|Summary: Quattro Bajeena and Haman Karn continue to push each other down dark paths.|
The beautiful thing about high-end vacation spots is that if you get the right resort, you can do anything and it won't matter who you are -- your privacy is guaranteed. Wandering eyes are kept out, and lips are always sealed. The service staff are even given regular semi-legal memory wipes.
Which is why Lady Haman Karn, Regent of Axis Zeon, feels perfectly comfortable laying out stark naked in the isolated spot she shares with Quattro Bajeena. The beaches on Neo Ibiza are chemically calculated to perfection, and the artificial sunshine is warmer and fuller than any real star could ever promise. A clothing-optional resort catering to the wealthy elite: the ultimate in privacy.
Haman rolls onto her side on her towel. A huge umbrella has been planted, but she's not in its shade. "Captain Char," she says, her voice nearly sweet. Nearly.
"What are you thinking?"
It's the most dangerous question ever, but it's one every single girlfriend in history feels the need to ask. Which only goes to show how Haman has come to consider herself in relation to Char Aznable.
"I'm wondering how much you spent on this," Quattro replies, casual and accusing. He sits on another towel, mildly clothed. An unbuttoned dress shirt protects his back and his beam-shielded gold speedo reflects almost as much of the sun as his ridiculous but omnipresent aviator shades. His barb is simple despite being unexplained: money for Zeon, or money for a sex vacation. He's here, presumably, because he does not care about the former.
"The onus is on you, Haman. I'm sure you've got something in mind."
Quattro sucks on a popsicle. It is a margarita popsicle. They sell those at nearby stands. It's the future.
"Mm," Haman replies to the comment about cost. The implication is very clear, and her response to Quattro's rebuke is to -- well, for the most part, act like it didn't happen. She certainly doesn't harbor any /regrets/. She's Haman Karn, for God's sake.
Turning onto her back, Haman closes her eyes, and lets out a self-satisfied little chuckle at the comment about her having something in mind. "Of course I have something in mind, Char," Haman says. She says the man's name reverently, as if every time the syllable left her lips, it gave her a tiny schoolgirl thrill. "I always do. Things are moving forward... I'm going to have to make some appointments, to hasten them further. The Shadow Mirrors... A-LAWS... it's an exciting time to be alive, isn't it?"
Haman's face breaks into a broad grin. "But /I/ was thinking -- just now, that is -- about you. And me. And where we are." The tone drops a bit, into one of some gravity -- it's fairly clear that by 'where we are,' she does not mean 'a secluded corner of a secluded nude beach in Neo Ibiza.' The waves lap at the shore nearby, weak and small, the tide at its most pleasantly impotent.
"What did I tell you about Zeon?"
Quattro inclines his head. He works at a lime with a paring knife, diligently removing the skin for no reason. His thumb works the blade into the fruit, the extra portions finding a temporary spot on top of the cooler. It's bourbon and club soda today, with an improbably lime garnish. "I'm not coming back. Especially not to a Zeon sided with the Shadow Mirrors or A-LAWS."
The AEUG ace finds his drink, finally. "You might think the AEUG is an experiment, but it's one that I think will succeed. Until then, we're strictly... nonattached."
"You misunderstand me, Char. I have no intention of falling in with A-LAWS. I'd sooner die." Haman snorts, as if Quattro were stupid for even suggesting it. "And the Shadow Mirrors... I've got my eyes and ears there. But simply letting them run along their chosen tracks... mm. I'd rather whisper the right things and watch them make a mess of it all." Haman doesn't elaborate her plans, but she seems rather pleased with herself. She always does.
The Regent doesn't open her eyes, although her position shifts minutely on the towel -- a leg trying to decide whether or not to bend its knee, her arms trying to find a position that feels both natural and comfortable. On an unconscious level, there's more than a little showing off going on, as well. "But I know your position, Char. And I know you /are/ coming back, in your own time, in your own way, whether you want to admit it to yourself or not."
Haman turns onto her side again to face the blonde Newtype and open her eyes, lifting one pink eyebrow slightly as if in mild challenge. "But I'm not talking about you and Zeon," Haman says, her voice serene, if tainted with the darkness that never quite leaves her person. "I'm talking about you and me."
"I'm sure your intentions are the most pure," Quattro replies.
He sets his drink aside. The captain sits up, tossing his shirt aside. His military upbringing means even in his late twenties he looks just out of the academy. It's easier for Haman to pretend, that way. This is done in response to the regent's accusation that he is inevitably coming back, though the meaning is arguably benign, threatening, or dismissive. Char is contemptuously difficult to read as anything other than aggressive and condescending.
Quattro pushes Haman's shoulder, laying her on her back. His glasses seem immovable. "What about us? I'd love to hear your opinion on things."
Just as Quattro reads as nothing but aggression and condescension, there is a certain constant in how Haman can be seen while dealing with him. Even when their interactions were at their bitterest nadir -- say, when Quattro bitchslapped her, and Haman responded by attempting to shoot him to death -- there's always been a sense that this is a game to Haman. That it's all just play.
