Disclaimer: The characters of Clover are property of CLAMP and their associates. All other characters in this 'fic are invented by me. This fanfic story is posted for non-commercial entertainment purposes only.Notes: This is a Clover 'fic that takes place shortly after the end of Clover 2. It contains quite a few spoilers (I think there's at least one for every volume). No overt shounen-ai or yaoi content here, although there are a couple of yaoi innuendo lines thrown in here and there to match the tone of the manga.
Summary: Gingetsu and Kazuhiko weren't always good friends. This is a story about how they may have met, and how they survived some of their earlier days in the army.
Breaking the Ice
"Lieutenant Colonel Gingetsu."
General Kou paused, studying the two-dimensional image displayed on the rectangular screen in front of her. The picture showed the officer standing silently at attention, perfectly motionless as if carved out of stone. The clean cut of his military uniform was precisely arranged and immaculate, his stance and bearing the very model of military training. Lieutenant Colonel. He was young to have attained the rank, but no one associated with the Secret Colors Battalion could question the fact that he had earned it. "My condolences on the death of your aide."
She looked for a reaction, but saw none. The woman who had recently held that post had been placed there for barely two months. It was regrettable that the battalion had lost such a competent member. Unfortunately, casualties during missions were sometimes unavoidable...especially the sorts of missions often given to the Secret Colors. Kou had already read the Lt. Colonel's filed report on the matter. She studied the man a moment longer. "Someone new will have to be assigned to you."
General Kou knew he must have been expecting this news. She doubted that it pleased him. He had always preferred to work alone. However, at this rank, working alone was a convenience he could no longer afford.
"Kazuhiko Faye Ryuu. Do you recognize that name?"
A pause, then a slight nod. Of course he would have heard it before. Everyone in the army knew about the rather spectacular court-martial that had occurred last spring. The charge against the Vice-Captain had been insubordination, and flagrant disobedience of orders issued by a superior officer. The act of insubordination had made the difference between success and failure of the assigned mission...a determining factor that had allowed the man to keep his rank and station. Kazuhiko Faye Ryuu possessed a sharp mind and a gift for accomplishing difficult goals against bad odds. The military needed more people with that creativity and talent. However, the military had not yet found a way to manage the personality that went with that talent. The court-martial last spring had been the man's third.
"Lieutenant Colonel Gingetsu, this man will be assigned a position in the Secret Colors Battalion as your new aide."
If the Lt. Colonel knew the entirety of the Vice-Captain's past record, or had any qualms about taking on a potential trouble-maker as part of his staff, he gave no outward signs. "This is the Parliament's decision," was all he said. He never questioned his orders. It was not in his nature to do so.
"It has already been arranged." The simple statement was a dismissal. The rectangular screen in front of the General faded to white and then went dark, and Kou's old eyes lit with a momentary flash of what might have been sympathy. In a voice pitched low so that only she could hear, she murmured, "This assignment will be more troubling than you think."
"You've *got* to be kidding me!"
Kazuhiko glanced up from a coded computer print-out, folding it over to hide its contents from the person who had come up behind him. "Looking at top-secret documents without authorization can get you court-martialed. It’s not very polite, either." The Vice-Captain turned, folding the paper a second time and tucking it away in the pocket of his jacket. "This isn't your business, anyway."
"Ha! I'm glad it isn't!" Lieutenant Yakamashi said smugly. "That's your new assignment? Good luck! You're going to need it!"
Kazuhiko folded his arms in front of him. "You can say what you want, but it won’t make any difference. This assignment is the break that I've been waiting for."
The Lieutenant only grinned. "Not likely. Take another look at the name of your commanding officer." As Kazuhiko frowned and took out the paper to examine it again, Yakamashi shook his head. "Don't tell me you've never heard of that guy! …Mr. Perfect, the model soldier that the geezers in power would love to train the rest of us losers to be. Rumor has it that he eats, sleeps, and breathes the military like nothing else in the world exists." He shook his head and sighed dramatically. "It really goes to show that you don't need a personality to be successful in the army. You get promoted much faster if you don't have one, in fact."
Kazuhiko's frown deepened. Now that he thought about it, the name on the paper *did* sound vaguely familiar. "Great," he muttered, his exuberance at first reading the orders becoming drowned out by disappointment and a bit of resentment. All these years of military service, and he had finally gotten an assignment with a special operations unit....only to find out that his superior officer was of the type he was *least* likely to get along with. He contemplated his fate in brooding silence, until an arm fell heavily across the back of his neck.
