Chapter Fourteen:

To Hurt, To Hope, To Love

It is a curious sensation: the sort of pain that goes mercifully beyond our powers of feeling. When your heart is broken, your boats are burned: nothing matters any more. It is the end of happiness and the beginning of peace.

- George Bernard Shaw

One of these days she was going to look back at today, throw her head back, and laugh like crazy for being so blind at heart, especially when everyone was practically screaming out the answers to her predicament from the very beginning.

The moment she got out of the taxi she took from the cemetery, she hurried into her apartment, nearly knocking over the potted plants by the door and almost tripping over the rug that was strategically situated to hide the dark spot on the carpet where Sai had spilled coffee about a year ago. When naturally, the thought of Sai would bring her to near insanity because of guilt, she merely glanced at the stained spot, rearranged the rug to cover it up, then deposited her things uncaringly on the sofa. She was not going to waste any more of her time moping and feeling lost. She had done that quite enough already. And she was done with it.

She had decided. She was going to call Dearka to tell him that he meant the world to her and that she would die if they weren't together. And after that, she was going to tell Sai that although he was special to her, it would be plainly unfair if she married him out of nothing.

She knew it. She was on a role! Today was a good day and she was feeling quite optimistic that finally, finally her suffering was over. She was going to be happy.

She was going to be happy!

Barging into the bathroom, she planted both her hands on the sink and stared at herself in the mirror. Blotchy from crying, nose red and eyes puffy, she could not believe that she was planning to pour her heart out to Dearka today looking like a zombie. The thought made her smile crookedly. It didn't matter. She didn't give a damn! Nothing was going to stop her from finally starting the rest of her life.

Turning on the cold water, she splashed her face several times then looked once again into the mirror. "This is it, Milly," she whispered to her reflection. "Forever starts today…"

She turned the water off, wiped her mouth with her hand, and hurried out the bathroom. The first thing she had to do was contact Dearka. If he was still in Orb, that is. The thought of the possibility of him being gone made her heart catch in her throat, and she nearly dived for her phone, dialed the Attha Mansion, and aged ten years waiting for someone to pick up.

"Hello?" It was Cagalli.

"Dearka!" she shrieked.

There was a pause on the other end of the line. "Milly?" Cagalli asked, as if someone screaming at her on the phone like a banshee was normal. "Is that you?"

She had to get a grip. Her mouth was starting to spout random words faster than her brain was thinking of coherent things to say. "Cagalli. I'm sorry. Yes, it's me. I need to talk to Dearka."

There was another pause on the line. "Dearka's not here, Mir."

Miriallia nearly fainted. Was she too late? Had Dearka decided to leave Orb without waiting for her decision? And could she blame him? Who would want to wait for an indecisive woman like her? "That can't be! I need to talk to him!" she demanded crazily. She could not even control herself, and she felt her hands shaking as clutched the receiver to her cheek. Dearka can't possibly be gone. He had to still be on earth!

"Calm down, Milly! He just left with Kira for a drive."

Miriallia made herself breathe in deep, trying to calm down. He had not left Orb. He was still in the island! It took all her power before she could control her breathing. "When will he be coming back? I need to talk to him!"

"I'm not sure what time he'll be back, but if your message is urgent, Lacus is visiting right now and I can ask her to call Kira on his mobile and ask him to tell Dearka to call you. Would that be fine?"

Miriallia shook her head, and it took a while before she realized that Cagalli couldn't see her gesture. "No. It's too important to tell over the phone. I need to see him! Today! I need to see him as soon as possible!"

There was yet another pause on the other end of the line. "Is everything all right, Milly?"

"Everything's fine, Cagalli. Nothing could be better than this! I'm in love!"

There was a loud squawk of protest from Cagalli, but Miriallia interrupted her. "Tell Dearka that I need him to come over as soon as he can! Tell him I need to say something very important to him!" And she slammed down the phone, hardly able to control her fast-beating heart and she hurried to her bedroom and dived onto the bed. She rolled around it for a few moments before attacking her closet. She needed to look for something decent to wear. She was about to spill her everything to Dearka and she still looked close to the bride of Frankenstein. After practically excavating every single article of clothing she had onto her bed, the doorbell rang, and she nearly jumped out of her skin.

Could it be Dearka? Had he received her message and rushed to meet with her the moment he did? She looked down at her attire. The mud and dirt from the cemetery earlier still stained the hem of her skirt, her shirt was still rumpled from clinging too tightly to Athrun as she cried and only the heavens knew what kind of natural calamity had become of her hair, but she didn't care.

Abandoning the mountain of clothes on her bed, she hurried to the door, slipping once again on the rug that covered the coffee stains on the flooring, and succeeded in bowling over two of the potted plants by the door.

