Phew, this chapter took me four months to write. Thank you for all the support and reviews you people sent. It really helped me write this chapter amidst more than a year break from the AxC pairing. I hope this chapter was quite descent enough.

Disclaimer: I do not own Gundam Seed/Destiny.

Recap: With the plan of infiltrating ZAFT, Cagalli Yula Attha goes to PLANTs to be the secretary of the mean Athrun Zala. She never imagined that she will actually fall for the handsome chairman. Just when everything seems to be sailing smoothly, Lord Attha is killed, Athrun then hates Cagalli after discovering her true motive and Cagalli herself returns to Orb to take her rightful position. Now, Athrun has been invited to attend the coronation of the princess of Orb, and found himself face to face with the princess-- Cagalli Yula Attha. But it is only two days before she marries Yuna Roma Seiran. Will he manage to save her?

sOs

Chapter 24

Chairman Zala of PLANTs

sOs

The smaller dinning room at the Attha estate was larger than its counterpart in an average household. Though not as lavishly decorated as the main dinning hall, it still boasted polished wooden walls and mahogany floors. Its large paneled windows that allowed the entry of the fresh morning breeze were bordered by soft cream curtains tied to the sides by yellow ribbons.

Strategically placed at the center of the room was a handsome rectangular table that had been in the household for decades. Currently, the table was occupied by three people. Lacus sat at the left end, drinking her morning tea and sitting beside her was Kira. Both coordinators were conversing pleasantly with the brown-haired woman across the table.

"How was your trip, Miss Ramius?" asked Kira while surveying his former captain, having just arrived from PLANTs earlier that morning, her dark blue suitcase with silver trimmings still beside her feet.

"It was wonderful," Murrue Ramius answered, a smile on her face. "After all, Kisaka made sure I got first-class treatment." Her smile had then turned apologetic. "Though I'm really sorry I wasn't able to arrive a day earlier. I should have been in the coronation yesterday."

"Good thing you weren't there though." the door leading to the adjacent kitchen opened and Afhmed entered carrying a tray with a cup of coffee and a plate of biscuits. Settling the said items on the table, he continued, "or else you would have seen how your fianc shamelessly flirted with the ladies at the coronation ball."

Murrue sipped her coffee and pursed her lips, her eyes narrowing in annoyance, "that pig-- flirting while I was unmercifully battered with work."

Lacus, Kira and Afhmed shared the same apprehensive expression-- the three having knowledge of what the older woman's work was about, but none having the courage to ask the progress she had made.

And so, instead of asking, Afhmed merely shrugged. "I was just joking. Actually, Major La Fllaga amidst being the party's host also busily scrutinized the security that I was almost certain he was possessed."

"He, together with Colonel Kisaka, really made sure that Cagalli was safe throughout the event," Lacus added, recalling the way the two breezed everywhere, checking all possible vulnerability in the security.

Murrue allowed herself to smile. "He really is attached to the princess, you see. He may not admit it but he really is very fond of her." She chuckled. "If I hadn't known better, I would have thought he was her protective older brother." To this, Kira laughed.

"And that was supposed to be your role, Kira!" Murrue good-naturedly reprimanded.

"It's not," Kira countered as he grinned. "Unless Cagalli agrees that I'm the older one." The laughter of the four echoed through out the room.

After the laughter died down and a foreboding silence ensued, Murrue took another sip of her coffee. Contemplating for a while, she guessed that the other three in the room anxiously wanted to ask her questions but do not have the courage to do so. Consequently, she took it upon herself to open the topic.

"The investigation isn't doing so well," she started quietly. Being one of the heads of the investigation team, she was entitled to give that conclusion. "The thing is, we almost have no leads or whatsoever." She paused, fully aware of the shocked expressions of the three. "Whoever killed Lord Attha made a very clean job. He or she or they--"

"They!" Afhmed snapped, his face contorting in anger. "They! ZAFT! Why won't you use their name?!"

"Afhmed, please calm down," Lacus tried to soothe the tan boy.

"We have no solid proof that it was ZAFT," Kira said firmly, greatly contrasting his pained expression. ZAFT's commander-in-chief Athrun Zala, no matter how vile or unfeeling he was portrayed, would never allow such assassination. Athrun, his best friend Athrun Zala, would never do that.

