Streets Are Filled With --
picking up what people have left behind
Commenting To 
23rd-Jul-2009 11:23 pm - Gundam Wing: Passover (6, 13; 5 & other random guests)
Many thanks to [info - personal] voksen for the repeated cheerleading and withstanding my Unending Whine. 8D *buffs this fic* I'm really kind of happy with this one. \o/


Fandom: Gundam Wing
Characters: Zechs, allusions to Treize and 13/6 if you squint. Random guest appearances, including Wufei.
Rating: PG13
Warnings: Set just after the series, but pre-Endless Waltz. Standalone part of a future series (Treize Lives!TM).
Summary: Friendship is unnecessary; it has no survival value. Zechs lives, but that, too, is an oversimplification.

5651 words and a whole bunch of... words! Plus a summary that cannibalises a C.S Lewis quote.

When they dragged him out of the wreckage it would probably have been more appropriate if he had kicked and yelled, but he was too tired to kick and too hoarse to yell and too busy sucking pointlessly at the last of his oxygen, his oesophagus seizing inwards with every breath. He heard words - "is that-?" and a bumbling mess of medical terms, a crushing list of chemicals on order before someone screamed "stat! stat!" - and the familiar, naval, tidal pull of false gravity asserting itself behind the stomach before spreading up between his shoulder blades.

And then there was someone else yanking the tubing of his air supply away, one gasping moment of nothingness like space, and then the smell of hard plastic.

'He's breathing,' they said, their voices coming in down off a panic. 'He's breathing. Stand back and give us some room - wheel him into medical bay 6, delta deck. He's breathing,' the phrase repeated a third time like a prayer while his throat continued to constrict, silent and unnoticed and unmedicated, unmedicable.

Waking up was an entirely different matter all together. Like any good soldier in war he snapped awake, eyes first. He blinked away sealant gone crusty over his eyes, then blinked again, but there was nothing in front of him, just a spiking pain like a migraine starting at the base of his optic nerve. The space around him felt like a vacuum, blasting every part of him outwards until he had to move, but he could not sit up because his hands were strapped down. His throat still ached as if he had been screaming all day (all night?) since they rescued him out of pity and - god, he hoped – with promises of pacifism, honour and dignity for survivors.

'Please don't struggle,' a voice said, female but not feminine, hysterically like and unlike every woman that Zechs had ever seemed to got to know in his life. 'The blindness is temporary. The doctors say that even the protective UV coating on your Gundam and your visor could not block out enough of the explosion - when they found you your retinas were blown. They say to give it two weeks, maybe a month.'

Her voice was steady. Factual, but sympathetic, like she had learned to speak from speeches and therefore measured every word and knew every meaning. Zechs heard her move, and then the rattle of ice cubes against each other before a cold chip was pressed to his mouth. 'Suck,' she said to him. 'Wet your throat. We can talk - they've let me see you first before everyone else.' She pushed the chip into his mouth, which was slack. Her voice was softer when she said, 'We have a lot to talk about.'

Zechs nodded and crunched the chips, feeling the numbness go up his teeth. When the water trickled down, he swallowed and said, 'Relena?'

Relena's voice didn't quite shake when she called him her elder brother and touched her fingers to his fingers. Zechs chuckled, not knowing what else to do. 'Can you undo my hands? Or is that...' He trailed off. He chuckled again, this time louder: a laugh.

'Are you all right?' she asked him, again with that curious blend of concern beaten down by practicality. Had it been the fighting that changed her? Or had she grown up like that? In either case, Relena didn't move to untie Zechs. 'You're -'

'What are they going to do with me?' Zechs cut her off, as gently as he could after 10 years of war and order. 'Do they even have the vaguest idea?'

'They haven't decided yet,' Relena said. 'But I think it would be best if we could keep you somewhere safe.'

'Safe from whom?' Zechs asked, groping upwards to meet her hand. She clung on and he let her nails dig into his skin. 'Ghosts?' he asked, his voice finally starting to break apart from misuse and screaming. '900,000 dead soldiers? Myself?'