"Cheer up," Yakamashi said, patting him on the shoulder with all the sincerity that a long-time comrade and drinking buddy could muster. "I'm up for transfer in six months. Maybe they'll transfer you at the same time." He paused a moment in thoughtful reflection before adding helpfully, "...Maybe to someplace warmer and friendlier...like the North Pole."
A dark-haired man in military uniform walked in through the open door of Gingetsu's office, snapping to attention before the large desk and giving a sharp salute. "Vice-Captain Kazuhiko Faye Ryuu, reporting for duty as requested. Sir." he said.
Of course. The new aide. Gingetsu glanced up from the paperwork at his desk long enough to return the man's salute. "You're late." The Vice-Captain opened his mouth, then closed it again, refraining from comment. Gingetsu kept him waiting long enough to finish the form he was filling out, then he looked up again.
The Vice-Captain had not moved an inch from his at-attention position. Gingetsu took his time examining the man...not because he needed to, but because it was expected. Intimidation was everything in the army. The Vice-Captain held up silently under that searching gaze. Good. At length, Gingetsu returned to his attention to his paperwork. "You are dismissed."
The Vice-Captain appeared nonplussed by the dismissal. He stood there a long moment, before venturing, "As your new aide, isn't there something I should be assigned to do for work?"
Gingetsu didn't even look up. "My secretary oversees all orientation procedures for new personnel."
"You have a secretary?"
That remark got Gingetsu's attention immediately. Vice-Captain Ryuu winced under the sudden weight of the Lt. Colonel's displeased frown. "Ahh...I'll go ahead and do that right now, then. Sir."
As his office was quickly vacated again, the Lt. Colonel found the need to suppress a quiet sigh. It chafed, to be given a task like this. ...As if he had nothing better to do with his time than discipline willful subordinates. Working with this new aide would be nothing more than a babysitting job. His gaze focused on the left-hand corner of his desk, at the rather large personal file that was currently taking up space there. The Lt. Colonel had reviewed the file earlier this morning. From what little he had observed, the documentation inside appeared fairly accurate. If the rest of the file was as accurate, Gingetsu doubted that the Vice-Captain would be serving with the Secret Colors Battalion for very long. Kazuhiko Faye Ryuu had the drive and the skill to be an extraordinarily successful officer, but he lacked all respect for military discipline. That was a bad characteristic in this branch of the army. The dangerous nature of missions in the Secret Colors Battalion meant that there was no room in their ranks for soldiers who did not follow orders.
Hopefully the Vice-Captain would realize that soon and choose to leave, before he could become a threat to himself and to everyone around him.
"You're right," Kazuhiko said, leaning heavily on the table of the livehouse and grinding his cigarette out with more thoroughness than it really required. "This assignment's gonna kill me."
It had been three days since he had first reported to his new commanding officer. ...And for three days, he had accomplished nothing except to fill up an entire filing cabinet with deadly boring inventory paperwork. There had been no new orders issued that required the special skills of the Secret Colors Battalion during that time, and he had been informed that when they were not on missions, there was plenty of paperwork and red-tape that required their attention. Kazuhiko hadn't even met any of the other members of the battalion, aside from the Lt. Colonel's secretary. How such a cheerful woman managed to put up with the frigid aura that emanated from the Lt. Colonel's private office, Kazuhiko would never understand.
"Told you," Yakamashi replied. "That man is a robot. Your best bet is to try and get another assignment someplace else. Hell, if I were you, it would even be worth it to take a pay cut."
"Yeah." Kazuhiko knew that if he did transfer, he would *have* to take a pay cut. Members of the Secret Colors Battalion were paid *very* well. He reached out and took the fresh cigarette that the Lieutenant offered him, and nursed it in silence for a few minutes. Requesting a transfer after only three days felt too much like quitting, and Kazuhiko had never been good at being a quitter. "I'll give it six months," he said at last.
"What?" Yakamashi yelped. "Are you serious? I thought you just said that three days of work there nearly killed you!" When Kazuhiko didn't answer, the Lieutenant jabbed his cigarette in the Vice-Captain's direction. "You're nuts. Don't you know that if you put in for transfer tomorrow, it will probably take them six months to get the paperwork done? That means if you file in six months, you'll wind up stuck where you are for a whole year!"
