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Breathing Underwater

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Guess what! I'm on a team working on prototype mobile suits and long story short, they're amazing! That and we need test pilots. The chief asked us mechanics if we had any suggestions and I put your name in. It's not official yet, but he pulled your records and you're shortlisted! Don't be surprised if you get a call, okay? I mean, if you're interested. Or are you busy with you-know-who? Ah- send me a message, okay?


Shiho pulled the towel from her head and gave the ends of her hair one last little rub before reaching to turn off her tablet. She didn't really have time to reply to Rim's message - she didn't even know what to say. A shortlist was very different from an offer, after all.

And she had plans.

With you-know-who.

That, at least, made Shiho smile as she hung up her towel in the bathroom and started combing out her hair. She had tugged on sleep-shorts and an undershirt upon getting out of the shower, but now it was time to actually find something to wear.

To be honest, it had been a little while since Shiho had been on a date. There'd been a handsome coworker at her temporary civilian job between wars, but they hadn't gotten serious and she'd swiftly returned to Yzak's side anyway. And after that, everything was short-lived. Technically, everything before that had been short-lived, too.

She was still a little surprised at his sudden invitation, but it wasn't wholly out of character. He did pay attention to her, after all. She'd mentioned the street festival the week before, and he'd invited her to see it with him since they both had a day off.

Her closet made her frown. Shiho knew she needed to spend a bit of time updating her civilian wardrobe, but the severity of the problem had never made itself quite so obvious. Normally she wore her uniforms and after work, she changed into sweats or pjs. Day off outings were one well-abused pair of jeans and a plain t-shirt.

She had a proper suit, too, and a few overly flashy outfits, but nothing both casual and yet... Shiho wasn't even sure she wanted to be sexy. Just comfortable but not like she was dressed for grocery shopping.

A bit of digging revealed a few pieces of clothing that Shiho had forgotten about. Unfortunately, not a one of them still fit. Somewhere in the last year, she'd put on a couple of inches pretty much everywhere.

After another round of pulling quite literally everything she owned out of her closet, she settled on a black tank top with a nicer pair of jeans that were a bit short but were easily camouflaged with boots. With her white blouse over it all and tied at the front, she thought she looked okay. A dry-cleaner could deal with the wrinkles later.

Somehow, Shiho made it out the door right on schedule.

"Wow, you look nice--"

Inwardly, Shiho winced. Margo, who lived across the hall, was a perky bubble of sunshine on the worst of days. And Shiho genuinely liked her and thought of her as a friend. But she was very talkative and, once encountered, was often hard to get rid of.

Luckily, Margo seemed to be coming to her going.

"Thank you," Shiho replied. She bumped her door once to make sure it had locked properly.

"You have a date?" Margo questioned as she tried to juggle a trio of bags and swipe her room's keycard.

"Here, let me," Shiho said quickly. She took Margo's keycard a second later and slid it, waiting until the door was open and Margo had dumped her bags inside to return it.

"Date?" Margo reminded her, pushing strawberry blonde hair back and smiling. She tucked her keycard down into her bra. "Or not-date?"

"'Not-date?" Shiho asked, frowning.

"You know," Margo said with a little headshake. "Guy asks if you want to go somewhere or see something but it's not really specified that it's a date. Maybe it's an audition for a date, or maybe it's just hanging out, or maybe it is a date but you can't really ask because if you're thinking it's something different from he is, it's going to get embarrassing fast."

"We're going to the street fair down in City Center," Shiho replied. "I... I don't know exactly what it is. I'm not worried about that."

"Well come tell me when you get home," Margo said quickly. "I'll be up. I had an intern quit and my workload is double, but at least I'm not stuck in the office. You're lucky you're in uniform - they don't abuse you like they do us contractors."

Shiho frowned. "Are you sure you want me to disturb you?"

"Perfect excuse for a break," Margo noted before giving Shiho a little wave. "Now go get 'im!"


The street festival was only a couple of blocks from Shiho's apartment and she heard it long before seeing it. Yzak was supposed to meet her at the near-corner, though when she checked her phone for the time, Shiho realized she was actually a bit early.

The closest vendor had a selection of beautiful glass-bead necklaces and after a minute, Shiho snuck over to look. She hadn't really bothered with accessories - she hadn't even really thought about it.

But sparkling in the reflected sunlight, the beads were beautiful rainbows.

