Chapter 1: 0. Moving Out
Athrun slammed out of his bedroom, adjusting the bottom of his T-shirt as he ran. He swept his wet hair out of his eyes as he rounded the corner to the entrance hall and yelled, "Door!"
The monitor next to the front door obligingly flashed to life. It showed a slight, golden-haired young woman wearing a bright red tank top, khaki shorts, and a beret far back on her head. She was currently leaning into the doorbell for the eleventh time.
"Cagalli..." he groaned, coming to a stop. If his laptop weren't already packed, he would have seen it was her from his room and just let her wait.
He yanked the door open.
"What do you think you're doing?" he demanded.
"What took you so long?" Cagalli demanded in return.
"I was--" he fumbled. 'I was getting dressed' hardly sounded appropriate in mixed company. "I just got out of the shower." He rolled his eyes. That hadn't sounded any better. "You're early!" he accused.
"Actually..." interrupted a laughing male voice. They both turned to see Kira, who was not at all trying to hide his amusement at the exchange.
Like Athrun, he was dressed in a form-fitting T-shirt. Athrun's was a plain white and blue affair left over from his early ZAFT training days. Kira's, however, was black with loud multi-colored German text plastering it in random directions and sizes. A dark red bandanna wreathed his head, separating his glossy brown hair into a mess of bangs across his forehead and unruly locks on top.
Athrun smiled at the sight. Apparently, Kira had never gotten over his fascination with the youth fashions from their parents' generation. The slightly wild ensembles seemed at odds with his ingenuous -- almost naive -- personality, but the look had always worked for him.
"We're almost half an hour early," Kira said.
Athrun firmly refused the impulse to yell, "See!" Instead, he nodded at Kira. "Thank you."
Kira returned a casual 'civilian' salute. "Yo, Athrun. It's good to see you."
~torii~?, added a tinny voice from his shoulder.
"You brought the nuisance." Athrun smiled fondly despite his words.
Tolliy cocked its crested mechanical head, then leaped off Kira's shoulder. It circled Athrun once before soaring into the house. Lacus would have said that it knew it was welcome there. Athrun, who had designed the AI and built the sensors for the bird, wouldn't argue -- but only because he knew he would lose any argument to a determined Lacus.
"He's not a nuisance," Kira protested needlessly.
"Well, anything that never listens to orders and can't lift heavy objects is a nuisance today," Athrun said, inclining his head towards Cagalli.
"Hey!" Cagalli protested. "I can lift over twenty kilograms, no problem!"
Chapter 2: 1. A picture is worth...
In the end, despite her protests, neither of the boys were willing to let Cagalli lift any heavy boxes. So Athrun put her in charge of clearing and packing up what was left in the living room. He and Kira would start carting boxes from his bedroom. He'd finished packing the rest of the house already, so he hoped for a quick and painless exodus.
A yelp made Athrun come out from the bathroom, where he was finishing towelling his hair dry. Kira had swiped the boxes on the table with the one in his arms, the top one falling to the ground with a dull clatter. Athrun sighed tolerantly. "You haven't changed a bit."
Kira shrugged, sheepish. "I hope there wasn't anything fragile in there," he said, as he reached for the toppled box.
"No, I think it's just..." At the same time as Kira's fingers touched the box lid, Athrun remembered exactly what was inside it. Athrun's first thought was to say, "It's nothing important," and dismiss the whole thing.
The moment seemed charged with destiny, however, and so he held back and waited to see what Kira would do. As if in slow motion, he watched Kira lift off the cover.
"It looks okay..." Kira's voice trailed off as he stared, transfixed at the contents of the small cardboard container. After a moment, he reached in with steady hands to lift out a framed photograph. His expression was completely neutral. Wordlessly, Athrun sank down beside him on the floor.
Athrun looked at the photo with Kira, and his feelings were strongly mixed.
He remembered stopping in front of the dresser sometimes to study the framed spotless image of himself and the others of his graduating class. They stood at parade rest in neat rows, just getting used to their brand new dress uniforms. He had used to feel a renewed sense of pride and purpose.