She reached for the doorknob with a shaky hand, took a deep breath, and flung the door open with a flourish, prepared to launch herself at Dearka's waiting arms…

… only to find Sai Argyle standing on her doorstep, a serious expression on his face, and on either side of him stood none other than his father, looking utterly confused, and his mother, who looked like she was about to burst into tears…

Miriallia wanted to faint.

That's not fair, Sai… That's not fair…

This was not what he had expected from Lacus' invitation. Well, he did not really know what to expect from it, as he had but a handful of direct contact with the songstress, as with the former Freedom Pilot, who he had discovered sitting in Cagalli's living room, sipping something from a cup that smelled strongly of jasmine and chamomile. After Dearka had finished the chicken Lacus had brought him, he and the songstress descended from his room into the living room. Two weeks of not getting out into the open had made his muscles feel like lead as he made his way into the bright mansion to meet Kira, who much to his surprise, was wearing blue sweats and a red baseball cap on his mop of a head.

"I thought we were going for a drive somewhere…" Dearka said doubtfully.

Kira, lavender eyes blinking up at him calmly, waved. "Dearka, how are you?" He put down the cup of tea on the center table, tipped his cap back and gave what could have been an 'almost smile'.

Dearka frowned at him, scratching the back of his head. "Uh… hi?"

Lacus stepped from behind him and settled on the sofa next to Kira, placing a gentle hand on the former Freedom Pilot's knee. "I apologize. He insisted on eating this chicken before coming down."

Kira looked down at the pink-haired princess, whispered something in her ear and Lacus shook her head. "No, no. He's just being a little boy throwing a tantrum. But he ate everything."

At the comment, Dearka felt his whole face heat up, and he looked away. Maybe it was because it was Kira that he couldn't tell them to stop talking about him while he was there in the room. He cleared his throat. "The drive?"

Kira looked up at him, as if remembering he was there. Those deep lavender eyes held nothing Dearka could read. "Ah, yes. Are you ready?"

Dearka was taken aback. He looked down at his clothes. A rumpled pair of slacks. A rumpled shirt. Slippers. He swore he 'kind of' smelled. He needed a shower. He rubbed his chin and discovered he needed to shave as well. Did Kira mean they were leaving now?

"Ah… Uh…"

Kira nodded, touched Lacus' shoulder briefly before standing up. "Let's go, then."

And Dearka did not even know how he found himself sitting on the passenger seat of Kira's car, feeling sick to his stomach that had nothing to do with the chicken he had consumed earlier.

"How have you been?" Kira asked suddenly, keeping his eyes on the road from under that baseball cap of his.

Dearka shifted in his seat uncomfortably. Ever since Kira had come out of counseling, he had heard of the progress the man had achieved, struggling with psychiatric therapy after the war. He looked more than normal now, but would majority of the time lapse into pregnant silences that Dearka was more than willing to deal with. It was when Kira started talking that made everything difficult. He seldom asked questions that Dearka felt obliged to answer, and when it was Dearka who asked questions, Kira would answer them with an indifferent "hmm," or a bland "Ah."

It was one of the worst thirty minutes of his life, until he realized Kira had pulled over at a deserted park located in the base of the mountain trail leading to the hot springs. Kira killed the engine and stepped out of the car, stretching his long legs one at a time before leaning back in and saying, "Let's go."

Dearka rearranged his face; he didn't realize he was frowning until he saw himself in the side mirror. Unbuckling his seatbelt, he staggered out of the car, thankful that at least Kira didn't decide to bring him where they would be bumping into other people.

Other people that would see his rumpled self.

Well, maybe that wouldn't be as bad as being alone with Kira in a deserted park. Damn, he was starting to feel very, very self-conscious. And wearing wrinkled clothes as if he didn't know what a flat iron was wasn't helping.

He was too distracted with his over-all appearance that he did not see the freight train that suddenly came out of nowhere and hit him smack on the jaw.

He staggered back with a strangled gasp, wiped at his mouth when he tasted a bit of blood. Trying to keep his balance, he looked up just in time to see Kira pulling back his arm and examining his fist with a childish curiosity that reminded him of the former Freedom pilot ten years back, when they had first met. Blinking out of his reverie, Kira plucked his baseball cap from his head, revealing his overgrown mop of hair sticking up in some places.

"What did you just do?" Dearka asked the man, although it was obvious Kira had just attacked him completely unprovoked.

Kira was now taking his time rolling up his sleeves. "Yzak's idea," he said simply.

Dearka's jaw dropped open when he regained footing. What was Yzak up to now? Hadn't he gone home back to the PLANTs? "It was Yzak's idea for you to hit me?" he asked incredulously.