"What other proof do you want?!" Afhmed could not understand why almost everyone was skeptical in ZAFT's involvement. "The princess saw it in their files, didn't she? They were going to assassinate someone! And the next thing we knew, Lord Attha is dead!"

"It might have been coincidence--"

"Coincidence?" The tan lad echoed disbelievingly. His expression turned into that of disgust. "Oh I see, you try to protect your almighty ZAFT because you are coordinators!"

"Afhmed, that's enough!" Murrue ordered as she slammed her palm on the table, causing the plate and cups to quiver. The said lad fell silent at the rare display of authority from the former captain.

Murrue took a deep breath before continuing. "Everyone's a suspect, Afhmed. You know, we cannot openly accuse anyone unless we have definitive proof. The only thing we are certain from what Cagalli saw is that ZAFT planned to assassinate someone. Whether that someone was Lord Attha, we need more proof." she closed her eyes and exhaled. "Please understand."

His shoulders shook as he leaned on the table for support. He stared at the dark wood of the table as he tried to blink back the tears reflecting his fear. "I know..," he whispered hoarsely. "But what if ZAFT's really behind it? What if.." he swallowed "Cagalli's next?" His hold on the table tightened as he articulated his worst fear. "chairman Zala and his cronies are here in the same mansion as the princess. It would be easy for them--"

"Stop that line of thought," Kira demanded, his eyes turning into a darker shade of blue. "Athrun would never do that."

"That's it," Afhmed regarded Kira with loathing. "Why do you always defend Zala? You don't care about Cagalli at all!" He accused bitterly.

Kira kept calm and did not match Afhmed's anger. When he spoke, it was filled with controlled desperation. "Of course I care about Cagalli... she's my only twin sister." Beside him, Lacus took his hand and squeezed it in support.

Before Afhmed could answer, Murrue cut him. "Afhmed, would you be kind to find Colonel Kisaka? I have some important reports for him." Her stern gaze was enough to prompt Afhmed to nod reluctantly. With a last glare at Kira, he stomped out of the room.

Murrue sighed heavily. "And I thought I was the only one on the edge these days."

"Everyone is," Lacus added sadly.

Drinking the last of her coffee, Murrue gazed around the room. "By the way Kira, have you seen Mwu?"

He shook his head and glanced at Lacus who also shook her head. "Should I go find him?"

"Yes, please-- oh no need, here he is." True enough, Mwu La Fllaga was seen waving from the large open window. He entered the room through the door that led to the gardens.

"Mwu, good thing you're here. I have some things to discuss--" Murrue fell silent upon noticing the strange apprehensive grin on his face.

The said man raised his hands similar to that of a man arrested. "Sorry, I was cornered."

From behind him, Athrun Zala stepped in.

sOs

Murrue glanced worriedly at Lacus at Kira who, unexpectedly, were not surprised at the sight of the Chairman of PLANTs. She glanced back at her fianc who merely nodded in understanding.

"Good morning," Athrun greeted curtly, his emerald orbs focused on Kira's brown ones.

"Good morning," Kira replied as he closed his eyes and sighed. "I suppose you have some.. questions."

Athrun nodded. Murrue stood up from her chair directly across from Kira. "Take this seat, Chairman." She gestured at the chair then at Kira. "So the two of you could talk better."

He thanked her politely and settled himself on the said chair while Murrue stood beside her fianc. "So," he began in an almost conversationalist tone, "I heard that you're Cagalli's only living relative, Kira."

It was then that Kira's eyes widened with surprise. He instantly turned to the equally surprised Major La Fllaga who shook his head and immediately defended himself, "I haven't said anything!"

"Athrun, who told you that?" Lacus asked as she glanced worriedly at Kira. They had been expecting Athrun to ask questions but definitely this was not the first question, or statement, they were expecting from him.

Upon seeing Kira's, Lacus's, and La Fllaga's reactions, a horrible emotion welled up from inside Athrun-- anger. There was that obviously glaring conclusion that he wasn't able to contain himself from spitting out.

"So, I'm the only one who didn't know?"

"Athrun.." Lacus tried to console the blue-haired coordinator. "We were going to tell you--"

"And yet you did not bother telling me earlier." He tried to keep his voice leveled as he averted his hardened eyes.

"It was Cagalli's wish," Kira replied quietly.

Athrun's eyes immediately focused on him. "Cagalli's?"

