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F.A.I.T.H

Mustering of the Zenastan

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Landis Exel Zenastan tapped his foot. It held neither the impatience of one who could wait for no longer than 10 minutes or the anxiety of someone who can't help but attempt to memorize a short, informal speech before the people whom he was to meet arrived.

 

It was a habit for him, that whenever he was alone, some things generally tend to surface, with foot-tapping being one of them. Although he wasn't particularly nervous, the newly named squadron leader was having second thoughts about the meeting place. Would it be better if it had been Maius, or perhaps Martius? They were two of the PLANTs he knew best and could probably get a bolster in confidence when addressing his new teammates. It might seem silly to contemplate his choices right now when he had earlier decided the venue without giving as much as a single thought about it, but it was yet another one of the habits he had: Thinking too much when he was alone.

 

Sitting just outside of a quaint little French restaurant 'Monsieur Carte' (while wondering what it could possibly mean), he began imagining what they could be like. Landis was never completely comfortable when meeting with strangers but found his eyes straying to the pretty lady in a comfortable blue dress who stopped near his table. She moved on, and he was back to square one.

 

Somehow it just seems like almost anyone could be them... He had specifically donned a little more than his usual streetwear-A black patterned collared shirt, unbuttoned and worn over a white t-shirt with light brown jeans- just to draw enough attention, though he had not thought of the group of giggly schoolgirls sitting behind him or a few curious monikers whose names he did not know, but apparently had a good idea of who's a stranger in the neighbourhood.

 

"May I take your order, sir?" He felt his heartbeat quickened a bit, but mentally bashed himself over being too enthusiastic-or perhaps finally letting the nerves get to him. Recovering quickly, he smiled cordially and informed him that his order could wait. What was wrong with him? He had led in mock missions before, so leadership can't be that hard...Right?

 

Yeah, right. He thought sarcastically to himself and combed a hand through his messy hair. A small orchestra of rising female voices behind him told him that was a mistake as well.

 

....So much for setting a good example. Coming early was one thing; Being conspicuous enough was another. In any case, he would have to wait it out till his members came.

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Brian Tsukamoto wandered the streets of Aprilius, looking for the place he was to meet his new squadron. While it was true that Aprilius was the first place he had come after emigrating from Orb, the winds of fate had kept him in other PLANTs and ZAFT outposts, affording him little opportunity to return. Nevertheless, it was a relief to him that he'd be able to wear his civvies to this meeting. Some of Brian's previous commanders had been a little more uptight than this Zenastan seemed to be, and Brian couldn't really shake the feeling that he had been bumped up a rank or two just to facilitate his transfer to another squadron, making Brian the new commander's problem. He had no proof, or course, but he still couldn't help but suspect it. He didn't care though. It annoyed him that they would push him up to be rid of him, as though he couldn't do it on his own, but the truth was that he had been just as happy to be rid of the other commanders as well. They had all been uptight and inflexible to some degree, never bothering to give a care about their troops. Some were better than others, but it was always less a choice of good vs. bad than choosing the lesser of two evils. Someday, he hoped he'd be able to find one, just one, commander who wouldn't simply tick him off. Either that, or he'd end up either in the brig for finally going too far or in command of his own squad, if present trends continued. Brian honestly wasn't sure which option he'd prefer.

 

He sighed deeply as he pondered his current predicament. He was pretty sure this "Monsieur Carte" place was somewhere nearby, but he had never heard of the place before, so he had nothing to go on to find it. He had printed out a map of the area, but it was less than helpful, so he resorted to wandering the area and asking various people if they knew where the place was. He had hoped to be a bit early, feeling a little bit of responsibility due to his new rank and post, but at this point he'd be lucky to be on time. Still, it was better than being late, so he walked at a rather brisk pace. After asking a baker's dozen worth of people who all were unfamiliar with the area, he finally managed to ask a person who knew what he was talking about and gave him good directions to the restaurant. Brian thanked the man profusely, then headed off to his destination.

 

When he had received his new assignment, Brian had decided to look over what information he could get on his CO and fellow pilots. It was basically a basic profile of their previous service, awards, basic information and the like. But the information he received also had pictures of his new squadmates, and he had gone to some effort to memorize them. This way, he'd be able to recognize any member of his new squadron on sight. Of course, faces had always been fairly easy for Brian to remember. Names were a bit harder, so he prayed he wouldn't commit any errors in his recollection. Finally, barely a minute early, Brian walked in front of the restaurant, pausing for a moment to catch his breath. Though he wore his usual apparel, he had touched in up to make it a little nicer. His hair he had left largely as it usually was, taming only the very worst of it before setting out. The long-sleeved shirt he usually wore was buttoned-up and tucked in, while the T-shirt was swapped out for a more presentable white undershirt. Not too bad, all things considered.

 

Walking inside, he scanned the tables, quickly spotting a man he recognized from the pictures he had:the commander, Landis Zenastan. It was an interesting name, and one that Brian wasn't likely to forget anytime soon. He seemed to be alone, which Brian thought fortuitous. At the very least, he had arrived before anyone else, which he considered to be a good thing. Walking over to the table, he caught the man's attention and introduced himself. He eschewed normal military protocol ((Standing at attention and saluting)) for this. His reasoning was that if Zenastan had wanted a more formal session, he would have chosen a proper briefing room for this meeting, rather than a quiet little restaurant.

 

"Commander Landis Zenastan? Brian Tsukamoto. It's a pleasure to meet you, sir. Do you mind if I have a seat?"

 

He spoke calmly, but confidently, in an even tone free from any sort of emotion, save perhaps for curiosity. He waited with a sense of anticipation to see how the man would react to him. Would this man be like every other CO he'd had in the past, or was this a man Brian could actually stand working under? He was also interested in meeting the rest of the squad, though that would have to wait until they arrived.

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"Finally!" Was what Landis wanted to say, adding to it an exasperated but relieved voice. But it wasn't an attitude befitting of a commander. Still, he had no intention of making this formal, especially when Brian Tsukamoto seemed to have made an effort to make this as informal as possible as well by omitting the salute.

 

Or perhaps he would be just like what the reports have mentioned about him..

 

Instead of being worried, however, Landis was slightly amused by them. He had already seen Tsukamoto's photo, but the shock of messy red hair with a few strands sticking out fashionably certainly made him look larger than life. Considering his personality, Landis was already almost certain that he can either be friends with this subordinate, or make it a living hell for the both of them.

 

And who but those of great folly would choose the latter? He stood up with a amiable expression (though he was not used to smiling so much as of yet), a hand extended to him. "Welcome. I would imagine that you might be somewhat surprised at the venue, all things considered, but I prefer not to make a big fuss out of things like this. I'm Landis Exel Zenastan-as you would have known by now-and will prefer it if you call me by my middle name while we are in civilian clothing and a long way from the drabness you call 'military protocol'." He was glad for the instructions passed down requesting that his new squad mates be allowed to wear whatever they choose, preferably civilian clothing. It most certainly seemed to curious onlookers as though it was going to be a common meeting amongst new acquaintances, for he knew how military personnel in military getups tend tense up a relatively relaxed atmosphere.

 

"Do take a seat." He added, noting that he had not responded to the simple question posed to him yet. 

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Brian took the proferred hand and shook it, again keeping himself with an expression and demeanor as neutral as he could make it. The initial pleasantries seemed to have gone without incident. No fists thrown yet, at any rate, which was always a good sign. And the man seemed to have a respectable sense of humor, a trait shared by few other commanders he had seen.

 

"Your middle name? Exel, then? I seem to have missed the mark the mark entirely on that count." With this comment, he permitted himself a small smile at his own lackluster joke as he released his commander's hand and sat down at the table..

 

"I actually appreciate your way of conducting this meeting. The various people involved, myself included, would likely be more at ease here than in a briefing room filled with uniform and protocol. Besides which, I must admit, I'm just a tad bit hungry."

 

Brian's smile quickly morphed to more of a sly grin, as he quickly glanced at the appetizers offered in the restaurant. It probably wouldn't do to have a full meal while waiting for the others to show up, but as he had said, he was a bit hungry, and so wanted something to snack on. He decided to ask the waiter for a basket of bread, to keep things simple, the next time the man came around. This process took little more than a few seconds, after which he turned his attention back to his new commander. He seemed like a likable enough person, though he'd only met him barely a minute ago. He quickly scanned the restaurant and, seeing that no one else had arrived just yet, launched into a monologue to Zenastan.

 

"If you don't mind, Commander," he said, putting some emphasis on the last word, "I'd like to put the ranks back on for a minute and get this out of the way before the others show up. I think it'll be better to have this talk right off the bat rather than later down the road, just so we both know the score. I'd be shocked if by now you hadn't read over my records, which of course, means that you're familiar with my... shall we say, eccentric personality. The very best relationship I've had with a Squadron Commander to date was one where the best that can be said is that no official reprimands were handed out. And you know that only thing that's kept me out of the brig thus far is a very skillful sense of knowing exactly where the line was and how to keep myself from crossing it. I've had a funny feeling for a long time that I ended up getting some positive reviews and promotions for the sole purpose of getting me out a particular CO's hair and into a different squadron where I couldn't bug him anymore."

