was transparent and lacked any pigment at all. At the sound of Gerbera's voice, the ship commander turned his head to regard the black Gundam. The look that flickered in his optics was almost mischievous. "You heard me perfectly fine. Come see for yourself."

Bondmates, as much as Gerbera knew, consisted of two individuals whose essences and minds became intertwined in an invisible link that bound them for life. Bonds between the two parties themselves had the side effects of being able to hear one another's thoughts and detect their emotions and presences like a highly evolved super radar. Most bondlinks resulted from the incidence of a romantic relationship that turned serious to the point where the two mechanical beings involved developed the link with one another, but the occurrence of those links didn't just necessarily have to derive from romance alone. From studies that were taken on the 'bondmate theory' by the Dark Axis research committee -- a group that was headed by Gerbera himself -- two robots that never even met one another before being thrust to work together could still develop a bond. Overall however, the result of any bond always, always resulted in the same thing: Their unfathomable love for one another. At first, the bondmate theory was nonexistent in Dark Axis culture. However, after their first invasions on worlds inhabited by sentient mechanisms where many of the inhabitant robots were bonded, its influence somehow managed to spread to the Dark Axis like an infectious disease. The standard Zako soldiers seemed especially prone to it in particular.

Gerbera had no idea how Sazabi could tell a bondpair just by looking at them, and it garnered enough of the Gundam's interest so that he put down what he was doing to investigate. At Sazabi's command, the black Gundam stood and crossed the distance between him and the larger mech with even steps before stopping so he stood to Sazabi's left. Peering out the window with his lilac hued optics, Gerbera didn't see anything peculiar at first. Aside from seeing some sparse Zako minions going around attending to their duties -- most of them were dealing with the crates of freshly shipped bagubagu from the Hellwise Musai, unpacking them and handing them off to be stored -- though Gerbera could not perceive how Sazabi had detected a bondpair amongst the working crowd.

As if sensing his thoughts, Sazabi chuckled lightly. A smirk clung to the edges of his voice that was saturated with a humored undertone. "Not the Zakos."

As if on cue, shouting voices rose over from the ship deck and Gerbera's optics were immediately drawn to the source. Standing on a deck higher than the Zakos were the ship's three squadron leaders -- or rather two, since Destroyer Dom was further off to the side and nearly out of Gerbera's line of view -- but Gerbera was taken aback greatly when he realized Sazabi was referring to the two squad leaders who were engaged in a heated quarrel. "Sazabi must be joking. Oil and water mix together better than those two do."

The shouting on the deck below suddenly escalated, and Gerbera could make out what they were saying through the heavy sheeted glass that overlooked them.

"What did you call me!?"

"I called you a malfunctioning motherboard."

"Why you little--"

"Oh look, Zipper's getting flustered. I'm shaking in my boots."

"That's it. C'mere!"

On the deck below, Zapper Zaku suddenly lunged for Grappler Gouf and the maroon warrior's shoulder collided with the other mech's chassis before he could move out of the way. Grappler yelled in surprise and staggered backwards so that he fell heavily onto his back. The Zakos that had been gathered around jumped hearing the sudden commotion and they turned to watch the fight nervously. Destroyer Dom, who had been just ten or so feet from the squabble, seemed to pay no heed. He was sitting down admiring his weapons in his own little world. Both Grappler and Zapper rolled around on the ground trying to gain the upper hand against one another in a fashion that would have been comical if the fight itself wasn't so brutal.

Gerbera turned his head to regard Sazabi. "It's against protocols to allow this fight to continue. It's your responsibility to forcibly break it up."

Sazabi glanced sideways at him. "I don't need to. Watch."

The black Gundam regarded the larger mech curiously before he turned his gaze back onto the fight below. Both squad leaders were rolling about the deck back and forth in their scuffle while several of the Zakos who had been watching their argument previously turned away to go back to attend their own duties. They had undoubtedly seen the two squad leaders fight before, so they knew that there really wasn't anything new worth noticing. Destroyer Dom had long since gotten up and was now several yards away with his head shoved inside Gallop while he tried to fruitlessly reorganize his weapons arsenal. The fight between Grappler and Zapper waged on for a solid thirty-seven point three seconds -- Gerbera had been keeping track -- when Zapper Zaku abruptly managed to pin Grappler underneath him with his greater weight. Zapper cackled victoriously but Gouf, being the much more levelheaded and calculated mech, managed to pull his right leg free before bringing the knee close to his gut. By the time Zapper realized what was coming to him -- which was far too late -- Grappler had already kicked out, catching the older mech square in the chest.

Zapper Zaku grunted having the wind knocked out of him and he fell onto his back heavily from the harsh blow. Grappler immediately took the opportunity to regain the upper hand. He jumped to his feet, sat squatted on the balls of his feet with his optic narrowed, and he held out his clawed hand to keep his balance. His posture highly resembled a predator ready to pounce. His pink optic flashed and, in a blur of teal and cobalt movement, he sprung high into the air and he came back down with his clawed appendage aimed precisely at the level of Zapper Zaku's exposed throat. The downed maroon warrior regained just enough of his bearings to stare up in horror and he managed only to prop himself up on his elbows before Grappler landed with both of his feet braced on either side of his waist. He grabbed Zapper's shoulder with his right hand tight enough to dent the armor and the cobalt mech's claws dove for him.

Mere centimeters before Grappler's blades could pierce and shred Zapper's neck cables, the younger squad leader halted his arm and stood perfectly still above his elder counterpart. Both their optics met and locked gazes in a fiery glare. The two lords were completely still and neither moved as much as a cog or gear. In fact, Gerbera had to wonder if they were still even breathing. The two warriors kept their optics deadlocked in an eternal staring contest and they turned into nothing more than mere statues who were mantelpieces at the center of the work the Zakos carried out on the same deck they stood. Then Gerbera saw Grappler move.

The motion was so discreet that Gerbera wouldn't have even noticed it if he wasn't looking. Being as observant as he usually was, that was rare occurrence.

Grappler Gouf gently rubbed his thumb against Zapper Zaku's shoulder approximately three times -- one, two, three -- and then a grin lit up behind his optic. Despite being pinned, Zapper seemed to return the facial expression and his mouthpiece twisted into a small smirk. With that, Grappler released Zapper's shoulder and he drew his clawed hand away before standing to his full height. He extended his unarmed hand down towards the still downed squad leader and, once upon a time, Gerbera knew damn well that Zapper Zaku would have never taken that hand. He didn't know Zapper personally of course, but it wasn't uncommon for squad leaders -- or anyone in the Dark Axis forces for that matter -- to not trust anyone who could have just nearly killed them. The word 'trust' by itself was practically non-existent in their army's ranks. The occurrence of loose friendships wasn't uncommon, true, although squad leaders had a tendency to avoid friendships whenever possible. Either way, it was painfully obvious that Grappler Gouf and Zapper Zaku were not friends… or at least not just friends.

Regardless, Zapper Zaku reached out and he grabbed Grappler's forearm tightly.

Grappler gripped back and he pulled Zapper to his feet with a swift movement. The maroon warrior staggered to his stabilizing servos and released Grappler's arm when he stood at his full height, but he kept his optics locked with the other mech. Grappler's optic flashed again and he also let go of the other squad leader's arm, though not before walking almost casually beside him so that they stood side by side -- Zapper Zaku facing the direction of the Zakorello Gate, Grappler facing the front of the ship -- before the cobalt mech leaned his mouthpiece close to the area of Zapper's audio receptor. Gerbera dully noted that it seemed to be closer to the side of his jaw.

Had any of the Zakos been watching -- which none were -- or even Destroyer Dom for that matter, they would had simply thought that Grappler had said something threatening as a warning to the other warrior. Gerbera knew better. It had been a kiss.

Grappler walked around behind Zapper and lightly trailed his fingertips over the other mech's back plating before coming around his other side so they stood facing out away from the ship together. Again, anyone else would have seen it as a threatening gesture on the younger squad leader's part, but Gerbera was miffed and slightly unnerved at the same time by the amount of intimacy behind it. While both mechs stood there together -- Gerbera noted their hands just barely touching -- the science officer turned his head to look at Sazabi. "How long have you known?"

"Known what?" Sazabi's voice sounded malevolently innocent, and he cocked his head to look at Gerbera over his shoulder.

