All characters and specifics of "Kidousenshi Gundam SEED" are copyrighted Sotsu Agency, Sunrise and Mainichi Broadcasting. All rights reserved. This fanfiction is property of Shikami Yamino and is not intended for any monetary purpose nor an infringement of copyright laws. No one is to post/host/use any aspect of this fanfic without explicit permission from the author.

Notes: Back from Japan!! Thanks to all the readers for your patience in the wait for this chapter.

Kidousenshi Gundam SEED: "Stay" -- Part 3 of 3
by Shikami Yamino

Chuckling silently at the memory, Athrun ran tender fingers down his bunk-mate's cheek, boyishly enchanted when she wrinkled her nose, grumbled unintelligibly and turned her face into where it was pillowed on his shoulder in an attempt to escape the intruding digits.

Once he'd gotten her away from the coffee, she'd just about fallen asleep sitting on the hard benches in the galley. In the end, he'd practically had to carry her back to her stateroom and somehow hadn't been able to convince her to unwrap herself from around him. Which was how he'd ended up with the circulation to his arm cut off from having his shoulder be used as a pillow.

Knowing himself to be smitten, he supposed it was a small price to pay to guard her sleep.

Flicking a glance at the chrono's illuminated numbers, he realised that there was only a few more hours before they began re-entry into Earth's atmosphere. From there, it would only be a short ride before they landed at what was left of Orb's Kaguya base.

He wondered how things would change once they reached the surface.

Kira had been withdrawn for the past few weeks, caught up battling his own demons from the war. Lacus was concerned but seemed to accept the fact that these things would take time. She would be taking Kira to Malchio once they land so that Kira would have a quiet environment in which to recuperate. She had also extended the invitation to both he and Cagalli, to which Cagalli had reluctantly refused, promising instead to visit often. He had yet to give Lacus an answer, though her gentle, knowing smile told him that she certainly wouldn't be offended if he refused as well.

Beside him, Cagalli stirred again, her movements this time telling him that there would be no more coaxing her back into the sleep she desperately needed. Shaking his head inwardly, he watched her pull herself slowly away from Morpheus's clutches.

"Why are you thinking again?" she grumbled at him even before she'd opened her eyes, voice still fuzzy from sleep.

How she always knew when he allowed his thoughts to wander along darker paths was beyond him. But knowing the question to be more of an annoyed demand that he cease-and-desist than an actual query, he merely smiled.

"What time is it?" she asked when she finally pried her eyes open to blink in the semi-darkness that shrouded the room.

"0936," he replied and couldn't keep the affectionate exasperation from his face when hers registered shock at the answer.

"Nine thirty six?! Crap!" At once, she was a bundle of panicked energy, struggling to gain control of still-lethargic limbs in order to climb over him and off the bed. "I'm late for the meet - !"

Her words were cut off with a surprised cry when he wound a hard arm around her waist before she could complete the motion; successfully tumbling her to land on top of him.

He frowned at her pointedly when she looked up. "Kisaka called while you were asleep. He said he'd take care of it."

"But - !"

"Cagalli," he drawled, making her name a warning in itself. "We had this conversation yesterday."

To soften the words, he quirked her a small grin. "Kisaka also said that your schedule has been cleared for today until we complete re-entry. I'm under orders to make sure you rest."

She opened her mouth to protest but paused and thought better about it when she saw the obstinance in his eyes. Glancing away and huffing an annoyed breath, she relaxed the muscles that had been tensed to fight his hold on her. Then, as the thought occurred to her, she turned back to him with a dark look. "What were you thinking about?"

He laughed. He couldn't help it.

Cagalli blinked before her eyes narrowed, incensed at his reaction. Taking advantage of her position sprawled on top of him, she beat a not-so-gentle fist against his chest. "What's so funny?!"

Catching her hand in his before she could think to try and force the air from his lungs again, Athrun let his laughter die down to an amused smile. "Are you trying to turn the tables on me Miss Athha?"

She scowled at him. "If I'm not allowed to work, you're not allowed to think! That was the deal!"

He cocked his head at her, eyes still laughing. "I thought the deal was 'within reason'...?"

Unable to come up with a plausible argument, she glared at him once more for good measure before wrenching her hand from his and rolling herself off him. When she hit the bunk, she continued the motion, stopping only when her back was pointedly turned towards him.