 

Brian kept his voice low and serious, to avoid attracting unwanted attention. He tried to keep a sense of annoyance and irritation out of his voice, but fell short of this particular goal as he moved on.

 

"I have no evidence of that fact, but I'm fairly positive it is a fact. And to be perfectly honest, that POs me. A lot. That having been said, here I am. I'm the second highest ranking person in this squadron, right after you, sir. That's a position that entails a certain sense of responsibility, a sense that I'm sure my former COs think I lack. To be specific, if anything happens to you, sir, especially during a battle, command of the MS squad would fall to me. I'm sure they're mocking me and pitying you for this fact, and quite frankly I'd like to shove it back in their collective faces. They say the best revenge is living well, so that's what I'd like to do. If I can step up and do a solid job in this squad, it'll prove to those clowns that I deserved the promotions I got and that I can operate in a military environment effectively with other pilots and soldiers under the command of a good CO. Now just so we're clear, I'm not questioning my own qualifications. I don't need to prove anything to myself and I don't feel I need to be a hero to prove my point, so you don't have to worry about being in the same foxhole as me. I'm not the easiest guy to get along with, I know. But if you can put up with me, then I can do my duty and carry out my responsibilities. That's all I really want in life."

 

By this point, Brian had said his piece and he moved to show it. The irritation had slowly left his voice and he got to the end of his little speech, and a sense of resignation moved in to replace it, as he leaned back in his seat, adopting a more open stance to emphasize the vulnerability he was about to mention.

 

"So that's that. I've put my cards on the table. But when it comes down to it, you're in charge. Am I gonna be insubordinate at times? Could well be. I can work to reduce it, but sometimes I just can't help myself but put my foot down. Can you look past that and work with me anyways? I can't do anything about that. If the answer's 'no', then I'm screwed no matter what. If it's 'yes', then we just might get along fine. The ball's in your court now, sir, and that's all I have to say."

 

With that, he finally caught the waiter's attention  and placed his order for the basket of bread, as well a lemonade. He was starting to get a little thirsty as well.

 

((Sorry if that's a little much to wade through. I honestly don't mean to make 'em that long. Honest! ))

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She knew she was running late, but could she really help it? Well, she could, but Clare would never admit that to herself. Today was the first team-meet, and therefore she had to make sure she looked better than anyone else. It had never crossed her mind that at seventeen, with her self-confidence and charm she did not have to try to hard with her appearance. Clare truly was a high-maintenance little snob, and no time in military could ever cure that.

 

“Now then...,” the young woman arched in front of the mirror and looked at herself critically. Five foot eight, with a slight athletic build, long legs, small hands, and extremely pale complexion, she was a cross between frail and spirited. Her face was round, lively, with sharp features, small, bow-shaped, round lips, and large brown eyes framed in thick black eyelashes. It’s pallor was further heightened by long brown hair with bangs, that gave her the appearance of a porcelain doll. She wore some make-up, but most of it was applied to her yes - black eyeliner, black mascara, and silver eye shadow; only a touch of pink lip gloss for the lips, and she was a perfect picture of pampered little princess... And yet there was something hard in her expression, something dark hidden within those large eyes, that made her seem quite a bit more than a spoiled brat; something that she did her best to conceal from everyone around her.

 

It was a rather cool day, and Clare was not the type to dress lighter than the weather demanded. She wore a tight black top with an extraordinarily low V-cut. It was made out of thin velvet and decorated with a print of silver magnolias. Instead of pants she chose to put on a pair of tiny black wool shorts, that showed off her long legs in black eighty-denim nylons. Ignoring the personal comfort Clare always wore high heels, and today was not exception. Her boots were of black suede and reached up to her shins.  They were tight, with pointy tips and four-inch high heels. It would be considered a modest pair of shoes if not for the large silver brooches on the outer sides of the boots. Clare’s other accessories were rather subtle. A pair of gold hoop earrings, gold watch and two gold bracelets on her left arm, white opal ring on her right arm, an opal bracelet on her right arm, and a large horn-shaped hairpin pinning up her hair over the left ear. The rumour had it that the strange hairpin opened up to make a dagger, but no one knew for sure, nor would they ask.

 

After looking at herself for abut five minutes and finding no flaw in her appearance, Clare grabbed a sporty mustard-yellow suede jacket, a pair of large black sunglasses, and a black purse, and rushed out of her apartment. She was now a good thirty minutes late and she knew full well that Ryou wouldn’t let her hear the end of it.

 

Thirteen floors later (the elevator seemed to move extra-slow today) and she was running through the foyer of the apartment building which she had lived in for the past three years. As she reached the glass doors, Clare stopped, smoothed her hair and calmly went outside. Yes, she was late, but the last thing she wanted was for THAT guy to think that she had to run! Why did they have to drive in his car anyway? It’s not like Clare did not have her own perfectly good convertible! Well... His WAS cooler. With a smug smirk she noticed the black sports car in the visitor parking lot and cat walked towards it. Ryou had already gotten into the passenger seat - Clare always drove when they went out - and looked half asleep.

 

“Damn it Ryou,” she hissed at him as soon as she hopped into the driver’s seat and started the engine, “how dare you sleep when you know we’re running late!? Do you even know how long I’ve been waiting for you?”

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Let's face it; He was a male that didn't ask for directions and knew nothing as to where the meeting was placed at some French restaurant so he had instinctively called up Clare and told her to drive him and he'd pay for her dinner. The woman always did accept these bribes from him considering she could either insult him during the trip or do something at the end of it. Either way his father had remarked on the strange fact that they were rivals and yet saw each other rather a lot as friends. The man may have been a scientist for Technology of ZAFT but he managed to get into his son's life every now and then with a checkup that it annoyed Ryou how much he knew when they barely talked, either way he shrugged it off and had gone through the list of people in the team before the meeting and if Clare would be in the team then it'd be better to just tag along with her, kill two birds with one stone.

 

As the day passed and he chose his clothes; Black Wool Vest with a silver zipper to show off his arms and pale skin tone, black leather pants which were that tight along his legs and black shoes which no one would pay much attention to considering his hair and eyes were the most capturing of his features and he had hid his eyes behind black sunglasses considering the nice day that the PLANT itself seemed to make. Having gotten out of his mansion that his father owned for being so close to ZAFT itself he made his way and chose the black sports car that he had gotten as a present for being accepted into ZAFT ( Like he'd even be driving this in the battlefield ) but it was favorite of Clare so he jumped into the drivers seat and took out the black fingerless gloves and pulled the straps tighter around his wrists and drove off into the city.

 

A team wasn't that appealing to him considering conflicts of command would rise and worse would be if another member fell in battle and then the mourning situation would arise, Clare was another issue all together considering the Rivalry. Who the hell chose this list!?

 

Having parked and waited for her was even more annoying. But he had moved over to the passenger seat and put on his sunglasses wishing to sleep since he had been up on the computer helping his father with a program he wanted. Having finally heard the taps of her shoes he had known she was already being stylish, looking at her from the corner of his vision he had to admit that she wore rather nice clothes but would never admit it to the girl.

 

Then she opened her mouth and complained to him and basically put the blame onto him, there goes that vision he had of her. " Traffic was horrible... " He said as a weak excuse to her and leaned his arm out of the car and tapped the door. " Besides you made me wait 10 minutes....they're probably done dinner by now. " He said to her with a weak smirk on his face. " With your driving we might get there...and with a few scratches on the car. " He added as he didn't mind being late for dinner since he didn't want to eat anyhow. Why they couldn't have just met up at some base instead of a Restaurant was beyond him still.

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“A lady is never late,” Clare claimed with a firm conviction as she spun the car out of the parking lot, “everyone else is just early - try to remember that, kid, you might just get a date one of these days.” As always, her philosophy was ‘best defence is a head-on offence.’ No, to be quite honest, Clare was attached to Ryou. Although the two fought and bickered constantly, they spent all their free time together. These young people were practically insupportable ever since their first meeting/fight at the pilot academy. From that day on, they ate together, recreated together, and served punishment time together. That’s right, the two were in trouble all the time. On their own there was never a problem, but when they got together countless pranks were thought up and countless regulations were broken. Now, I know what you thinking - this sounds a little like... Well, we all know what this sounds like, however, since neither Clare nor Ryou would ever admit that they only had eyes for each other, neither will any of us.

 

“We are going to a restaurant, Ryou, so just chill,” Clare continued calmly. Her voice was soft, almost childish in the way it sounded, but it held a certain amount of hardness in it that made it clear that this girl was used to being listened to. “First of all, I doubt that everyone is a local and has enough money to be a frequent guest at 'Monsieur Carte.' Second, none of us know each other, so it will take a while for the introductions - in other words, no one has ordered yet. Third, have you ever been at a good restaurant? Do you even know how long you have to wait for your order? Honestly, hon, you need to get out more.” This may have sounded mean, however, during this whole lecture Clare never changed her tone from a pleasant civil chatter, and even leaned over to brush the long hair strands out of the young man’s eyes. Yes, she allowed herself to lecture him and to be mean to him, but heaven forbid anyone else tried.