Gerbera looked squarely at him. "You said they were bonded. How long have you known?"

"Are you saying that you believe me now?"

"Answer my question. That's an order."

Sazabi rolled his optic and looked away from the dark Gundam to watch the scene below. "For awhile now."

Gerbera kept watching Sazabi, but he could see Zapper turn to shout angrily at a Destroyer. The weapon-crazed squadron leader had tossed out a canister of useless ammunition shells from his arsenal trailer and it had managed to hit the red mech square in the side of the head. While the huge purple mech merely stared with his head tilted to the side in an almost curious manner, Zapper went into a loud charade of swearing and insulting that managed to garner the attention of the Zakos again. Grappler found the time to pipe up with some snide comment that Gerbera was deaf to. Zapper turned his head to glare at Grappler with his optic lit up in his aggravation, but Gerbera could now clearly see that there wasn't as much anger behind it as there probably would have been. It was undoubtedly because he and Grappler were bonded.

Gerbera was almost completely convinced of it now.

Sazabi had started speaking. "Ever since Grappler Gouf arrived here on the Magna Musai, things between him and Zapper Zaku became… tense. They were forced to work together during the Lacroa invasion and they developed a very keen dislike for one another. It only got worse when I had Grappler Gouf transferred to serve here on my ship. I thought they would be fine, but their general contention with one another just kept building and building. I don't think that there were any two squad leaders in the history who hated each other more. In fact, I think they hated each other just as much as I hate… her." Sazabi clenched his fist spastically once. Gerbera figured that Sazabi was probably unaware that he had even made the gesture.

Nightingale was the commander of the Shadow Musai, another ship. Gerbera knew all too well that the two commanders absolutely despised one another, though the exact reasons for their rivalry evaded him. It might have had something to do with Nightingale being jealous of Sazabi's higher ranking position. The science officer had gotten more than an earful of rants where one of them would complain and gripe about the other, and the dark Gundam was all too aware that they would undoubtedly break into an all-out brawl if they ever were ever left in a room unsupervised with one another. Considering how powerful the two of them were, a fight would be just as disastrous as it would be impossible to break up.

Sazabi continued on after his short pause. "I sent the two of them on a reconnaissance mission to Neotopia one day in hopes that we could plant a frequency dampener. That way we could enter and exit the dimension without alerting the Gundams to our presence. Those detestable beings seem to have discovered a way of detecting the Zakorello Gate's energy field. The mission… didn't go according to plan. The dampener rod malfunctioned and the Gundams converged on their position in minutes. There were at least only ten Zakos with them to begin with and Destroyer Dom left the majority of his arsenal back here on the Musai, so they were drastically outmatched very quickly. They eventually had to resort to hand to hand combat." The commander shook his head. "My men are pitiful when it comes to hand to hand combat. They don't train our Zako militia like they used to back when I was a regular soldier."

"We had to cut back over the years."

"I've noticed," Sazabi sneered lightly. He paused thoughtfully for a moment before he resumed. "Destroyer Dom and Zapper Zaku both had the Musha Gundam and Captain pinned, but Grappler and the knight Gundam from Lacroa were deadlocked. Swordfight. Grappler Gouf is just as good a swordsman as he is a tactician. He and the Gundam were well matched… until the Gundam managed to catch him off guard and knock his sword out of his hands. Zapper Zaku had caught on that Grappler was in trouble by then. I wouldn't have been surprised if he left Grappler to the knight Gundam's devices, but he didn't."

He stopped. Gerbera watched him carefully for a moment longer but, when it became apparent that he wasn't going to speak again, he clenched his jaw in minor agitation. "Continue."

"It doesn't get pretty from there."

"Why have I never heard of this venture until now?"

"You have," Sazabi said. "I sent it to you in a mission report. I just left out the… nonessential details."

"Like what happened next?"

Sazabi nodded absently. "Destroyer Dom was more than capable of holding the other two Gundams back even with their little human pet cheering them on a few hundred yards away, so Zapper left him to assist Grappler. He was out of ammo, but his heathawk is just as effective as his machine guns when being put to good use. He managed to run up behind the Gundam hoping to catch him off guard… well, now I can understand why the knight Gundams of Lacroa were so difficult to subdue during the original siege. The next time you see Deathscythe or Talgeese in the near future, tell them I give them my regards for dealing with them. That Gundam didn't even bat an optic when he turned and ran Zapper Zaku through. The sword went in so deep that the hilt was touching his chest plate the blade had exited through his upper back. Pitt, he was a mess. The sword missed his fuel pump with only a few centimeters to spare, but his main circulatory valve was sliced right in half. He dropped his axe and went down right on the spot without a sound."

Gerbera stayed silent and listened. In the meantime, he stared down out the window at Zapper Zaku and Grappler Gouf while they continued their argument over Destroyer Dom accidentally hitting the earlier over the head with an empty shell he had thrown. It wasn't a very heated debate however, and Gerbera could see just by watching their body language that the both of them weren't truly angry with one another. It seemed to be more of a playful banter than an actual fight, although they did an excellent job when it came to portraying it as one.

"The knight Gundam was caught off guard. He probably only meant to knock Zapper Zaku away and not necessarily impale him. He let go of his sword when Zapper went down, but Grappler exploded. He's usually very even-tempered even when he's upset, but he blew up into pure blind rage as soon as he saw what happened. He charged the Gundam and ran him through his shoulder with his own claws. The knight was alive but Grappler Gouf didn't have the patience to properly finish him off. He knocked the Gundam aside and dove for Zapper Zaku after that. He managed to pry the sword out of his chest, but that only made the bleeding worse. You ought to listen to the recording of the battle from that day. Grappler called for an immediate retreat, but his voice shook so badly that I would have thought he was going to have a spark attack. Grappler Gouf is such a straightforward and composed mech that you'd think that it's impossible for him to ever panic. The Gundams had ceased their attacking to aid the fallen knight while Grappler managed to drag Zapper back onto the Komusai before they returned to the Dark Axis. Zapper Zaku had already gone into shock when they docked with the Magna Musai. The poor mech hadn't made as much as a peep since he went down too. He was conscious but unresponsive. Catatonic. You could have held your hand right in front of his face and asked how many digits you were holding up, but I guarantee you that he wouldn't have even answered. In fact, I think a few of the Zakos tried that on him. Maybe even Grappler."

"Speaking of him?"

"Frantic. You can imagine that the Zakos were panicked seeing as how close Zapper Zaku is to them, but Grappler had been just as bad off. He hadn't cared much for the times that Zapper had been injured before as far as I can remember, but I suppose that he knew that none of those injuries had been necessarily life threatening. Zapper was unconscious and dying by the time they brought him onto the Magna Musai. The resident medic said that herself when Destroyer and Grappler carried him off the Komusai. They brought Zapper down to the medical wing and the medic had a group of Zakos assisting her while she patched him up, but…" Sazabi trailed off.

Gerbera didn't need to be told that Zapper Zaku had begun to flat line.

Sazabi told him anyways. "…His fuel pump started to fail while the medic was elbow deep inside his chest trying to repair the damage to his shredded valve. The surveillance camera was at a perfect angle so you could see the horror on all their faces. Grappler Gouf's especially. The medic pulled out shock pads and charged them before applying them, but that didn't help. He kept flat lining. She tried again, only that time his fuel pump actually failed. She tried it a third time."

"He was dead."

Sazabi went silent for a very long time. Gerbera waited patiently for him to continue but, when he determined Sazabi wasn't going to speak anytime soon, he raised his hand towards the commander to urge him on. Whether Sazabi saw his gesture or not was beyond him but, beside that, he spoke up again. "He was. He would have stayed that way too if it wasn't for Grappler Gouf's responding actions. Grappler had been managing Zapper Zaku's air intake levels when our medic called it quits and pronounced him dead. That was when Grappler ordered her to give him another shock. I still have the surveillance recording. I don't bother to watch it because it's rather disturbing, but you can hear how desperate Grappler sounded just by listening to the audio feed."

Gerbera snapped to attention. "It's against medical protocols to give a mech more than three charges in an emergency procedure. Any more could leave a revived mech mentally or physically indisposed. Even both."

Sazabi's voice took on a grin. "Not if you set it at a lower charge."