Kira finished rolling up his sleeves and was now trying to pat down his hair. "I agreed with him, actually." When he realized he was fighting a losing battle with his hair, he picked his baseball cap again and jammed it back on his head. "Yzak said that you've always thought better with your head when you move your body. Come to think of it, when we fought side by side in the war ten years ago, you were one of those level-headed ones, always up on your toes. For someone who's so quick-witted and clever, I'd wondered why you couldn't even settle things with Miriallia. It's just taking too long. And everyone is starting to get very impatient."

Dearka nearly blanched. When Lacus had said Kira was there to take him out for a drive, Kira suddenly taking him out to a park to mug him while lecturing him about his love life was the last thing he'd expected. Actually, it was kind of annoying. It was not as if he and Kira were the best of friends enough for the man to point out the crucial mistakes in his romantic decisions. As far as he was concerned, Kira shouldn't be sticking his nose into his business, even when Dearka knew he meant well.

"Kira, you know I had always respected you, and you know how old war heroes are when they fight together with a common goal and all that, that they would forever be friends? Well, that's how I will always see you, but I swear, if you punch me again, I'll – "

Kira punched him again, this time smack in the gut. He tried to land another on his face, but Dearka blocked it with a forearm and retaliated with a kick, which Kira in turn dodged swiftly, backing away. It was weird that Dearka was fighting with a man whose emotionless face was so unnerving it was as if they were simply having a heated battle of rock-papers-scissors. "What are you planning to do now?"

Dearka rubbed the spot where Kira had punched him, wondering what Kira had against him that was making the man give his attacks some extra "oomph" in them. "I can't do anything about this. It's Miriallia's choice."

"Indeed," Kira murmured as he adjusted his stance and let his arms dangle at his sides freely. "And is that supposed to be a good enough excuse?"

Dearka watched in horror as Kira cracked his knuckles, a satisfied look in his otherwise stoic face.

"Well, we might as well get this over with. Give me your best shot," Kira said and he changed into a defensive stance, his arms raised in front of his face as if anticipating Dearka to fly at him and pummel him to death.

Dearka decided then that Kira still in need of more psychological help if he expected an assault from him. He raised his hands, as if in surrender. "If you want to talk, Kira, we can talk without having to hurt each other."

Kira shook his head, inching forward. Dearka leaped back haphazardly. "Athrun's tried to talk to you. Cagalli's tried to talk to you. Yzak and Lacus have tried the same thing, but they got nowhere. It's time to beat the answer out of you, it that's what it takes to get your brain to function properly."

And that was when Dearka really started to panic. The grim look that crept into the former Freedom Pilot's face reminded him of Kira two minutes before riding a mobile suit. No, it was even worse. It reminded him of Yzak two minutes after waking up in the morning.

It was one of those very rare moments that reminded him that before Dearka, before Cagalli and Athrun, Kira had been the longest of Miriallia's friends. Within the mad light in Kira's eyes, he could almost – almost – see the concern he had for his friend. And Dearka couldn't blame him. It was, if anything, his entire fault for taking so long to grow a spine and come look for her. If only he had realized sooner that life wasn't worth living without her, she wouldn't have to be this emotionally torn in choosing between him and Sai. Perhaps if he had come at least three years earlier…? Or maybe if he'd at least phoned her once a week in the past decade…? No, that would have been awkward. He doubted they'd have had anything to talk about.

Kira moved so fast that the next thing Dearka saw was the brown-haired man's lavender eyes on his own lavender ones. "How long have you allowed this to drag on, Elthman?" he asked silently as he leaped back and delivered a perfect roundhouse aimed at Dearka's head.

Dearka blocked him with the back of his fist. "A decade, Yamato. A decade and a freaking day. Will you please stop attacking me?"

"Not until you come up with something that's going to settle everything right, the way it should be," Kira countered, sending a barrage of short, quick jabs, making Dearka hide behind his arms again.

While he could just give Kira what he wanted – which was a good brawl – Dearka didn't have to heart in him to fight back. Not that he was underestimating Kira (the man was already causing his arms to bruise badly), but because he knew deep down there was nothing he could do about it. He didn't want to crowd Miriallia, especially when Sai was away. Call it strange, call it stupid, but it was just his bent sense of fair play that had kept him from flying to Miriallia's place to grovel at her feet.

Yeah, right.

Who was he kidding? The one thing that was keeping him away was the fear of the possibility of Miriallia not choosing him. He was such a pussy. Did he really deserve her?