Shiho picked out a simple strand with a larger swirled bead set as a sort of pendant and had just paid when a hand settled on her shoulder.

"Starting without us?"

Turning, Shiho stared deep into Dearka's eyes. Yzak was beside him, attempting to look casual in khakis and a polo and failing terribly. Dearka at least had on jeans and a t-shirt for a band that Shiho had only vaguely heard of under a thin denim jacket.

Of course Dearka would be there. Dearka went everywhere with Yzak. Which meant there was definitely not a date going on anywhere.

"I was early, so I thought I'd look," Shiho admitted. She had the necklace wrapped around one hand and quickly jammed her change into her purse.

"Let me," Dearka said, taking the necklace from her before she could protest. His hands were warm against her skin as he slipped the necklace around her neck and fixed the clasp without even looking.

Shiho didn't miss the little look that Yzak gave them both, but she really didn't know what it was. Not jealousy, definitely. Something else...

"We can walk down one side and then back along the other," Yzak said as he surveyed the festival. "So we don't miss anything."

"Sounds fine," Shiho replied. The next little stand had beautiful tropical-patterned sundresses, but while the colors were pretty, Shiho couldn't imagine wearing anything like them. Or at least having a reason to.

"I should get something for my mother," Yzak idly commented as they walked. Shiho sort of hoped she could find something small for Margo. It would be a little unfair to pay a visit later and not bear a gift. And Lise, one of the supply girls who always stopped to chat, had a birthday somewhere in the next bit...

"I think I need a couple of gifts, too," Shiho admitted.

Dearka, who'd slipped to Yzak's other side, just shook his head. "I'm just looking for me, I guess."

A block down, past a group of dancers and musicians that Shiho couldn't resist photographing, she found a small bear wearing a sparkling bracelet as a necklace that looked like just the thing for Lise.

Conversation remained light and a few times, Shiho and Yzak got a little too close and bumped hands or arms. The third time, Shiho reached over and gave him a playful little tap.

"Do I have to separate you two?" Dearka asked from behind.

"Huh? No--" Yzak quickly replied. His face was just a tiny bit red and Shiho smiled and gave him another tap.

She still had no idea if they were on a date. Probably not. Unless it was a really weird one.

By the time they'd circled around, Shiho had taken another handful of photographs and bought a bag of candy for Margo. The entire four block loop had taken well over an hour, but it hadn't felt like that. Not when there was so much to see.

"It's been awhile since I've been to this part of the city," Yzak admitted. "You live nearby, though, don't you?" He looked over at Shiho.

She nodded and pointed. "Four blocks that way, in a ZAFT-owned building. Easy commute."

"We drove," Yzak said. "Do you have--?"

"No car, no," Shiho replied. She could afford one, but there was no point. "If I needed one, I could rent one for the day, I suppose."

"Where would you want to go?" Yzak asked.

Shiho shuffled the bag with her purchases from one hand to the other. "Hmm. I don't know."

"Want me to carry that?" Dearka asked. Somewhere along the way he'd acquired a bag of his own.

"No, but thank you," Shiho said. She glanced around. Yzak had mentioned the festival, but they'd covered it. So what were they supposed to do now? Maybe Yzak was as lost as she was.

They didn't even see each other often while working - despite being assigned to his team, Shiho kept busy in other ways while Yzak tended to work with various Council representatives. And even when she accompanied him - and Dearka - to other cities, it was usually a silent trip filled with reading or trying to help with crew duties. The street festival had come up somehow or other during a brief status meeting...

Rim's offer suddenly sounded very good.

"Are either of you hungry?" Dearka tried. "I know there are some good restaurants around here."

Shiho and Yzak made eye contact, briefly, before each suggesting something different. Shiho had thought she'd gotten Yzak's favorite...

He'd suggested hers.

Surprised, Shiho mumbled an acceptance that was only slightly louder than Dearka's stomach.

A meal would at least help clarify what sort of expedition they were on. Hopefully. Maybe it was a strange date. Maybe Dearka was just part of a package deal. Yzak never really did seem to be without Dearka and when he was, he seemed ever-so-slightly lost.

But asking would be awkward.

Asking would be very awkward.

And it was nice just to be out wandering with Yzak. Shiho had always liked him - he had a certain charm to him that she'd always been drawn to. Even when she'd been in South America and at other posts, she'd thought about him even though her initial crush had subsided. But if he ever... Well, she had a permanent short-list and he was on it.