 

Clare made a sharp turn to the left and took an exit on a highway. The restaurant was on the other end of town, and she had no intention of driving through every street light in this Megapolis. Unlike Ryou, she was rather hungry. Usually Clare did not eat anything but fruit and cereal for supper, but today she did not eat at all, so currently she felt a sharp hunger pain in her stomach. You see, last night she stayed up until early morning reading ‘Thorn Birds’ and so she woke up only hours before they had to leave - that would mean that she did not eat anything in twenty-four hours. Yep! No seafood was safe from her today! Passing cars along the highway, Clare had to wonder if Ryou would agree to split a desert with her - she never really had room for one no matter how hungry she was, but skipping out on French pastries was a crime... Maybe she should be nice to him the rest of the way... “Love the outfit, but it’s not Halloween yet.” Then again, maybe not...

 

Just half an hour later the car had pulled up in front of a two-story Colonial-style building.  Clare threw the keys to a valet and made her way up the stairs. She did not bother to check whether Ryou was following her - she knew that he would be. Somehow when they were together, the young people never ended up more than a few steps apart. Besides, this current distance between them was of an advantage. Clare’s little catwalk was attracting a lot of attention, and although she did not care for it much, it was quite flattering, so why ruin a moment by having a guy walking right beside you? “My friend and I are looking for Mr. Landis Exel Zenastan’s table,” Clare put on a sweet smile addressed the young man at the front desk (he seemed to have instantly remembered her, from which one could gather that she was a frequent guest here). “I believe that he made a reservation, would you be kind enough to show us to him? ... Thank you very much.” The three of them proceeded to a spacious and shaded veranda, where they were shown to a table where two young men sat. One was about their age, and the other looked old enough to be the commander. Clare turned to the later man and threw him a salute. “Ensign Clarick and Ensign Mizaki reporting. It is a pleasure to finally make your acquaintance, sir.” She then winked to the other young man and took a seat between them, leaving Ryou to seat across from her. Clare took off her glasses and hung them off her V-cut (like it needed any help at being scandalously low). “Terribly sorry for being late,” she continued as she picked up the menu, “Ryou just isn’t very punctual... Oh yeah, I’m Charlotte, by the way, but you can call me ‘Clare,’ and this is Ryou.”

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Ryou felt lectured upon again like the rest of the moments they had met each other and talked, she had a tendency to almost preach her wisdom upon him and he had to admit half the time she was right and surprised him with the truth. But this time he had already known the chances of the commander and the other already being there would cause them to wait for the rest, the commander was probably the type to respect others considering he had taken them to a restaurant instead of just asking for the base and manners portraying; He would tell the other to wait or they were both honorable men altogether. His eyesight having suddenly been cleared as he had caught half of Clare's speech until his attention returned back to her once her hand cleared away his hair. He had remembered doing something similar to her before; This was just payback it seems not that he minded her being close to him. They were close enough to be siblings but lacked that sibling love...what was there instead was a mystery to the both of them and neither seemed to even care.

 

He had gotten out of the car and followed behind her, having raised his sunglasses over his forehead to stay in his head for the time being. His eyes had caught the looks of a few girls as they were passing and a peculiar look from the waiter. Many people were curious as they passed the tables and he felt used to the eyes darted at his head. He wanted to wanted Clare about saluting before but it was too late by now, hopefully nobody saw this and assumed that it was just a game. " Don't give us away.. " He whispered to her as he looked around and then back to the two men as Clare simply ignored him and sat down making Ryou sit down himself as to wonder who he was even sitting with in the first place. She already did the introductions so he didn't need to talk at all yet, having simply leaned back and crossed his arms while underneath the table his left leg flipped over his right. " And this is about...? You didn't write much in the email... " He had said out loud while his eyes kept to the table, he didn't know who was commander and who wasn't with the clothes being all that common. He was just going to throw those words out and wait for the commander to answer and then he would know who was leader and who was in second place. A good enough plan.

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To say that he was amused was an understatement. Landis had indeed heard of his reputation from widespread rumors about the maverick pilot who seemed to raise hell everywhere he went. Brian Tsukamoto was perhaps the first ever young man in the ZAFT military to clock countless miles of anger and irritation with his vehicle of brashness and apparent insurbordination. He had even remembered a time where he had a proper conversation (on rather rare occasions, if he might add to his thoughts) that turned into a ranting monologue from the greying commander about a certain red haired scourge who happened to be sitting across the table from him currently. What he had not known from rumors was that although it was apparent Brian loved to use his mouth whenever he could in open defiance, the small monologue had revealed to him a man who had little qualms about admitting about the possible difficulties Landis would be facing when working with him, and certainly had nothing but pleasantly scathing comments for his former superiors.

 

In all honesty, Landis couldn't help but feel as though there was some part of him that will always be inferior to his new second in command. It was a feeling he was used to, though, as he had been always trying to evaluate even the strengths and weaknesses of a new Private as compared to him.

 

Landis had a good inward laugh about Brian's own reasoning of his own achievements and promotions. It held a strong and direct flavouring of sarcasm and considering that this man had basically told him of his own expectations, his possible flaws and assurances, the new Squad Leader had little doubt that he was theoretically one of the better men you would entrust your life to when the situation was dire.

 

"You are rather direct." He began simply, leaning back into the chair and assuming a more relaxed position, accompanying it with a mild smile and the folding of his arms. "I've seen some of your 'accolades', if you wish to call them that and I can't say they were extremely impressive until just before the time when you were about to join my newly formed squad...Well, you've went through that earlier on, and let's just say that I don't really like getting rewards I don't deserve." The last comment caused his smile to drop a little as the darker thoughts about his father pulling strings surfaced. Fortunately, the waiter who had acceded to his request earlier on came, and the latter was soon forgotten.

 

"A cuppucino and a plate of these crepes, please." Landis pointed at a delectable selection on the menu and saw the waiter off with a smile before turning back to Brian."Brian-If I may call you that, I will most certainly treat my subordinates fairly for I must have you know that there is no room in my heart for stiff collars and starched uniforms with shiny circles on the breast." He said wryly. I'm pretty sure you know who my father...is, but military rules are iron and they will be applicable even in my squad." This time Landis sat up, keeping the small upward curve on his face. "Insurbordination is a way of the military life, whether anyone likes it or not. Rather than 'maverick', I think 'eccentrically charismatic individual' would suit the description of people like you better." This time, he gave a cheeky grin,but his tone turned serious, though he managed to make it sound amiable at the same time. "However, when this goes overboard, please understand I would have to take action. There is certainly no real guarantee of your capabilities until I see you in action, and we'll all be working in a team, so let's hope we don't give ourselves a hard time with our own squad members."

 

Before Brian could reply, though, a pretty young woman decked out in what he considered to be fashionable wear and a teenager, probably the same age as her came trailing. Both were reasonably well-dressed, a fact which Landis appreciated. There was the moment where he almost laughed out loud when the woman winked at Brian, but he had greater control over his actions than that aside from the occasional abrupt smile or tiny chuckle peeking spilling through the invisible gaps of his mouth.

 

"Clare and Ryou, is it?" He smiled, unfolded his arms and stood up, gesturing towards Brian. "This is Brian Tsukamoto, your second in command. I'm pretty sure you had heard of him and his exploits if either of you managed to get an audience with some of the more senil-ah, senior officers." He winked in such a way that the action was almost unconscious. "This man standing here is Landis Exel Zenastan, and I'm most fortunate to have the both of you in my squad, Miss Charlotte Clarick and Mr. Ryou Misaki." With that, he gave the two of them a smile. First impressions were important, of course, but perhaps his actions would serve to lighten the mood as well, though he was sure the word 'Sir' would probably pop up a couple of times more.

 

Well, can't be helped...Maybe I can get to know them better once everything militaristic is out of the way...

Edited by Guest

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Brian listened to Exel's reply with a great deal of interest. He seemed to grow a bit more serious when he spoke of receiving undeserved awards, but it wasn't until he mentioned his father that Brian put the pieces together.

 

"Father? What would that have to do wi... Wait a second...There's a Zenastan on the Defense Council, isn't there? That must be it. Blast. I should have made that connection sooner. Well, it seems we have something in common, or so we suspect, at any rate. Shame that had to be it."

 

Brian listened and made to reply, but a couple of new arrivals spoiled the opportunity, so he simply nodded to Exel in acknowledgment of his words and switched his attention to the others. A young woman who had obviously gone to great effort to dress herself up was first. Brian felt a little subconscious of his own appearance simply because of how quickly he'd thrown himself together compared with the time she must have taken. It couldn't have been a hasty operation. Behind her, a young man about the same age as the lady who seemed to have black as a common theme for the day. A interesting fashion statement to be sure, especially when compared with his traveling companion. Brian quickly recognized them and went through what he knew of them.

