This is a work of amateur fiction and does not intend to infringe on the rights of Sunrise, Sotsu Agency, Asahi TV, and Bandai Visuals. . No profit is being made.
Thanks go to Ceci for beta reading
It couldn't be... it just could not be! It simply could not be over! Surely the reports had been wrong... surely the Earth forces had been bluffing when they had announced their surrender... surely it had been a Mobile Suit similar to the one of Treize-sama that had been destroyed... surely this was just a dream and would end as soon as she opened her eyes...
But no matter how hard she tried to convince herself of this, she knew that she was telling lies to herself.
It was over.
All she had wanted was beyond her reach; the bubble of beautiful illusions had simply popped, leaving her with nothing to look forward to.
From somewhere near, she heard the sound of powerful engines starting, guessed that it had to be the Gundam pilots who were abandoning the ship. Just run, run as long as you are able to, return to your homes, your families... She wanted to go with them, wanted to scream for them to come back and take her with them.
Don't worry about it. I'm sure she is strong enough to take care of herself.
Yeah... I guess you are right.
How could they have such faith in her, when she could not even muster the strength to stand upright? She curled up on the floor, clutching her space helmet tightly and struggling to get the tears under control.
So weak... when had she turned so weak? She had been strong all her life, pursuing the ideals of warriors... but now she was lying on the cold metal floor of a useless control room, disconnected parts of the Zero system floating around her. Nothing was left of former glory. Explosions rocked the ship with increasing frequency; she could just feel it disintegrate beneath her hands and feet.
She had believed herself to be so strong, thinking that survival was all that mattered. Yet there she was, in the wake of two persons she had deemed weak because they showed kindness, and who were getting out of here alive nevertheless. Who had even found the time to worry for her.
How could anyone worry for her when she had just run a kind person through with a fencing foil?
You had better get going.
Make it through this... somehow.
Maybe that was what kindness really meant... reaching out for others, no matter what they had done.
Slowly she got to her feet, put her helmet on and secured it, swaying as the ship shook again in a series of impacts and bracing herself against the wall.
If they could survive by being kind, she should embrace their ideals.
Pushing self-misery back into a far corner of her mind, Dorothy Catalonia straightened and headed for the nearest hangar.
It had been a while since Dorothy had last piloted anything, but the controls of the freight shuttle she had commandeered were surprisingly simple to understand. Carefully she maneuvered her craft through the half-opened hatch, not willing to risk anything in needless hurry. Stay calm, she told herself as she reached open space. You'll make it.
An hour ago she would have called the sight that presented itself a paradise, but right now it was simply an obstacle course filled with motionless Mobile Dolls, parts of other Suits, and debris from both Libra and Peacemillion. All around her she saw other spacecrafts, most of them heading for MO-II. The crew of Libra, scurrying towards safety.
Dimly she remembered hearing Quinze give the command to clear the ship while she had been alone in the Mobile Dolls control room, but she had not really paid attention to what he had been saying back then.
Libra did no longer look beautiful; fire was spreading on her surface where oxygen leaked out of ruptured tanks, and black marks from hits and explosions were covering the former white smoothness. The ship was dying, lay in its last breaths as it descended towards Earth.
Leaning back in her seat, Dorothy allowed herself a short rest. Taking off her helmet, she combed a hand through her hair to get all strands tucked back behind her ears again, then simply sat there and looked at the scene in front of her.
The glittering spots that were Mobile Suits gradually lessened, concentrating around the resource satellite where they were being taken in. She ought to set a course that would take her there as well; from MO-II she could easily return to Earth. To... Earth...
If there was any Earth left that was worth speaking of.
Treize-sama had fought so hard to protect the planet, had the effort been futile? From her position, Dorothy could see Libra's course gradually changing as the ship was pulled down by Earth's gravity. It could not be... Please...
Peacemillion's thrusters fired suddenly, some of them sputtering and dying out again, others working steadily. Dorothy held her breath as the two ships slowly reverted their direction and floated away, waiting for salvaging crews.
Sighing, she closed her eyes, trying to decide what she should do, now that Earth was safe. Surely the best thing would be to return to the planet and continue with her life, as far as that was possible. Who knew, if Relena-sama had survived, she might even take her in at her school again; there was much to be learned still, and it would be worth comparing battle experiences with the Peacecraft girl's theories.
Whom was she trying to deceive, herself? There was nothing she had learned out here except that she had been wrong, that war was not glorious but gruesome, that there lay no beauty in slaughter. Again tears filled her eyes; Dorothy bit them back, fiercely repeating in her mind that she could not allow herself this weakness if she wanted to get through this. No self-consciousness was acceptable; first she had to find a place for herself again.
If only that weren't so hard... nothing was left of her former life. Dermail was gone, Treize was gone - they had walked the path of the warriors, like so many in her family. Dorothy could not think of any other living relatives, she was truly alone now.