Now he thought they all looked a little foolish. And much too young to be taking any part in changing the course of humanity.
Kira ran one finger over the line of blood-red in the front row. "Which one?" he asked. Athrun didn't understand at first. He himself was second from the far left and easily recognizable. Then Kira said, "Was he in your class?" and Athrun knew.
He considered lying and saying no. But as soon as he drew breath to do so it felt wrong.
The times when he had protected Kira from the world were long over.
"On the very right," he answered instead. He studied the uncommonly solemn image of his green-haired friend, then added, "His name was Nicol."
"Nicol..." Kira repeated. Athrun kept his eyes fixed on the photograph, but he could hear the deep sadness in Kira's voice. "Tell me about him."
Athrun hesitated. There was so much to say... The words welled up in him -- everything that he could never share with Yzak and Dearka because they had to appear strong to each other, and everything that he could not bear to tell Nicol's mother. Just visiting her and seeing her grief-stricken face had been more than enough. The overwhelming urge to punish Kira for the destruction of such a wonderful life gnawed at him again.
But in the end, all he said was, "Tell me about Tolle."
Kira jerked, obviously startled. A moment passed, and then he bowed his head in understanding.
After all that had happened, there was no need to hurt each other any more than they already had.
Kira's finger touched Nicol's image through the glass, lingering for a long moment -- and finally moved on. Skipping over Dearka, whom he knew, and Yzak, whom he had met once and had surely seen on videocasts since, he stopped on the slim red-haired girl who came next.
"She was assigned to a different unit," Athrun supplied without being asked. "I didn't know her." He took a breath. "The one next to her is Rusty."
God, he hadn't thought of Rusty in what felt like years.
"Who is he?"
"He was in my squad for a while. He died--"
He died trying to capture Strike.
He died when Captain Ramius' team shot him through the heart.
He died on Heliopolis, the day we met again for the first time as enemies.
"...He died," Athrun finished. There were still some things that Kira did not need to know. He could feel Kira's eyes on him, wondering, considering. He shook his head, then ran one hand through his hair to disguise the impatient motion. "I'm still dripping everywhere," he said in way of explanation, and he stood to go.
"Hey, guys, what are you up to?"
Athrun startled, feeling oddly guilty. "Cagalli."
Cagalli gave him a questioning look but made no other indication that she noticed anything out of the ordinary. Tolliy looked on curiously from her right shoulder.
"I ran out of tape. Do you have any here, Athrun?" She came into the room and leaned over Kira, who was still holding the photograph. "What's this?"
Kira shot Athrun a look, but Cagalli was already taking the photograph out of his hands. Athrun saw Kira tighten his grip as if to pull it back, but he shrugged at his friend, and Kira let go.
"Your graduation?" Cagalli asked, once she got a good look at it. Athrun nodded. Face pensive, she ran her finger across the row of elite graduates in exactly the same way as her... brother had.
"Top of the class?"
Athrun smiled grimly. "Yes, actually." He had scored higher than Yzak Jule in every category, something that the silver-haired and blue-blooded boy had never forgiven him for.
"You look really good." She squinted at the two-dimensional miniature of the boy who now stood beside her. "But so serious."
"There wasn't much to smile about." Athrun grit his teeth, hating the abruptness of his own words. "The uniforms were new," he offered, trying to soften it. "I wasn't used to the heels."
Cagalli's peal of laughter gratified him. He caught Kira muffling a chuckle into his fist as well.
"I liked them because they made me taller," he admitted, warming to the subject, "but it was hard to walk in them at first."
"I know the feeling exactly," Cagalli said. The look that she gave him was filled with compassion even as it was filled with laughter. And her deep amber eyes were warm, warm, warm.
Chapter 3: 2. Mother
After that, it seemed very natural to open up the other boxes of framed photos and photo albums that Athrun had. They sat on the floor of his bedroom, poring through them together.
There was a great piece of Athrun's life that he had missed sharing with his best friend. He was eager to catch up, and so was Kira, who told them both story after story about his own life on Heliopolis.