Gerbera blinked, perplexed. "That's a ridiculous thing to do. What made Grappler Gouf even imagine that they could revive a mech who wouldn't respond to higher charges with a lower one?"

"He said he had a gut feeling," Sazabi said with a smirk lighting his optic.

"Which makes logical sense if he wants me to believe that the two of them are bonded," Gerbera dully noted to himself. "In theory, bondmates are believed to have "gut feelings" about one another. He's using my own coherent reasoning against me."

Sazabi was speaking again. "The medic only went ahead with it because Grappler Gouf was giving her an order, but you can picture her surprise when his pump whirred back to life. They were all in so much shock that they stood around doing nothing for a few seconds. Can you imagine, he almost died again!" At this, Sazabi let out a bellowing laugh. It was a sound more suited for a lighthearted story rather than the morbid one he was retelling. Undeterred, he resumed. "They managed to get him stable after the medic repaired the damaged valve and after they jumpstarted Zapper's engine to get his functions in working order again. Grappler even donated some of his own motor oil and coolant to Zapper Zaku since he had lost so much of his own from hemorrhaging. He… bled a lot. The surgery itself lasted about five whole hours before the medic felt comfortable enough to let her volunteers leave. One of them stayed though. I don't need to tell you who that was."

"Grappler Gouf stayed with him the whole night." It should have been a question, but Gerbera said it as though it were a statement. It would have sounded silly for him to even ask.

"And the nights that followed while Zapper was in recovery. He woke up after a week and he was able to leave the medical wing to take a temporary leave, but Grappler stayed with him the entire time. Since then, their bickering has been lacking the flare it had when they were first forced to work with one another. Then they started following each other around like lovesick puppies. I swear, if one of them is in an area, I can immediately guarantee you that the other isn't ever far behind. How they look at one another…" he trailed off.

Gerbera found his voice to speak. "Is it the same way we look at each other?"

Sazabi said nothing in return.

It suddenly occurred to Gerbera exactly where Sazabi had been going with his explanation about the two squad leaders, and the science officer sighed before turning away. "Don't start with me on this again, Sazabi. I told you already that I can't bond with you."

At the sound of his voice, Sazabi whipped around to face the other mech. His optic lit up with resentment. "Why are you so difficult over this?"

After their relationship had gone on for about nine years or so, going from casual to serious over that same time period, Sazabi had one evening proposed to Gerbera. The professor had been standing looking out of Sazabi's office window regarding the two full moons that ominously hung over the Dark Axis' landscape when Sazabi approached him from behind. The larger mech had adoringly wrapped his arms around Gerbera's torso in an affectionate gesture -- despite being an otherwise ferocious commander, Sazabi was still prone to show such fondness to his Gundam lover -- and Gerbera turned to face Sazabi to regard him. Sazabi, upon meeting Gerbera's violet gaze, released him and backed away slightly before dropping down onto to one knee without breaking optic contact. Gerbera didn't need to be have been directly created by humans to know what that motion meant.

"…Bond with me?"

"…No. I'm sorry Sazabi."

That had been nearly a year prior. Regardless as to how heartbroken the Magna Musai commander had been, it didn't deter him in the slightest from continuing to pursue the response he originally hoped for. From that fateful night of his original proposition onward, Sazabi seemingly made it his personal mission to win Gerbera's love over completely through convincing him to bond. Whenever Gerbera was on the Magna Musai for its scheduled inspections, Sazabi would always somehow try to convince Gerbera to establish a bondlink with him. Some attempts were casual, some distressed, but the fact remained that Sazabi still hadn't managed to even make Gerbera budge in the slightest from his original rejection.

Now it was obvious Sazabi was trying again. It was a fruitless attempt.

"Because I can't have you as a distraction," Gerbera replied. The dark Gundam returned to his workstation at Sazabi's desk and, taking his seat, he began to finish filing the forums he had been filling out beforehand. "Sazabi, you and I both know that this… relationship of ours, whatever you want to call it, is dangerous enough as it is. With our ranks being as high as they are, it's imperative that our duty to the General is our top priority. That top priority can't be made second by something as trivial as a bondlink."

Despite not facing Sazabi, Gerbera could literally feel the frustrated energy radiating off the Magna Musai commander like heat from an overworked engine. It was blatantly palpable that he was upset the way his voice took on the tone that would have been menacing to others who didn't know the commander as well as Gerbera did. "So that's it? I'm I distraction?"

"For a lack of better term, yes. Consequently, I would be a distraction to you too."

"You don't know that, Madnug."

Gerbera felt his souldrive twitch irritably. The Gundam looked at Sazabi over his shoulder and glared at the other mech hard with his piercing lilac colored optics. "Stop calling me that. That was my name when I was abandoned by my creators before they left me for dead. My name is Gerbera now."

Sazabi was glaring at him almost spitefully, but there was an evident sense of desperation that clung to his features and body language just as it did his voice. "It may have been your name when you were with them, but you still were created with it. Whether you like it or not, it's still your name," he said with a tight, gripping voice. He made a swift inarticulate movement with his right hand and his optic flared before he resumed with a fiercely ranting tone. "The only reason you pretend to like the name Gerbera is because the General chose it for you, but I've known you long enough to see how much you actually hate it. Call it a 'gut feeling' if you will."

Gerbera glowered at the mech for a moment before turning away and closing out of the document editor on Sazabi's personal computer. He at least managed to finish his work. The dark Gundam stood stiffly and looked to Sazabi before walking slowly away from the desk. "I can see that I might have overstayed my welcome here." Gerbera didn't dare fuel Sazabi's tantrum by acknowledging the commander's latter statement in reference to the fact Sazabi believed himself to be his bondmate, but the Gundam did speak when he reached the portion of the room where his 'Gerbera' armor was holstered against the wall as though it were some odd form of decorative trophy. "No one in the entire Dark Axis army has to be a scientific officer like I am to know that you only want what you know you can't have."

That seemed to hit a nerve of Sazabi's, and the mech in question's voice dropped so low and so menacing that its venomous tone momentarily disturbed Gerbera. "Get out."

"Again, I've already observed that I've overstayed my welcome. I have a schedule to follow through with anyways."

Aside from the sounds of the armor Gerbera applied to his hide as the energy field magnets detected his unique signal and attached themselves to his Gundam plating, the room went deathly quiet. By the time Gerbera prepared himself to apply his facemask, he spared a sideways glance in Sazabi's direction. Given their anger towards one another, as far as it had gone, the dark Gundam knew damn well that they wouldn't stay upset with one another for very long. They never did. Again, given the preceding arguments that they previously had over the same issue on whether or not to establish a bondlink between themselves, they still managed to find ways around it and forgive each other.

"Not this time though," Gerbera thought sullenly to himself. "Sazabi has taken this bout particularly hard. His lack of sleep might be fueling that."

The commander in question was standing with his back to Gerbera while he looked out the window at the deck beneath it. Gerbera had no doubts in his mind when the thought crossed his mind that he was observing Grappler Gouf and Zapper Zaku. The commander's posture was still that of one that demanded respect from his underlings and radiated total authority, but there was an obvious air of defeat that lingered over his head like an acid storm cloud, which was common as a result of the Dark Axis' horridly polluted atmosphere.

Sazabi's voice rose up over the silence that had threatened to unnerve the both of them, but this time the tone was softer now. "When will you be back?"

Gerbera finished fastening his trademark armor and he glanced over his shoulder guard at the other mech. He didn't call out on it, but he couldn't help but to eye him with concern. His now single optic flashed. "My schedule is bringing me to the Shadow Musai next. Commander Nightingale has apparently been having problems with rioting Zako units as of late. Afterward I'm going to the Lucid Musai to evaluate the status of the squad leaders. One of them was killed in a freak accident onboard when a portion of the engine exploded. Demon Doga was an excellent candidate for the position of commander, but she just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. It's a shame, really. Commander Z'Gok wants to promote his squad leader Guillotine Gelgoog to her position and obtain a new squad leader to fill his old position, but he needs my approval first. Then…" He trailed off and regarded Sazabi's stance again. Although it was just barely noticeable, Gerbera could see that he was shaking very lightly. It caught him off guard, but it didn't stop him from finishing. "That will be my last stop before I report my findings to back General Zeong. The cycle will start again four weeks from then. I should be back here on the Magna Musai in three months."

Sazabi didn't turn to face him. "We'll be invading Neotopia is ten days from now."

