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See You Later

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The habit started in the SDF, he knows that much.

It’s not a bad habit, really, as far as habits go. It’s not disruptive or really noticeable unless you know what you’re looking for. It’s not even really a habit, per se. More of a verbal tic than anything.

The thing is, Sys-Zero never, ever says goodbye.

It’s not a lifelong thing. He remembers saying goodbye a lot as a child, as a teenager. He remembers using both ‘goodbye’ and ‘bye’ right up through his university years.

And then, at some point when he was in the SDF – or maybe even as far back as when he was in the SAF before getting recruited by the SDF – he just… stopped using it.

Maybe it was the stress of the battles they fought back then, even when they weren’t at war. Maybe it was the fact that ‘goodbye’ felt too final, too ending. Just because they weren’t at war like with the Shadowscythe didn’t mean that there weren’t battles. That there weren’t deaths. Maybe ‘goodbye’ was just too finishing a thing to say when you know how easily it could be the last thing you ever say to someone.

He uses a lot of different phrases when parting with people. Every phrase for ‘goodbye’ that there is has probably passed his lips at some point; everything from ‘farewell’ to ‘have a good day’.

He likes ‘see you later’ the most. It’s casual and common and it doesn’t feel truly finishing. It’s not an end, it’s a pause. It’s a way to say goodbye while also, in a way, assuring that you’re not parting paths. You’re going to be apart for a bit, but you’ll come back together eventually.

The day of the final battle with the Shadowscythe, he awakens with the dawn and knows that he isn’t going to see the dusk.

It’s a gut feeling, an instinct that has become refined and honed over years and years of being needed. It has never been wrong before and he isn’t going to start doubting it now.

For better or for worse, he knows that no matter if they win or lose this war, he isn’t going to live to see the result.

He supposes he should find it odd that he’s at peace with that. It’s not that he won’t fight to live, that he’ll just give up. If he dies today, he’ll go to his fate kicking and screaming the entire way. He’s just… he knows that he won’t be coming back from this battle.

(If he’s truthful, he’s tired of fighting. He’s tired of guns firing, mecha charging, energy blades flashing through the air. He’s tired of bloodshed and the stench of death in the air and the feeling of woe and loss that hangs in the air. But he isn’t tired of protecting. He will never grow tired of protecting)

When they deploy, it’s a rush to get to mecha, to get to ships. People are running every which way and on the way to his position, he sees Odessa.

She shouldn’t be on her feet, not at all. Not after Maria. But she’s up and she’s commanding, every bit the Queenadent that she is and every bit the leader Slugwrath never was.

Without thinking, he stops running, stops rushing. He taps her shoulder - the familiarity of a friend, because for all that she is his leader, they have known each other too long to not be friends by now.

“Should you really be up?” he asks, trying to keep his tone light but his voice tense despite his efforts.

“I’m not going to lie around while my people fight for their lives if I can be up and helping,” she replies, hers the same.

“It must be killing you to be on the ground and not in a mecha,” he says without thinking. He can afford to be this open right now, he thinks. The feeling in his gut hasn’t abated and this could be the last conversation he ever has with her if it is right. If this is the last they ever talk, let it be as friends and equals and not leader and subordinate.

Odessa must see something in his face, in his body language, to understand that this conversation is important to him, because she lets part of the sternness of the Queenadent of Loreon fade from her face and gives him a small, reassuring smile.

“Absolutely,” she says. “But I suppose I have to set a good example for everyone as Queenadent. I know my limits and I can’t pilot a mecha like this,” there is a twinkle in her eyes as she speaks, one that isn’t the least bit fake but is dimmed by the surroundings “I know my limits in these matters, unlike some people that I know,”

“I’m perfectly good at judging my limits,” he retorts, feeling himself relax slightly too. As much as one can in this situation. “It’s everyone else that’s bad at that,”

“Says the man who once tried to pilot a starship with a broken leg,”

He throws his arms into the air with a huff, over exaggerating the movement.
“One time!” he declares “One time and you never live it down!”

There is a slight shake to her shoulders and a quirk to her lips that might be laughter. Then it fades and the situation crashes back down on them, her face turning solemn.

“Be careful out there, Sys-Zero,” she says.

“I will,” he promises. She nods stiffly and turns to leave.

It’s an impulse action, one he should be able to control with all his years of experience, but he doesn’t manage it. Before she leaves, he blurts “Odessa!” and reaches out to grab her arm. She stops and looks over her shoulder, questioning but not angry or annoyed.

He swallows, his throat suddenly feeling very dry. The feeling in his gut is swirling like a slushy maker and he just knows what the next word out of his mouth has to be.

“Goodbye,” he says, voice earnest, his eyes staring right through his goggles into hers. He has to say it to someone, and she pulled him back from the darkness when no one and nothing else could. It’s right, he thinks, that she is the one he says this to.

He lets go of her arm, steps back, and then turns on his heel and runs to protect his home and his people. He doesn’t look back. Doesn’t see the realisation dawning on her face, the brief buried flash of grief, the steely determination that much harder than it was before.

He keeps his eyes forwards, ready for the battle ahead. If this is going to be his last, he wants to see every detail of what is ahead and not dwell on what is behind.