They did skip over most of the pictures with Nicol in them, mostly taken during training together. This was a part of his life that he could never truly share with Kira, for his sake. The last one was a copy of a photo that Lady Amarfi had taken of her son at his last concert. She had given it to Athrun the last time he visited her, exactly one week after Jachin Due.
Remembering her sad eyes, he said, "I wish I'd known him better. I wish I'd told him more about myself."
Cagalli gripped his arm tightly.
There were several albums of Athrun himself that had been collected by Athrun's mother from their life on the moon. Over half of them featured him and Kira in various locales and costumes.
"I can't believe you still have these..." marveled Kira. He paused to laugh at the two of them, 13 years old, at the aquarium, where Kira had insisted that they both spend part of their lunch money on ridiculously large puffer fish hats.
Athrun raised his eyebrows at the robot bird perched on Kira's shoulder. "You kept that," he said, pointedly.
"You guys are ridiculous," Cagalli commented, and it was hard not to agree.
Athrun discovered, as they paged through the photographs, that he had never truly shared his mother with anyone since her death -- not even with his own father. It was freeing to talk about his mother without the context of the tragedy that had ended her life.
His mother had been the main photographer of the family, so she didn't show up much in the albums. Occasionally, though, a family photo would come up and his mother's face would be there smiling at him. He found himself remembering more and more happy memories of her, and Kira threw in his comments now and then as well. Cagalli was delighted, drinking in the memories as if they were her own.
They came to one photo where both their mothers stood together in front of their children's grade school, young and happy. All three grew quiet.
Cagalli studied the photo with a longing look. "With Kira's mother, right?" Athrun confirmed with a slow nod. "They look sweet. I wish I could have met them." As Athrun remembered, she had grown up with just her father. He felt suddenly lucky that he had had his mother even for so short a time.
Athrun felt Kira fidget next to him, and he thought he knew why.
"You haven't spoken with your parents since Heliopolis, have you?" It was a given that they had not met.
Kira did not answer. He reached out and flipped the page, banishing the photograph from their sight.
Athrun saw Cagalli chewing her lip, looking thoughtful.
"Kira, do you think," she said, "that your mother knew the lady...?"
The three of them stared separately at nothing at all, each of them knowing perfectly well what Cagalli was thinking about. The picture of Cagalli and Kira as infants with the gentle-faced woman had ingrained itself into all of their minds.
"I wonder if there's some way we can find out more about her."
"If only we had a name, at least." Athrun was sure she must be in a database somewhere.
Kira was strangely quiet. "Hibiki," he said.
They both turned startled eyes on him.
"What?" Cagalli demanded, suddenly animated. "How do you know?"
Kira shook his head, looking irritated. "The abandoned--" He bit off the rest of the sentence, but it was enough to pique Athrun's suspicions. "It was just something I... found out. I don't know. Her last name should have been Hibiki."
Athrun and Cagalli shared a telling look. Something had happened to Kira inside the abandoned Mendel colony with Mwu La Fllaga that he would never talk about. He had brought back a photo identical to the one that Chief Representative Uzumi had given Cagalli. And he had also brought back an album containing a few precious pages of other photographs. These included the woman, often dressed in a labcoat, several other scientist types, and a pair of mysterious boys.
Athrun had guessed that there was some clue to Kira and Cagalli's origins there. Whatever had happened, though, it had affected both Kira and Mwu deeply -- especially Kira. They had thought it unwise to pry.
But looking at Kira's tortured look, Athrun wondered if it might be even more unwise to let it rest.
"Kira, you can't run away from it forever." He looked at Cagalli, seeing her pained expression. "Cagalli deserves to know, too."
"Kira, do you know who she was?" Cagalli asked.
Kira tensed but did not speak.
"Please? She's our... She might be my mother."
Still, Kira refused to meet her eyes.
"Do you know what happened to her?"
Kira gulped, then drew a shaky breath. "I think she was... I think she's dead."
Cagalli looked stricken, though Athrun was not surprised. The love the woman in the picture had for the children in her arms had been obvious. Such a mother would never have given up her children unless separated by death.
Kira put his head in his arms, shaking it back and forth. "Everyone involved is dead. Klueze... he told me... awful things. I don't even know if they're true, but..."