 

"Charlotte Clarick, a would-be model student from the ZAFT academy if it weren't for her penchant for finding trouble. Says she ended up with a number of reprimands, usually receiving them together with... Ryou Misaki. An immigrant from the EA, rather odd in and of itself, yet a Coordinator, and so accepted with little difficulty. Performed exceptionally well at the academy and during basic training. They'd be an excellent duo, if they didn't get in trouble so much. Practical jokes are apparently a way of life with them. At least according to their commanders, which I already know to take with a few grains of salt."

 

His face took on a rather incredulous look when the girl winked at him, and he shot a significant look to Exel at this development; one that tried to say something along the lines of "Well, that was unexpected." His surprise notwithstanding, Brian moved to take it in stride, though he had to refrain from chuckling at the young woman's salute. "Eager sort, that one is," he couldn't help but think. He sat and listened and Exel introduced both himself and Brian, though he had to forcefully hold back his amusement at Exel's comments regarding Brian's former commanders, though the wink nearly sent him over the edge into open laughter. "I just might enjoy this bunch yet," he thought to himself.

 

"A pleasure to meet you both. I've read the files Command made available to me on you two, but I must say they do neither of you justice." Brian strained to keep his currently great amusement out of his voice. "At any rate, you seem to be a rather... dynamic duo yourself, according to your academy instructors, I don't know how Exel here feels, but I think you two and I might get along just fine."

 

With that, his face formed a rather wicked-looking grin at that, even though he was mostly kidding around.

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Clare let out a sigh of relief - she did not make a mistake with the chain of command. However, her initial impression of the two young people was not exactly correct. At first she took Landis for being older, but now that she sat beside him, it was evident that he could not be more than twenty; perhaps even less than that. What she had mistaken for signs of age, was, in fact, a vale of seriousness and maturity that he had about him. Clare tilted her head to the side and began studying the two young men from underneath her long eyelashes. This feminine tactic had a double advantage for her, since it made her look charmingly coquettish and prevented the others from seeing the sharp and piercing look in her eyes.

 

She had to give it to their commander - he really had to have quite a bit of understated authority and dignity to pull off the ‘in charge’ look when he had a style of a common loafer. His hair was rather wild and even a tad messy, while his clothing, although expansive and stylish had a touch of carelessness to it. Immediately she had to wonder whether this young man was in place of command simply because of family connections. That would certainly explain the look of authority as well as slight rebelliousness in personal attire and grooming. Then it clicked. He was the son of a defence council member! Well, well, well! There was someone to study closely! Was he a typical daddy’s boy, or was there more to him than that? He wasn’t the type to laugh, that was evident, but mentally Clare was already trying to see if she could get this guy to break loose of his little personality confinements. She had yet to meet someone whom she couldn’t crack, and the only way to truly figure out a person is to get him or her to let go of his inhibitions for just a moment. The only exception to the rule was Ryou. How or why he became an exception was yet to be determined by everyone including Clare herself.

 

Bryan, on the other hand seemed like a rebel. Yes, there was also an air of authority about him, but something was telling Clare that this was a genuine hothead. Perhaps it was his wild red hair that gave her this impression, but Clare was in no hurry to discard it. As a person he did not interest her much. Clare was used to dealing directly with the commanding staff instead of wasting her time with second in commands. However, Landis seemed to show genuine interest in this young man and so she did not think that dismissing him altogether would be wise. On the contrary, if he was willingly giving him the spotlight, she should ask as much as possible. As Landis continued to talk, Clare glanced over at Ryou for a moment. She knew full well that he would never think anything close to what she was thinking, and for a split second she felt a pinch of guilty conscience for being so calculating. However, she dismissed this momentary lapse of good judgement as soon as the waiter came to take their order.

 

Since Clare was the lady, he addressed her first. She vaguely remembered this man from the last time she was over here, and so her thin lips spread in the most charming smile as she ordered Bouillabaisse and Gruyère Cheese Gougères. When the young man came to the other side of the table in to take Ryou’s order, she turned to Bryan and touched his sleeve with the tips of her fingers in order to engage him in a conversation, which he had already started rather eagerly.

 

“Forgive us ignorant cadets for not being fully aware of whom you are,” she chirruped in the sweetest manner, “but it would be incredibly cruel of you to keep us in the dark a moment longer! Besides, we are at disadvantage here - you seem to have done quite a bit of homework on Mizaki and I, while we have yet to know about you. Oh, and do be kind - don‘t believe a word you‘ve heard about us - in reality we‘re much worse than the report says!” As she talked, Clare placed her left arm on the table and leaned her cheek against the back of her hand. This motion caused a quiet ringing noise as her suspended sunglasses brushed against a pendant that hung around her neck on a long chain. It was a blue opal with the same size and shape as a chicken egg, carefully enclosed in a delicate casing of twisted gold. This was one ornament that she never took off no matter where she was going or what she was doing. Clare knew full well that jewellery was against regulations, but before the end of this evening she was determined to get these two to close their eyes on her trinkets and on her completely remodelled uniform which they had yet to see (and somehow Clare had a feeling that it would not receive the most favourable reception).  She did live dangerously, but somehow this young lady managed to talk her way out of anything. So, naturally, for now she had to be all charm; more so than usually.

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Brian wasn't sure what to make of this Clare lady. She seemed somewhat sincere, but at the same time, she seemed to be laying it on a bit thick. It was really kinda throwing him off, so he decided to focus on the words and take most of them at face value in an attempt to make normal conversation.

 

"Eh. It's not like I'm famous or anything. Just made a few uptight CO's dip a little deeper into their beer bottles and grow a few more grey hairs. Nothing they didn't have coming down the road, anyways. As for the reports, I know they typically have to be taken cautiously, but I'm surprised that your CO's would have made you two seem better than you are. My old commanders were always inclined to make stuff up to slam me with until they wanted to be rid of me. Then they'd give me a positive review, send me on my way and have a little party."

 

An edge of bitterness crept into his voice for the last sentences of this, though he forced it out as he continued.

 

"At any rate, there's not much about me to know. I came here from Orb a while back since they were so steadfastly neutral. Joined ZAFT as soon as I could and started sending commanders to the bottle and counselor within a week of my arrival. Aside from that, there's just not much to know. How about you? Your record indicated you were a model cadet until you started riling up trouble. Seems a rather... unusual change in pace."

 

As he said this, he gave Clare a look of amusement to try and let her know he was just kidding around. It was part of the way his sense of humor worked, and so he just went with it. Brian took note of the necklace with the pendant as it collided with her sunglasses, but simply filed it away as another piece of random trivia. It was a nice looking pendant, though, and complimented her rather well. It did seem unusually large, but supposed it must be lighter than he suspected at first glance. "Ah, well. It's not important. Just another trinket in the grand scheme of things."

 

((Hmmm. Had a bit of writer's block on this one. Oh well. Sorry if it seems off. ))

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Ryou was getting his fill of information, without having to say anything on his part it seems. Clare was doing her best to attempt to charm her way into their hearts and he could pick up that both men were just curious of her but not interested in the way she wanted, her strategy changed midway as she just wanted information on them now. Kaze had already told Ryou about the fact that one of the sons from the council would be on the team and he had asked him about how the boy acts, Kaze didn't say anything which made Ryou seriously doubt his status but knew that his father was just being as mysterious and quiet as ever about his work and the people he has to deal with. No matter at this point, for now Ryou would just hear their chatter and keep to himself until they asked something.

 

The Leader seemed rather carefree and loose with his command, this must have been his first team considering how nervous he seemed to be. The clothing style and hair was evidence enough that he didn't wasn't in order as much as Ryou would have liked him to be. Great, he was giving his life to somebody who wasn't even professional. Clare was probably picking it up herself as she was glancing over to the man beside him while Ryou was scanning over the leader and thankfully took the chance of glancing over at the second in command while he talked. It was to check what he seemed like but it just looked like he was paying attention.

 

Second in Command, even a better rebel than Ryou was. While Ryou had white hair the man beside him had a crimson color to his own head. Hotheaded perhaps, he seemed to give off the impression as he was in trouble several times for not listening to his commanders and then seemed to have engaged in trouble himself. So if the carefree guy dies, he was placing his life in a hotheaded rebel; Joy.

 

He looked back over at Clare who seemed to have been trying to charm Brian first. Seems she was doing a partially good job until he had remarked on why she got to trouble. Dear God she was going to blame the man in front of her, having then suddenly moved his foot to kick her leg lightly as he knew that she could over dramatize and pull off the skill of an actor that starred in films. Like hell he was going to be blamed by two higher class people while she would get a shoulder to lean on and cry her tears on what horrible acts Ryou did. Having turned his head away and towards the restaurant so that if she did react she would have given him a glare.

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It is a pity that Ryou did not realize that Clare was not trying to flirt with anyone. In fact, when she did flirt, it was rather sweet and subtle. What was happening right now was simply a result of many years of strict lessons of etiquette from Clare’s grandmother. That was the only area where the woman was ever strict with the girl. A young lady had to make sure that every person she talked to felt attractive, special, interesting, intelligent, and unique. That was the way of the upper class - not the rich snobs who had nothing but their money to recommend them, but the true aristocracy that thrived on both wealth, breading, and above all intelligence. You did not need to look down at other people in order to feel self worth, and you certainly got a lot more flies with being honey-sweet. Clare was simply repeating her lessons. She spent years entertaining people of all ages in all settings, and now was no different Perhaps she had secondary motives behind these actions, but a good deal of her attitude was a natural habit.