Gerbera snapped to attention and turned to face Sazabi.

The commander of the Magna Musai didn't look to regard the science officer. "I've already sent the request in to your personal online office for approval. You'll find my reasons for the invasion are logical, so I doubt you'll have any legitimate reason to turn the request down. I'm also requesting the use of a Big Zam, a fleet of Dogas, and to have more bagubagu shipped as well."

"The only success you've had in that dimension was during occasional reconnaissance missions. What in the name of the Pitt makes you think--"

"I've been behind the scenes long enough," Sazabi interrupted. He still didn't turn to face the other mech, but his voice took on a much more deadly tone. He usually never did that around Gerbera, which worried said mech some. "I've been the most successful commander in the Dark Axis fleet known to date, but the slew of failures that have occurred on my watch in Neotopia have tarnished my reputation. If I ever received another promotion, it would place me stationed in your same position serving Zeong himself. I'm not going to let a few rogue Gundams ruin that for me." At this, the commander lifted his left hand and braced it against the window in front of him. He tapped it lightly before resuming in a thoughtful, distant sounding voice. "The Komusai is waiting to take you to the next ship. I'd suggest you get going unless you want to upset Nightingale. She'll be moody if she finds that you're spending extra time here."

Gerbera felt a pang of minor hurt in his souldrive at being so outwardly rejected, but that pang lasted only a moment. Above all else, it was business first. Gerbera knew Sazabi wouldn't stay mad at him for long anyways. "Fine then. Make sure to submit that paperwork to the mainframe before forty-eight megacycles is up. I'll… I'll review your request for that invasion."

Sazabi said nothing in return. He continued to stare out the window.

Gerbera sighed and turned to leave. He reached the door without tripping over anything, but he still found himself tempted to call Sazabi out on getting lights so that it wouldn't be nearly as dark as it was. "Sazabi shouldn't be trapped in the dark," the scientist thought mildly. "Not like I was. I can't protect him from himself, but at least I can keep him safe from that much." He paused in front of the door and entered the codec to exit on the holographic screen. It hissed open and Gerbera stepped out, but he was sure he heard Sazabi stifle a small sob. Gerbera immediately made a mental note to himself to let Sazabi sleep in longer the next time he saw him.

Ironically, he never saw Sazabi alive ever again.

Commander Nightingale, a deep crimson femme who was just as large and intimidating as Sazabi, seemed agitated. "An invasion? Hmph. He couldn't even have his squad leaders go into that dimension without tripping over themselves and he wants to go through an invasion? In all honesty, I think he's finally flipped his chip. Poor bastard shouldn't have taken that ten year vacation from invading dimensions… he's gotten rusty and can't remember how to do them like he used to! Imagine!"

"Quiet," Gerbera muttered. "Unless you want me to rethink giving you another squad leader to keep your rebelling Zakos under control, I suggest you mute your vocalizer."

Nightingale clearly wasn't happy about it, but she did as she was told with a fuming countenance. The femme commander was Sazabi's direct underling despite that she was a far more updated and upgraded version of his body's model, and it left her generally unpleasant as a result. It was no secret she hated the Magna Musai's commander just as much as she hated not being promoted so she could be the head commander herself, though her exact reason for wanting so evaded Gerbera. It was also no secret that, whenever Gerbera went onto the Shadow Musai for inspection, that she would try to sway him into considering promoting her. She was nearly just as bad as Sazabi when he tried to continually convince Gerbera to bond with him. Sazabi was far less annoying however, and Nightingale had a tendency to be just as rude as she was ill-tempered. Unfortunately for her -- as made evidence by Sazabi's inability to convince Gerbera into becoming his bondmate -- the science professor was not a mech who was very easy to persuade.

Gerbera sat at the desk in Nightingale's office while he checked his personal office documentation in the master mainframe for the Dark Axis fleet searching for the request Sazabi had sent in. Whilst Sazabi and Gerbera actually slept together -- something that Gerbera didn't announce to anyone for the reason that the impression it would leave behind would have nothing to do with professionalism -- the dark Gundam stayed in a separate guest suite on all the other ships across the hall from the ship's assigned corresponding commanders. Unfortunately for him, the Shadow Musai was the only ship without a personal computer in the quest room. This was because it had been moved into Nightingale's office after a group of rebel Zakos vandalized her original one. The vandalism came about as a result of the femme's apparent unfair treatment of them. As the official inspector, it was Gerbera's job to deal with the soldiers and Nightingale alike in order to fix the problem and relieve the rising tension between the grunts and the ship commander since the Shadow Musai's only squad leader was incapable of dealing with the rioting by himself. Due to the fact that Nightingale had the only computer with enough power to access the main Dark Axis database that he used for work, it forced Gerbera to be in Nightingale's presence by using her workstation. He had already approved of her request to have another squad leader, but trying to find Sazabi's invasion request was proving difficult because Nightingale's constant pestering was keeping him from focusing.

Nightingale glanced sideways at Gerbera as he worked. She stopped her pacing in front of him and regarded the Gundam, clad in his Dark Axis armor -- he only took it off when he was alone or in the presence of Sazabi -- with an almost cruel smirk tugging at her features through the dark luminosity flickering behind her single optic. "This is my ship. I speak whenever I wish to."

"And I'm your superior officer," Gerbera said with a tone that was equally as cynical as Nightingale's. "I have the power to tell you to keep your vocalizer on mute whenever I wish to."

The femme commander huffed angrily and crossed her arms across her wide chest. "I still don't understand why you're even considering looking that fool's incursion application over. It's obvious to me that he's become desperate to redeem his reputation after his constant letdowns in that dimension. Now then, I would have brought that world down onto its hands and knees if the Shadow Musai had been assigned to invade that wretched place instead. Gundams or not, they would have been history from the day I and my soldiers would have first touched down."

Gerbera only ignored her jibes. Finally, after a moment's worth of effort and ignoring the femme commander's presence, he found the request sitting in the forum mailbox. Simply labeled "Sazabi [Magna Musai] Invasion Request No. 23", Gerbera opened the file and was astounded of the detail of its length. Gerbera realized bluntly that the request itself had to have taken some serious time to plan out due to its size, which appeared to be at least twenty pages or so worth. He started to read through the beginning of it and Nightingale walked around behind him to read over his shoulder.

"He needs how many bagubagu canisters? A Big Zam? By the Pitt, Sazabi must have gone insane. Surely an invasion to raid a world as meek as Neotopia shouldn't need that much arsenal. My own successful invasions never needed that many resources poured into it, and those worlds were crawling with Gundams! Neotopia has less than ten! You can't seriously be considering to let Sazabi get away with this madness!" At this, the femme threw her hands into the air to express her rising exasperation.

"I have to consider it," Gerbera responded dully.

Nightingale snorted. "You favor him."

Gerbera looked up at her and flashed his optic to reveal his irritation. He rapped his fingers on the side of the desk with his slipping patience with her, though that didn't mean he wasn't momentarily caught off guard by her statement. "I do not."

The dark rouge femme laughed. "I'm not as single minded as you might think, Professor Gerbera. Those meetings that you call to order in the Dark Axis fortress between us commanders and yourself… I hear how he speaks and looks at you and how you do to him. He's been getting away with his failures in Neotopia without punishment on your part and now you're going to let him go through with an inappropriate invasion for one reason and one reason alone…" She trailed off and stopped herself. There was a maliciousness shining in her optic though, and Gerbera didn't like it one bit.

The science officer kept looking at her. His glare was a silent demand for her to continue.

She did. "You two are head over heels for one another. You don't show it, but Sazabi has always been one of the more expressive mechs I've ever known. The fool is easier to read than a book, or a whole library's worth of them for that matter. Call it a femme's intuition if you will."

Gerbera regarded her with a hard expression. Despite the fact that his face was immobile with due to the Dark Axis armor he wore, all the emotion he ever needed to show the femme bore at her through his responding glare. He found that he had nothing to say to her in response to her accusations -- in fact, he realized with a start that she was right -- and he blandly reached his hand up to point towards the door. "Leave. You're distracting me, wench. I have more important issues to see to rather than dealing with you."