Athrun and Cagalli exchanged mystified looks. Cagalli threw her arms around her brother, as if to protect him. "What did he say?" she asked.
Kira leaned into the embrace, taking deep shuddering breaths. "He said all these things about people wanting to be superior, being crazy for it. He told me things about... me..."
Athrun was saddened even as he was concerned for Kira. The proud, collected Commander he had known had become sadly crazed by the end of the war. "What things?"
His voice sounding disbelieving yet frightened, Kira told them everything...
Athrun and Cagalli took in with wide eyes what Commander Klueze had told Kira about himself, about the Hibikis, and the lab, and the experiments to produce the Ultimate Coordinator.
"Klueze said that I had to die. He said that people would find out and want to learn how to make more people like me."
Mind racing, Athrun thought back about how quickly Kira had learned to pilot a mobile suit. He thought about how skilled in combat Kira had become with no training whatsoever. The improvements that Kira had made to Strike Gundam, even considering his work in the research lab with civilian mobile suits, were also remarkable.
Now that he thought about it, he also remembered how easily Kira had kept up in school. He had used to read all the supplementary texts that Athrun's Coordinator tutor gave him cover to cover, and still have time to incite Athrun to goof around with him. Kira's un-assuming personality had always put off any resentment, or even awareness, of his abilities.
It was only when they fought against each other that Athrun recognized what a force Kira was.
If someone discovered how to reproduce the experiment, there was potential for disaster. Already, Coordinators and Naturals were distrustful of each other. How much worse would it be with another 'superior' group of human beings?
When it really came down to it, though, trying to imagine Kira as some sort of superior being was just... well... Truth be told, it made Athrun want to laugh.
"Kira, think about this. You might be able to modify and pilot a mobile suit on the first try, but we all know that you're a crybaby, and an oblivious mess."
"Athrun!" Cagalli scolded, obviously shocked.
Athrun ignored her. "And I'm good with mechanics, but sometimes I don't think things through." He looked at Cagalli. "Cagalli is bright and she has the determination of a rock, but she's more oblivious than you are."
"Hey!" Cagalli protested, but there was no force to it.
"We all have areas where we excel at and other areas where we lack. I don't see any difference between you and me and Cagalli."
Kira showed some animation for the first time. "But..."
"And it isn't as if you could teach anyone how to create another 'Ultimate Coordinator.' Everyone involved in the project disappeared years ago."
"I guess so..." Kira still looked troubled, however. "But... all those babies who died because of me..."
Athrun sighed. "Do you know how many failed embryos and babies perished to create the first Coordinator?"
Both Kira and Cagalli shook their heads.
"There's not much information about George Glenn's creator. Some of our scientists and historians have tried to reconstruct the process, though. As far as they can estimate, the number of failed embryos would have numbered in the hundreds. This is without counting the embryos that were destroyed purposely." He shook his head. "Sacrifices are made for every step forward. It's so-called man-made evolution."
Cagalli's eyes were round. "I had no idea."
Athrun shrugged. "On P.L.A.N.T. the high schools teach it, as part of the theories of genetic manipulation." Despite being a Coordinator himself, Kira had been educated in the Earth Alliance school system growing up, which was written by Naturals. To Kira and Cagalli, gene manipulation was still only a cure for genetic diseases, not taken for granted as a method to improve the human race.
It didn't necessarily justify the sacrifices made, but Athrun saw it as somewhat inevitable.
Kira, however, still looked unconvinced.
Athrun took hold of Kira's shoulders and looked him straight in the eye. "Kira, even if some terrible things may have happened in connection to the experiments, all this happened before you were even born.
"If you can forgive Yzak -- and especially me -- for what we did consciously, by choice, then you have to be able to forgive yourself for simply existing."
Tears filled Kira's violet eyes, and Athrun responded to that with gentle comfort, as he always had. Smiling, he squeezed Kira's shoulders. "You know I'm right," he said.
Eyes wet, Cagalli hugged Kira tightly. "Listen to him, Kira."
Closing his eyes within the circle of Cagalli's arms, Kira nodded.