The restaurant was nearby and it looked like most of the lunch crowd had just left. Most of the tables were in need of bussing, but there was one booth free. No sooner had she spotted it than apparently Yzak did too.

"Over there," he said. "There's a booth to the right."

A booth would be a real test, Shiho realized. The booth would be big enough for two people to fit on each side. Which meant that two of them would end up sitting together. If Yzak sat beside her, then maybe it was a date, still. If not...

"Are you okay?" Yzak asked her as they made their way over to the booth. "You seem distracted."

Shiho knew she was blushing. "I'm fine. Just thinking I should have taken a few more pictures earlier."

Yzak didn't reply. Instead, he sort of gave her a little look, echoing the look that Dearka was giving her. She stared at the booth. Obviously, she was expected to sit first.

Shiho slid onto the closest bench and quickly set her bag of purchases up on the ledge that ran along the side of the booths. There was a vase with a fake flower up there as well, and a bottle of ketchup.

She reached to pull the bottle down to sit with the other condiments and was almost surprised by weight on the seat beside her. So it was--

It was Dearka. Yzak had taken the lone spot across from them.

Hopefully, the disappointment didn't show on her face.

A waitress appeared almost instantly and set three menus down on the table.

"Anything to drink to get you started?" she questioned with a big smile.

"Water," Shiho replied quickly. She possibly needed something stronger, but it wasn't that type of restaurant. Besides, water would do.

She could drown herself in it.

"Are you sure you're feeling okay?" Dearka questioned. Shiho didn't miss the look he shot over to Yzak. "It's been awhile since your last day off, hasn't it? You've been volunteering for extra patrols and training detail..."

"I'm fine," Shiho replied a little firmer than she'd meant. "There's just been-- well, it's been something to do to keep in practice."

She thought about Rim's message again but held her tongue.

"If you want leave time, I'll approve it," Yzak added. "Don't over-work yourself."

"I don't know what I'd do with it..." Shiho began, before thinking that there were tons of things she could possibly do. She could visit some of the small villages she'd helped in South America, she could swim in the warm waters of Orb, she could rent a shuttle and mobile suit from the Junk Guild and just explore some abandoned something-or-others in space...

If she did end up being invited back to machine testing, a break between would be sort of nice. She had time to use.

"Well--" Yzak began, only to be interrupted by their waitress arriving with three glasses of water, which she quickly plunked down. They hadn't even touched the menus.

"I'll give you three another moment," she said with a little wink. And then she was gone again.

"Let's figure out what we want," Dearka suggested.

Shiho wished the menu could help her with that.


Most of the meal was spent talking about food. Dearka certainly had plenty of good things to say about the restaurants in Orb.

Shiho hadn't really forgotten about Dearka's time in Orb - well, with the Archangel and then in Orb. He just didn't mention it often and it didn't seem like a thing to prod at.

He even mentioned his ex-girlfriend freely. Again, Shiho didn't know too much about that whole situation, but it certainly wasn't her business. It did make it a bit easier for her to ignore certain rumors about Yzak and Dearka's friendship, though, which was high on the list of things she really couldn't just ask about. She supposed she didn't really care if there was any truth to said rumors - it would just be a really awkward thing to ever, ever ask about.

"What do you want to do next?" Shiho questioned once their dishes were cleared away. Yzak had already claimed the bill for all three of them and she saw no reason to fight him.

"Actually, we should probably ask..." Yzak held a hand out to Dearka, who blinked once before reaching for the inside pocket of his jacket. He handed a brightly-colored brochure to Yzak who promptly set it in front of Shiho.

"What's this?" Shiho asked. It seemed to be for some sort of resort.

"A gift from the Council for my hard work," Yzak admitted. He seemed a little embarrassed about it though Shiho wasn't sure why - he had worked hard and deserved any rewards. Of course, it was also the sort of thing Yzak would be easily able to afford on his own. "For myself and two assistants or bodyguards or whatever. It wouldn't be an official ZAFT thing - you'd have to use your leave time."

Only then did it really hit her that Yzak was asking her to a fancy resort. With him. And Dearka, of course, because there was no point in thinking otherwise.

Shiho hadn't ever been to the sort of resort described in the brochure. Fancy dinners, spa packages, grand gardens... She'd grown up firmly at the bottom of the upper class, but her parents had valued hard work over extravagance. She'd seen other cities and visited museums, not laid around and let people bring her drinks.