 

“So you’re from Orb too, are you,” Clare asked, for the  first time showing genuine interest in the man. She had not been back home in quite a while now, and quite frankly she was getting home sick. Plant was a beautiful place to live, but it was a little too artificial. Clare missed unexpected storms, missed looking out of her window every morning to check the weather, missed carrying an umbrella when she did not know whether or not it was going to rain... However, most of all she missed the moon and a genuine sunrise. Perhaps the stars were closer up here in space, but they were just as cold as before... “When were you there last? Where are you from exactly? I was born in the City of Kusanagi... Have you ever been there?” Suddenly she cut herself off, realizing the whole impudence of her questions. Millions of people immigrated now days to different states, and not many of them wished to talk about their homes. You did not meet a lot of individuals with happy memories nowadays...

 

“I’m sorry,” she whispered, trying to avoid looking at Bryan as she spoke. “It’s really not my place to ask, now is it? I still have a father back there so I guess I am attached to the place... But please, ignore that! I in no way expect you to answer any of those - it was a complete invasion of privacy... So, what were we talking about again? Oh yes, my ‘clean’ record... Well...” Here Clare’s face took on an impish expression. She had already felt a tap under the table from Ryou, and even her huge ego could not assume that he wanted to play footsies. She knew this coward all too well - he was currently praying that she doesn’t make him take all the blame. Now, to Clare’s credit, that thought never even crossed her mind until Ryou decided to remind her of himself. She would have never done something like that, but if this jerk thought that she would, she’d just have to make sure he’d wish he was dead.

 

“You see, all was going well, until the Casanova over there showed up and decided to break my fragile city-girl’s heart,” she announced with the most innocent look and batted her long eyelashes. “Do not believe a word he says - his Don Juan reputation is well known to any girl that went to school with him! That heartless fiend! What was I to do? I am rather proud, so it was natural to want a tiny little revenge. Can’t blame me for letting things get this far...”

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"Oh, that's right. She's an Orb immigrant, too." Brian had forgotten this fact about Clare from the records he had read. Or perhaps he had missed it entirely. Research into the past of others, even when made readily available to him, had never been a strong suit. He'd probably just glossed over it. At any rate, it was an interesting thing to know. Ever since coming to the PLANTs, he hadn't much contact with anyone from his home country. Then again, perhaps it was best to try and keep it that way as much as possible. He was also intrigued by her reaction to his inquiry about her academy days. She acted like it was all Ryou's fault, but her expression completely gave away the game. Perhaps she was right in that Ryou was the instigator of this little series of skirmishes, but she enjoyed it all the same. She wore the same expression, just for an instant before she went back to looking innocent, that Brian had seen in a few mirrors after recalling days when he'd really been able to nail a CO without leaving an opening for the commander to retaliate. Those times were few and far between, but he always got a kick out of remembering them. A small grin formed simply at the thought.

 

"I understand completely," was all he responded with, though he said it with a voice that was a little over the top and with a significant look to the slightly alarmed-looking young man across the table. Hopefully, that would be enough for him to get that fact that he really did understand completely. Changing the topic quickly before either of them could make a response, he backtracked through Clare's comments.

 

"It's not at all a problem to ask about Orb. It's not like I have anything to hide about it. I haven't been there, though, since I first came to PLANT. I actually first lived in the Alliance, though we moved to Orb when my parents were putting me in pre-school. We lived in Kusanagi City for a couple months until we moved to a house in the city's suburb. Of course, I went into town quite a bit, so it's all fairly familiar stomping grounds, though I don't expect to do a great deal of stomping there at this point. It was a nice place, but I felt the cons outweighed the pros in the end. So I came here. And that's pretty much all there is to it."

 

He said this all without a bit of emotion in his voice, and even smiled a bit after he spoke. He decided to move things along a bit, and as he did so, his smile grew once more into a grin.

 

"Well, then, now that we've had my life story, I guess we can move on to other stuff. Ryou, you've been pretty quiet so far. Have you any rebuttals to your friend's earlier accusations? Or Exel, anything you want to toss in at this point?"

 

His voice took on a bit of old-fashioned authoritative tone, with a twist of sarcasm for flavoring, knowing darn well and good that he did have such rebuttals, though whether or not he would voice them was another matter. Heck, whether or not Brian himself would voice them in Ryou's position was a fair question.

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She was being kind it seems, though she still managed to blame him. He could see  from the fact she was doing half her skill in acting from how she phrased it all. He would owe the girl another dinner it seems for not making the whole team hate him. He raised his hand and took off his sunglasses from the top of his head placing them away and sighing. " I'm not worried about command, I'm more worried about if either one of you can command. " He had mentioned looking at his commander and then the guy beside him.

 

Ryou could tell they were experienced in ranking but the truth of the matter was..." Neither one of you have been in battles, or have lead any group into battles. " It was Ryou's biggest issue, no matter the ranking they worked for or had it would not change the lack of experience between either one and he knew that neither could be trusted in the battlefield until he was sure of it himself. " You can boast all you want..show off as many medals as you want...but in the end you'll die the same as any ranking officer in the battle field. " He had known that saying this was probably not a good choice at all but it was the truth to him, something they all needed to realize at some point.

 

Place their lives in the hands of a person who had just been promoted; His father had told him so that the man had the status for a while so he must have been a good choice but he wasn't that bought in by how many weeks he had the white uniform. He could be a member of FAITH for all he cared and it wouldn't change his worry about battle. He didn't know any of these people in battle except for Clare and she was partly reckless there herself. The different styles in commanding and battle strategies would all be new for some people and it was going to cost him if a member or he himself couldn't adapt to the strategy with doubt in his head. " It'll just take some time before we all get used to one another...but for now...don't expect my salutes to hold any other meaning except for appearance, I can't trust anybody on this team except Clare and she would be willing to shoot me down half the time. I recall training when I remarked something about your hair and you shot me down in the simulator. " He said and looked over at Clare sighing, no matter now. He had to deal with what he was dealt, even if the cards he had were partially something he wanted to fold against the odds.

 

Ryou's fear was due to two things; Death and Inexperience of his superiors. He didn't want to die for a reason which he won't even question or bring up in his mind still, the inexperience was the issue of his officers and the other team themselves. He had checked Okina himself from his father's access into the military, having a father the top of Technology in ZAFT was useful, and he did go through a history check and anything else he saw required. He didn't like any of it at all, he wished to protest but with his own history of disobedience with Clare it was already tugging on a weak thread that would cut him loose any second now.

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Clare blinked a few times. She couldn’t believe that he was saying any of this. Was this really Ryou? All of a sudden she found herself sitting across the table from a stranger. Ryou never insulted anyone, never stepped over the basic boundaries of etiquette. Oh, the two of them were being morons half the time, but that wasn’t anything serious! How could this timid, mousy boy be saying any of this? Sure, Clare agreed with half the things he said - she’d be a hypocrite to deny it.

 

ZAFT military had one major flaw to it. People there advanced in rank and got their placements based on family connections and status, rather than talents. Perhaps for coordinators it wasn’t that big of a deal, but still... Knowledge of machinery and supreme piloting skills did not change the fact that these were all green troops. They could freeze when orders had to be given immediately, they could fail to react, and they could be borderline incompetent when it came to commanding others. Ryou was right, and Clare thought this herself even before he spoke - let’s face it, being under two young men who were not even twenty was a little extreme even for the fast promotions of ZAFT. Still, she had the better sense to keep quiet.

 

Now as she looked at Ryou, she did not know what to feel. Sure, she had respect for the fact that he turned out to have more gumption than she. And yet this feeling of respect was soon mixed with and overshadowed by anger. Perhaps she was simply angry at herself for thinking that she knew him, and angry at him for... Well, for the fact that she did not know him as well as she thought. However, soon she had a real reason to be mad. How dare he assume that she would really ever think of shooting him down or hurting him in any way?! Oh, sure, she did shoot him down in a simulator, but that was the key word - ‘simulator.’ How could that thought even enter his head when he knew full well that she cut classes (something she never did) and sat in the waiting room for a day when he had his tonsils out? Was that not some indicator that she worried about him? Stupid jerk!