'Mostly the latter,' she said reluctantly, as though she knew exactly how he felt being strapped to a bed and feeling vaguely post-traumatic. Maybe it was natural - they were brother and sister - but he barely knew her and she barely knew him, and if they wanted that to change they needed more than a few minutes post-Apocalypse, with less than one of them a wanted man. 'There's a good facility, close to Sanq -'

'An asylum's an asylum by any name,' Zechs said, letting Relena go when he felt her pull her hand back. 'Put a man in there for some time and they'll find something wrong with him. But it's fortunate - I'm not well, and I haven't been well, and because I do not think that I am going to get better they will be very impressed by my sanity and let me go eventually, sometime after they have dug up the stories they want to hear about the world ending three times, four times -- I've actually lost count now. That, and how it was like to fly in a world with Gundams, and Gundam pilots, the whole damn sky alight and dying. You really had to look, not just listen, because once there's a hull breach or airlock compromise their voices get stolen and the screaming stops, abruptly. Did they all live?' he asked, abruptly.

'What?' Relena started. Zechs heard a clatter of something, maybe a syringe coming off a metal tray.

'Did they all live?' he asked her again. 'The five pilots.'

'Yes,' Relena replied, cautiously. 'They did. They're all doing well, as far as I know. But you're not – forgettable the way that they are, brother. They were the pivotal heroes for the colonies but they have forgettable names and no families--'

'I'm not sure who the main characters of this story even were,' Zechs shrugged, lying back down. 'Or what the plot was, or who betrayed whom, or if all of us were loyal to the end.'


'Not yet,' he said to her, grinding his head back against the pillows of whatever they had strapped him onto and feeling the crunch of his hair beneath his scalp. 'Perhaps not ever any more, for that name. Did he live?'

'Who?' Relena asked, but she didn't sound half as confused as she did before. Little wonder – it was a simple process of elimination, wasn't it? If Zechs wasn't asking after the five Gundam pilots and if he wasn't asking after Noin, who else was left? Zechs felt anger change his voice. 'Did he live.'

'I'm going to inject a sedative into your IV, brother,' she told him, changing the subject completely. 'We'll transfer you while you sleep. Thank you for your understanding and no,' she said, as the world tumbled up into star-bright colours behind his bandages. 'I'm sorry. I do not think that Treize lived.'

Zechs imagined that the most cruel thing they could have done to him was to have put him in a cell neighbouring Lady Une's, but apparently the new United Earth Sphere Alliance – or whatever they called themselves – were better at unusual forms of torture than he'd expected. They didn't put Une anywhere near him at all, unless Zechs was going to count the gradually increasing number of times that her name appeared on news reports and on the television.

The facility/hospital/asylum/holding cell was the sum total of a small white building an hour and a half's land transit from Sanq, funded by political earmarking as far as Zechs could tell. No other way to explain its existence – if he had any fellow inmates they weren't permanent enough for him to notice who they were. His doctors didn't so much lock him in a padded room as much as they just let him roam aimlessly through white halls and stare out of broad windows across green fields.

The blindness, as promised, faded with time. Zechs barely noticed it going: they had him under so much medical care for the first two weeks that his vision returning was just one incident in a series of many.

Early on, his doctor told him, 'I'd be shocked at what you've done to your body,' as he calmly scrawled things onto a clipboard, 'except that you're already grazing your early twenties, which is a half-decade better than what those kids got.'

'You treated the Gundam pilots?' Zechs asked, sitting up and consenting to be poked and prodded and scanned and documented.

'Someone had to,' the doctor shrugged. 'I'm not really interested in war-mongering or politics. My family has a few acres out in the old country, a vineyard or two, and after I'm done with you I think they'll have paid me enough that I'll go happily and silently into my fields. Buy a few cows, become a geriatrician. I've had enough of the war-dead and war-dying.'

Zech thought of the men he had under his command, both military and mercenary, and stiffened. 'How bad has it been?'

His doctor rapped him on the shoulder. 'Breathe out, Mr. Merquise – if you draw your spine in like that you'll snap from the tension one day, you know.' Zechs exhaled, noisily for emphasis. The doctor sighed. 'Every fight has its casualties, boy. For the most part the hospitals on the colonies are filled with the usual – everything from burns to post-traumatic cases. Give it a few more months and my sort of people will have nothing more to do. We'll pass it on to the gravediggers and the psychiatrists, and that's the hard and honest truth.'