This would definitely call for a clothes shopping expedition the likes of which instantly filled her with dread.

And then there was Rim.

"When?" Shiho asked.

"For two weeks," Dearka answered. "We'd leave in six days."

Shiho nodded. "I'd honestly need to check with one person, but I'd be able to tell you in the morning."

"Mmm?" Yzak gave her a bit of a strange look. "That's fine."

"An old friend mentioned a visit," Shiho fibbed. "I need to see what she's thinking."

Apparently, it was enough of an explanation because neither of them pressed. She tucked the brochure up into her bag while Yzak settled the bill.

And after a leisurely wander through an art gallery that Shiho had never even noticed before - Dearka had a true appreciation for art, Yzak not so much - they parted ways back on the corner by the street festival.

Dearka had given her a friendly hug but Yzak had hesitated before leaning close and muttering that she looked nice and hoped she could make the trip.

She walked back to her apartment without even really thinking about it. Autopilot took over until she was reaching into her purse for her keycard.

Had he meant to kiss her, Shiho wondered. Was he just...? While Dearka had loved and lost, honestly, Shiho didn't think Yzak had ever... Maybe he just didn't know how to...

She paused before swiping her card and leaned forward against her door. Her forehead hitting the composite alloy didn't even make a sound. But she felt it.

Because that made two of them.

Once inside, she set down her purse and took off her blouse, leaving only her tank top. Armed only with the candy she'd bought, Shiho made sure her door was unlocked and headed across the hall.

She hit the buzzer on Margo's doorpad and waited. Margo appeared a moment later. Her hair had been pinned up in a messy bun but otherwise she looked fairly calm - for Margo.

"A gift," Shiho said, offering the candy.

Margo smiled and accepted. "Come on in. How was the date? Was it a date?"

"I still don't know," Shiho admitted, following Margo in. Margo's apartment was a mirrored layout of her own, but where Shiho's was relatively neat and organized, Margo's was bordering on chaos. Files and books were stacked on almost every flat surface and cups and dishes suggested many rushed days.

"Hmm. Have a seat." Margo flopped back on her computer chair, but there was a lack of other sitting surfaces that weren't covered in debris. "Ah--"

Shiho watched Margo look once around and then wince.

"Balance ball, I'm thinking?"

Chuckling, Shiho spotted it - a red beacon in one corner, impossible to clutter. She bounced it over to the middle of the room and sat, shifting twice before getting it to a point where it didn't want to roll away with her on it.

Shiho explained the day - complete with resort offer.

Margo frowned. "You know, I always heard those two were-- y'know --together," she said. "Not saying they are--"

"I don't know either." Upon recitation of the outing, Shiho had noticed plenty of clues in either direction. "Dearka was really friendly and Yzak was just... he's a good commander and I'd follow him anywhere but I don't think he has much experience with dating.

"Not that I do," Shiho added after a beat. "Got busy, you know?"

Margo popped a fat piece of candy in her mouth and gestured around at her apartment. "Story of my life."

"I would like to go on the vacation--"

"What's stopping you? You mentioned--"

Shiho frowned. "Probably classified. Nothing personal," she said quickly. Margo's actual clearance was a mystery to her and despite there being plenty of contractors in some pretty specialized fields, Shiho saw no reason to say too much. Rim was the one who tended to have a big mouth, after all. For all Shiho knew, she wasn't even supposed to know about the project. "But it would be a transfer back to a previous department and..."

"You want to do it," Margo surmised. "Can't blame you, if it's something exciting that you'd be good at."

"I don't know how well it'd go over with the Commander."

"Maybe it'll get him to finally admit his intentions. Besides, you need to do what you want, Shiho. It wouldn't be like you were leaving forever or anything, right?"


Margo had a very good point. It would be an assignment, she'd do it and finish it and then she'd be right back to work.

Later, after she'd messaged Rim and had dinner, she started putting her closet back in order and making a basic packing list. By the end, her list was two full columns on her tablet and her closet was fairly bare. Everything old was in bags to be donated and a quick check of finances told her that a new wardrobe would be a drop in the bucket compared to her savings.

Shiho sighed and added one more thing as she looked through the brochure - a bathing suit. The last time she'd been swimming had been in South America. She'd been in her underwear. She hadn't cared.

Flopping back on her bed, Shiho realized she'd have to take an emergency personal day to shop. Hopefully no one would see her. But it would have to be done.