Nightingale smiled deviously seeing her victory over the science officer -- the expression didn't appear on her face obviously, but it glowed behind her optic like a piercing red light -- and she stood with all the fluency and gracefulness that was only dwarfed, in Gerbera's personal opinion, by Sazabi's own flowing elegance. She regarded Gerbera mercilessly before turning sharply and sauntering towards the door with her arrogance radiating off her like iciness from a freezer cell. Before she left the office to see to something else, she turned to look over her shoulder with an almost mocking look. She spoke up. Gerbera couldn't help but notice that the tone of her voice didn't match her expression. Her tone wasn't offensive and more so troubled. "Send Sazabi off on his little goose chase if you like, but if it was my decision to either force him to stay put or send him away, I'd shoot his request down like a Gundam in my crosshairs, no offense intended to your person of course." She cocked her head to the side and her voice returned to its bitter tone. "Then again, what do I care? Send him off for all its worth, but I won't be wishing him any luck on his little endeavor. Twenty-two is a good number of invasions to end at, wouldn't you agree?" With that, she left and the door hissed closed behind her.

Gerbera stared at where she once stood for a moment longer. Finally, he sighed and turned back to his work. Sazabi's request was still printed out on the screen and the science officer read through it several more times, weighed his options, and then he made his final decision. He signed the order using his own personal energy signature and he forwarded it back to Sazabi.

Nine days later, he would have wished he hadn't.

Those same nine days later, Gerbera awoke to the sound of a loud buzzing blaring in his audios. At first he thought he was in Sazabi's quarters hearing the sound of the damned alarm clock going off, and the Gundam almost instinctively reached his hand out beside him to feel for Sazabi. He was going let him sleep in that morning. When his hand only met an empty space though, Gerbera snapped to awareness and found that he was in the cool, desolate bleakness of his own quarters. He sat up and glanced around blearily -- his Dark Axis armor was mounted on the wall and his gaze passed over it as he looked around -- and his audios detected that the almost annoying blaring of the alarm was coming from the room that branched off to his personal lab. That was when he realized it was an emergency broadcast trying to reach the Dark Axis fortress. Snapping to attention and jumping out of his berth to dash into his office -- though not before quickly applying his Dark Axis armor to conceal his Gundam identity -- he darted for the console and entered the access code that would answer the broadcast and activate the monitor. "This is Professor Gerbera, chief science officer and second-in-command to the General. Please clarify your reasons for using this frequency by giving your name and--"

"Mayday, mayday! This is Cyan, medical personnel unit of the Magna Musai! Our invasion on Neotopia has ended in failure, code black, repeat, code slaggin' black!" The static filled video feed flickered and the familiar green of a Zako soldier who was trying to contact the fortress flickered on the screen. The voice was light and feminine.

For a very brief second, Gerbera felt his souldrive hitch underneath his chassis. Code black was only supposed to be used when an established Horn of War had been destroyed. Consequently, it also meant that the corresponding commander of the ship that became the Horn of War was either missing… or dead. Gerbera's fuel tank lurched at the latter possibility. He desperately hoped for the situation to prove that Sazabi's status was the earlier.

At that very moment, the static-ridden video link managed to clear out. Just as Gerbera had suspected, a Zako soldier's image appeared in front of the camera. Her right arm was outstretched to the side, indicating that she was probably trying to hold the frame of the holographic communicator from falling apart as though it were broken. That explained why the image of her panic stricken face had been previously distorted. It also meant that Gerbera's appearance had been distorted from her perspective as well, and her face immediately lit up with relief when she saw him. Heavy rain pounded against her frame. "Thank the Allspark! I thought we wouldn't be able to reach anyone on this stupid thing! This was the only comm. device that didn't have a signal block on it. The damn Gundam Force found a way to obstruct most of all our attempted inter-dimensional communications with the Dark Axis, zako."

Gerbera fought a feral urge to demand Commander Sazabi's whereabouts. He kept calm and followed through with the procedure of protocol demanded with the given situation. He tried to make his voice sound as cool as possible. "Casualties?"

At that, a pain-ridden screech of a Zako rose over the sound of the chaos behind the femme. Cyan twisted her head to the side in surprise and her optic flashed with obvious worry. "…Left and right. It's impossible for me to keep track of them all. I'm the only medic in this entire slagging crew… we have a headcount of fourteen known Zako soldiers killed and another thirty missing, and I have to presume they're all dead. Then at least every other soldier accounted for has some kind of injury, worst one so far being that one poor guy lost his legs and we had to tie off a tourniquet with his own bleeding cables. When the Horn of War started to explode, none of us had time to find cover when the debris started falling right on our heads. Then I won't even go into how many of the Doga Bombers you sent were killed. Even all four of the Doga Commandos were--"

Suddenly, the camera shook and there was a booming rumble. Static clouded the visual feed and the shouts of terrified Zako soldiers wafted through the speakers. A huge crash roared through the audio link and the sound quality wavered on the verge of malfunctioning from how monstrous the noise was. Gerbera waited with a sense of panicked patience as the screen's visual feedback returned to normal. Cyan looked slightly shaken as she looked over her shoulder to some unseen soldier.

"Holy smelt. Is it still exploding!? Did another branch fall! Move out of there, now! If we don't find cover soon, the tower remains are going to take us out before the Gundams do!" She made a wild cutting motion with her hand at some concealed Zako off camera. The visual feedback flickered with static before stabilizing again. Cyan looked back to the camera with her face twisted in frightened dread.

"How was the Horn of War destroyed? What happened?" Again, Gerbera had to fight back the urge to ask where Sazabi was. His otherwise anxious voice didn't seem to betray his forced air of serenity as he prompted her.

"Captain Gundam is what happened, sir. Everything started going down the drain when our squad leaders took that Big Zam you sent us to try bringing down their suspended headquarters. Lords Zapper Zaku, Grappler Gouf, and Destroyer Dom managed to make the entire enemy base fall, but the Gundams had already managed to flee by then. We've only heard from Destroyer Dom since then, zako. He and the other two were captured by the enemy and were on their way to a temporary holding area when they managed to get away. They escaped into the woods with the Gundams on their heels, but Zapper Zaku fell into a deep ravine and hurt himself very badly. He told Grappler Gouf and Destroyer Dom to keep going and they did, but Lord Gouf went back to get him. Lord Dom thinks they both might be dea--"

Though the thought of Zapper Zaku being taken as a prisoner or dead bothered Gerbera greatly -- he could only imagine how Grappler Gouf was faring with that -- the dark Gundam was slowly losing his sense of patience. "The Horn of War, soldier. What happened to it? Spare me the details."

Cyan seemed to snap out of her daze. "It was finally established after Sazabi had his officer Zako Red steal Captain's souldrive while he was in stasis lock trying to hack into the bagubagu units. It looked like we won, but then the Gundam Force's human pet came along with Captain's comatose body to try getting the souldrive back. A few other Gundams showed up and distracted the Commander just long enough to allow the human to deliver Captain's souldrive… and then a huge fight broke out between the two of them. Gods, it was brutal. One on one. They were both nearly evenly matched, but then they started to wear one another out…"

Gerbera couldn't stop himself. His hands turned to fists against the console. "Where's Sazabi!?"

Cyan went uncomfortably silent.

Gerbera's voice rose to a shout unintentionally with his rapidly rising desperation, but he had no control over himself to care. "WHERE IS HE!?"

"…He's dead."

The phrase alone was so blunt and abrupt that it bounced off Gerbera with enough force to give him a case of mental whiplash. He blinked finding that he didn't have the mental capacity -- despite his high intelligence quota -- to register her words, and the sheer amount of initial shock that struck Gerbera still kept him from registering what she had said even when her words sunk in.

"…What?" Gerbera's voice was slightly pitched and disbelieving.

Cyan looked somewhat troubled on the other side. Somewhere in the background, someone shouted, "Yeah, and good riddance too! When the bastard starting using Captain's souldrive to torment the robots in Neotopia, he tortured us too! Ungrateful son of a goddamn glitch is what he was!"

Gerbera still wouldn't believe what he was hearing. He was so disbelieving that he didn't care what the unseen Zako had said about his lover. His clenched fists shook a little with his rising skepticism. "No. Sazabi can't be dead. That's… that's just not possible."