They stayed that way for a long time, all of them connected. Athrun watched as the pain bled slowly out of his friend. To think that Kira, who felt things so strongly, had been carrying this horrible guilt with him for all this time... It made Athrun feel humbled.
"You know what we can do?" Cagalli announced all of a sudden. "We can go back and blow it up, the lab and everything. No evidence left at all."
"Cagalli!" Kira cried, pure shock shaking him out of his stupor as nothing else had.
"Well, why not?" Cagalli asked. "Look," she pressed, "this way we can get rid of any chance that people will re-use that lab."
Even as Athrun was equal parts amused and shocked by Cagalli's plan, he had to admit that she did have a point. Whatever assurances he had given Kira, the lab was a potential danger. As Kira had described it, there seemed to be plenty of equipment left that could be used to reproduce the experiments.
"Athrun, you think it's a good idea, don't you?"
Put suddenly on the spot, Athrun found himself hesitating to give a negative answer. "The colony is technically private property," he hedged. It was several cubic kilometers of private property, in fact. "However," Athrun continued, "the bio-contamination case was widely publicized and no one cares to go near it now. It shouldn't be a problem to get inside."
"Athrun!" Kira cried, looking doubly shocked now.
Cagalli looked almost as surprised as Kira did. She recovered quickly, however. "Exactly!" she said. "We sneaked three space ships in before. It should be easy to get us and a ship full of explosives inside."
"No." Athrun vetoed that instantly. "That's much too dangerous. It'll be better to make it look like an accident. Most of the L4 space colonies were built over thirty years ago. They should be running on nuclear power, so maybe we can set off a chain reaction somehow."
If they were lucky, Mendel, being a research colony with secrets to keep, may even have a self-destruct sequence built in. As he said to Cagalli, however, this was not something to rush into. It would take some careful planning.
Cagalli was nodding thoughtfully.
Meanwhile, Kira looked frantic. "You two aren't serious! We could go to jail for something like this!"
Athrun turned to his friend with a sly smile. "'We'?"
Cagalli grinned. "So you're agreeing to join us, right?"
"I..." Kira looked uncomfortable. "I do feel responsible."
"We're all responsible now," Cagalli replied matter-of-factedly, "now that we know about it."
Athrun nodded in agreement. "Cagalli's right. Whether destroying the lab or something else, we're obligated to do something."
Kira looked upset. "I didn't mean to drag you guys into this."
"Are you kidding?" Cagalli scoffed. "I'd have to hurt you if you didn't let us know what was going on." She hugged Kira again for good measure, making him blush.
"Besides..." Cagalli added in a serious voice. "I think it might be what she would have wanted."
Looking at the two siblings together, Athrun silently agreed. Aloud, he said, "Well, we need to get cleaned up here and back to work, or we'll be here all day."
His words were received with enthusiastic response.
Chapter 4: 3. With this ring...
It was much later when they had everything loaded into the off-Earth shipping container. Athrun called for the moving transport, and while they waited for it to arrive, Athrun took the two to a neighboring cafe to relax.
It had been a full few weeks of settling affairs, tying up of loose strings, and frenzied packing. Kira and Cagalli had come at the perfect time to help with the last leg of the journey. They would be staying until tomorrow and leave P.L.A.N.T. with him. Lacus had wanted to come as well, but several of the Natural children in the orphanage had caught a violent virus a few days ago, and she had felt that she had to stay.
Athrun looked back at the house. The buyers -- a couple with two small children -- would be by tomorrow afternoon to pick up the keys, so the morning would no doubt be spent scrubbing the place top to bottom. Then all that would be left would be to take his car, with some overnight gear and some of his important personal effects, to the depot. After that, Athrun would be free to begin a new life.
"It's been a crazy time." Cagalli's voice echoed his thoughts.
"It has, hasn't it?" Kira agreed, his expression relaxed and open. It made Athrun regret what he felt he had to ask.
Kira stopped twirling his straw through his iced green tea and looked up.
"Where are you going after this?"
Kira's eyes darkened, turning guarded. "Back to the orphanage."