When Quattro looms over her, pushing her down onto her back, that sense is maintained. She doesn't act like he's manhandling her; she acts like it's a bit of playful roughhousing. She smiles -- as brightly as she can, which isn't as brightly as it used to be -- and lets her hands come up to clutch at Quattro's sides.
"My opinion on things? Oh, I've told you my opinion plenty of times, Captain Char," Haman teases, her voice coy and insinuating. "And you just throw it back in my face. Ever since I was a girl. But that's your way." Haman says it with a slight hint of... not quite resignation, but definitely acceptance.
"But I've been thinking, Captain Char. About our future. We've been... doing this for a month now, and I've grown rather fond of it; haven't you?" Haman's hands slide down Quattro's sides, teasingly.
Quattro blocks out the gentle, strategic lighting of the partially artificial beach better than the umbrella ever could. He is almost frozen. Haman plays along even when he stops. Still, he is too oppressive to escape, even receded. His breath is shallow and familiar. Even now, within one's grasp, Quattro seems too vulgar and dangerous to touch. He might as well be piloting a mobile suit and killing freely.
The AEUG pilot relents, likely for his own sake. Quattro rolls back onto his blanket, thin lips curled into a frown, glasses jilted into the sand at his side. Haman either won or lost; either she scared him away, or he got bored. "I'm sure. Having something to latch on to must be very comforting. I'm glad you're feeling better."
Whatever the cause of Quattro's retreat, it prompts Haman to sit up on her blanket. She brings her knees up and leans forward, providing herself some degree of modesty (such as it is) while she tilts her head to regard the former Zeonic ace. "On the day I turned fifteen..." Haman begins to says, before letting herself drift into a brief silence colored only by her small, wry smile.
When the crown doesn't weigh so heavily on her head, Haman still has the smile of a hungry predator. Moreso now that she's older and the damage has been given adequate time to rot away her insides.
"'Remember, just being there will be enough.'"
Haman quotes the words -- and the way she says them, they are pointedly and unambiguously a quotation -- with the reverence and care of someone who's quoting scripture. "Your words to me in the back of that car we were in, Captain Char. During the parade." The day Haman became Regent -- the day she took charge of Mineva. The day she turned fifteen.
Haman lets herself go quiet again, and her eyelids droop gently. She tries not to look directly at the sunray-reflecting speedo -- it hurts her eyes. But she doesn't hide that she's staring at Quattro's body, tracing contours with the paths of her pupils. "Tell me, Captain Char. Do you remember Natalie Bianchi?"
The waves lap at the shore. It is not something that should be specifically listened to. The measure is too even. Everything here is that right kind of perfect that someone who visited the 'real thing' as a child will never truly get comfortable. Quattro lived in a lot of places as a child.
"And you've come so far."
He is still tight lipped. Haman, observing him so closely, does not need her extrasensory empathy to detect the tensing of the captain's body and being. His fingers curl into his palms.
"Are you sure you want to do this, Haman?"
Haman Karn's experience, by and large, is not to do with 'real things.' She grew up on a space station, and beyond that, she grew up with ridiculous privilege on a space station. She had everything she ever wanted right there -- why should she ever need to see a beach? Or any aspect of nature, for that matter? Even when she decided to become a teenage MS jock, Haman dealt in simulated combat.
The first 'real thing' Haman Karn ever experienced was feeling Lady Zena Zabi die. The 'real thing' has thus built up discomforting associations. But at the same time, discomfort doesn't really /bother/ Haman. Once you've tasted death -- felt what it is to die -- well, it inspires a certain fearlessness.
Haman remains in her relaxed position, leaning forward and setting her temple on her knee. She stares at Quattro's tension, marveling at it like a middle schooler about to dissect a live worm. Scalpel in hand and all.
"It's a shame that she died, Captain Char, but... really, in the grand scheme of things, it couldn't be avoided. Because I want you to know now -- now that I have you... I don't intend to let anyone else." Haman's wry smile remains, but its juxtaposition with her words gives it a demonic shade. "My father ordered her to be my friend, because I didn't have any. I just had dreams of you. And if she were alive today, fake friend or no... well, it's better that we don't have her between us."
Haman puts her arms behind her and leans back, flattening her legs. Her chin dips low, as her gaze at Quattro becomes both more playful and more pointed in the same instant, her smile crueler as her tone becomes warmer. "Knowing that you'll never be allowed the chance to find happiness with anyone else, Captain Char... if I asked you to marry me, what would you say?"
Quattro grips ground. Sand squeezes through his fingers. He (I guess I was going too fast) kicks at the edge of his towel and finds purchase, pushing himself up so he can stand. He is uncoordinated. His hand instinctively finds the glasses he discarded. Quattro replaces (She's still a girl) them and walks toward the shore.
"Natalie was... she was..." Char ignores the beach. He walks back, kneeling near his resting spot, digging through the jacket he (I want to protect you, Captain) brought with him. "How did she die, again?"