"I saw it firsthand with my own optical sensor, sir," Cyan said. "Captain Gundam gained the upper hand and defeated Sazabi, but the Gundam… he still attacked Sazabi even when our commander was completely defenseless. He had no way to protect himself! I knew Gundams would stoop to low levels, but I never thought Captain had it in him to go that squat. He punched Sazabi in the chest and exposed… holy smelt, did you know Sazabi had a souldrive? It looked like he tried to talk Captain into joining our ranks, but then the Gundam just punched Sazabi again in the chest and he… he destroyed it. His souldrive, I mean."

Sazabi's souldrive was destroyed. The same souldrive that Gerbera once installed, and now it was gone… just like his lover. Instantaneously, the tremendous shock of realizing that Sazabi in fact was dead struck the Dark Axis science officer like a thousand pounds of pressure on his internals so they wrenched violently inside of his chassis. His fuel tank protested with a very forceful insistence to purge, it felt as though someone had shot him in the fuel pump, and his own souldrive felt as though the flame inside of it had been extinguished.

Sazabi was… Sazabi was dead.

Cyan was speaking again. "The stress that the loss of his souldrive induced on his frame overloaded his circuits. Since the Horn of War's own circuitry had been directly connected to Sazabi's via the wireless link that allowed him to control it, that miniature explosion caused a chain reaction that resulted in the Horn of War's simultaneous destruction. The blast sent debris flying everywhere, and Sazabi fell--"

Gerbera, from what he read about in Sazabi's plans for his intended invasion, knew that the Horn of War had been established at Neotopia Tower. The landmark skyscraper itself was over forty stories high, as would have been the Horn of War. If Sazabi had fallen from that height from the very top of the Horn of War and was still alive, it meant that the landing would have had to have been very painful. Losing his souldrive would have been agony enough as it was, and the mere thought of Sazabi in any sort of pain viciously ripped at the inside of Gerbera's head like a ravaging virus.

"Did you find Sazabi after he fell?"

"We did."

Gerbera's coolant valves ran cold.

Cyan was speaking again. "A few of the others had seen him fall, so I and another Zako rushed over as quickly as we could. The rain wasn't helping us get there sooner, but we found him. He landed on his side hard enough to break his spinal piping in at least a dozen places before he rolled into a wide ditch underneath it. Poor bastard snapped his neck too… it was a miracle that he was still even alive. Another Zako soldier had found him and he waved us over. Commander Sazabi was so bad off that I actually thought he was dead when I got up closer. I would have left him be if I didn't hear him start choking on his own fluids. Captain Gundam must have punched him in the throat during their melee fight hard enough that a fuel line ruptured. He was bleeding all over. I and the other two Zakos tried our best to save him, zako, but he was just too far gone. His fight against Captain wrought total havoc on his systems, and the destruction of his souldrive pushed him to the point where his body just… it just gave up. I'm floored as to how he lived long enough for us to even find him."

Gerbera's hands turned into fists on the console. "Was he… in pain?"

Cyan didn't answer. She looked sideways off screen for a moment, but then she turned back. Her only reply was a small nod.

Gerbera felt his fuel tank churn very, very violently. He had to desperately force himself from purging right there on the spot.

The Zako medic was speaking again. "He didn't have to suffer for very long thankfully. I… sir, you have to understand that there wasn't anything I could do to help him. Even if I had the necessary supplies to perform emergency repairs, the damage he sustained was just far too severe. Just two cycles after we found him, he started becoming unresponsive. He was delirious from the moment we recovered him, but it just got worse and worse until he was just entirely incoherent. He just kept asking for someone named Madnug over and over again… and then he was gone. I tried to bring him back, but it didn't help. He died right on the spot."

Gerbera felt something stir in his souldrive. It was agonizing.

Cyan looked at the screen critically a moment later. Her gaze was worried. "Gerbera sir? Are you still there?"

Truthfully, part of him wasn't. The Gundam suddenly felt faraway from himself, almost as if his AI had decided to leave its body, and he stared at himself from beyond his physical form. He was hunched over the console trembling very lightly and his fists were flexing randomly in an almost spastic manner. He looked awful, like he had been awake for solar cycles on end without as much as a single recharge, and that haggardness scared him. All because Sazabi was dead, the knowledge of that terrible truth alone was killing him.

"I'm still here," he said, but he noticed that his voice shook when he said it. He blinked hard and swallowed, but his throat felt unbearably dry and his optics misted over. It wasn't enough that he would start crying -- he'd never allow himself to do that in front of a lower ranking Dark Axis soldier -- but Gerbera knew damn well that it was bound to happen sooner or latter. He tried his best to keep his voice from shaking when he spoke again. He almost failed. "Did he mention anything specific about Madnug?"

"Do you know who Madnug is?"

"Answer my question. That's a direct order."

Cyan looked a little taken aback. She hesitated before speaking again. "I… sir, are you shaking?"

In fact, Gerbera suddenly realized he was. He spoke up again before he could stop himself and his voice trembled. "Just tell me."

Again, Cyan went silent for what seemed to be a long time. She appeared to briefly hesitate before speaking once more. Her words seemed to be carefully chosen, their tone slow and deliberate. "You have to understand that he was delusional sir, but… he said he loved him."

The rings around Gerbera's souldrive felt as though they stopped spinning.

Cyan continued. "Over and over again. I thought that he'd maybe smashed his CPU when he fell off the Horn of War so that his vocalizer was on a continuous feedback loop, but then he… he just broke. I don't even think he was in the right mind, but then he just kept asking where Madnug was. I told him he wasn't here and… good gods, I didn't think that he was the kind of mech who had the capacity to cry, but he did. Then he started raving and saying…"

Gerbera pressed his closed fists harder against the control panel with his rising inner turmoil and storming emotions. "What? What did he say?"

Cyan looked as though she would have bitten her lower lip if her features had allowed for such an expressive movement. "His last three words were I'll be there. Sir, was… was Commander Sazabi bonded? He was, wasn't he?"

Something died inside of Gerbera.

"…Yes," the professor said slowly after a sickly pause. Part of him died away with his beloved commander when he said it. "Yes. He… he was bonded."

"To Madnug?"

Gerbera couldn't find his voice to answer. He nodded slowly -- very slowly -- instead. With every bob of his head, he felt like his insides were turning to rubber and that his fuel tank was about ready to reject all its partially processed fuel. All the while, the mere thought of Sazabi being gone, let alone asking for him during his final moments, made the Gundam feel like he was in a very bad dream. Worse still, the nightmare would not end. It would never end.

An almost pained expression seemed to cross Cyan's face. "Frag, poor Madnug. I'd hate to know what's he's going through right now. Having a bondmate die on you… it's like it's the end of the world for the surviving mate. Out of all the casualties we've had down here so far, five of them have been suicides. A lot of the Zakos on the Magna Musai had bondmates… they killed themselves because they felt their mates die over their bond. It's terrible."

Shouting suddenly rose over the chaos behind the femme, and a voice managed to reach the communications device through the pouring rain behind the medic. "Cyan, get moving! We got a whole platoon of GMs and Guneagle from the Gundam Force converging on our position! We need to get into the underground tunnels beneath the city or we're dead!"

Cyan looked over her shoulder, seemed to regard an unseen mech, and then she turned back to the screen. "Gerbera sir, we need to move out. This signal won't reach the Dark Axis fortress through the underground and this particular comm. device probably won't last much longer. We'll try our best to contact you in the near future if we live long enough. If we don't make it… we all went down fighting. Just like Commander Sazabi."

Gerbera nodded, still feeling as though he was made of rubber. The rubbery feeling suddenly seemed to turn icy and he involuntarily shuddered rather hard. "Understood."

Cyan saluted, and then there was an explosion that ripped through the audio feed. The visual feedback abruptly failed. Whether it had been deactivated or whether it was a result of the sharp detonation going off somewhere near the femme Zako's position, Gerbera had no idea. All he could do was stare at the static clouded screen. In what felt to him like slow motion, he turned away from the blank monitor and slumped against the console while slipping onto the floor. The room turned freezing and, as though the coolant in his valves were crystallized, he shivered harshly. He brought his shaking hands to his face and stayed sitting there in his sorrow for the rest of the lonesome, starless night.

The flame in his souldrive felt as though it had died out, and the cold flame once held within it had no hope of reigniting.

Three days had passed since Commander Sazabi's death. It was the most miserable three days of Gerbera's entire existence.