Athrun sighed. He had thought as much. Athrun didn't like to press, but Kira's continued refusal to go home worried him.
"You have to talk to your parents some time." He glanced at Cagalli, who stared at her iced mocha with firm concentration. "You should hear their side of the story. And not just that, you need to talk with them about everything else that has happened."
Kira fidgeted but did not speak.
Athrun leaned towards him. "You can come to Orb with us tomorrow," he urged. "We can catch up some more. I've missed this together," he admitted, quietly willing Kira to understand. Kira couldn't possibly have true peace again until he had settled all his questions about his past. Athrun, who was just starting to regain his own peace, very much wanted his friend to be able to experience the same.
Kira stared into space for a while. He heaved a sigh and, seeming to come to a decision, smiled at Athrun. "I'll come back in time for your birthday. Promise."
Relief, plus surprised joy that Kira had remembered, swept through him, making him feel light-headed.
"When's your birthday?" Cagalli jumped to ask.
"October 29th," he answered. Less than a week away. "We'll expect you then," he confirmed to Kira.
Kira nodded. "The 29th."
"Or before," Cagalli hastened to add.
Kira hesitated, then nodded again. "Or before," he repeated.
Athrun fell back in his chair. He felt happier than he had in a long time -- since he and Kira were last together as civilians, probably. His move back to P.L.A.N.T. and his father's daily influence had been stifling, even though he hadn't recognized it as such at the time. And after Bloody Valentine... well, it just hadn't been possible to truly relax after that.
He marveled how in some ways things were changing for the better, while in others they were falling back into place just where they should be.
Thinking along these lines prompted him to ask Kira, "How is Lacus lately?"
Kira fingered the chain that he had taken to wearing since the end of the war. Athrun never asked him what was on it, and Kira had never offered.
"She's doing well," Kira answered. "She likes the children, and the ocean." He seemed to hesitate, sliding the chain back and forth between his fingers. "Athrun..."
Athrun regarded him curiously.
"Athrun," Kira started again, "there's something..."
Cagalli looked back and forth between them, for once aware of the charged atmosphere without being prompted. She started to push her chair back, saying, "I'll go see--" but Kira jumped up to pull her back, gripping her arm in a move that was very familiar.
"No, it's okay. Please stay." Cagalli gave Kira's pleading eyes a bewildered look before settling back in her seat.
Athrun frowned, uneasy.
Kira fidgeted at the chain some more, then, taking hold of it in both hands, he tugged it over his head. "Lacus..." Athrun caught a flash of a silver object before Kira cupped it in one hand. "Lacus gave me this," he said, handing it over to Athrun.
It was a silver band with a simple matte wave design encircling it. Catching his breath in recognition, he tilted the ring to look at the inside. As he had expected, he saw words engraved there: "Zala - Clyne"
The world seemed to freeze around him.
He remembered his father showing him the box with the matching bands.
"Who is she?" he'd asked. Athrun hadn't really cared one way or another. He had no romantic interest yet whom he wanted to speak for. Following the Arranged Marriage Act that his father had helped to push was as much a duty to his country as fighting as a soldier. That he would turn sixteen soon had prepared him for the eventuality that his father would choose a mate for him.
"The singing idol?" This did surprise him. He'd bought her first album after hearing Nicol mention her. She had a nice voice and was quite famous. He didn't think he would mind being her husband. But he didn't see what his father would have seen in her as a match.
"And Chairman Clyne's only daughter."
Ah. He should have known his father would not be frivolous in his choice.
"Excuse me, father. I didn't make the connection."
His father acknowledged his apology with a nod. "You'll have to be very focussed in the next few months, Athrun. I'm going to have to ask a lot of you."
"I won't let you down, father."
"I know." His father had smiled, looking proud of him. "We'll be meeting with Clyne and his daughter tomorrow morning to sign the papers."
His father had deemed the Clynes -- and Athrun himself -- worthy in the beginning. Yet in the end, he had been the one to condemn them all as the worst of traitors. The bitter memory burned him to the bone, just like the wound on his right shoulder had.
Looking back, it was amazing that he had missed how blinded his father had become. Perhaps it was because he had been blinded himself. His mother's death had driven them both to frightening ends.