Zechs was silent.

The doctor pushed an oxygen mask towards his face. 'That's the price everyone pays, isn't it?' he said brusquely.

'If the price is high enough this time, maybe the world will learn to read labels,' Zechs murmured, pulling the mask on. 'Caveat emptor.'

'Buyer beware,' his doctor said, yanking the straps of the mask over Zechs' head with more force than was strictly necessary. 'Prolonged exposure to high levels of g-force, excessive radiation, extended periods of time away from Earth or simulated levels of Earth-gravity, sleep deprivation, malnutrition and overt and hapless physical exertion may result in the following symptoms: inability of the blood to carry sufficient levels of oxygen, shrinkage of the heart, severely elevated or depressed blood pressure, growth inhibition - especially for males undergoing or coming out of adolescence – not to mention an erratic heart rate and a increased risk of both grey-out and black-out during aerobatic or, in your case, hysterically risky flight patterns.' The doctor activated the flow of oxygen. 'That's just the general prognosis,' he added, growling cheerfully. 'And if the whole world just counted the symptoms rationally, we'd all be able to table up a dozen and one reasons why training pre-teens in the art of war is stupid and non-essential.'

Zechs coughed. 'The "art of war" is a poetic way of describing military training, doctor,' he said from beneath the mask.

'Don't talk, all you do is spew carbon dioxide,' his doctor told him. 'But it is an art to you people, isn't it? Flying farther and faster and for better reasons than the next man. Maybe not glory, but honour, justice, beauty – big nouns, bigger adjectives.'

Zechs narrowed his eyes faintly. 'You're not from a noble family, are you, doctor?'

'My family's had ties to Romefeller for longer than I bother to recall,' the man told him, dismissing it off hand. 'I watched Colonel Treize and you rise to power like binary stars. I'm no mind-reader, but I'd go at your psych file with gusto if I thought you had any idea what the hell it is that you've been doing with your life these last ten years. It's a nicer view, watching your sister.'

'She's lived a different life,' Zechs said, holding the oxygen mask up away from his face and breathing raggedly. 'That's what we were fighting for.'

'Peacecrafts fighting Khushrenadas,' the doctor snorted. Zechs didn't bother to correct him. 'Nobility! An euphemistic classification for a bunch of bored inbreeds. We live like we own all the currency in the whole damn world, including human lives. Maybe it'd have been better if we'd all been born paupers instead.' Jotting down a few more notes on his board, he told Zechs, 'Keep sucking down on that. I'll put your body back together, then you can go see what you want to do with your wreck of a mind, Mr. Merquise.'

After that the doctor left Zechs able-bodied, lucid and alone. As the days went by, Zechs found himself replacing the thought of an anonymous new government at a loss of what to do with a war criminal – that mysterious they in the sky – with the memory of Relena's voice at his bedside. No one else seemed to be bothered by his state of yes-no-maybe existence: is Zechs Merquise/Milliardo Peacecraft dead/alive?

All things said and done, Zechs felt his stay was more like an exercise in bureaucracy (delete whichever inapplicable) crossed over with a physics lecture (does anyone give a damn about Schrödinger's cat; they've already got his equations) than a real problem. War was over. Capital punishment was out of fashion.

There was no pushing things, though. There wasn't much to do at all – Zechs had no one to hide from, no one to seek out, no one to protect and no one to fight. He couldn't remember another time like this in his life, except for a distant past filled with hazy memories of etiquette lessons, his father's study and the Sanq Kingdom, home. There wasn't much to remember, and even if there had been Zechs was sure that time and experience had done a good job of eroding it away. Things had come into focus only after the attacks on his family; then things had begun to matter. Everything had begun to matter, from who he was and who he spent his time with, to where he was and where he was going to be. Zechs had never had the luxury of not thinking, or the pleasantry of spare time, or the simple aimlessness of not having a goal, and now that he did he wasn't quite sure what to do with it.

