The front door opened with a bang and a scant second later was slammed closed with equal force. A string of stomping footsteps. Then the thud of something heavy hitting the carpeted floor before another bang of a door shut to.
Lenore sighed, wondering what had sparked the temper of her son this time. Athrun was normally the epitome of calm and manners, especially in public, so that her friends hardly believed her when she told them how volatile he could be when something set him off.
So like his father.
Lenore put down the hydroponics paper, a comparative study on different species of soybean that she had been referencing, and went to see what her son was up to.
From the hallway, all she could hear was silence. Sulking then, not crying. When Athrun cried, it was like a thunderstorm, accompanied by loud tantrums but brief and relatively easy to weather. Lenore knuckled her forehead wearily. With the Junius conference starting the day after tomorrow, all she needed was a sulky son to placate.
She knocked before entering. Even at ten years old, Athrun liked his privacy. The few conflicts she had with her son were always over the subject of boundaries.
As expected, she found Athrun sprawled face down on his bed. He made no sign that he noticed his mother's entrance, even when -- skirting the backpack flung in front of the door -- she went to his side and sat beside his prone form. She reached out and brushed his hair away from his pale face.
What she saw made her suck her breath in with shock. Calming her nastier mother bear instincts, she carefully avoided the purpling bruise just beneath her son's left eye as she asked, "Athrun, what's happened?"
When he did not answer, she pressed, "Are you hurt anywhere else?"
Athrun shook his head, still not meeting her gaze. He did not avoid her when she touched his shoulder, though, and thus knowing that he secretly wanted the attention, Lenore pulled her son towards her.
He resisted at first, as his temper and his budding sense of manhood no doubt told him to do, but it was only a moment before he shifted to put his head in her lap. He still did not allow her to see his face, hiding in the front of her sweater, but he allowed her to stroke his slightly mussed hair.
"I hate him," he said, finally, with no further prompting.
"Who?" Lenore asked him, though she had a good idea. Athrun was still at an age when friendships were made and broken and remade in a day, but she knew her serious son. There was only one friend he considered close enough to speak of with such enmity after a falling-out.
"Kira," he said, sure enough. He managed to infuse the two syllables with an admirable amount of feeling.
"What happened?" She continued stroking his hair, waiting for the rest of the story. She knew Caridad's son, too, and Kira would not hit her child -- at least not without adequate reason. So the source of the bruise on Athrun's face had to stem from something nastier than a simple squabble between friends.
"We had a fight." Lenore let him mull over this fact for as long as he liked. Eventually, he added, "He's so stupid!"
"What did you fight about?"
Athrun curled up a little tighter, and one small hand tangled where the hem of her sweater overlapped her thigh. "He said I was a bully." Lenore showed her incredulity by moving from her son's hair to a soft squeeze on his shoulder. "I'm not," he said. She stroked his back in agreement.
"What made him say that?"
Athrun pressed his face farther into her belly. His next words were long in coming and muffled when he finally voiced them. "I hit someone," he mumbled. "A Natural."
Lenore stared at her son in shock. "Athrun!" After all she and Patrick had taught him about peaceful negotiation and avoiding conflict...
"It was Kira's fault!" he broke in, before she could ask for more details. "Because he's such an idiot! And he shouldn't talk, because he was the one who punched me." Athrun's voice broke a little, beginning to sound teary, and his body was shaking with wound-up rage.
Lenore frowned. Neither Kira nor her son were the types of boys to get into fights over trivial matters. She pushed her son off her lap with gentle but firm pressure. "Athrun, look at me. You have to tell me what happened."
Athrun sat up with obvious reluctance. He hugged his knees and still refused to look at his mother, his features stubborn and closed.
"Athrun, did you hurt the other person on purpose?"
He refused to respond.
"Athrun." Her son flinched at the tone in her voice. As he should. She was rarely upset with her well-mannered, intelligent son. Getting in a fight was no small matter, however. Human conflict was a volatile thing, and dangerous -- especially with her son living alone much of the time. "Kira hit you?"
A pause. Then a nod.
"And who did you hit?"
Athrun pouted his lips, clearly not wanting to answer. Finally, he said, "Charlie."
Lenore flipped mentally through the school registry, discarding several Charlies as likely candidates. Most of the children at Athrun's private school were from well-to-do families that had no strife with the Zalas. In any case, all the children had been strictly cautioned to maintain discipline, for most of their parents were in high positions in PLANT.
Then she remembered, Athrun had said he was a Natural. "From Kira's school?" Kira went to an Earth Alliance school, with predominantly Natural children.