News of the late commander's demise spread like wildfire amongst the other commanders, though none of them lamented over his death in the way that Gerbera had. After the science officer was forced to file papers for the creation of a new ship to replace the Magna Musai -- a vessel that would be dubbed as being the Credence Musai -- he was also made to attend the meeting between himself and the other twelve remaining commanders in the Dark Axis fleet to decide on a new commander for the Credence Musai and what to do about the missing personnel of the lost Magna Musai. The chair that was once claimed by Sazabi remained dismally empty beside Gerbera's own seat. Beneath his Dark Axis patented armor, the dark Gundam wished very badly that the empty chair was only just the terrifying result of a horrid nightmare that stubbornly refused to end.

After Gerbera announced that the meeting was in order, Nightingale made her voice the first to be known. From her place at the meeting table, her scornful voice rose like superheated steam. "It's about time that idiot finally got what was coming to him. I'm just surprised that it didn't happen sooner rather than later." At that, the femme Shadow Musai commander leaned back in her seat and looked to Sazabi's empty chair with a malevolent glee glowing behind her single optic.

A murderous rage rose up inside of Gerbera so quickly that he was sure that any other mech would have suffered whiplash from it. He never felt like doing so before, but he suddenly had the near irresistible urge to throttle the woman. He gripped either side of his chair's armrests to keep himself from lunging for her, but the metal threatened to buckle under the pressure of his crushing fingers nevertheless. As ignorant as she was, Nightingale failed to see that the science officer was glaring furious lightning bolts at her.

Z'Gok, the Lucid Musai commander, glanced sideways at her in a critical manner. His optic was narrowed in irritation. "The way you speak unfavorably of the dead is distastefully disrespectful, Nightingale. How very unladylike of you."

The femme commander responded without looking at who spoke to her. "Ladylike behavior never earned me my high ranking position, Z'Gok."

"Ah," Commander Krieger said from his place across the table from her. Everyone looked to him -- Gerbera forced himself to tear his hateful gaze away from Nightingale -- and, realizing he had the floor, the commander of the Killswitch Musai regarded Nightingale with a beaming expression as his optic lit up with an almost sick sense of pleasure. "Then perhaps your stubborn, whiny nature earned it for you instead. Since it's obvious that you've failed to realize, Madame, Commander Sazabi was perhaps the greatest commander to ever sit at this very same table. Perhaps, dare I say, he was greater than Commander Tetra himself! Sazabi had as much grace and power as intelligence and brilliance, and those same skills he possessed are some of the very same powers that we can only dream of ever obtaining for ourselves. Sazabi was a fool, you claim? I hate to burst your ego but you, my dear lady Nightingale, are the only fool here for believing such blasphemy." At that, Krieger stood and pointed an accusing digit in Nightingale's direction. "You ignorance sickens me. For that, I will not vouch in your favor if you seek to become the head commander of the Dark Axis fleet yourself. I however will nominate Lord Zapper Zaku to the position of commander for the Credence Musai."

Another femme commander at the table, Gatsha, looked to Krieger with her optic flashing. The commander of the Hellwise Musai had her arms crossed while she leaned back almost casually in her chair. "Well said, Krieger. I would also vouch to nominate Zapper Zaku to the position. He served on my ship once back when he was a Zako himself, and I was the one who promoted him to an officer to begin with. He reminds me of Commander Sazabi with all the potential he has."

"Bah!" Nightingale slammed her fists onto the table abruptly, causing a majority of the robots seated to snap to attention at her antics. She began to rant angrily without waiting to see if she had everyone's undivided attention. "Since all of you seem to be so intent on promoting some random idiot squad leader to commander instead on focusing on whose ship should become the head of the fleet, well then, where is Zapper Zaku? In fact, where are the other two squad leaders and the rest of the crew for the Magna Musai? Grappler Gouf used to serve on my ship once, you know. Do you know where they all are? Do you? I'll tell you… they're all dead or captured, and without the Zakorello Gate there's no way to bring them back! The Magna Musai's personnel are lost causes, just like their commander was! Sazabi led them to their demise just like he led himself to his own!"

Gerbera felt a twinge of fury beginning to build in his souldrive.

"Nightingale," Z'Gok started, "don't-- "

"Sazabi was a bastard," Nightingale continued to rave, "and got exactly what he deserved. He was a showoff and a spoiled brat who was given fame as a successful commander without ever having to work for it. He was weak. Oh, he may have appeared to have been powerful on the outside, but he was no more than a timid little Zako underneath all that ridiculously vain armor of his. You know, my hatred for him was never simply out of spite alone. I never hated him because he took the place of top commander when it should have rightfully been mine. Oh no, once upon a time I had the privilege of being that moron's lover." At this, Nightingale puffed out her chest plate and laughed scathingly. "You can imagine the arrangement didn't last very long. I always had to make the first move because he was too much of a pansy to do so himself. Then I always had to top because he was too pathetic to usurp control from me. He didn't make any dignifying sounds either, I'll say that much. Well, it doesn't matter now does it? He left me for no reason when he took his position on the Magna Musai."

Gerbera felt a twinge of unrelenting fury beginning to build in his souldrive.

"Nightingale, stop it." That was Krieger.

She didn't. She continued. "From what I've heard, his final battle with Captain Gundam was impressive, although I highly doubt that. I hope the damn son of a glitch had to struggle to keep up with his opponent. I hope he had to fight for every breath he took. I especially hope that he suffered during the last final moments of his pitiful life. I hope he died cold, lonely, and painfully."

Gerbera finally snapped. That was the last straw and it set him off like a bomb. Inside his chest and without as much as a warning, his souldrive suddenly whirred to live with its activation. He stood so fast that his chair flipped backwards with a crash that echoed piercingly in the meeting chamber. The science officer slammed both his fists -- both of which had turned a brilliant gold -- onto the polished table with hard enough intensity to crack the surface. "SILENCE!"

At the sound of his outburst, silence ensured immediately. All the commanders looked to him as if someone had set off a gunshot in the room and it became deathly quiet. Even Nightingale, who had been so into her ranting moments earlier, ceased her mouthing off to look at Gerbera with a confounded look of surprise. None of them had been prepared for his outburst. It was quiet enough that a pin drop could have been heard, the intensity of its sound reminiscent of thousand of shattering window panes.

Gerbera felt his body tremble lightly when gaze finally settled on Nightingale. His vision was red with fury and his glare was so hot that it would have been appropriate if it melted the femme right where she sat. The Gundam had to resist from throwing his calm appearance into the wind to attack her out of blind hate. He was speaking before he could stop himself. "If you ever dare as much as to speak scandalously of Sazabi EVER again, I will personally see to it that you are instantly discharged from your post and thrown into the acid pits of the General's chamber. Oh don't look at me like that you stupid woman, I have the power to do exactly as I just said. Don't think for a moment that I'm bluffing either, because I will NOT settle for your horrible talk of a mech who was ten times the Axian you'll EVER be!" At that, Gerbera whipped around, picked up his toppled chair, and hurled it across the room with all his strength. It hit the wall opposite of him with a crash.

No one said anything.

Gerbera turned back around to face the other commanders. They all looked as equally terrified as Nightingale. Gerbera's fury started to settle suddenly -- his souldrive also began to deactivate as well -- and he exhaled heavily through his olfactory sensors. He braced his hands stiffly on the table where he smashed his fists into its surface earlier. "Despite the fact that you would be promoted to Sazabi's old position as the head commander of the Dark Axis fleet under normal circumstances, I am not going to allow you that promotion."

Nightingale's optic flared brightly in a combination of surprise, muted fury, and terror.

Galbaldy, the commander of the Obsidian Musai, spoke up to break the silence that overtook the room when Gerbera finished speaking. His address was aimed at Nightingale. "I'd say that you got what was coming to you. I'm just surprised that it didn't happen sooner rather than later." The mech's optic lit up with a grin of impish spite.

Nightingale fumbled, looked angrily around the room… and then the femme slumped back in her seat with her self-worth deflated.

Gerbera kept his hot glare on her. "…As I was saying, despite the fact that we still haven't heard news from Lord Destroyer Dom, Grappler Gouf, Zapper Zaku, or the rest of the missing Magna Musai fleet, it doesn't mean that they're all necessarily dead. Until this is either confirmed or denied, the construction of the Credence Musai will remain on hold indefinitely."