"Maybe," Kazuhiko conceded. "But the inventory stuff is only part of the job." His thoughts strayed to the lenses he'd been fitted for just yesterday. Yakamashi would have a good laugh once the pince-nez was finished enough for Kazuhiko to wear on a permanent basis, but those little bits of wire and glass had more of the latest technology built into them than the entire computer control center where the Lieutenant worked. "I've made up my mind. That's what I'm going to do."
The Lieutenant only shook his head. "Nuts," he repeated.
Kazuhiko didn't bother to reply. He already knew that he might never get another chance at special ops if he let this opportunity pass by. He had to make this work. He *would* make this work...in spite of his new commanding officer. All he had to do was get that man to relax a little. How hard could it be?
He sighed. It wasn't a good sign, when he couldn't even come up with any encouraging words for himself. Kazuhiko finished off the rest of his drink in silence, trying to convince himself that six months wasn’t the eternity that it suddenly seemed to be.
"I'm done for the day," called a voice from the doorway of Gingetsu's office. "See you tomorrow."
The Lieutenant Colonel registered the remark, but didn't respond, still immersed in plans for tomorrow’s training exercise. ...And so he was taken a little off guard when, about five minutes later, there came the sound of someone absently clearing their throat from that same distance and direction. "It’s really getting late. Are you planning to sleep here tonight?"
Vice-Captain Ryuu was standing just outside the office, one hand resting against the doorframe. The officer was looking at him with an odd expression of mingled curiosity and expectation. Dark brown eyes behind gold-wire frames blinked as they were suddenly met by the impenetrable blue-violet surface of Gingetsu's visor. The expression behind the visor was unamused. "No."
There was a long pause. "Well, I’m your aide, aren’t I? If there’s something I can do to help out, let me know."
Still, the Vice-Captain hovered in the doorway…and for a moment Gingetsu was afraid that the man was going to volunteer to bring back take-out food or something equally idiotic. But instead, one corner of the Vice-Captain’s mouth simply turned up in a wry smile. "Later, then," he said, and turned and walked away.
Gingetsu remained staring at the doorway long moments after he had left, his eyebrows drawing down ever-so-slightly in mild irritation. This wasn’t the first time that his aide had tried to turn the simple ritual of leave-taking into an actual conversation. In the last few weeks, such interactions had become more and more common.
Gingetsu was very well aware of what the Vice-Captain was doing. His aide probably even thought that it was a new idea, to try and gain the favor of his superior by making friends. Others had tried it before, and Gingetsu was no more impressed by this attempt than he had been with those that had preceded it. So far, the Vice-Captain had proven to be a tolerable addition to his staff. It would be unfortunate if the man ruined his tenure here by becoming an annoyance.
Absently, the Lieutenant Colonel touched a hand to his left wrist, rubbing at the tattoo that was hidden from view by the decorated cuff of his military jacket. Thinking of the symbol, and everything it signified, he was sharply reminded of the barrier it placed between himself and other people. For a Clover, even one who was only a Two-leaf, it was far too dangerous to indulge in the luxury of friendship. Gingetsu had discovered long ago that associating too closely with others would only bring them trouble in the end. He straightened his sleeve cuff, then forced his hand away from the heavy fabric.
The Vice-Captain would soon learn well enough not to waste his time.
Irritated with himself for dwelling on details over which he had no control, the Lieutenant Colonel made a conscious effort to dismiss the whole encounter as unimportant, and re-directed his attention to the files on his desk.
"Damned weather." Kazuhiko crawled up on the wet ground to take up a position beside his superior. Yellowed grasses than had been allowed to grow just a little bit too long shielded the top of the small rise from the military installation which lay just on the other side. Ordinarily, strategically arrayed surveillance cameras linked to monitors showed people in the cement buildings below exactly what was on top of this hill at any given moment. Those cameras had temporarily been bypassed, as had the pressure-sensitive plates buried in the ground, and the motion sensors scattered over the premises. Three of the compound's guards had also been put down. Secret Colors soldiers now wore their radio devices.