 

“Shut up!” Clare clenched her hands into fists in attempt to stop them from shaking. She was not looking at any of the young men around the table - instead she kept staring at her lap as if she had never seen it before. “Why did you bother saying this now? What made you think you had the right, you coward? You do not care about whether or not these guys are fit to command, you don’t care about who will die in battle - it just doesn’t matter to you, now does it? Can you not be honest even if for just a moment? You don’t care what happens or who lives.” Here Clare lifted her head and for the first time this whole evening made an eye contact with any on the people at the table. Her entire body was shaking with anger now, but strangest of all were her eyes. They seemed to pierce through the young man she was looking at. “Trust me, do you? To hell with your trust! What good is it to me? You can sit here and pretend to be superior to everyone else, but do you really think I don’t know that the only thing you truly care about is your own precious hide?” Not finding anything else bad enough to say, Clare stood up, leaned over the table and pulled Ryou towards herself by the collar of his shirt. Without even realizing what she was doing, Clare swung her arm, and a second later a loud smacking noise was heard as her hand came in contact with his cheek. That very instant all anger had gone out of her, replaced by fear of what she just did. Clare released his collar and just stood there, looking at horror at her own red palm and at the scarlet mark on his face... How could she?

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The throbbing sensation in his cheek didn't compare to the hurt she had on her face at first, they were close friends and yet she had taken his words so harshly and almost closely. The girl who had ignored any insult that came her way and would swiftly remark back to another with a insult and shrug it off, she had taken him seriously it seems this time. He didn't know whether to feel guilty or happy that he was being taken so seriously.

 

He had looked at her for a few seconds and then turned his head away standing up. " I'm..gonna..wash up..excuse me. " He had said and walked off before either one of them could say anything and passed people that gave him a curious look as to what the outburst was and what happened to him. His steps speeding up away from the eyes and looks as he bumped into a waiter but managed to catch the man's tray with glasses on without a drop spilling. He handed it back without an apology or to hear the man say thank you as he headed into the washroom and looked at himself in the mirror seeing the golden eyes staring at him and a red mark on his cheek that was numb and throbbing.

 

He stepped over to the faucet and turned it on looking down at the water and looked back at himself as he placed his hands in the cooling water and suddenly felt a stabbing pain in his right hand. " Ow! " He hissed as he looked down and saw the shards of his own sunglasses in his right hand as the shards had stabbed themselves into his clenched fist when she must have slapped him. He was about to put them away and then she had slapped him he must have crushed the glasses in his hand from reaction and didn't realize it till now. Biting his lower lip he pulled out the shards from his hand and threw them away washing away the blood while his cheek still throbbed. " Dammit..." He whispered as he then washed his face with the colder water trying to make himself forget it for the time being.

 

She was about the closest thing he had for a friend that it was surprising to him to have been pulled so close and then shouted at like that. He expected it from his father and perhaps other peers if he were to say something out of line but she was no different and that was what was hurting the most. He washed his face once more and then turned off the faucet as he watched the water drip down from the corners of his hair and face onto the ground, his head raised as he stared at himself and saw the pink mark start to fade and yet his eyes seemed that he lost sleep for weeks. Reaching itno his pocket he took out a pill and swallowed it down and stood up once more.

 

It wouldn't do him any good to back out now, he'd take it and stand for it. Not run away or cower in a washroom until dinner was over. He could only move forward now, everything else that remained in his past would haunt him later. With that in his mind he had walked out and headed back to the table and didn't look at Clare for the time. " She was right, I stepped out of line. If there is a punishment that I need for my insubordination then please give it to me after dinner or write a report on this to your superiors. " He had said almost as if had said this before, having then sat down himself with his eyes kept to his lap as he would keep his mouth shut for the time.

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Landis amused himself by watching the small banter between Brian and Clare-as she had so insisted them on calling her that. The unofficial inauguration of the squad seemed to be going pretty well even though he had recalled the short and practically monologu-ish conversation he had with Derran over the phone about how leaders should set the standards and lead by example by doing things first, quickly and efficiently.

 

Of course, it wasn't as though he liked it, but he did call, and Derran was...someone who could be considered significant in his life while he was still a ignorant young child forced to grow up back then. Simply refusing or hanging up on the calls of congratulations from him would reflect badly on his mother and indicate that he was immature for having held so much childish hatred for him. It seemed was just so ironic that Landis wanted to nothing to do with him as much as possible, yet prove not only to the people around him, but to Derran Zenastan that he was capable of standing on his own two feet rather than leaning on the crutches of authority. Nepotism could only get you so far and if Landis could judge, it was extremely contagious.

 

Perhaps it might have been better if I conformed to the normal military procedures of getting them together... He pondered, wondering if he might be sending out wrong signals to his new squad mates. Being not so stiff was one thing; showing apparent disregard for seriousness in the right situations was another. It was a mistake he had made from before, but the stony silence that followed after comments made by his former comrades in training had shut them up, and even more so after his few displays done as a mock team leader and as a pilot. Perhaps it was not the best, but it was sufficient to tell them that Landis Exel Zenastan was not going to be here based on long strings of Derran Zenastan.

 

Well, at least I have something in common with one of my members here... He stole a glance at Brian, who was still in conversation with Clare. The man seemed erudite enough to carry a dialogue with her long enough, even eliciting a joke from her (although it was at the expense of a not so amused Ryou). Ever being the observer, Landis did note that firstly, Ryou had yet to make any comments regarding any of them and neither did a smile peek from under the shock of bleached hair. Secondly, although it was but a mere five minutes, The last member who went by the name of Makoto Corale has yet to arrive. According to the data, it would seem that he was relatively fresh out of a military academy to come here as a pilot, for there were no reviews, no other records and no commendations from any officer save for the ones at the academy.

 

Perhaps he has simply lost his way... Landis wondered. He could accomodate that, but he could not exactly boast about the length of his own patience and neither could he let it slide if it meant a further lack of trust in the commander about his abilities to discipline and remind his own members about simply little things like punctuality. It could come from either the higher-ups or even his own members of the squad, and it was not a pincer situation Landis was willing to be in whenever he could avoid it.

 

Clare had made a comment, to which Brian added on to it just so that Ryou could open up. They were probably going to be more vocal than Ryou or him, and perhaps even the addition of a member relatively new to ZAFT could make either of them pitch in even more in interacting (or socialising, as his worried mother would be considered). The smile he had on his face faded, however, when Ryou finally spoke up.

 

Here it comes.... They certainly were not pleasant, but he had endured worse. He had even been through shouting matches with his superiors who had doubted his abilities, a guilty privilege he decidedly thought he had since there was, after all, some use for the support of Derran. There were times where he fought and had his fair amount of small, petty victories and losses regarding his status. This was nothing to him as compared to the days of what he considered to be a living hell, being taunted and reminded of his status, that his rise was indeed nothing but living proof of his father's reach not only in the army, but to him.

 

That being said, it did hurt slightly, but perhaps he deserved it. Well...It's not like I can please everyone, can I?

 

Hardly batting an eyelid, he was about the reply in an even tone when the lady at the table beat him to him, screamed at him regarding 'his own conceited ideals and impressions about people' (or so he interpreted as such) and gave him a resounding slap for emphasis.

 

Ouch...That IS going to hurt... He winced slightly and became even more conscious of himself and the people around them, who were wondering what had happened. Observers who thought better than to ask when there were two other people ready to resolve the conflict had turned their heads or moved away in the probability of not wanting to get themselves involved if anything did happen. For the count, Landis smiled at the other onlookers and indicated that everything was fine. He would let their imaginations do the rest of the calculations.

 

The boy had said something quietly and moved away with his head hung low, presumably to wash up and make himself more presentable. Landis could not blame him; Anyone who provoked such a violent response from what should be considered a friend would feel guilty, perhaps ashamed. At least, that was what he read from his actions, and from the crushed shades in a clenched fist as he watched Ryou walk away sullenly.

 

Although it might have spoiled the good atmosphere surrounding them earlier, Landis knew that something had been gained: The realization that these two Ensigns were perhaps closer than any of them to one another, and they could most certainly prove to be instrumental in completing missions if they did work together without bringing up their differences all the time.

 

If... He sighed almost inaudibly and was relieved to see Clare's expression. There was no more fire in her, at least not for the time being. That might perhaps avoid any further furore from occurring.

 

Ryou came back and apologize, though Landis certainly had to sigh at his latter comments. They were unneccessary, and he most certainly did not appreciate them.

 

Frankly speaking, he was acting like a spoilt brat.

 

He looked at him calmly, sighed and spoke evenly. "I do not deny it; My fath-Derran was indeed one of the main reasons why I could rise to become a squad leader at an age as this. However, I do not take comments regarding my abilities rather kindly as to how I treat people, but neither will I take it out on them; Frankly speaking, that is a very childish 'an eye for an eye' response."

 

You are right; Neither Brian nor I have truly led, but isn't that the same for all the new leaders currently? Have they led before? Were they, all fresh out of command school veterans of battles and wars? Have all of them gone through life-and-death situations? The bigger question is, have you?"

 

He leaned forward, propping himself on his two arms. This time he peered into his golden eyes, almost all traces of humor gone save for his amicable tone. "Please don't presume to know everything about us when you haven't gone through what we have, or what you haven't. Well, perhaps if you are twice my age, I would consider taking back those comments." He relaxed for a moment and allowed amusement to show on his face. I believe you understand trust IS built, not forged overnight and that doesn't just involve fighting as a team on the battlefield, but also some social interaction amongst teammates."