Kira nodded but before he could continue, Mwu La Fllaga cut him pointedly. "Now, now, Kira, I don't think it's a good idea that you tell the chairman of PLANTs details on that since it greatly concerns Orb."

The brown-haired coordinator merely shook his head and looked directly at the man opposite him. "Athrun, before anything else, I want to know who told you about Cagalli and me."

Athrun weighed his options. He knew that Kira was not going to tell him anything if he did not answer. And so he did. "Commander Rau Le Creuset."

Kira's eyebrows furrowed as he nodded at La Fllaga who muttered, "that guy is really suspicious," before excusing himself and his fiance. It was only after the door had closed that Kira resumed talking.

"You have the right to know what's happening, Athrun, at least even just parts of it." He paused and he briefly glanced at Lacus as if silently asking her if he was doing the right thing. She smiled softly and nodded.

"I believe in you, Athrun. I know you are innocent." He hesitated before continuing, "and I know you are the only one with enough power to save my twin sister--"

"Twin.. sister?!" Kira was taken aback by Athrun's sudden extremely shocked expression. "You.. and Cagalli... are twins..?"

Kira and Lacus looked at each other. "Athrun," Lacus asked cautiously, "exactly, how much do you know?"

"I... I didn't know about the two of you being twins," he replied slowly, still evidently shocked by the information, as he fixed his eyes on Kira's.

Kira blinked twice and exhaled deeply. It was going to be a long morning.

sOs

Both Representative Attha and Chairman Zala were absent during Lunch. This left Dearka, Yzak and Le Creuset to dine almost awkwardly with themselves. Kisaka had explained that Representative Attha would be unable to join them because she was busy finishing the pending duties of her late father and preparing for her upcoming wedding with Yuna Roma Seiran.

The Major, however, was unable to explain Chairman Zala's absence. He, nonetheless, assumed that the chairman was most probably with Lacus Clyne and/or Kira Yamato.

It was only at dinner that Athrun showed up. But if Yzak and Dearka thought that the chairman's presence would make dinner less awkward, they had been very wrong.

It was more awkward.

Even with Lacus's polite conversation, Yzak and Dearka could not help but feel the intimidating, foreboding air that hung above the chairman and the Representative of Orb.

sOs

"Kira?" Cagalli whispered as she slowly made her way to the dimly lit garden. Squinting slightly, she tried to make out the figure of her twin brother who had asked her to meet him in the gardens an hour after dinner.

"Good evening."

Cagalli froze as she heard a voice, definitely not of her brother's, but one she was also very familiar with. Turning to face the owner of the voice, she braced herself.

"Chairman Zala," she acknowledged his presence with a leveled gaze. "Why are you out here this late?"

Stepping out from the shadows, Athrun moved closer to the blonde lady. "To meet you, Cagalli," he answered calmly as he waited for her to piece everything together.

Her eyes widened. Kira! Her brother had lied to her. Her twin brother! A sudden wave of anger filled her mind at the thought. But somewhere, somewhere very deep in her mind, she couldn't help but feel grateful.

Grateful? Was she actually grateful that her brother had set this meeting for them?

Of course, the little voice in her mind answered. You wanted to see him again, so badly.

She wondered if his penetrating emerald gaze could see past her angry facade, and that if he could somehow see that very deep part of her mind she tried very hard to hide.

"This is pointless." Breaking the eye contact, she tried to walk past him but only to be stopped by his strong hold on her upper arm.

"Cagalli, we need to talk."

Glaring, she tried to pull away. "There's nothing to talk about, chairman." She pulled again on her arm. "None that would warrant a meeting in a dimly lit garden."

"Cagalli-- Cagalli!" He had said her name with more force than necessary that she had found herself frozen in mid-struggle. Taking advantage of the situation, he had pushed Cagalli against the wall.

They were too close. His face was mere inches from hers, his hands were still grasping her arms. She was trapped-- trapped between the cold wall and his towering frame.

"L-Let go of m-me!" She mentally cursed herself with her stuttering. No, not now. She must never let him see her fear. She must never show him that she was intimidated. Because she was not.

"Cagalli," he whispered as his emerald orbs searched her golden ones. "Please, let's talk. Kira told me everything. Please."

It was the same pleading voice from the night before that Cagalli had been unable to refuse. And it was the same this night. She could not refuse.