Silence and spare time weren't particularly frightening, nor were the nights, which Zechs found temperate and easy to pass with either a book or sleep. The days Zechs passed in the rehabilitation wing, working on physical therapy and then on simply keeping his body fit while his mind wandered. They/Relena didn't send in a psychologist, as his medical doctor had predicted they would – what would have been the point? Zechs had piloted the Epyon and survived a brief foray with suicide. Jung and Freud were not going to be helpful. Someone else came instead; someone more qualified, and whom Zechs had heard of and could, without chagrin, respect.

Sally Po came in with her sympathy and her military experience and asked him questions, steadily but gently, until Zechs got tired of being polite and asked, 'Do you think I'm mentally unsound?'

'No, I don't think you are,' Po said to him, without preamble. 'But then, you have said by your own admission that you weren't in your right mind when you led the White Fang.'

It's complicated, Zechs would have said honestly, but instead he said, 'I got better.'

'It seems you have,' she agreed. 'I've seen something strikingly similar happen, which adds to your credulity. Lady Une –'

'She's doing very well, I see,' Zechs interjected softly. By sheer force of habit he had kept up with her to the best of his ability: the newspapers and the net casts and even the radio. 'Working with the government and heading the Preventers. With her track record and loyalty to His Excellency, Lord Khushrenada –'

'I'm sensing some sarcasm in your tone, Mr. Merquise,' Po commented. Zechs shrugged; Sally Po was a Preventer, which made Une her superior. 'No one doubts that the Lady Une has been through a lot. I believe at the end of the day it was decided that it was in the best interests of the new alliance that the blame not be placed on either the colonists or Lord Khushrenada's army.'

Zechs leaned back in his seat and crossed his arms. 'Then what am I doing here?'

She cleared her throat. 'We're ascertaining that you're not post-traumatic, or a risk to others, or a risk to yourself. That's what they called me in to do.'
Sally Po had long hair and a gentle nature, and Zechs momentarily wondered why he could only see a multitude of weaknesses when he looked at her.

'I think I fail to qualify for trauma,' Zechs said. 'You have to have come from a position of relative stability to be knocked off of it, and I haven't. My family's always been involved with war, one way or another. After all this time, do you think I'd waste all of my effort by killing myself, or anyone else?'

Po was quiet. Then she said, 'You can't rationalise everything, Mr. Merquise.' With a sigh, she gathered her things and stood. 'I respect your confidentiality, but might I suggest something?'

Coolly, Zechs said, 'Yes?'

'There're people more experienced than myself in this field,' she said. 'I can forward your file to a few who do have experience, in every sense of the word. Their opinions will be respected more than mine will, I wager.'

'Who are they?'

'People like you,' she said. 'Child soldiers. Please don't get up, Mr. Merquise,' she held up her hand. 'In terms of cynicism, your doctor assures me that you must be thrice as old as I am. So?'

Zechs nodded, yes. 'Ms. Po,' he said softly just as Sally turned to go. When she looked back at him, he said, 'Tell my sister that –' He paused. 'No. Nothing. Please, feel free to leave.'

'You're a sharp one, Zechs,' she said, a look carefully framed away from pity in her eyes. 'Relena cares about you. She doesn't know what to do with you, and I think she's afraid that if she lets you out of here you'll prove to be perfectly non-traumatic, perfectly unwilling to hurt anyone and perfectly unwilling to die, and perfectly predisposed to doing all of the three somewhere far, far away from here.'

Zechs tugged his lips up into a smile. 'Thank you, Miss Po.'

Sally patted him on the shoulder with her hand. 'Give her time,' she advised. 'You've plenty of it, after all. This is better than a court martial. I'll see about getting someone in here to talk to you next week.'

Whomever he might have expected Sally Po to send, Chang Wufei had not admittedly been high on Zechs' list of potentials.

It hadn't been a very long list.

Zechs had assumed that she'd send Maxwell, or maybe go a step further and try Yuy, but it was black hair and belligerent eyes and a silent, unimpressed expression that waited for him in the airy hospital lounge.

'Well, well,' Zechs said to himself from where he'd paused in the corridor.