Eleven of the twelve present commanders nodded in agreement. The only one to remain motionless was Commander Nightingale, who had seemingly resorted to glaring at her own reflection the table's surface.

Gerbera continued feeling his sizzling circuits finally cool. "I hereby announce that Commander Z'Gok's Lucid Musai be promoted to the position of head flagship. The Shadow Musai will keep its second-in-command position as it had before."

Z'Gok looked up to address Gerbera. "Thank you, sir."

A moment of uncertain silence swept over the room like a cool breeze. Suddenly, Commander Krieger abruptly stood. "Well then, seeing as this meeting appears to otherwise be over, I would like to say a few words…" The mech turned his head to regard the empty seat beside Gerbera, and most everyone else followed his gaze with the exceptions being Gerbera and Nightingale. Eventually though, even Nightingale herself looked over, but Gerbera felt as though his neck gears were frozen so that he couldn't look. He wouldn't. He knew damn well that there was a possibility that he would break down if he looked again at the place where Sazabi once sat so many times before.

"Sazabi never did pay any attention to these meetings," Gerbera thought sullenly to himself. "They bored him, but he still attended them anyways because it gave him an excuse to sit beside me. He… he loved me. Just being at my side alone was enough to make him happy."

"Commander Stalemate Sazabi was a shining example of a true Dark Axis commander right to the very end," Krieger said, voice both bold and sullen at the same time. The white commander was an excellent public speaker. "He never surrendered to Captain Gundam even when it was obvious he would be beaten regardless as to how hard he fought. That sheer determination and courage would shake the very foundations of the universe if every inhabitant of it bore witness to his awesome power. It is for that reason that I am greatly saddened to see his legacy end on such a tragic, heroic note." Krieger gave a short, curt bow towards the empty seat. "If Stalemate were alive to hear me say it, well then sir, I would say that it was an honor to serve alongside you in our mission to conquer the dimensions the universe has to offer. Rest in peace my old friend, and may your memory live in all our souldrives forever. You will be dearly missed."

No one else said as much as a word, but Gerbera deducted that it was out of respect. Nothing more needed to be said. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, the best laid plans of mice and men. The meeting ended after that. The commanders rose to their feet to leave and they trickled out of the room one by one, though not without stopping to look at Sazabi's empty seat one last time in a silent contribution of respect. Even Nightingale stopped to look at the seat, but the femme did not stay there for very long. She left the room, leaving the science officer suddenly alone in the empty chamber. Now that they were all gone, Gerbera finally brought it upon himself to look at that abandoned seat.

Indeed, Sazabi would be very dearly missed.

Dejectedly, Gerbera retrieved his thrown chair halfway across the room before he dragged it back to his usual place at the table beside Sazabi's own seat. He slumped into his chair and stared at where Commander Sazabi once sat for a good length of time.

Seven days passed since Commander Sazabi's death. In the meantime, Gerbera decided that he didn't like his fake name anymore.

The black Gundam stared at his special Dark Axis armor where it was mounted on the wall some several feet away from his recharge berth. He sat with his legs dangling over the edge of with his optics deadlocked against the Dark Axis issued plating realizing how much he absolutely detested it. Sazabi had been partially right. While he didn't love his original name because of the connection it had with his old ties once being a member of the Gundam Force, the title of Gerbera never settled right with him.

On top of that, Sazabi liked his old name. For that same reason, deep down in the pits of his souldrive, Madnug found that he liked it all along too.

Four days had passed since the meeting with the other commanders and, on the one week anniversary of Sazabi's destruction, he found that Cyan -- the Magna Musai medic whom he had spoken to on the communications link after his lover's defeat -- had apparently sent him pictures of Commander Sazabi's empty shell for reference purposes. The time that the photographs were dated were minutes before Cyan contacted him to share the news of Sazabi's gruesome end. Madnug remembered that she had explained that there was no way to bring the corpse back to the Dark Axis without the Zakorello Gate, but the dark Gundam was partially glad that the photographs were all that were sent to him.

Sazabi looked absolutely horrid.

The images made the Gundam want to be violently ill when he looked at them. They were all so grotesque. In life Madnug always remembered Sazabi to be a mighty and pristine figure, but seeing him without all his special equipment made the warrior look so vulnerable and almost naked. The crest that adorned his commander fin was gone, his shoulder guards were missing, and the fact Sazabi's plating was as extensively damaged as it was made Madnug cringe. The fact he was missing his arm terrified the science officer even more. The harsh way that Sazabi's broken body was twisted from his fall off the top of the Horn of War made Madnug desperately wish that he had been killed before being hurled off the tower's top. To think of how much agony his lover had to have been in was just as awful as it was spark churning. Sazabi's face had been the worse however. It was scuffed and dented, and his optic had been cracked so that he was obviously blind in the last few moments he lived. Not only had he been in pain and alone, but he had been trapped in the dark as well. Despite his facial expression being immobile, Madnug imagined that it would have been twisted with the pain he had to endure before being privileged to die and escape his suffering.

All things taken into consideration, Madnug thought that Sazabi at least wouldn't be bothered by that god damned alarm clock any longer. He could sleep in as much as he wanted now.

That thought sent Madnug into an immediate downward spiral and, mere moments afterward, he found himself dropping the photographs onto his desk and pinching the bridge of his nose would have met his faceplate. He leaned back in his chair with his shoulders shaking and he desperately tried to regain some hold on himself. He failed miserably. An armor chattering shudder passed through him and he ducked his head forward against his hand with a sob. It was the first time he cried in a very long time, since the day he found himself alone in the void of space after being deserted by the Gundam Force.

So, there he was several hours later, sitting on the edge of his recharge berth staring at his accursed Gerbera armor. In memory, he supposed that simply preferring the name that Sazabi insisted on calling him was the least he could do for his dead lover. Madnug had denied him a bond for so long that he decided that he couldn't deny the dead mech that much.

"But I still never should have denied bonding with him," Madnug thought with a depressed cloud suffocating the flame inside his souldrive. "I loved him. I loved him just as much as he loved me right back, but I was too blinded by my own loyalties to the General's cause to look past that. We could have been bondmates. We should have been bondmates… and now it's too late for me to throw myself into his arms and take his proposal."

He briefly thought of Zapper Zaku and Grappler Gouf. He hadn't heard from the two squad leaders in the same way he still hadn't heard from the rest of the Magna Musai's missing crew. If Zapper Zaku truly had been captured by enemy forces -- he couldn't imagine that the maroon warrior was killed, because the thought bothered him far too much -- then he wished Grappler Gouf the best of luck in attempting to rescue him. The dark Gundam dreadfully hoped that they were both all right and that their own bondlink wasn't jeopardized in the same fashion his own potential bondlink with Sazabi was.

Very slowly, Madnug found himself lifting his legs and feet onto the bed to lay in it, all the while turning away from his patented Gerbera armor so he could look to the empty spot in the bed beside him. Although Sazabi had never slept beside him in this particular berth -- the only times they recharged together was when Madnug visited the Magna Musai for scheduled inspections -- he momentarily pretended Sazabi was right beside him. For a moment, it worked. Just as always, the larger mech was deep in recharge next to him, and Sazabi's arm was draped protectively over Madnug's shoulder like a shielding cover of gorgeous maroon steel. His otherwise immobile facial expression was at peace as he didn't suffer from his once overpowering bouts of insomnia anymore, and Madnug gently reached his fingertips out to graze them down the side of the larger robot's faceplate… his intended caress only met empty air when Madnug snapped back to reality, and the lonely Gundam once again found himself alone in the dark recesses of his own room. It was an almost depressing thought, but then he remembered something.

I'll be there.

Sazabi had promised him that in his death. In the end, Sazabi actually never died at all. He still existed in Madnug's memory as if he never left, and the dead mech's image once again reappeared sleeping beside him. He woke up and his optic brightened in adoration at him. He reached his free hand forward -- using the arm that wasn't thrown over Madnug's shoulders -- and he touched the front of his lover's armor where his souldrive was concealed. It was a loving gesture. In Madnug's head, his lover's voice echoed. "I love you. I've always loved you."

Madnug clenched his fist against the spot where Sazabi slept. The Gundam fell into recharge with his lover beside him, and their souldrives whirred in perfect sync with their bond.

I'll be there when you say, "Time to never hold our love."