"Cagalli," he exhaled slowly. "Please, please believe me... I didn't kill your father."

Her golden orbs widened but before she could say anything, he pressed his finger against her lips.

"Shhh, please... please listen to me Cagalli... Please believe me, I did not order anyone to kill your father. Please, please.. believe me..."

She stared up to him unblinkingly. Her gaze traced the outline of his face; his eyebrows contorted in a grave expression, his lips slightly parted as he drew in tense breaths, his emerald eyes that pleaded for something out of her. This was the face of Chairman of PLANTs. This was the face of Athrun Zala who once had been her friend, and had almost become someone so much more...

But was this also the face of her father's murderer?

"How.. how do you expect me to believe you?" Her voice, broken with emotions, came out barely above a whisper.

"Please Cagalli," he matched her whisper with his own. "Believe me... I have already tasked Yzak, Dearka and Nicol to investigate. We're all working to bring justice to your father's death. Please, Cagalli... just..," his voice turned desperate, "..just postpone first your wedding with Yuna Roma Seiran and let's work on this together."

Lowering her head, she tried desperately to blink back the tears that had threatened to fall. Did he know he was making things worse? "I won't," she replied quietly.

"But Cagalli--"

"The Seirans is a noble family that has been a very important figure in governing Orb," she continued in an emotionless tone.

"But.. but to marry him!?" his voice rose in disbelief. His hold on her tightened as his eyes blazed with emotions. "If.. If it's about gaining power.. for Orb.." he whispered, "By all means Cagalli... why not choose me?"

The sounds of the crickets seemed to echo louder than usual-- a decrescendo followed by a crescendo play of sounds that seemed to make her believe that the crickets-- those little creatures of the night-- were also waiting for her response...

Just like this man, now cupping her cheeks so softly that it was driving her insane thinking how he could manage such gentleness even after everything she'd done.

His thumb caressed her skin as his eyes bore deeper into hers. "I am the chairman of PLANTs. I can offer you much more power. I will give you everything you wish-- money, resources, even advance military weapons. So please Cagalli..," his voice almost broke down with desperation. "Why.. why not marry me instead?"

He had freed her left arm when he cupped her cheek. With that, she was able to push him away and secure a meter's distance from him.

"Cagalli, wait!" Even when he managed to grab her hand, she refused to look back.

"That's an absurd thing you're asking, Chairman Zala," she replied with indifference.

"Please Cagalli, you don't have to do this.. You don't love him.."

"And you think I love you, chairman?"

Athrun froze as her words sunk. It was then that Cagalli faced him, a taunting smirk on her lips. "Don't get too full of yourself, Chairman Zala."

He was staring at her with wide emerald orbs as his grip slackened. Cagalli turned her back on him and headed to the mansion as nonchalantly as she could, leaving a stunned Athrun Zala in the dimly lit garden.

sOs

A common living room connected the four bedrooms on the third floor of the East wing of the mansion. It was here that, currently, Yzak and Dearka stayed, before retiring for the night. Commander Le Creuset had retired early to bed that evening.

The door was slammed shut as Athrun walked inside, his strides were hurried and he wore an expression of defiance.

"What's up with you?" Yzak snapped angrily as he grumpily picked the chess pieces he dropped out of surprise. Looking up, Dearka also waited for his answer.

Collapsing on the nearest armchair, Athrun slumped forward and ran a hand in his hair. "She's.. she's being so difficult!" he muttered more to himself.

Yzak rolled his eyes, "Oh please, if it's about Representative Attha again, I swear--"

"Yzak," Athrun's voice was low and authoritative that Yzak fell silent. "Please contact Nicol." His emerald eyes were of a darker shade when he added, "establish a secure line."

Even if he did not understand what Athrun specifically wanted, Yzak grudgingly followed his order without a word.

"Dearka," Athrun turned to the blonde commander who sat straight in attention. I want you to investigate something for me."

Dearka nodded, knowing that if Athrun was this serious, then the task was extremely important.

sOs

It was exactly a day before her wedding but the Cagalli Yula Attha staring back at her from the mirror was far from a radiating bride. In fact, she was almost the complete opposite. Her hair, now longer and had less golden shine, was sticking out in wisps. Her complexion that was once a luminous shade of brown was now almost an unhealthy pale. Under her dull golden orbs were black bags that testified many sleepless nights.