He deliberately selects something on the computer pad he finds. It beeps disinterestedly. Pictures, picture one, picture two, picture (It's because you're a man) three, four, five. Char breathes sharply. He cannot suppress (that's why I keep my integrity as a woman) his grin.
Quattro stands fully. He brushes his hair over his ear, and tosses the device to Haman. It says in so many words that Reccoa Londe likes him. "If you think I'm here to find happiness, Haman, you're deluding yourself. You're still a little girl, aren't you? One dead woman and you win."
"If I had to say something, Haman, I'd say--" (you're strong, Lalah, that's what I like about you) "--I'll say yes when it suits me."
Haman catches the Neo Newton and flicks through the pictures. Her lips purse, and she seems distinctly unimpressed. Then, Haman looks up, and over at the sunglassed blonde standing over her. She returns his grin, and drops the device to her side, shifting her position to lay out a bit more. One of her eyebrows raises, but she doesn't comment on Reccoa's special gifts.
Haman's grin maintains, though. She doesn't seem intimidated by Quattro's declaration that, in no uncertain terms, he intends to remain in the driver's seat. She seems ready to humor him, staying on the ground while he stands. And yet, she's not at all submissive.
"Oh, Captain Char," Haman says, laying all the way back, pressing her legs together while she stretches her arms. "You're as much here for happiness as I am. You're as much here for happiness as you are for respect... self or otherwise. And I /know/ you're not here just for the sex, Captain Char, because if you were, we wouldn't be having this conversation."
Haman chuckles darkly, although she certainly sounds at peace, in her own perverse way. "Just remember, Captain Char... you're not the only one who's enough of an emotional cripple to treat the world so callously. But then, I think I proved that well enough with Natalie." Haman's eyes close again, slowly, but her peaceful smile remains. "I just want you to know, Captain Char... I know you'll never love me. But I don't care. Because I know you'll never love anyone, anyway. That's why we're two of a kind."
"Emotional cripple," Quattro replies, simply, eloquent, testing. He is not in the same place as Haman. She can do this to him-play casually, dance along hate and murder, believe in nothing and be an invisible target as a result. His heart is bared.
"We've been over our differences before." Char turns away from the artificial ocean, toward their resort. "I just want to make sure you know that I hate you, and I think your Neo Zeon is purposeless and will kill itself."
"Get up. We're leaving."
SOME TIME LATER
Quattro pushes his sunglasses up his nose. The television is showing punditry about the recent A-LAWS takeover of Orbital Ring territory. He kicks the sheets off the bed. "Give me a current roster of mobile suit divisions. No joint units with the Divine Crusaders."
Haman Karn sits up when Quattro decides the bed no longer needs sheets. She rolls her shoulders and smacks her lips silently, running her tongue over her teeth. She takes her time replying, as if Quattro's words were filtering to her through oceanic depths, sinking all the way to the blackest fathoms.
"Whatever you say, Captain Char," Haman says languidly, in such a way that it's not really clear whether she's being patronizing or not. "Before I ask for something in return... dare I ask what it is you have in mind?"
Haman leans back, reclining onto the artless rubble of what was once a careful and tasteful arrangement of pillows, looking like some sort of decadent courtesan rather than the secret ruler of Neo Zeon.
Quattro tirelessly flips through the news channels. He stops when something catches his eye, but his attention quickly moves away even before the rest of the story is reported. His half-lidded eyes watch unenthusiastically the stories of death and policy changes. Even before he was a senator, he did this. He's done this as long as Haman has known him. Stories of Char Aznable watching Garma Zabi's funeral over the television and changing channels before it was over are famous among people who either want to show his commitment to Zeon Deikun or paint him as callous.
"If you're going to destroy the A-LAWS, you need to sell what military might you have left. You might as well get me your research schedules too."
Char uncharacteristically reaches out. He forcefully shoves his arm under Haman and hooks his forearm around her side, pulling her near to him. It is not affectionate. He does not look at her. The news is more interesting. Something about an ongoing missing persons search in Tokyo-02 and a debate about military security.
Haman allows herself to be pulled closer. She slumps against Char, one of her arms draping over his thigh. The contact isn't remotely sexual -- rather, it's a peculiar kind of hostile intimacy that perhaps no other pair of two people in the universe could quite achieve to the same degree. She doesn't say anything, though. Her eyes direct toward the constant channel-flicking, but whether or not she's watching is anyone's guess. Her head rests against the side of Quattro's stomach, pink hair -- askew from effort -- matting against lean muscle. Finally, she speaks, and it's a quiet, neutral sound, as if the color of her voice had been drained out using a kitchen knife.
"Don't underestimate me, Char."
It's not clear whether this is a plea or a threat. Haman refuses to invest the imperative with any of her usual bossy grandeur, but at the same time there's nothing vulnerable about her voice. She closes her eyes, then, and remains silent for a long while after.