The staff had shown Wufei a seat and given him a tray of drinks. The former he'd taken, the latter sat untouched on the table in front of him. He sat waiting; very still, and very straight, dressed in a plain white shirt and suitably anonymous black pants. Seeing Wufei like that left Zechs feeling disjointed, as though something had been wrenched out of a socket and left to dangle. Without the largess of space and two Gundams to separate them, it seemed strange to Zechs that Wufei wasn't in military fatigues.

He shook the thoughts out of his head and strode into the lounge. 'Chang Wufei,' he said quietly, coming up to a chair next to the boy and setting a hand on the backrest.

'Zechs.' Wufei got up, his eyes sweeping in Zechs' appearance. He didn't try to disguise either his curiosity or his appraisal.

'You're not being very subtle,' Zechs observed lightly. With a war behind them, it wasn't as if either of them could stand on ceremony, though Zechs could damn well try. Maybe it was his breeding; or perhaps he just wanted Wufei to feel as on edge as he did.

'You're pale,' was Wufei's succinct conclusion.

'They keep me on a short leash,' Zechs said.

'You look weak,' Wufei shot back.

Zechs shrugged it off. 'I probably am,' he said, giving up on their rally and sitting down. He was getting tired of fighting battles with words and without armour. He gestured at the room. 'Otherwise I wouldn't be here, would I?'

Wufei laughed, sharp and full of ridicule. 'You're naïve if you believe that, Merquise,' he announced, and sat down as if he'd been forced into giving ground.

Zechs couldn't help but smile at that. 'It's not as though they let me go piloting as a rehabilitation activity.'

'Then do something else,' Wufei dismissed, putting his arms akimbo. 'Run. Train. Lift weights. You can't tell me that that woman made me come here just to tell you that you're throwing your life away.'

'It's not my body they're trying to fix,' Zechs said, leaning forward and picking up the pot of tea on the lounge table. He poured himself a cup. 'Want one?'

'No,' Wufei said, strongly. 'You are wasting my time, Merquise.'

'I didn't ask for you.' Zechs poured out another cup anyway. 'Someone requested for Sally Po to talk to me, and then Sally Po requested that I let her recommend someone else for my case. I don't enjoy being passed around like an explosive that might go off at any time, if that's what you're thinking. Nor do I want to be pitied. I want to get out of this hospital,' Zechs said, setting the tea pot down with supreme calm. 'I want my autonomy back. I do not want other people to decide for me whether I am sane or not.'

He looked up at Wufei, lifting one of the cups. 'One sugar or two?'

Wufei looked at him. 'One,' he said shortly, and then shut his mouth.

Zechs opened the sugar sachets in silence. When he passed Wufei his cup, the man accepted it without protest. 'It's not my body they're trying to fix,' Zechs repeated, tightly controlled. 'But I hear that there's peace now. No need for soldiers or,' he cast his mind for the phrase, 'child soldiers any more.' He saw Wufei tighten his hands around his untouched cup, and felt vicariously victorious. 'I wasn't a Gundam Pilot. They don't hail me as a hero – I'm a terrorist and a deserter and a political time bomb.'

Wufei cut in. 'What were you fighting for?' he asked, his voice low and almost angry. 'One moment you were fighting for Earth and the next you were with the White Fang. Now you're telling me all of this, but what's the point? I'm not an important person – there's nothing I can do.'

'I don't know what the point is, speaking entirely for myself,' Zechs said. 'I wasn't supposed to live this long.'

'But you're alive,' Wufei said, voice rising. He'd never been trained to keep his cool, Zechs assumed. Lucky him. 'You lived through your war and now you have to deal with how your war has left the world.'

'My war?' Zechs asked politely.

'Merquise!' Wufei snapped.

'It left the world at peace!' Zechs snarled, with equal ferocity. 'I fought my war as honourably as I could and as long as I could to end all wars. It didn't matter which side I was on, and it didn't matter who I was fighting for. As a soldier, I was ready and willing to die that day, and I should have.'

'Why?' Wufei's eyes blazed. 'So that you could leave the work of establishing peace to the people you left behind?'

Zechs had no answer for Wufei that would have made any sense to the boy: I was supposed to die, too, were the only words on his lips and those were too much for him to say. The only other response was instinctive. 'What place does a soldier have outside of war? And I'm nothing but a soldier.' He held Wufei's gaze.

Wufei held his for a moment, but not past that.