Her eyes shifted to the reflection of the other occupant of the room with her. The person was staring at her with wide, stunned magenta orbs. Her mouth opened and closed as if attempting to say something but Cagalli spoke first.

"I look horrible, am I not, Lunamaria?"

Lunamaria Hawke, the same lady who had prepared her for the Natural-Coordinator's ball she had attended back in PLANTs, was speechless as she moved closer. She took a few more moments to survey the blonde representative before finally exclaiming, "for heaven's sake, Cagalli, it's really you!"

Cagalli had managed a small smile as she nodded. Lunamaria continued speaking even as she moved away from the blonde and opened her vanity kit. "I was really honored when I received a call saying that the princess of Orb wanted me to do her make-up for her wedding." She picked a brush from the kit and proceeded to untangle Cagalli's blonde hair.

"Princess Cagalli Yula Attha-- I thought it was just a coincidence that the name was almost the same as that of a lady I once met," she stopped and looked at Cagalli from the mirror. "And yet, they were the same person, after all.."

Cagalli sighed. "I didn't mean to lie to you."

Luna regarded her for a while before resuming her work on her hair. "I guess, you do have a very good reason for hiding your identity." Cagalli nodded.

There was silence for a while as Luna continued brushing her hair but it was broken when the lady sighed heavily. "Representative Attha, I don't think I can do this."

Surprised, Cagalli blinked, "what? I mean, why?"

Luna bit her lower lip, considering her next words, "I can't.. I can't make someone much more beautiful if that person doesn't want to..."

Frowning, Cagalli stared at her reflection. "I know I look awful but it doesn't mean---"

"No, not like that," Luna shook her head and paced at the side. "It's just.. I know you don't want to marry Yuna Roma Seiran. Don't deny it," Luna warned as Cagalli opened her mouth. "I could see it--very clearly."

Knowing she didn't have any chance denying it from this lady who had once read her personality, Cagalli merely sighed. "What does it have to do with that?"

"It's.. I can't make you so beautiful on a day you consider as your funeral."

To Luna's surprised, Cagalli laughed aloud that she was already clutching her stomach. "That's--ahaha!-- a very good way of putting it!"

Luna smiled. "Could you understand now?"

Cagalli coughed as she regained her composure. "I guess. But I do not need to be beautiful tomorrow," there was a small smirk on her lips. "You could even make me horrible-- maybe that way, Yuna will rethink marrying me!"

Luna faked a scandalized expression. "My! I can't do that! That will jeopardize my career." They both laughed.

"Really now, Luna," Cagalli said as she calmed. "I really wish you'd do my make-up tomorrow."

Unable to say no, Luna sighed. "I'll.. I'll try to do my best, but! Don't expect much."

"Thank you, Luna." Luna nodded and started brushing Cagalli's hair-- an action that brought back her thoughts on a certain blue-haired coordinator.

"Why.. why not marry me instead?"

Because you killed my father, Athrun...

"..I did not order anyone to kill your father. Please, please.. believe me..."

You killed my father, Athrun...

You killed him..

You killed...

You...

Closing her eyes tightly, she found herself unable to continue echoing the thought. A part of her refused to believe that he had indeed killed her father. Athrun Zala would never stoop that low; he was a proud man who would never use dirty tactics such as assassination to get political favor.

She wanted to believe that he was innocent--she truly wished he was.

"Why.. why not marry me instead?"

Maybe--just maybe if only he had asked earlier-- a month or even three weeks earlier-- she might have gladly said yes. She might have thrown herself in his warm embrace instead of Yuna's.

"Why.. why not marry me instead?"

If he was really serious on giving her PLANTs' support.. her father might have not died.

She might have done something to prevent it.

"Why.. why not marry me instead?"

But he had asked her a month too late-- two days before her wedding-- and her father was dead.

"..You don't love him.."

Even if she felt nothing but hatred for Yuna, even if she knew she was digging her own hell by chaining herself to him, she knew there was nothing she could do. It was her destiny to sacrifice everything for Orb-- just like what her father and all other past leaders did.

"And you think I love you, chairman?"

She managed a sad smile, stopping her thoughts from delving farther into her emotions. He didn't need to know-- she didn't even need to know her own emotions.