Dearka caught Kira's right wrist in one hand and his left fist in another. "I don't know how to settle everything right, and even if you beat me up into a bloody pulp, you won't get anything. Let's stop this now and talk like civilized human bei – "

Kira cut him off when he snapped his right knee up and ground it into Dearka's stomach, making the former Buster Pilot double over and nearly gag as he got the wind knocked out of his system. His grip on Kira's wrist and hand loosened, and he dropped to the ground on his knees, coughing. One thing that hasn't changed with Kira all these years; he was still a pretty damn strong son of a bitch.

"Why haven't you called her?" Kira asked as he rolled his shoulders back as if to stretch more of those unused muscles on his back. He started to circle Dearka warily, waiting for him to get up.

"Because calling her would make things even more complicated than they already are."

"Are you sure that's the reason why you're avoiding her?"

"What other reason could there be?"

Kira wiped his nose distractedly, then tipped his baseball cap forward, hiding his eyes. "Think of something else. The martyr excuse doesn't work for you."

Dearka's pride flared as he got hold of himself, and slowly got to his feet. "There aren't any other reasons. Now let's stop this insanity, all right?"

It was apparently not all right. Kira let go of a right hook, catching Dearka's left cheek, sending him tumbling, sprawling on the hood of the car on his back. He could hardly feel the stinging sensation on his face brought about by Kira's fist.

"Stop making it sound like its Mir's fault!" Kira ordered, emotion finally entering his voice.

Dearka could hear him approach and he hurriedly clambered to a sitting position, preparing for another onslaught. "I never said it was her fault!" Dearka roared at Kira as the brown-haired man hovered over him, his mouth turned down in an uncharacteristic frown. "Everything's my fault! Mine! Are you happy now? Everything's my fault! And I can't bring myself to go to her because I'm an asshole, and I'm scared that she'll find out I am an asshole and pick that damn Sai over me! And god only knows what'll happen if she does that. I'll die. I'll die, goddammit!" He found himself running his hands through his hair, frustrated, angry and terribly, terribly lost. "Someone pay for my freaking funeral…"

He hadn't expected that would stop Kira from harassing him again, but somehow it did. When Dearka pulled his arms down on his lap before falling on his back onto the car's windshield, he saw Kira looking down at him, his emotionless mask once again pulled down over his eyes like a film. He was watching him, observing him. Dearka suddenly felt completely naked. He threw his arm over his eyes, afraid that tears were going to start falling. The last thing he wanted to cry in front of Kira.

"Go to her. Believe me. If Miriallia had meant to choose Sai from the very beginning, she wouldn't have waited this long to do so. Dated for five years, engaged for three. She would have chosen a long time ago if she really wanted to be with him."

"She should just get everything fucking over with," Dearka huffed, willing the tears to go away.

"Stop swearing," Kira said sadly.

"Go to hell."

It took a while before Kira sighed and Dearka could hear the man fiddling with something.

"Hello?" Dearka heard Kira suddenly say. He must be talking to someone on his mobile.

Dearka clenched his hands into fists as he drowned the sound of Kira's voice to a minimum. He wondered if this was how it felt to have your life flash through your eyes before dying, because at that moment, he felt all the memories of war, of Miriallia trying to kill him the very first time they've met, of fighting by Miriallia's side, of eating with her in the cafeteria of the Archangel once or twice, of seeing her cry after their ten year reunion, of taking her into his arms and kissing her for the first time, of making sweet, passionate love to her on her bed, and falling asleep beside her that same night, of making breakfast in her kitchen the morning after that… All the memories paraded through his mind's eye, and his heart started to clench painfully because of them.

He pried his arm away from his face when he felt someone touch his shoulder gently. Kira was looking down at him, and he was… smiling?

"I know you look like crap right now, Dearka, and.. yeah, you have blood running down your nose… but we have to go. That was Lacus on the phone. Apparently, Miriallia called the manor, and she was looking for you. Cagalli said she sounded she was running away from a stampede of elephants."

Dearka had to blink several times and unconsciously wiped the blood on his nose Kira had referred to before the message sank in. "Miriallia called?" Now what was that again about an elephant stampede? "Was she all right? Wha.. what did she want?"

Kira grabbed him by the collar, pulled him off the hood of the car and unceremoniously shoved him into the passenger seat. "She wants you. Let's go."

And he found himself falling. It was either from the pain of Kira's punches, or the euphoria that Miriallia had actually called for him! She wanted him!

She wanted him!

He had to cover his eyes with a hand, pinching his nose bridge to stop the stinging sensation tickling the back of his throat. It was almost too good to be true. Almost too good to be real.

Wouldn't it be funny if Sai suddenly popped up to ruin the moment? Again? Like he always seemed to do?

Dearka's eyes popped open, and a single tear trickled down his cheek.

That would be hilarious…

A/N: I'm alive!