Hiead sat watch over Zero's motionless body. The boy had not moved for hours. Most of the night had passed since Azuma was caught and Zero was brought to the med lab. It was in the early hours of the morning and still Hiead watched, feeling that it was his duty to be by Zero's side when the boy finally awoke. A large black bruise marred Zero's face along with deep circles under his eyes from too many restless nights. His hands were bandaged, pale white cotton against warm tan skin made for an interesting contrast. Hiead focused on where the bandages stopped and where Zero's skin began, wondering if it was really as delicate as it appeared.
Certainly he and Zero had fought enough that he'd grabbed Zero's wrists on many occasions but he'd never actually taken in the texture of the skin that he'd held tightly in his grasp. Though he was aware that on many occasion he'd been able to leave small finger shaped bruises on the other boy. That particular observation puzzled him, Zero did not bruise easily, but certainly he wasn't impervious to bruising. So how had Azuma done so much damage to the boy without leaving marks? Surely he had left some evidence of his trespasses on the boy.
Probably where nobody could see it or ask questions. That would certainly shed light on all the flinching that Zero had done in recent days. If the boy's repairer touched him, there would be a visible flinch if one was watching closely enough. True, that he could be wary of any touches thanks to Azuma, but most likely it was injuries hidden underneath his uniform.
If only he hadn't let his guard down. He'd stupidly assumed that they didn't have such monsters lurking on G.O.A. If he'd only been more wary, maybe he could have prevented what happened to Zero. As it was, he wasn't sure if the other candidate would ever get to be a pilot due to his fragile mental state. On top of his already existing zero gravity sickness, he'd been sent out into space in a tiny funeral pod. It was enough to shatter even the strongest of men's nerves.
Looking at the sleeping boy in the bed, Hiead wondered, would he ever be able to recover? He hoped so. Otherwise, who would he be able to compete against? Who would push him farther, to be better? But most importantly, who would smile at him despite his own cold attitude? Who would be the one to try and look inside? Zero had to recover and Hiead decided that it would be his mission to make sure that Zero smiled again.
"Rei. Wake up."
"Mom! Where are you?"
"Wake up, your friend is waiting for you."
"Surely you remember Rei. That nice boy Hiead, he's waiting for you."
"I love you Rei."
"MOM!" Zero shot up in bed, looking around wildly. Calm red eyes were the only familiar sight in the unfamiliar room. "Hiead."
"Zero." Hiead inclined his head slightly and stared at Zero expectantly.
Zero looked down at the blanket that covered him and his bandaged hands sitting in his lap. He bit his lip, feeling uncomfortable under Hiead's scrutiny. Hiead watched as the wall of emotions built up in Zero's eyes. Zero closed his eyes, shutting out Hiead's eyes, shutting out that spark of concern that he saw there, shutting it all away. He clenched his hands, feeling an itch at the corner of his eyes and knowing what it was.
Hiead leaned in, seeing the small leak in the dam as the small tears welled up in the corner of Zero's eye. Slowly he reached out a hand to wipe away the brimming tears. As his hand gently brushed across Zero's bruised cheek, the dam gave way, releasing a torrent of tortured emotions. When Zero crumbled, Hiead was there to catch him. He wrapped his arms carefully around the other boy as Zero clutched desperately at him, face buried in his chest, soaking through his uniform.
Hiead wrapped his arms around the boy instinctively, but once they were in that position, he was unsure of what he was supposed to do. Zero shook with hard sobs and eventually Hiead allowed his hand to press into the boy's back and begin to rub softly. Unknowingly, he was making the soft soothing sounds of comfort and he rocked them both slowly, more for his own sake, allowing his mind to slip into a lull as he comforted Zero. Soon Zero's ragged breathing evened out and he had slipped back into an emotionally exhausted sleep. Hiead looked down at his tired face, allowing a hand to brush across a damp cheek. He felt how Zero looked, tired.
He wasn't sure why he was so exhausted. Perhaps it was the stress of the many revelations he'd had today. Or maybe it was simply that everything had been too emotional. He was not used to dealing with emotions. He hid so much behind his cold exterior that the sudden surfacing of his protective nature and honor drained him. Whatever the reason, supporting both Zero and himself became a chore that he didn't have the required strength for. Slowly, he lowered them back onto the bed, never letting Zero leave the circle of his arms. Wondering what on Zion he was doing, he drifted off into a surprisingly peaceful sleep.
"I can't see anything."
"Ouch, get your elbow out of my rib."
"That's not my elbow."
"Shh, you're being too loud!"
"Ahem." Five sets of guilty eyes looked up to meet the hard stare of Colonel Tezuka. "Exactly what do you think you're doing?"
Clay, Kizna, Yamagi, Roose and Ikhny looked up at the Colonel's imposing figure. Surprisingly, Clay was the first to find his voice.
"We're trying to check on Zero sir."
"Well, I admire your dedication to your friend, but he's been hurt and he needs to recover. When he can have visitors, you will be the first to know. Now, you should all be in your quarters, it is far past lights out. I know your schedule is uncertain for tomorrow, but it is better if you try to adhere to a schedule of some kind simply for order."
The candidates lowered their heads. "Yes Colonel." They chimed simultaneously before giving hasty bows and retreating.
The Colonel allowed himself a small grin at the antics of the young candidates before turning back to the door. It was quite late for him to still be working. In fact, it was so early in the morning that barely a soul, save for the Victim monitoring crew, was awake. This case however, was keeping him up. He was horrified that such a terrible crime had been committed within the confines of G.O.A. It might be a military installation, but it was also a place of learning. This is where they taught young people how to defend the future and to have such an attack occur was unacceptable.
He took a deep breath to calm down before entering the medical bay. He nodded to the single nurse on duty and walked to the small curtained off area that contained Candidate 88, Zero Enna. When he entered the area, he was surprised by what he found. He had known that the other candidate, Hiead Gner was staying by the boy's bedside, but after his meeting with the boy, he was under the impression that Hiead kept his emotions to himself and distanced from others. Yet there he was curled protectively around the injured boy, his body language screaming serious harm to anyone who dared disturb their slumber.
A smile twitched at the corner of his lips. He was certain that if anyone had told Hiead Gner that he had an awfully adorable and cuddly side that they'd be beaten to within an inch of their life, and yet here was that terribly imposing boy acting as a human teddy bear to Zero's comfort seeking embrace. Tezuka quickly left the curtained area, leaving the boys some privacy. Zero probably couldn't be any safer than he was now. Somehow he'd just won himself a position in one of the most secure places on G.O.A. and the Colonel wasn't even foolish enough to try and take that away from him. He mentally applauded the boy for finding his way in and with a few silent wishes for his well being he left, secure in the knowledge that for now, the crisis was taken care of.
Next --> Waking