Lenore had the uncharitable thought that of course a Natural child was at the root of this. She felt ashamed and vindicated both in the next moment, when Athrun said,
"Charlie and his big brother Pavis found out that Kira was a Coordinator, and they were picking on him after school."
Lenore heaved a mental sigh. Her husband was on the PLANT council, ceaselessly trying to establish good relations with Earth. They of all people knew there were conflicts between Natural and Coordinator. They had taught their son strategies for avoiding confrontations and, when need be, how to defend himself if a physical threat became unavoidable.
Attacking another child was hardly what Athrun was supposed to do with his skills, however, as he should well know. She wondered what had provoked her son to do such a thing.
As if to answer her, Athrun said, "They were saying awful things to him."
"What things?" Although she could imagine the direction of their words, she wanted to know what had set Athrun off.
"Awful things," he repeated, teeth clenched. "They said that he only got good grades because he was a freak. They said that his parents should be put in jail and that..." He clenched his fists. "They said that Kira shouldn't have been born. They said that he should die."
Lenore shuddered at the venemous words from the mouths of supposedly innocent children. But a moment later, it was her son who shocked her.
"It's Charlie who should die," he spat. "All the stupid unevolved Naturals should just die."
"Athrun Zala." Her tone carried all the shock and fury she felt towards her son, and she knew it broached no slim room for protest. Lenore had never raised a hand to her child, but at this moment the only thing that stopped her was his wide-eyed, guileless gaze, which convinced her that he was in fact ignorant of what he was saying. "Do you really believe what you just said?"
He shrank away from her, and her heart broke a little at the sight. But she could not allow this. "Answer me."
His eyes dodged hers. "Mrs. Lowerty always says..."
"I don't care what Mrs. Lowerty said," Lenore cut in. Rita Lowerty was one of the supremely snobbish first-generation Coordinators who turned her nose up at even her own parents. She believed that Coordinators were the next step in evolution and that the Naturals should be summarily replaced -- and she had no qualms in sharing her feelings with anyone within earshot.
If it weren't for Rita's connections to people who could get her husband in trouble, and Patrick's constant placations, Lenore would have nothing to do with the woman. From the looks of it, even her infrequent interactions would have to stop, if it was affecting their son.
Athrun bit his lip. "Kira was crying."
"That's not an answer, Athrun," Lenore pressed. She knew she was being cruel, but she needed Athrun to understand.
Her son squirmed, then blurted,
"They pushed him down and they were kicking him. All the Natural kids were just standing there watching. They wouldn't do anything. Some of them were even laughing. And Kira wouldn't fight back; he just let them hurt him until I--" Athrun clamped his mouth shut, obviously not wanting to further incur his mother's wrath by describing his part in the fight. "Kira wouldn't hit Charlie because Charlie's parents are in jail."
Lenore frowned, begin to sense that the situation was more complicated than she had at first thought. She pushed away the sudden paranoid thought that criminals were targeting her son. PLANT-Earth relations were certainly not yet that bad.
Athrun rushed on before she could speak, as if he wanted to get the whole story out before she could chastise him again.
"But they're only in jail because they're Blue Cosmos. Blue Cosmos killed Frederick's big brother, remember? So, they should be locked up, right? And see, that's why Kira's stupid. Because I told him all about Blue Cosmos. But he still felt sorry for Charlie anyway."
Athrun sat back, seeming to lose steam. "But Kira said that I was wrong, that I shouldn't hurt Charlie because he gave Kira his lunch money once when Kira forgot. But that was only because Charlie thought Kira was a Natural. And then Kira said that I was a bully. He said that I hurt people weaker than I am and that makes me a bigger bully than Charlie is."
Athrun's lips trembled. "But I'm not," he said. "I was just protecting him. He's such a crybaby, so people think that he's weak. And he's always letting people take advantage of him, too, because he's too stupid to realize it."
Lenore repressed a smile with effort. "Did you call him a stupid crybaby to his face, then?"
Athrun gaped at her, realization reaching him by degrees. "I didn't mean it that way," he said, but his tone was weak. He slumped back against the headboard, his expression firming. "I hate them!" he seethed between clenched teeth. "I hate all the stupid people who hurt other people just because they won't hurt them back."
Lenore sighed fondly. "Athrun..." Her beautiful, talented, compassionate son -- who had to get mixed up in things because he felt so much. She ran soothing fingertips through his hair, and it seemed to work, for he relaxed somewhat and leaned into her hand.
"Kira said that he hates bullies." Athrun's voice was soft again, and earnest young eyes looked on the verge of tears. "I don't want Kira to hate me. I don't want... anyone to hate me."