Alone since the two Gundam pilots had left her behind, worrying for her, but not enough to take her with them, liability that she was. She couldn't blame them; they had to think of themselves first and foremost. Survival was all that mattered, hadn't that been her mantra all the time? How hollow it sounded in her ears, now that she was no longer strong but looking for shelter, for help.
A part of Libra that had broken free from the rest and which was still falling towards Earth was beginning to explode. Dorothy thought that she could see tiny sparkles moving around it, thruster fires of Mobile Suits, but she was not sure.
Resting her head against the seat, she tried to rationally consider her position. Drifting in a space battlefield, in a shuttle with nearly full fuel tanks. She ought to hail the forces on MO-II and ask for directions to land in one of their hangars.
What if they refused her? The name Dorothy Catalonia would not evoke sympathy, rather the opposite. She was not sure she could take a rejection at the moment.
Firmly she shook her head; the Dorothy of just an hour ago would have laughed at her for this display of wallowing in self-misery. There had to be a way, there always was. All she needed to do was get back to Earth, then she would decide what to do next. Dorothy was sorely tempted to return to the Sank Kingdom; she had liked it there, and Relena-sama had given her the feeling of being welcome. Just what she needed right now... and the Peacecraft girl surely would not cast her out, no matter what she had done. Relena-sama had always spoken of forgiveness and gentleness, surely she lived what she preached; she would take her in, no matter what role Dorothy had played in the war. Besides, hadn't she helped Relena on board of Libra?
Not in a way that could have been useful for Relena-sama, Dorothy thought ruefully. Offering her the means to assassinate Milliard-sama had not been a wise decision; she should have known that Relena-sama would never have agreed to it. A crude mistake...
No. Relena-sama would forgive her, would welcome her with open arms, especially now that her desire to experience war had become nonexistent. She had had enough of it for a lifetime.
Opening a comm channel to MO-II, Dorothy waited to be acknowledged. It took a few moments, then a man in OZ uniform appeared on her screen, the image occasionally blurred by white noise.
"This is Dorothy Catalonia," she said calmly, nearly expecting to have the channel closed, but the man seemed to either not recognize her or to be too stressed and exhausted already to show it. "Requesting permission to land on MO-II."
"What is the state of your shuttle?" the man asked in a bored tone, having gone through the same procedure innumerable times.
Dorothy looked at the displays.
"Nearly full tanks, full structural integrity. Minor damage to one of the left side engines."
"No danger of explosion?"
Frowning a little as she was reminded of that possibility, Dorothy switched off the damaged engine before it could cause problems.
"Not any more."
"How many persons are you carrying?"
Another frown. Should she have been waiting for others? But she hadn't seen a living soul on Libra when she had made her way to the hangar. Besides, there had been several other shuttles and Mobile Doll Carriers left, she told herself as she tried to quell all beginnings of a guilty conscience.
"There is just myself."
"You will have to wait, the shuttles are docking according to the number of passengers they carry. Expect a delay of a few hours. We have your data registered, wait for further instructions. If you want to make yourself useful, look for survivors on the battlefield who are out of their Mobile Suits and pick them up. MO-II out."
Startled at the brisk end of the conversation, Dorothy switched off the comm channel and digested this. A few more hours of uncertainty... of not knowing what expected her once she reached the resource satellite. She considered setting a course for one of the colonies - L4 was not far, she could reach it in the same time it would take to wait for her turn to land on MO-II - but decided against it. If she went to the colony, she would have to rely on the hospitality of the local aristocracy, and she did not want that at the moment. Not while she was not sure where her place was; dealing with those people forbade self-consciousness, and Dorothy was full of that right now.
Again her gaze drifted over the battlefield around her; tightly she gripped the helm of the shuttle and steered it through the debris.
If she had to wait, she could as well start practicing her own kindness and begin to care for others, she thought as she brought up the thermal sensors and looked for heat signs.
This can't be... this can't possibly be...
She checked the display of the sensors again, tried to ignore what the logical part of her mind screamed at her.
She had to be dreaming, the sensor images had to be wrong, this could not be right!
But the numbers on the display confirmed it, cold and logical. Thermal readings that matched normal body temperature, inside the metal body of the Mobile Suit in front of her. Confirmed structural integrity of the cockpit unit.
The Suit itself was little more than drifting scrap; completely blackened at one side by explosions, missing an arm, legs dangling around it, attached only by cables.
The knowledge that there was most likely a living being in there would not have bothered her, quite the contrary. She had been flying through the debris-scattered battlefield for close to two hours now, had so far found two severely damaged Suits whose pilots had been taken in by small crafts coming from the resource satellite. Maybe she should do the same now, mark the position as long until someone came and collected the pilot.