 

He paused to sip his own beverage and sat back with his arms folded again. "You can refuse to acknowledge me as a superior or refuse to salute me. Go ahead. I'd rather earn respect than demand it. However, if you reject the idea of 'working together by the building of mutual trust' as time passes and disobey direct commands on the battlefield, instead rushing off recklessly to fight on your own, I'm afraid I won't have the control to maintain any composure regarding that."

 

He smiled, suddenly dissolving the tense atmosphere. "So you have to speak up more. Tell us about yourself, since now we know how you feel about the two of us. Even just the smallest thing would be a start." He refrained from querying about the relationship Ryou had with Clare for the mark was still there, and did represent something until the situation was completely resolved.

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“One spoiled brat should know another,” Clare remarked coldly as soon as Landis was done with his speech. She stood up and went over to where Ryou was sitting. All this time she did not look at anything but his mangled hand. The bleeding was evident no matter how much he tried to hide it... And it was all her fault. Clare did not care that broken sunglasses were an accident - she still blamed herself for it. Without saying another word she kneeled down beside Ryou and dug into her coat pocket, extracting a crispy-white silk handkerchief. It was a beautiful piece of cloth, decorated with Clare’s monogram and covered in woven designs; it suited its owner’s style quite a bit. Without a moment’s hesitation, Clare tore the beautiful item with her teeth into several thick strips. She forced Ryou’s hand into hers and began to apply the bandage carefully and with quite a bit of skill. She did not bother to explain her earlier words until the bandaging process was completely finished. Only then did she stand up and looked at the other two men, however, not before she was standing behind Ryou’s chair with her hands placed on young man’s shoulders.

 

“Do not make the mistake of thinking that my opinion of this situation is any different from Ryou’s,” she continued softly as if the conversation was about weather. “Let’s face it, no matter how nice both of you are, it does not change the little fact that you are unfit to command. In no other existing military people are moved up in ranks according to their social status and connections. Yes, some brilliant cadets are assigned minor commanding positions, but they are usually placed under the direct authority of higher-ranking and more experienced officers, and they stay there until somebody is kind enough to acknowledge their existence. It would be hypocrisy to deny that ranks should only be assigned on the basis of military experiences and battlefield conduct, but who am I to question the existing system?”

 

Clare chuckled softly, as if to say that she’d question it if she wasn’t forced to abide by it. Although her voice was even and calm, there was something very insulting about it. That was part of her character - Clare could make anything sound like an insult if she wanted to. “Why don’t we talk business,” she continued with a polite smile that yet again bordered on insult. “After all, my personal sentiments do not matter much, now do they? I can guarantee you right now that they will in no way interfere with my direct duties and responsibilities. I can guarantee you complete subordination even if I will find that you are a complete failure as a commander. I can guarantee that I will never again reproach you on your questionable movement up in ranks. I can also guarantee you my respect, for I always liked men who are capable to stand up for themselves although there is little that can be said in light of hard facts. And finally I can guarantee right now that Ryou will back me up on these promises. However, I cannot promise you my trust. That is something that you have yet to learn. Our direct responsibilities as your subordinates do not include frequent confessions, therefore, if you will excuse us, neither I nor Ryou are very keen upon discussing our past with people who are so completely unrelated to us. Let’s keep our conversations to the military issues and the weather until further notice, shall we?”

 

Perhaps this meeting was more of a success than Landis could have hoped for. Yes, perhaps some hostilities have arisen in the process, but a few things became painfully clear. It was now obvious where the loyalties lied in this team. Landis was loyal to his benefactor, Bryan was loyal to himself and his whims, and Clare and Ryou were fiercely loyal to each other. Was it not evident that Clare would step over anyone for Ryou? She was currently crushing the relatively good relationship she started to establish just because Landis was a little cross with him. Most would see this as quite an issue...

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He now shrugged and maintained a stoic expression despite her comments. They did little to rattle his nerves for it was a generic term used to describe him whenever he simply questioned the rationale of certain things. It was an expected reaction from people who had little understanding of his circumstances and with a certain biaseness againsth him and as expected, he knew that he would be dealing with a difficult squad, all things considered. Perhaps he had been a little too harsh in thinking that Ryou had acted out of character. After all, who was he to judge?

 

And why did he find it silly? The answer was plain enough. The sorry excuse of a father had decided that taking away his brother was not enough, but wanted to be an absolute factor in his life as though he was a possession of his. The lack of kinship was there, despite having a mother who cared in her own way for him. He felt a gulf between his own friends and him as well, one well created by the ever encompassing hand of Derran Zenastan, and it was primarily the reason why he absolutely hated people referring that person as his father, or calling him by the last name.

 

Perhaps I'm childish in my own way. He continued to sit in the same position and regarded Ryou and Clare. It was obvious they were close, but did not care how much. Apparently if a miniscule string of comments like his was all it took for Clare to come to his defense...Well, it did not matter, as long as they did not give him too much trouble. It did not take a genius to know that the irony was not lost on him; He had destroyed the atmosphere of what he wanted to be the main theme of this meeting by a few harmless comments. Of course, he could remain pessimistic and blame himself for it, but Landis knew that it was the uncertainty that made him reiterate his point and bring it across. He did not know about Brian's confidence levels, but Landis was certainly no genius when it came to this.

 

"I thank you for your insight, Miss Clare...Something I'm well aware of." He sighed. "Apparently both of you are not going to be convinced until the two of us show the two of you what we are capable of. To be fair, I don't even know what I'm capable of, but time will take care of that."

 

What are you doing?! Showing a lack of confidence is akin to suicide!

 

He chuckled at her directness despite his own lack of conviction on his previous statement. She was direct, so sharp, so insulting that anyone with a bigger ego than he would probably have turned red and launched into a tirade. Having learned from his own experience, Landis considered insults to be petty and would even berate himself later for having said or thought the same thing about unpleasant fellows-except his own so-called father.

 

"What I don't need is unneccessary respect or promises and considering that you do believe I shouldn't even ask about a soldier's feelings, or perhaps his or her hobbies, you have your own answer to personal sentiments." He shrugged nonchalantly. "Heck, I don't even care if you go ballistic on me if I fail as a commander. I don't want mindless drones, nor do I want berserkers on my team...As I've said, trust will have to wait as time goes by. Nothing more, nothing less."

 

Here goes... It went against the principles of being a commander, but he had to do it as an individual. "If I insulted you in some way, I sincerely apologize. I'm used to being misunderstood, after all." Bitterness crept into his voice and he made no effort to push it away. It surprised him how bitter he felt, considering that he had believed some of the past was already put behind him, giving him a selective memory of what he could only affirm was good work done by himself and not shallow compliments by others. There was no way he could read the thoughts of others, though, just like any other normal Coordinator. How would he know what people were thinking unless he asked? Obviously his observation skills were insufficient.

 

He shook his own head at his folly. It's a good thing I'm still young... "Well, in regards to military issues...This would be pertaining to squad matters. I need to ask each of you what style of fighting you are comfortable with and the kind of mobile weapons. I have to warn all of you first, though, that considering they" He spat that out as though it was as bad a swear word as 'Derran Zenastan' "put a group of troublemakers together, we might not get what we want...."

 

Who am I kidding? He's going to interfere again, as usual... The words trailed off and he frowned. "...I beg you pardon. Just ignore my latter statement and also tell me your experiences in the training with the different kinds of terrain." He spoke as emotionlessly as his voice could allow, though failing to keep the stiffness and slight resent out of his tone.

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Ryou had felt like he had gotten punched in the stomach and no was receiving kicks while being laying on the ground. His hand clenched tighter along his fist feeling the stinging pain of his wound once more as he looked back down and stared down at his lap bowing his head a bit in shame for his outburst to his superiors. He couldn't accept it still; He was supposed to learn and respect man that had no better experience in battle that he did himself! How was he supposed to trust the man in battle when fighting and facing death might cause either one to freeze up in the battlefield and cost their lives!? What's worse was that the other commander also had no experience in battle himself. Who were these two men to preach and expect to be listened to when they were no different than Clare and Ryou himself! It just made him more frustrated on how-

 

His head raised itself as he felt Clare beside him and then tear off her own handkerchief for his hand, having wished to complain on the pain once more from how she simply took it without even asking but knew that he was pushing his luck and stared at her for a few seconds before looking back down at his own lap. She was the only one he could trust in battle and the only one he would have to worry about also during battles, he didn't expect to worry about more than 3 people at most but this was just idiotic to him still. He had no other desire of feeling his own pride get degraded anymore by thanking her ( He'd do that later ) and so he had kept quiet until he felt her hands on his shoulders.

 

He felt like he was six again, getting protected by some mother or sibling. Even the shoulder thing he could do without after feeling like he was getting protected almost. He knew this already too well though as to why she was doing this and it wasn't all love and care; She was just defending her own beat up bag and wouldn't let anybody else touch it. He didn't know who was worse now, Clare or Landis. No matter, this whole dinner was turning into nothing but insult and them expressing their problems to one another while another side was defending themselves.