'Damn it,' Wufei swore, slamming his cup onto the table and looking away.

Zechs felt achingly tired, and too exhausted to be as angry as Wufei could. Talking with him was like looking back at the world through an inverted mirror of unpleasant truths. 'Why did you come here?' he asked Wufei, wearily.

'I wanted some answers,' Wufei said, dully resentful and equally aware of why they were both so quick to anger. 'I thought you'd have them.'

'You can still ask me,' Zechs said, turning away as well and fixing his gaze on the far wall. 'If you'd like. I'm sorry – I've made you uncomfortable.'

'Don't make me laugh, Merquise,' Wufei retorted. He waited a beat. 'That day. I fought Treize.'

'Oh?' Zechs said. They hadn't told him this. They hadn't told him anything about Treize. 'Again?' he asked, forcing the word out of his mouth.

'Aah,' Wufei nodded. 'We needed to finish things.'

'He probably felt the same way.'

'He didn't hold back,' Wufei went on. 'He fought well. But on that final attack, he saw me move, and for someone like Treize it would have been child's play to calculate the necessary trajectories in time to dodge or feint. He knew what I was going to do, and he could have blocked it. He didn't.'

Wufei was silent. Zechs was glad. It gave him time to breathe.

'Why?' Wufei asked.

'Why what?' Zechs asked, defensively droll.

Wufei turned. He reached around to Zechs and grabbed him by the arm. 'Why didn't he block?' Wufei demanded, shaking him, and Zechs let himself be shaken. 'You knew him better than anyone else, Merquise – why didn't he block?'

Numbly, Zechs heard himself say, 'You're mistaken.'

Wufei stopped. 'What?'

The laugh that bubbled its way up Zechs' throat took them both by surprise. 'You think that I knew Treize better than anyone else?' Zechs laughed, unable to help himself – it was that or cry or shout, and there wasn't any point in doing either. He yanked his arm free, sending his tea clattering to the ground in the process. 'That man drove me insane – the two of us were fighting a war where there weren't any real enemies and where there were no real sides and where the only goal was to live long and then die young. Why do you think I have any idea of how his head worked?' Zechs brought a hand up to his mouth to stop himself; his fingers were trembling minutely.

Wufei pulled his arm back. 'Merquise...'

Zechs bent down to pick up his tea cup and wipe up the mess. 'This isn't a hospital,' he said, kneeling. 'It's not my body they're trying to fix.' He set the cup down on the table, and placed his hands there, too.

'The woman wants a report from me,' Wufei said at last.

'Ms. Po?'

'No, the other woman,' Wufei said, slowly. 'The girl.'

'Ah,' Zechs said, nodding.

'I'll tell her you're wasting your life here,' Wufei told Zechs, standing. 'You are, you know, you bastard. You're pale and you're weak. Go run, train, lift weights.'

'Thank you,' Zechs said, still kneeling.

'I'm not doing this for you or your pride,' Wufei snapped. 'You're a broken man who can't do anything for himself – it's pathetic – but if that's what happens to hypocrites and turncoats, then I won't be the one to condemn you to a life of staring at walls and waiting on the word of paranoid and untested women. Go do something with yourself. You disgust me.'

Zechs knelt up. 'You should consider counselling if you're ever need of a profession in this new world, Wufei.'

Wufei snorted, and left.

'So I heard that they were letting you out,' his doctor said to him on the morning that Zechs was scheduled to leave. He turned up at Zechs' room door, unasked for and sans his medical equipment but with all of his usual bedside manner.

Zechs had a bag packed. There wasn't much in it – a few sets of clothes, some money. He zipped it up before saying, 'I believe the correct term is that I'm "being discharged".'

'Semantics,' the doctor waved it off, leaning against the doorjamb. He squinted at Zechs through his spectacles. 'What are you now, a politician?'

'Not everyone has such a noble profession as yours, doctor,' Zechs said, slinging his bag over a shoulder.

'You're drier than a desert,' his doctor huffed. He nodded at Zechs' getup. 'Well then, where are you going to go?'

'I don't know yet,' Zechs replied with a shrug. 'Are you here to tell me?'