Because if she did, her hard-earned resolve might just crumble.

sOs

An unsettling feeling of nervousness flooded Kira as he sat at the dinning table for dinner that night. Glancing at the grandfather clock to his right, he couldn't help but hold his breath.

It was 7pm.

Exactly twelve hours from his sister's wedding.

He glanced at his sister who was slowly mixing her soup, seemingly uninterested in the scrumptious meal. He noted the dark circles under her eyes, just barely visible under her concealer. She's not been sleeping well..

The thought of not being able to do anything for Cagalli had made him disgusted with his self. He had promised her that he will find a way to save her--anything. But by the looks of it, he was unsuccessful.

He had thought that Athrun would be able to help; that was why he had told his best friend of the situation. If there was one person who could stop Cagalli, it would by Athrun. Athrun, after learning the truth had vowed to help-- he had promised Kira that he would save his sister, whether she liked it or not.

And so, Kira had set up a meeting for Athrun and Cagalli. He had certainly thought that it would enable the chairman to persuade Cagalli to consider other options. But it seemed that it had done nothing of that sort, if it were possible-- and he dreaded to think-- it could have worsen the situation.

Athrun had refused to elaborate what happened the night before, merely saying that Cagalli had refused him. Cagalli, on the other hand, had refused to talk to him.

"Where do you want to go for our honeymoon, my Cagalli?" Kira glared at Yuna who was the only one talking in the table. How much he wanted to punch him...

Cagalli looked up warily. "I don't have time for that, Yuna. I have a lot of work to do."

"Oh but Cagalli!" Yuna placed his utensils down and frowned. "We need some time alone."

From beside Yuna, Meer giggled behind her napkin. "Don't forget you also need time to make little babies!"

"Right, Meer! That's a wonderful idea!" Yuna remarked gleefully as he visibly gave Athrun a small smirk, taunting the man before turning to his future wife. "How many babies do you want, Cagalli-dearest?"

Yzak had made a noise of displeasure, "please refrain from talking about that while in the dinning table."

"What's wrong with it Commander Joule," Meer asked sweetly as she batted her eyelashes at Athrun. "I'm sure Chairman Zala doesn't mind."

Kira stole a quick glance on his best friend who looked calm amidst the evident attempt to provoke him. "I don't," Athrun answered coolly as he continued eating. Barely noticeable, Cagalli's grip on her spoon tightened.

"Now, how about five babies, Cagalli-dearest?" Yuna resumed coaxing Cagalli. "And let's call our boy, Yuna Roma Seiran Junior--."

Dearka had choked on his food.

Lacus who had been sitting beside him, quickly handed him a glass of water which he gulped thankfully. Finally recovering, he exclaimed, "what kind of name was that!"

"Well, it's a very beautiful name suited to the future's most famous child," Yuna remarked haughtily.

"It's a stupid name," Yzak commented dryly.

"Stupid--??"

"Now, now, Yuna," Meer cooed and Kira didn't like seeing a malicious expression on a face that resembled unbearably like his sweet Lacus. "I don't think that name's really suited. Now.. how about the name.." she glanced slyly at Athrun, "Athrun."

"Athrun? Why would I name--"

"Athrun is a very unique name, don't you think?" Meer cut in without taking his eyes off the blue-haired coordinator. She leaned forward and rested her chin on her hands. "Athrun Zala--a genius, a war hero, the youngest chairman of PLANTs and the sole heir of the Zala line." She cocked her head to face Yuna, "don't you think naming your's and Representative Attha's child after him would be a great honor?"

Cagalli was slightly quivering with fury. She knew what Meer's intentions were: she was provoking Athrun.

"Don't you think it's cruel, Miss Campbell?" Le Creuset asked.

"Why cruel, Commander? Is there something wrong with naming your child after a war hero? Unless, of course," Meer's smile full of malice widened, "there's more to it than it seems?"

Finally understanding what her intentions were, Yuna flashed a sardonic smile of his own. "I see. I'm sure Cagalli would love it. You don't mind it Chairman Zala, do you?"

Athrun had remained composed through whole exchange. Finally, he gave Yuna a polite smile. "I don't mind, Yuna. Just make sure you get the spelling right. I really hated it when you forgot the 'h' in 'Athrun'. After all, you personally wrote the wedding invitation."