 

He was glad to hear that the man was defending himself and raised his own hand petting Clare's and then slipping it off himself while looking up at her and giving a weak smile and nod, his head turning back to Landis and hearing the turn of topics once more which was necessary by now. " I'm a balanced pilot mostly but my accuracy seems to have been something that was at the top of my class and military records. " He had said while staring at Landis and keeping his own ground now. " But I really hate those long-range beam cannons placed on Zaku's and suits..too slow and risky for my taste. " He had said with a shrug as to what he wanted in a suit. He didn't even know what the choice in suits was in the first place, but he knew that he wasn't going to be stuck with a large beam cannon that might make him miss. " Depends on the situation really...if it's a battleship then I'd prefer that weapon but a mobile suit is just an annoyance to hit. " He said with a childish look on himself. He must have sounded like a kid asking for a particular toy but to him it was just his tastes in suit and battle.

 

For now he would prefer to keep the topic on hand and not some fight to break out, he'd have to manage on his own and prove his worth other than the example he gave of himself to the two superior commanders.

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He did not understand her.

 

Clare did not have to see Ryou’s expression to know that, as always, he did not understand the first thing about her. She knew all too well that he would never attribute any form of human kindness or care to her. Chances were he thought her incapable of feeling either. Clare also thought that for a while, but later it would seem that more and more of this remote warmth was waking up in her again, although she would give a lot to have it silenced. What was the point of emotionally attaching herself to anyone if people were going to die? This was a war for crying out loud, and they were in the military! What was the sense of emotionally attaching herself to anyone if in the end she would be alone again? The thought that she could get killed just as well as anyone else never entered Clare’s mind. She knew all too well that all people were punished in one way or another, and during an open armed conflict the punishments consisted of live and death, and of the two it was difficult to say which was worse. She was the type to be left alive and unharmed when all around her crumbled simply because she could never find a place for herself in the new world that would emerge from the ashes.

 

A soft smile passed her lips when she considered that it, perhaps, was for the best that Ryou did not understand her. It would do him (or her, for that matter) no good if he did... Here she caught Landis looking at her. Something told Clare that this man was aware of the fact that her actions just now were a result of care rather than possessiveness. Maybe she was too quick to judge him. He certainly seemed to have a good deal of perceptiveness. This observation made her look at him a little closer as he spoke. Just like he was in no way offended by her remarks, Clare took no offense to his. It was beneath her to take closely anything that a man of his character would say. He appeared to be struggling to maintain an air of a serious commander, while at the same time remain a good buddy to the people who were under him. A heavy task! Perhaps no one ever told him that no appearance he could thing of would ever be better than his true personality. Not everyone could master to display authority while at the same time remaining a pretty carefree guy - it was a talent, and the key to it was not to try too hard. If he wanted to accomplish anything he’d have to learn how to use his own charisma instead of the one he thought he should have.

 

“Impressed,” she replied laconically when he commented about not truly knowing what he was capable of. For the first time in Clare’s address to him her smile held some sort of warmth and sincerity. “It’s nice to know that you are not a coward and do not attempt to cover up your inexperience with your rank. Do not take what I have said to you before as any form of disrespect. You chose to be unmilitary in our first meeting, and so I have allowed myself some frankness - maybe it’s for the best. I understand where you’re coming from, but try to put yourself in our shoes. We have to put our lives in the hands of two men who can hardly be much older than ourselves and who saw about as much of the battlefield as we have. No offense, but I’m rather fond of living. You couldn’t have come here hoping for an easy acceptance - you do not make the impression of someone so delusional. You had to have realized that you’d be struggling against quite a number of prejudices and fighting for every once of respect considering your situation. I am not someone who’s going to make your life exceedingly difficult. That is all I hoped you’d take from my previous statement. I am simply your subordinate, but if you hope for more informal relationships with those under you, you’ll have to work for them.”

 

When Ryou went on to say what he wanted from the Zaku’s Clare’s hand involuntarily returned to its previous position and squeezed his shoulder. He truly was a child. He could be rebellious or burst out and say more than he ought to have had, but he could never hold on to those statements. Like a child he was afraid of being dislike and scolded, and like a child he was all more grateful for the change of subject... No, she shouldn’t have been so hard on him before... Well, the least she could do right now was to play along with the change of subject, and later she’d have to apologize to him.

 

“There isn’t much to say about training on different terrain,” Clare replied after thinking a little. “I think it would be an understatement to say that normal Zaku’s are only good for space battles or fights on hard and even ground. They are clumsy machines, but we manage. Reprogramming for different kinds of terrain is a lengthy process - it’s not like anyone is going to be waiting for us to finish before shooting. Of course, I realize that there are upgraded versions, but they are also rather bulky. It’d be nice if we were to have low-energy speed-boosters to add on - that would compensate for a lot of things.

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Brian had sat quietly through all of this discussion. He had felt a little put off from speaking after his prompt to Ryou had managed to get him slapped and cut up, and so had decided to lay low until tempers had come down a bit. He thought the discussion back and forth on the subject of trust between the commander and the soldiers was interesting, though he remained silent primarily because he felt he had little to add to the conversation. Everything the others had said he pretty much considered to be dead on. He felt a little awkward, though considering his position. On one hand, he was not the squadron leader. He was under Exel's command just as the others were, and would be help up to the same level of expectations as a rank-and-file squad member. But on the other hand, he was the second-in-command, superior in rank to all except Exel himself. He was thus supposed to show a little bit of command initiative in his job, largely helping out Exel and making his life a little easier so he could concentrate on more important details rather than mundane minutia. Plus it didn't help that Ryou and Clare seemed to have lumped him together in the same mold as their actual commander. It wasn't quite right, but it was close enough to the mark that Brian saw no way to object to the classification without seeming rather childish about it. It wouldn't be easy, being both commander and commanded. Perhaps it was divine intervention, punishing him for being so insubordinate to former commanders. Now he had to be on the receiving end of things. Be that as it may, he resolved not to be as thick-headed as the other CO's had been.

 

At any rate, despite heated tension and cold regard, Exel had somehow managed to steer the conversation back into safer waters. Discussing more military-oriented matters, Brian felt that the tension was lifting just a bit, and he also felt a bit more compelled to insert himself back into the flow of things. He nodded in agreement as Ryou spoke, and began talking after Clare finished.

 

"Well, I'm with Ryou on big cannons like the ones you'll find on that Gunner pack. Sure, it packs plenty of firepower, but I can never seem to make the darn thing hit, unless of course, you're targeting a battleship. If you can't hit that after a couple of tries, you shouldn't be in a mobile suit in the first place. I prefer loadouts that do a lot of damage over an area. Something like the Gouf, Slash Zaku, or even the Blaze Zaku. You may not hit with every shot, but you'll be a lot more likely to hit with a few, and that's usually enough. I also like it to be fairly fast, as well. 'Speed is life', as they say. So when we get down to it, I guess I prefer a Zaku with a Blaze pack or a Gouf for unit choice. As for fighting with a Zaku in rough terrain, well, it's tough, but it's manageable if you can think ahead and have a loose plan about what you're doing and where you're going. 'Course, it's not like I'm an expert at it, but I have that on good authority from a pilot I met who fought in the Second War. He'd just finished a teaching tour at the Academy, and was stretching his space legs again with a short patrol assignment, which is how I met him. Clare, have you tried using a Blaze pack in those circumstances? I've found the extra thrusters to be pretty helpful in dealing with situations like that."

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Running extremely late, Makoto ran down the street to get to the venue where he was to meet his squad.  He had woken up on time but fell back asleep forgetting about his meeting.  He ran through some crosswalks dodging the incoming cars.  His uniform was half buttoned and his hair got increasingly worse as he ran down the streets of Aprillius City.  The sad part about him being late was that he lived in Aprillius City for most of his life and he knew exactly where this restaurant was.

 

As he ran he though, "Man, I sure hope this Commander Zenastan is forgiving on the first day..."  He rounded a corner and ran smack into the side of a parked car.  He went flying to the ground. "Ouch...", he thought as he got up and brushed himself off.  He looked up to see if anybody had seen his little mishap, but was relieved to see that there was nobody in his imediate vicinity.

 

He turned one more corner and saw the sign of the restaurant.  "Finally!" He thought to himself.  At last he reached the doors to the restaurant, and stopped.  He noticed his reflection in the glass and quickly straightened out his uniform, and his hair.  Then he proceeded to quickly open the doors and walk inside.

 

He noticed a group of ZAFT soldiers and figured that it was his squad.  He counted the number of people there, then thought to himself, "Crap...I'm the last one...AND i'm extremely late." He briskly walked over to the group and looked right at the commanding officer.  He held up his hand and saluted, "Commander Zenastan?" He asked as he tried to supress his heavy breathing.

 

Makoto saluted uneasily, mainly because he was extremely embarrassed for showing up so late, and for the fact that he was breathing to heavily.  His body was so tired he could baarely stand, and his uniform still had some dirt on it from when he ran into that parked car.

 

[Please remember this is my first RP, so any help would be greatly appreciated.  I tried to use your posts as examples for mine.  Please give me feedback, as I want to be a great RPer like the rest of you.]

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