Lenore knew what he was really asking. Athrun was a confident little boy, and there were only a few people whose opinions he truly worried about. She lifted her feet onto the bed, moving closer so she could pull her son into a hug. "I don't hate you," she assured him. "And neither does Kira."
She felt his body relax. Thank goodness he was still young enough for platitudes -- even though they were in this case true.
She held her small son for several precious moments before asking: "Do you think the Naturals should die because they hurt your friend?" She kept her tone gentle, but Athrun, always sensitive to her moods, stiffened at the will behind them.
"No..." he mumbled. "I guess not. But it's not right for people to hurt other people for no reason, right?"
"Do you think that Charlie hurt Kira for no reason?"
"Of course!" She could hear the fury in his voice, disbelief that she could think otherwise.
"Do you think Charlie thinks so?"
There was silence as her serious little son pondered this thought. "I guess not," he said, at length.
"Then you see why it's so hard? Most people don't do things that they actually believe are wrong, so it all depends on each person's own point of view."
Athrun took this in with a frown. He turned his face into her shoulder and sighed in acknowledgement.
"You also have to remember, to Charlie, he wasn't just hitting Kira Yamato today. He was hitting a Coordinator, one of the people who got his parents put in jail." She felt him begin to protest, and she continued. "Now that's not any reason to hurt someone, so you were definitely right to be angry on Kira's behalf. When you hit Charlie, though, do you think he's going to remember that Athrun Zala hit him, or that a Coordinator hit him?"
She felt her son still as he thought about her words.
"And you hurt Charlie not just because he hurt Kira, but partly because his parents are Blue Cosmos, right?" she guessed.
Frederick Ell had been in the same class as Athrun before Frederick had moved back to the PLANTs. Frederick's older brother had wanted to be a pharmeceutical researcher, and Frederick had boasted about him often before his brother's death. He had died in a Blue Cosmos attack on the Februarius-8 facility he was interning at -- researching a vaccine for a disease that Coordinators were genetically immune to.
Athrun nodded reluctantly in answer to her question. Her son was honest, bless him.
"And what if Charlie had killed Kira? Would you have killed Charlie?"
Small hands shoved her away, breaking her embrace. "Nobody killed anybody, Mother."
Lenore did not chastise him for pushing her. "Answer the question, Athrun."
Athrun compressed his lips in what could be called a pout. She had seen that expression before on her husband's face, however, and she knew that it was no childish act. She doubted she would get any definitive answer. Sure enough, he replied, almost angily, "I don't know."
"You would want to, wouldn't you?"
Athrun's beautiful eyes looked lost for a moment. Then he nodded. It was the action of a child saying something that he knew was disapproved of, but that he stubbornly refused to retract.
"And what about other people who are in Blue Cosmos?"
Athrun didn't answer.
Lenore reached out for her son, and he let her brush a hand across his bruised cheek. She wanted so much for him to understand.
"Death is permanent, sweetheart," she said, quiet. "People who die, no matter the reason, they don't come back. Ever."
"I didn't... nobody died, mother. Stop being so serious." Under the veil of his 'parents-don't-understand-anything' exasperation, Lenore could hear her son's anxiousness at the conversation.
Frederick's brother's funeral had been conducted on his home PLANT, but Athrun's entire class had gone to the Lunar comcast of it.
"When people seem like not special individuals but just parts of a group, it becomes easy for people to hurt each other. Every person starts to make his problems with one person a problem with everyone else who's remotely similar. It's irresponsible, but it happens all the time, and it hurts everyone in the end. Promise me you'll think about that."
Lenore could see that she had made an impression, but her son was a stubborn child. He made no answer, but he made no protest either. She supposed that was the best she could get from him for now. She sighed. Men.
"Pick up your backpack and get started on your homework. I still have some work to do before dinner."
She pressed a kiss to his forehead, and she frowned as she regarded the bruise across her son's fair face. "I'm ok," he said immediately. "It doesn't hurt much."
"You want to telephone Kira?" she asked. "I'll get an ice pack for you while you do that."
"No, I'll come with you," her son said, standing up as she did. "Maybe... later I'll call him," he added. She smiled at her headstrong son.
The kitchen was as messy as she had left it, covered in her research materials and notes. She liked to work here. She felt closer to her family here than when she was locked up in her lab. It was worth the clean-up required before each meal.
Athrun picked up a fallen pen. He set the monogrammed writing utensil, an anniversary gift to her from Patrick, back on the table, then paused to peer at the papers strewn there. The reports and analyses were still too difficult for him, Lenore knew. In any case, he had so far shown more interest for mechanics than for biology.