Gingetsu said nothing, his attention focused on the buildings on the other side of the hill. Kazuhiko could hear an ever-so-faint humming noise from the connectors on the Lt. Colonel's visor, and knew that the high-tech piece of eyewear was probably taking the place of binoculars, heat-source detectors, ultra-violet scanners, and probably lots of other equipment as well, saving each snapshot image for later, careful perusal. There wasn't much to see as far as Kazuhiko could tell. In this miserable, steady rain, every sane person not on outside guard duty was bundled up warmly inside.
Gingetsu consulted the watch strapped to his right wrist. When he didn't bother to say anything, Kazuhiko glanced at his own watch. "Not much longer," he said quietly. The waiting chafed, but they were playing back-up, not lead, on this mission. They had to let the other team get into position before they moved again. It was all planning and tactics, which Kazuhiko had never enjoyed... though he was beginning to gain a newfound respect for tactics under the Lt. Colonel's command. Somehow the man had an uncanny knack for always being in the right place at the right time, even when it wasn't part of the pre-ordained plan.
The Vice-Captain shifted position, and was rewarded with a cold trickle of rain-water down the back of his neck. He cursed, and quickly adjusted the collar of his coat. "I knew I should have listened to my family when they told me not to join the army," he muttered.
"Why did you?"
Gingetsu hadn't moved. It took Kazuhiko a moment to realize that the Lt. Colonel had actually spoken...and not only that, but had asked him a question. He must be as bored with the wait as Kazuhiko was. Kazuhiko favored him with a crooked grin. "Join the army?" He shrugged. "It seemed like a good idea at the time."
Apparently that was the end of the Lt. Colonel's talkative streak. Kazuhiko let the silence go on for a minute longer, then asked, "You?"
For a moment, he thought the question would go unanswered. Indeed, a signaling flash of light from below indicated that the lead-team had secured their position, and that it was finally time to go. But as they got their feet under them to make a break for the cover of some metal barrels at the base of the rise, he heard Gingetsu reply, "It wasn't a choice."
Gingetsu looked up from his last few pieces of paperwork to see his aide lounging against the doorframe of his office. He had the air about him of a man on a mission, his manner direct and purposeful as he waited for some kind of response. Gingetsu was alerted immediately, having seen those signals before.
Whatever the Vice-Captain had come here to say, it wouldn't be work-related.
"What is it?" the Lt. Colonel asked impatiently.
The Vice-Captain pushed off the wooden frame and took a few steps forward into the room. "A couple of officers are going out tonight. Some people have come up for transfer, and we're giving them a send-off party before they ship out. You're welcome to come if you'd like." He stopped it at that, his expression encouraging and faintly hopeful.
A party? The man never learned. If the army gave out medals for sheer dogged perseverance, the whole front of Ryuu's jacket would be covered by now. Gingetsu frowned, then turned his attention back to the report he was finishing up. "I'm busy," he said.
There was a long silence while his aide just stood there and looked at him. Gingetsu ignored it, knowing that the man would soon take the hint and go away. At last, he heard Kazuhiko sigh. "There's more to life than work, you know."
Gingetsu looked up sharply, but his aide had already turned away and was walking out of the room.
"The invitation's still open," Kazuhiko said over his shoulder as he left. "...Just in case you decide to change your mind."
"Another round of drinks!" Yakamashi called. "This one's on me...for all you poor sods that have to stay here while I'm working on my tan in a place that actually has *sun*!"
The announcement was met with jeers and catcalls from his fellow officers, though no one complained about the free alcohol. Yakamashi settled back down in his chair beside Kazuhiko, poking his friend in the arm. "Hey, what's the matter with you? Don't look so depressed! I know your life will be empty without me, but I'll still keep in touch!" He grinned as Kazuhiko batted his hand away in mock-irritation. "Ah! I feel happy knowing that I'll be missed!" He leaned over and said conspiratorially, "Don't worry. Once I get to the new base, I'll put in a good word for you."
"A good word?" Kazuhiko replied. "I didn't know you had any of those."
The Lieutenant growled at him. "No, seriously. You're all moody again, thinking about that commanding officer of yours. You stuck it out six months like you said you would, and it should be obvious to anyone that things aren't working out, so it's time for a change! Request a transfer. If I put in a good word for you there, they won't refuse. What do you say?" He looked up suddenly. "Ah! The drinks are here!"
