Hiead stared across the table at Zero. The other boy shifted and looked away. Clay coughed lightly but other than that, silence hung heavy in the air. The rest of the candidates were watching the pair, just waiting for them to explode into violence as usual. Even Kizna was unwilling to break the tension between the two boys with cheerful words.
The situation had been building for days now. Hiead seemed to be watching Zero like a hawk for no reason that most of the candidates could discern. Slowly but surely, the attention was getting to Zero, but rather than confront him as expected, Zero seemed to be shrinking away from Hiead's sharp eyes. Perhaps it was their intense scrutiny of Hiead's strange behavior that averted their notice from the haunted look in Zero's eyes. Whatever it was, Zero was both grateful for the distraction at the same time that he was terrified of Hiead's attention.
Zero stared at his plate as he mechanically shoveled food into his mouth, chewing and swallowing without even tasting the food he ate. At that point he could have eaten his napkin and not even noticed the difference. Clay adjusted his glasses and glanced across at Hiead, who flicked a glance in his direction and frowned. Clay frowned back and the silence stretched on.
Surprisingly, it was Ikhny who broke the silence with a shy little cough. "Kizna, would you like to go to the recreation room with me after dinner? I want to practice that game you taught me."
Kizna smiled. "Sure! I'm happy you like it! I'm finished dinner. Do you want to go now?"
Ikhny nodded and made a small affirmative noise. Kizna smiled and stood up. "Zero! I'll catch up with you later. Bye!" She waved as she and Ikhny walked off leaving the boys to their own devices.
Zero seemed to shrink in on himself more as he felt both Clay and Hiead's eyes fall back onto himself. Suddenly his head popped up like he was submerging from underwater. He took a deep breath before practically shouting, "Well! Will you look at the time! I have somewhere to be and it is very important that I be there. Yes it is. So I will see you later. Very very later. Thank you for dinner. Goodbye!" Zero practically sprinted out of the cafeteria leaving a flurry of murmurs in his wake.
Hiead looked at Clay. The bespectacled boy frowned as he watched the door that Zero had dashed through. Wordlessly Hiead got up and left. Clay adjusted his glasses against the bright lights of the cafeteria.
"Interesting," he murmured. "Very interesting."
Hiead walked silently through the halls like a tiger hunting down its prey. In all truth he was stalking down prey. Zero. He had been searching for over an hour for the suddenly elusive candidate. Always before you could hear Zero, practically feel his energetic presence no matter where he was. But now, now things were strange. Now Zero moved around in silence, like a shadow. Even Ikhny wasn't as quiet as Zero had become. If that wasn't strange enough, he was also incredibly jumpy, always seeming to look over his shoulder, and always alarmed when he found Hiead staring back at him.
He wasn't obsessed per se, more infatuated, puzzled by the sudden mystery that Zero presented and determined to solve it. However, he still couldn't quite fathom the problem. He was certain that Instructor Azuma played some crucial role, but the possibilities that filtered through his mind were so absurd that he dismissed them offhand. Surely if Azuma were such a person he would not be training Goddess Pilots. No person in their right mind would trust the future of Zion to such a man. Would they?
Shaking his head in annoyance, Hiead slipped into the closest observatory. He froze in the doorway. Zero was huddled in front of one of the large windows, staring at his knees. Azuma stood with his back to Hiead, seemingly staring into space.
"It's your own fault you realize," Azuma said conversationally. "If you would only behave, I wouldn't have to punish you. You see, we cannot trust Zion to just anybody. You must have discipline."
Zero continued to stare at his knees, but Hiead could see him shaking against the cold background of space. Azuma walked up to Zero, reaching out and taking his chin in hand, making Zero look up at him. Zero's eyes were terrified, his whole face a pale mask of fear. Azuma stroked Zero's cheek tenderly before suddenly slapping him. Zero's head whipped to the side, but the boy made no noise.
"Good," Azuma rumbled. "You are making progress. You see Zero, with discipline, I will make you the greatest Pilot ever." Hiead watched in horror as Azuma slowly began to unzip Zero's uniform and insinuate his hand under the cloth. Stumbling back, Hiead's eyes blinked rapidly. The door slid shut noiselessly leaving the rest of the act unseen. But it had been enough. Hiead stood staring at the door in disbelief. That was not a man in there. That was a monster. A monster in charge of the future of Zion!
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