Athrun smiled indulgently at the indignant line of her back, letting the silence settle between them for a few moments. He then tilted his head to consider the ceiling and felt the smile fade from his lips. "We'll be landing at Kaguya in a few hours," he ventured into the silence. "Are you going to be glad to be off the ship?"

She hummed an affirmative, good nature partly restored by her notional gesture of defiance. "I'm looking forward to breathing fresh air again."

Silence once more.

"I was thinking of taking Lacus up on her offer to stay with Malchio... Especially since I don't particularly have a place where I could stay and..."

He trailed off when he felt the bunk shift as she rolled over to look at him, propping herself up on her elbows so she could look down into his eyes.

"I thought you'd - " She cut herself off with a faint frown, breaking eye contact to stare at the pillow beside his head. A moment later, she looked back with a small smile on her face. "Yeah... It could be good. You and Kira would get to spend more time together. And I could always visit."

Athrun tilted his head as he regarded her. There was a light in her eyes that he didn't recognise. All he knew was that it was directed at him. And despite being precious simply because of that fact, it was also a little hurt, a little annoyed and a little torn. Hesitantly, he reached up to rub his thumb against her cheek, offering her a wry twist of his lips. "I just don't know if I trust you to take care of yourself..."

She wrinkled her nose at him in irritation. "I'll be fine! I can take care of myself!" Then it was her turn to regard him skeptically. "On the other hand, I don't know if I can trust you to take care of yourself... I was only asleep for a few hours and look what you've done!" With an outstretched finger and an affronted look, she rubbed gently at the furrow that had made itself comfortable on his brow.

He chuckled briefly, reaching up once again to catch her hand in his. Sombering up, he searched her eyes for that light that somehow seemed to give him courage, and then in a bare murmur, asked, "Would it be too much trouble for me to stay with you...?"

Underneath his fingertips, he could feel heat steal up her cheek before she shook her head emphatically.

Letting out a breath he hadn't known he was holding, he felt his smile widen when he once again saw that light in her eyes only to realise that it was no longer torn or hurt or annoyed. Unable to help himself, he laughed softly and gently drew her face down to his, murmuring a quiet "Sorry for the inconvenience" against her lips. He felt her huff her own breath of delighted laughter into the kiss before he was simply lost to the feelings.

When she finally pulled away, she stared into his eyes for a long moment. Appearing to find what she was looking for, she gifted him with another faint smile. Then with a final, chaste peck to his lips, she settled herself against him.

Stifling a yawn that had crept up on her without her knowledge, she struggled momentarily before reluctantly letting her eyes drift shut. "Stay," she demanded, tightening the arm she had once again wrapped securely around his waist.

He mumbled a quiet acknowledgment as his hand rubbed gentle, soothing circles on her back.

Just as she was about to give in to her body's tired summons, a thought occurred to her. Opening eyes that were mildly irritated, she didn't bother to look up at him but simply poked a warning finger at his vulnerable side. "And no thinking while I'm asleep!"

She felt, more than heard, his chuckle rumble through the chest on which her head was pillowed. Then his fingers were laced with those of her offending hand, effectively stilling their attempt to poke at him again. Unfortunately for him, it wasn't fast enough to prevent her from registering his body's instinctive recoil.

It appeared that Athrun Zala, Coordinator and ace mobile suit pilot though he was, was ticklish. She felt a mischievous smile creep its way across her features and was glad he couldn't see it as she filed the information away for later exploitation.

For now though, she was happy just to relax into the comfortable silence; the steady rhythm of his heartbeat lulling her into Morpheus's good graces once more.

Athrun's coaxing murmur floated to her as he pressed a tender kiss to her forehead.

"Sleep Cagalli. I'll be here."

She smiled contentedly, squeezed the hand still linked with hers and mumbled back at him, "Sleep Athrun. I'll be here too."


Author's Final Thoughts: Well... /sweatdrops/ That was probably sweet enough to give people cavities... Excuse me while I run for my toothbrush. /LOL/

This fic was basically intended as a bridge between what happened at the end of the series and how things turned out in the 5min "Between the Stars" OVA. Ultimately, I think what attracts me to AsuCaga, more than any other pairing in Seed, is the dynamics and the process of give-and-take I see in their relationship. They each have something to contribute to the partnership, making them equals to be met on even ground and paving the way for a strong, stable relationship. Hopefully I was able to get that across in this fic without departing too much from their canon characterisations. Your thoughts?