Kazuhiko looked down at his hands, folded around a glass tumbler that was still full of alcohol and melting ice. "I don't want to be transferred," he said quietly to himself, his words all but lost in the background noise. "I like the unit I'm in now."
Ryuu was missing.
Gingetsu tried not to let it distract him as he stepped forward into a dirty alleyway, following the trail of fleeing Azurite soldiers. It distracted him, nonetheless. There had been no answer on the com for several minutes now, and the Vice-Captain had been assigned as a radio-liaison by the Colonel in command. Gingetsu kept to the walls and doorways as he searched the shadows for signs of life, less concerned by the lack of communication than he was by the question of where Ryuu was now.
The Lieutenant Colonel could see no traces of movement from the area around him. The soldiers of the Special Information Collection had not been gone long, though. The pavement still held vestiges of infra-red heat in the shape of footprints, from maybe five or six people. At his nod, the Secret Colors soldiers that flanked him ranged on ahead, while the Lt. Colonel moved forward to investigate the odd concentration of heat signatures at the center of the alley.
Five people had stood here for several minutes, ranged in a loose semi-circle. The borders of that curve marked a wide, scuffed area, where the individual outlines of footprints had already faded too much to be distinct. Instead, there were splotches on the pavement which were acting as slowly cooling heat sources. Gingetsu switched back to normal vision as he crouched down next to the largest concentration of the darkly-colored droplets, his mouth thinning down to a grim line as he put together what must have happened here.
One of the men assigned to him was kneeling beside a metal dumpster at the far end of the alley. As Gingetsu rose to his feet, the Lieutenant said, "The Vice-Captain. He's...."
Gingetsu crossed the distance to the dumpster in several long strides. Behind the shielding metal of the waste container, a man was lying amid the gutter trash, half-propped against the support of the dirty brick building with his right arm tucked into the crook of his left elbow. There was no question that it was Ryuu. Gingetsu dropped down to keel beside his wounded aide, heedless of the large pool of crimson spreading out onto the pavement. "Bring a med-kit," he instructed the Lieutenant. As the man ran to fetch it, Gingetsu pulled an army-issue pocket-knife and a woefully small roll of bandages from his jacket. "You shouldn't have tried to stop him by yourself," he said to the Vice-Captain, unable to keep a cold note of anger from his voice as he spoke. "Barus is dangerous."
"I know." Kazuhiko's shoulders hunched up against the brick surface of the building. His face was set, his body taut with pain. "We've met before." He managed a wan smile. "I was right about his little escape route after all."
Gingetsu left his aide's side long enough to retrieve a piece of broken broom handle which was lying further up the street, then twisted some of the gauze bandaging into a tourniquet to fasten around the Vice-Captain's right arm. "You shouldn't have been here," he continued, efficiently winding the loop of cloth to stem the blood flow. "You disobeyed orders."
Kazuhiko winced at the pressure as the tourniquet drew tight. "Huh. If I live, they can court-martial me. Again."
Gingetsu's mouth tightened with disapproval. He secured the tourniquet just as the Lieutenant was returning. At Gingetsu’s murmured instruction, the Lieutenant withdrew a small metal container from the medical kit and handed it to him. Gingetsu twisted off the lid, placing it carefully in Kazuhiko's left hand. The Vice-Captain looked at it in distaste. "I hate that stuff," he said.
"Don't drink it, then."
Kazuhiko contemplated it a moment longer, then steeled himself and tossed off the whole thing. "Mmmph. That's the strong kind. The one that makes you want to fall asleep." He looked on as Gingetsu wrapped a gash just above his knee, and another bad one on his other arm. By the time the Lt. Colonel had finished, the pain lines on Kazuhiko's face had eased somewhat. "That medicine works fast," he commented, as Gingetsu packed the remaining supplies into the med-kit to send it away with the Lieutenant. The soldier retreated to the entrance of the alley to watch for the ambulance, and Gingetsu settled down beside the dumpster to wait with his aide.
"It's really your fault, you know," Kazuhiko said into the silence, his voice growing bleary and distant with the medication. "I knew that the Azurites would come this way, it was the best direction for them to take." He glanced over at his superior officer. "I learned to recognize patterns like that by watching you."
When Gingetsu chose not to respond, the Vice-Captain sighed, and tipped his head back against the brick wall behind him. "Someday I'll kill that guy."
"Right now you should just concentrate on staying alive."