He had lost a dear friend and had very nearly killed another one. And his father had died an ignoble and a pointless death.
"Athrun, say something."
He became aware of Kira and Cagalli calling him.
"Athrun, I'm sorry..." Kira's voice sounded miserable.
Athrun closed his fist tightly around the innocuous-seeming object, unable to speak.
"I'll ask Lacus to take it back," Kira said. "I... I didn't realize when she gave it to me that it was from you. I wouldn't have taken it if I had known."
"What?" Athrun came back to himself, confused. Kira was staring at him, looking... guilty?
It was only then that Athrun realized that Kira must have misread his expression entirely.
"No," he said hastily, "that's not what..." He found it hard to explain without the feelings overwhelming him. "She wanted you to have this. It's nothing to do with me." He handed the ring back. Kira took it but continued to hold it out over the table, as if still unsure. The chain spilled through his fingers in taunting, flashing streams.
"Look, I don't care about that. Take it."
"It was only because she thought I might die--"
"Damn it, Kira, take it!" In a sudden burst of fury, Athrun seized Kira's hand and shoved it toward him.
The looks of shock on both his friends' faces shamed him.
"I didn't give it to her," he tried to explain more calmly. Controlling the maelstrom inside him, he managed to add, "My father bought it. He was the one who arranged everything." He closed his eyes, briefly escaping the dawning understanding -- and sympathy -- in their eyes. "Everything that ever mattered."
Kira's eyes were soft as he stared at the ring in his hand, running his thumb over the edge. As much as Athrun liked to tease him about being oblivious, Kira had a strong natural empathy for people. There was no way that he didn't understand what Athrun meant. Finally, meeting Athrun's eyes, Kira slipped the chain back over his head.
"I'll take good care of it," he said. "It'll hold nothing but Lacus and my memories from now on."
Athrun nodded, grateful.
Truth be told, he was touched that Lacus had taken the ring with her when she escaped from P.L.A.N.T. He would almost have expected her to have thrown the trinket away, after what his father had done.
He recognized that although he felt true friendship with her, there had never been any great passion between them. They would have been a fine match, all told; she had always supported his spirit and he, well, he supposed he would have taken care of her the best he could. However, that was no longer all they wanted, and they both knew it.
"Lacus and I were-- are good friends," he said. He tried to form his next thoughts into words that would convey his consent, as well as asking his question without being embarassingly overt about it. "I would be... honored to have her be my sister."
He wondered if this were too opaque for Kira, who had a generally straightforward mind, despite a penchant for thinking too much. Indeed, he looked utterly confused. Just as Athrun was working himself up to saying it in plainer terms, though, Kira's face cleared in understanding. He glanced at Cagalli, who still seemed unenlightened. "I would like that too," he replied.
Cagalli frowned, obviously annoyed at being out of the know. "What are you two talking about?"
Athrun supposed it wasn't very nice, but he couldn't help smiling. And then when Kira started laughing, he had to follow suit.
"I'm not talking to you jerks anymore." Cagalli crossed her arms and sat back in a huff. Tolliy, who had stayed on her shoulder throughout the earlier uproar, took off at the motion. The little robot bird circled overhead, scolding the three of them -- as Kira and Athrun laughed and Cagalli fumed -- with soft cries of torii~~ torii~~.
Chapter 5: 0. Moving In
"This is really all right with you?" Athrun put his bag down in the middle of the room and turned around, surveying the lavish but tasteful decorations. The sight was made even more wonderful after twelve hours of travelling, first on the space to Earth transport, followed by the transfer to an atmospheric craft, and then a ground vehicle after.
Kira had parted with them after reaching Earth. Athrun would have to believe that he would see him here in Orb soon.
"I wouldn't have offered if it weren't," said Cagalli from the doorway. "There's plenty of space now the mansion's being rebuilt." She looked out at the sunny sky. "And I'm lonely without my father. It's funny, isn't it? They don't even really need me on the Council, but I think everyone wants me to be there as much as I do. I didn't appreciate enough how much of an impact my father had while he was alive."