No, she did not have that option.
If only the Suit wouldn't be that distinct, it would have been so much easier not to know who was in there, to deal with an anonymous soldier rather than this particular person. There was no way to mistake the color pattern, or the form of the Suit's head.
She could just ignore the thermal readings and steer the shuttle away. There always was the chance that someone else would pick up the life signs, then she would be spared this terrible decision. Still, the pilot inside the crippled Mobile Suit might die before other help arrived.
It lay in her hands.
Life or Death.
War or Peace.
How could she possibly make a decision like this?
It was not fair, simply not fair that she should be the one to be guilty, no matter what she did now. If she left, she would actively commit murder. If she stayed, she endangered peace.
How she wished for the Dorothy of the past to be here now! She would not have had any problems with the decision, it would have been logical for her, and no scruples would have plagued her conscience. The choice would have been so easy, so obvious that it was painful to be so unsure of herself now.
Dorothy gripped the helm, ready to fly the shuttle away.
You are a very kind person... kinder than me.
No. She couldn't.
But she had to.
She would become like she had been before if she left.
And if she stayed, she would endanger her new self. She had fallen for his seductive ideas once before, the same might happen a second time...
You should never try to fight your kindness.
A bitter smile crossed her face as she flicked a comm channel to the battered Mobile Suit open.
"Treize-sama? Can you hear me?"
Maneuvering the wrecked Tallgeese II into the freight section of the shuttle proved to be more difficult than Dorothy had expected, since she had no practice whatsoever in using a mechanical gripping device that plainly refused to follow her orders. A few times she was close to giving up, but the thought that if someone else found Treize, they would either kill or glorify him, gave her new energy. She did not want either of the two options to become true.
She had finally managed to get a secure grip on one of the legs, but the sudden jerk when she hauled in the gripping arm caused the cables that held the metal limb to the rest of the Suit to snap one after the other. The Tallgeese drifted closer to the shuttle nevertheless, and collided with the hatch of the freight section with enough power to rock the entire craft. Dorothy gave a frustrated huff and released the leg she had ripped off, then set to work again, this time aiming for the arm. She didn't dare grip the rump, fearing that she might damage the cockpit; she knew that Treize was not wearing a space suit, so the structural integrity had to be maintained.
If only he weren't so stubborn about his uniform; if he had been wearing adequate piloting gear, it would have been a snap for Dorothy to drift over to the Suit and bring him back into the shuttle.
"Can't make things too easy, can we, Treize-sama?" she hissed as she concentrated on getting a firm grip on what qualified as an elbow of the Suit. "Why simple, when there's a complicated way as well..."
(some months later)
Dorothy stared at the headstone in front of her, not really seeing it. She didn't need to look at it anyway, every small detail, every intricate engraving was imprinted on her memory. Nearly every day she had come here, never laying down flowers, just paying her respects by being there and thinking of him.
Steps approached from behind, a pattern so familiar that she could by now identify it without any trouble.
"So you're here again, Dorothy," Noin said softly. Dorothy didn't turn around, but she heard the rustle of plastic wrap as the other woman shifted the flowers in her arms. The two of them had met more than once on the cemetery, both honoring the memory of the two men in whose names the gravestones had been erected.
That's right. But this is the last time. I'm so tired of living in the past."
And she had finally got the opportunity to let go completely, when the guest whom she had offered her hospitality for the last months had announced this morning that he was ready to leave.
Dorothy looked down at the grave in front of her again. May You Rest In Peace, Milliard Peacecraft, the inscription read, and beneath it the engraver had placed a beautiful image of a rose, softly chiseled into the marble.
She still remembered the day when he had handed her the sketches for the two gravestones and had asked her to take them to take them to the stonemason. How she had been told to insist that the two burial places were placed side by side...
Leave it to Treize-sama to design his own grave. He had even insisted that no date of death should be engraved on the stones, on neither of them, as if he wanted both of them to live on through this simple gesture.
Again the plastic wrap rustled, this time because Noin had knelt down and placed the flowers - red roses, as usual, Dorothy noted absently - on the grave of the man who had been her commanding officer for so long.
"Why is it that you never pay your respects to Milliard-sama's grave, Noin?" Dorothy asked, still looking down at the grave in front of her. Always flowers for Treize-sama, but never for the man you told me you loved. Why is that, Noin?
"Because I don't need to. I know that he's still alive somewhere out there."
Dorothy froze at this statement. Did Noin mean that she believed that Milliard Peacecraft had survived, or did she know it? Could it be that the dark-haired woman was keeping the same sort of secret as Dorothy did herself? After all, both the tombs in front of them held no coffins, since no remains of the two men had ever been officially found.
Maybe Milliard-sama was still alive...
Firmly Dorothy turned around. No. No more thinking of the past. She had enough of that.