Kazuhiko looked startled by the words. Then that expression gave way to a faint, knowing smile. There was the sound of shifting cloth as his aide settled back more comfortably against the wall, and the Lt. Colonel heard him say drowsily, "Why, Gingetsu...I didn't know you cared."
Gingetsu drew in a sharp breath, immediately groping for some bit of sarcasm he could offer up in reply to that ridiculous statement. …But the Vice-Captain’s eyes had already closed. Gingetsu studied his aide a long moment in troubled silence, then looked off towards the mouth of the alley. "The ambulance is coming," he observed stiffly, to no one in particular.
As the sound of sirens drew closer, the Lt. Colonel started to rise to his feet. However, he found himself halted abruptly as fingers snagged at his sleeve. He glanced down in surprise to find the Vice-Captain gazing up at him with an odd, unreadable expression on his face. "Don't worry," Kazuhiko murmured, patting clumsily at the gold trim on Gingetsu's sleeve cuff. A brief spark of amusement lit the drug-fogged depths of those dark brown eyes. "...I promise not to tell anyone."
"Ah! You made it!" Kazuhiko beamed as Gingetsu draped his coat over the back of a chair and then sat down at the table. "I was hoping that you'd come over to the livehouse tonight." He pulled a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket and glanced around the busy room. "It’s pretty crowded tonight, so you’re lucky I got here early to get us good seats." He took out a cigarette, then held out the pack to the Lt. Colonel. Gingetsu shook his head.
Kazuhiko studied him appraisingly. "I know you've said that you don't smoke on duty," he said. "But I've never seen you smoke. Does that mean you're always on duty?"
Gingetsu gave him a long look, but Kazuhiko was no longer fazed by the blank surface of those shades. Gingestu waited another moment, then reached forward and pulled a cigarette out of the pack. "This is where you spend your free time?" he asked, as Kazuhiko obligingly lit the cigarette for him.
"Sometimes." Kazuhiko said. He smiled. "I’ve heard it’s a good place to meet women."
By the time they had both gotten their drinks, a blond-haired singer had appeared on stage. Surreptitiously, Kazuhiko watched the Lt. Colonel out of the corner of his eye. He figured that Gingetsu would like this place if only he gave it a chance. It would get him out of the office and away from work to enjoy a drink or two, and he could sit and watch the performers without having to make any effort at mundane conversation. Kazuhiko sat back and relaxed, enjoying the music and the warm flow of the alcohol in his blood, and idly wondering what he was going to do once the singer finished out her set and went on break.
As he sipped at his drink, Kazuhiko surveyed the room around them to get an idea of what other folks had come out to the livehouse tonight. His next project, he decided, was to find Gingetsu a date. Somehow he doubted that the man had ever allowed himself to get into a serious romantic relationship in his entire life. But judging from the glances that some of the ladies were casting his way, surely it wouldn't be too hard to fix him up. …Someone quiet and attentive and nice. A sense of humor would be a bonus. …And if the young lady in question happened to be a little on the shy side, Kazuhiko would just have to make it his business to help draw her out of her shell.
…After all, if there was some small spark of elusive personality lurking behind Gingetsu's thick exterior layer of emotional ice, well...there had to be hope for just about anybody.
Inevitably, the set finished. As the singer left the stage and the last of the applause died away, Kazuhiko turned back to his superior, groping for a thread of conversation that the man might find the least little bit interesting. As he opened his mouth, though, Gingestu surprised him by speaking first. "So, you decided to turn down that job."
Kazuhiko nearly choked on his drink. "You heard about that already?" He’d hoped it would take a few days…and become diluted out by other rumors long before word reached the Lt. Colonel’s ear. It had been a deal for early retirement from the army, and a cushy job in private industry.
Gingetsu set down his own glass precisely on the table, keeping his gaze fixed on it as he spoke. "It was a good offer."
"True." Kazuhiko was silent as he considered those words a long moment. "It wasn’t the Secret Colors, though." He glanced sidelong at his superior. "I didn’t think you’d ask about it. Are you still hoping to get rid of me?"
"Is that still an option?"
Kazuhiko laughed. The man actually *did* know how to make a joke. At least…one hoped it was a joke. With Gingetsu, it was kind of hard to tell. "Nope," The Vice-Captain answered him cheerfully, "…Not anymore."
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