Athrun looked at her face, her profile limned by the sunlight. It was direct sunlight here, not reflected from the great satellite pairs of the P.L.A.N.T.s. On the surface, it might look the same, but in fact, many things were different here in Orb. That was why he had come here.
He knelt down and opened his bag. After only a brief search, he pulled out the silk-wrapped object he had tucked inside with his laptop. "Cagalli."
She cocked her head, reminding him somehow of Tolliy for an instant, then came to him. "What's that?"
He handed it to her, close-mouthed and nervous.
She took the bundle and pulled the silk open. The glint of silver greeted them both. She looked surprised. With a casual move that shocked Athrun, she dumped the small object into the palm of her other hand. However, the shock was short-lived, replaced by a feeling of relief.
He had treated it like something hallowed for much too long.
Cagalli studied the plain band with the bezeled wave design, then raised puzzled eyes. "Yours?" Even without seeing the engraving inside, it was obviously a match to the one Kira had shown them earlier.
"My father bought them. They were for Lacus and my engagement contract. I... I want you to keep it. If it's all right with you."
He wondered, now that he heard the words out loud, if he sounded too abrupt -- even presumptuous.
"It doesn't mean anything," he hurried to add. Only, that was exactly opposite of the truth. He took a breath and arranged his thoughts. "What I mean is, it belongs to you now. So you can assign whatever meaning to it that you like."
"It'll hold nothing but Lacus and my memories from now on."
Cagalli tipped her palm back and forth, catching the light on the silver man's ring. Athrun had never worn it. He didn't even know if it fit -- though his father had taken his size so he assumed it did. He would have put it on for the first time at his and Lacus' wedding ceremony.
For all that he'd kept it with care, it had never meant anything to him aside from his duty to his father and to the marriage contract -- which now no longer existed. He regarded and would continue to regard Lacus fondly, but there was very little of him and Lacus in this object aside from their surnames.
Cagalli closed her slim but callused fingers around it and squeezed it tight.
"I'll take good care of it for you."
Then she leaned up and pressed her lips to his.
Their second kiss.
"What... was that for?"
"You said that I should 'assign whatever meaning to it I like'." Avoiding his gaze, Cagalli busied herself wrapping the ring back up in its silk cloth. Her fair cheeks were flushing as Athrun was sure his must be.
"I see," he said, even as he was fully aware of how inane that sounded.
"I like it, though," Cagalli said. "Now we're matched."
"What do you mean?"
She reached out and touched the howmea stone through his shirt. He couldn't help but quiver at the touch.
He met her eyes. "I guess... we are."
And there was no need to speak again for a long time after.
Chapter 6: Moving On ~ After
CE. 71 November 12 --Special Interest Bulletin--
A mysterious explosion in the outlying L4 Cluster late yesterday all but obliterated one of the remaining space colonies there. Built for genetics research in the first half of the Cosmic Era, this colony was deemed hazardous and abandoned three and a half years ago. Luckily, the other space colonies at L4 were abandoned shortly after the start of the war due to damages, so no danger to life was sustained.
Senator Yzak Jule, who was on the site of the area in question only a few months ago in his capacity as a mobile suit pilot, says, "The place seemed dilapidated but stable enough when I was there. It was abandoned years ago, however, and there is every chance that the nuclear energy source that powered it was also responsible for the explosion."
An investigatory group led by Private Dearka Elthman, son of the late Senator Elthman, returned with confirmation of a nuclear disturbance, supporting the theory that the still active nuclear generators may have overloaded due to lack of maintenance. Speculations as to a deliberate man-made cause were confirmed to be unfounded.
Although most would say that destruction of the long-abandoned and bio-contaminated space colony was no loss, some have voiced concern that such an eruption may occur on our own homes. P.L.A.N.T. engineers, however, have assured the public that since the conversion to solar energy, such a scenario is impossible.
Authorities believe that this is an isolated event. However, Senator Jule is overseeing an operation to fully dismantle what remains of the contaminated space colony. Until the remaining space debris is cleared from the area and destroyed, all space flights travelling within 500 kilometers of the area are advised to be re-routed.