Lenore allowed herself a moment of a parent's musings on what her son would become when he grew up.
"What time will you leave tomorrow morning?" Athrun asked, looking up from his half-hearted study.
Lenore regarded his carefully casual face, then she turned away, busying herself with preparing an ice pack for her son's injury. "Seven," she replied, her voice gentling for him. It was the same time he would leave for school. "I'll come back Tuesday night." It was a five-day conference, and half a day's journey to Junius-2, either way.
She didn't like to leave her son alone so much, but her work was important. With the Earth Alliance's continued embargo on food products, the citizens of the PLANTs had to develop ever more efficient ways to support themselves.
It was a good thing Athrun was an independant little boy. Even while she wasn't there to watch over him, she could feel safe in the knowledge that he wasn't getting into anything untoward.
"Here you are," she murmured, pressing the ice pack into her son's small hands.
Athrun held it dutifully to his cheek.
"Mother. About Charlie."
Lenore knelt down in front of him, staring at his downcast face. "What is it?"
"When I hit him, he fell on his arm. He said that I broke it." He looked up at her, his lips firming in a stubborn line. "I think he was lying, though," he added.
Lenore stared at her son for a moment. His face turned wary, and she knew she was letting her feelings show. Determinedly, she pushed away all the panicked images that rushed into her brain of another Coordinator-Natural riot.
The principal of Kira's school, Mr. Amano, was a reasonable man, she remembered. She had met him once and she was certain she could still locate his phone number for a talk. She may need to smooth over the situation, in case Charlie's parents were to make a complaint. All they needed was further strife between the Coordinator private school and the EA. Patrick was already making noises about bringing Athrun home, but Lenore couldn't bear to take him away from Kira and his other friends here.
Not to mention, the PLANTs were filled with more Rita Lowertys than she wanted her son to grow up with.
"It's all right," she said, putting her hand on top of his in comfort. She put her cheek to Athrun's forehead, feeling the cold of the ice slowly seeping into their hands.
"Mother," he said, and she leaned back to encourage him with a smile. He switched hands on the ice pack and declared, "I like Vivian and Wynsta."
It took only a second for Lenore to connect the non-sequiter.
Vivian, their next door neighbor's daughter, had introduced Athrun to mechanical tinkering, which Athrun now loved, and her older brother had taken Athrun fishing last spring. She and Patrick had been too busy with the re-election campaign at the time to take their son anywhere themselves, and Kira's family had gone to Earth for vacation.
Vivian and Wynsta were both Naturals.
"Grandma and Grandpa are Naturals, too, aren't they?"
He nodded, decisive. "I don't want any Naturals to die. Not unless they do something bad."
Lenore couldn't help but laugh at the conditional. Literal and justice-minded was her son, as always.
The telephone rang.
Athrun started, and he stared at the phone but made no move towards it. "Go on," Lenore urged. The phone rang again, and she took the ice pack from her son and gave him a small push. Athrun threw her a glance of embarassed not-quite-irritation, before running to the handset.
Athrun and the Yamatos' son had been best friends for six years. Lenore had noticed that Kira was almost always the first to try to make up after a fight. "Hi." Athrun caught her knowing look and ducked away. Sure enough, it was Kira.
Lenore smiled in gratitude for her son having such a friend. She doubted very many other boys would so quickly forgive being called stupid and a crybaby, especially right after being betrayed by someone else he'd thought was a friend.
The two boys, not given to too many words, chattered for only just long enough for Lenore to place the ice pack in the sink, dry her hands, and reseat herself at the kitchen table before Athrun bounced back to her side.
"The teachers took Charlie to the hospital. They said he's fine," he announced. He sounded relieved, though Lenore was sure he would not admit it. "I knew he was lying. Oh, and Kira asked if I wanted to go to the park for basketball. Is that okay? I'll do my homework right after dinner."
"Of course," Lenore replied immediately. She shared in her son's joy, as it was a mother's duty and privilege to do.
Athrun grinned and ran off.
Ignoring her papers and her presentation notes for a moment, Lenore stared after him, her thoughts heavy.
Athrun, like so many, fought for love of others. Love of family. Love of a god. Love of one's family. They were all powerful and seemingly inrefutable reasons for waging war. How did one prevent it? Could one prevent it?
Not even Patrick and Senator Clyne could answer that with satisfaction to the people of Earth and the PLANTs.
Thankfully, however, she could direct her son, abolishing hate and anger one small step at a time with love of her own.
As long as she was around, no son of hers would ever need to fight at all.