'If I wanted to give instructions I'd have joined the army same as you. Doctors mostly live for disobedient patients.' The man reached into the breast pocket of his well-cut suit and withdrew a slim folio of papers. 'What you have in front of you are some choices, young man,' he announced, flipping the soft leather open with quick hands. 'If only we were all so fortunate to be able to pick and choose like this.'

'What are those?' Zechs asked, spotting a flash of paper. He didn't have any of his documents on him – just thinking about identifying himself made Zechs wince. Merquise's documents had probably been destroyed alongside any of his other military paperwork. Miliardo Peacecraft's existence was an even trickier issue. 'My papers?'

'In a manner of speaking,' his doctor nodded whimsically, flipping through them. 'On one hand we have these,' he said, holding up a few sheets. 'Carte blanche. Choose your own name, your own birth date, your own favourite colour – fill in the blanks. Very primary school.' Then he held up another set of papers. 'While on the other we have these, issued in either one of your old names, and they come with all the baggage attached.'

Zechs narrowed his eyes. 'The choice is a little too obvious, if you ask my opinion.'

'I know,' the doctor bemoaned quietly. 'There are so few caveats that I'm actually a little disappointed. No price of admission for a free ticket to anywhere? Hah!'

'I'm not even going to try to correct your oxymorons, doctor,' Zechs pointed out.

'We'd be here all day if you did,' the doctor agreed wholeheartedly. He folded the papers, neatly, and slotted them into the folio once more. 'They've frozen all your old accounts,' he told Zechs. 'One way or another, they'll move the money and liquidate the assets so that you'll be able to become an obedient, high-bracketed tax-paying member of society no matter where you end up.'

'May I access my records?' Zechs asked. 'I haven't seen them in a while.'

'It's not nice pretending to be poor, Merquise,' the doctor chastised. He handed over the folio. 'There's a print out in there. No sense in having you log in personally to check if you choose to be a dead man five minutes later.'

'Thank you,' Zechs said, receiving the folio. He opened it and flipped through the papers – typical legal documentation for the most part, until it came to his statements. Property valuations and assorted titles from his time and investments during his tenure in OZ, yes. Then another few sheets, and a bank balance that was astronomically larger than anything he had expected. Zechs' hand paused on the page. 'Doctor,' he said quietly.

'Noticed that, have you?' His doctor made a disgusted noise in the back of his throat, which came out like a laugh. 'Mumbo-jumbo and rigmarole and dancing in the dark,' he muttered, digging into his jacket once more. 'Here,' he said, handing Zechs another letter. 'The will was executed into your estate – you were alive in public healthcare for long enough that the Khushrenada lawyers bit the heads off of anyone who tried to get their hands on your share. Not that there were many. They're bad blood even by our standards now.'

Zechs took the letter, but didn't bother glancing very much farther than Treize's family crest and watermarks.

'Game, set, match?' his doctor asked.

Zechs folded Treize's will in with the rest of his papers. 'His victories were always crushing,' he said, with some bitterness.

'No secret that the two of you were friends long before you were enemies.' The doctor cocked his head at Zechs. 'What changed, if you don't mind me asking such a plebeian question? I've got a bad case of curiosity and no respect for whispering in the dark.'

'Nothing really changed,' Zechs reflected. He thumbed idly through the documents. 'The circumstances did. There wasn't enough time in the interim to figure out both friendships and allegiances.'

'Aren't they the same?'

'Not at all,' Zechs shook his head. He set his shoulders. 'I guess you're here to sign my obituary, doctor?'

His doctor withdrew a pen. 'So that's what you've decided?'

Zechs handed over his old identity in silence.

The doctor lifted a shoulder in a shrug, and pushed his sleeve back to check his watch. 'Time of death,' he announced. 'Two fifty one p.m.'

Zechs smiled. 'Now you're being crude.'

'My favourite part of the job,' the doctor said brightly, signing the sheets. 'Here,' he said, capping his pen and offering the papers to Zechs. 'Don't run too far. One day someone might come looking.'

'I'll go just far enough,' Zechs said.

The doctor pushed himself away from Zechs' door. 'I'll be seeing you, then.'

Zechs exhaled. 'Maybe in a different life.'
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