Dearka and Yzak had sniggered as Yuna flushed in embarrassment.

sOs

"Yuna! Let go of me!" Cagalli hissed as Yuna dragged her out of hall after dinner. "I'm warning you---"

"Shut up!" Yuna's eyes were blazing as he swiveled to face her.

Her anger flared up. "How dare you shout--"

"How dare that Zala!!" He cut her as his hold on her arm tightened. ".him!!" he spat bitterly, punctuating each word by shaking her shoulders.

Roughly, he let her go and paced back and forth. "That bastard! How dare he make fun of me!" Cagalli couldn't help but smile as she watched him shake in anger. "How dare he embarrass me!!"

"It was your fault for being stupid," Cagalli commented bluntly. Yuna's eyes flashed and he grasped her shoulders violently.

"It was Zala's fault! Who the hell does he think he is to act almighty?"

"He's the chairman of PLANTs."

Yuna raised his hand and Cagalli glared unblinkingly up to him. "Are you going to slap me now, Yuna?"

Narrowing his eyes, he drew in a sharp intake of breath. Slowly, he lowered his hand and smirked. "Or course not, dearest."

Cagalli tried to fight the dread that threatened to overpower her as she watch his eyes shone with malevolence. "Athrun Zala might have won this time, but.." he ran his hand in her hair. "I won you, Cagalli.."

"You haven't won me, Yuna," she hissed angrily.

"But you're marrying me, Cagalli," his voice dripped with fake sweetness as he held her firmly in place amidst her struggling. "You're not marrying Zala. You're marrying me, Yuna Roma Seiran."

Her golden orbs blazed with fury. "I'm not--"

"You know you can't refuse me, Cagalli," Yuna's smirk widened as he lowered his mouth nearer her ear. "Or do you want me to expose your little escapade as Chairman Athrun Zala's ex-secretary? I'm sure it would ruin your people's respect."

Her eyes widened. "You wouldn't dare."

"Cagalli, I wouldn't.. if you would marry me."

Her fists shook. "I don't love you, Yuna."

"You will learn to love me, dearest." He cupped her chin which Cagalli forcefully tried to shake away. "For now, I am already happy-- happy that I have taken the one person Athrun Zala loves."

"I will never be yours," Cagalli bit her lower lip hard in defiance.

He merely continued to play with her hair. "After we get married, I want you to grow your hair longer, sweetheart."

"Don't touch me!"

"Beautiful, beautiful long hair.."

"I said don't touch me!!" Her clenched fist came flying straight against Yuna's cheek.

Yuna cursed loudly. "Damn you woman! Teh, you may refuse me now, Cagalli. But tomorrow," he pulled on her hair, "you'll be mine."

"Never! Never!" She shouted after Yuna's retreating form. "Never...never.." She will never cry. The princess of Orb never cried.

It was only raining; she willed herself to believe that the liquid that traced her cheeks were only rain drops.

sOs

Unknown to Yuna and Cagalli, Athrun Zala had been standing behind a tree, listening to the whole exchange. His green eyes shone with silent anger even after both Yuna and Cagalli left the gardens. Damn that Yuna..

"But what can you do, Athrun?" a sweet but mocking voice asked from behind him. "Are you going to play hero and save Representative Attha?"

Meer flipped her hair and moved closer to Athrun. "But you know you can't do that, Athrun. The same power you wield as Chairman of PLANTs prevents you from doing anything."

"Meer.." he threatened as she attempted to lean against him.

Giggling softly, Meer continued, "What are you going to do, Chairman? Stop the wedding tomorrow? Oh! What a scandal that would be!"

A frown was slowly forming on Athrun's lips but he kept silent. No matter how much he hated it, what Meer said was true. He couldn't just barged in on her wedding tomorrow. It would create an international scandal especially that in Orb, the Seirans are still a noble family. He would drag PLANTs in a very risky position.

He couldn't do that...

"Athrun.. you can't do anything." Did she really need to say that? "Why don't you just forget that dirty woman? Athrun.." Meer reached up to touch his cheek. "I'm here.. I will never leave you.."

"Meer.." Athrun sighed as he removed her hand. "I'm sorry."

She drew a sharp intake of breath as she tried to search his emerald orbs. "Athrun.. why..?" Her breath caught in her throat as she saw it in his eyes.

Pity.

He was pitying her.

And it stabbed her more painfully than his rejection.

"Don't look at me like that!" she cried as unshed tears stung her eyes.

"I should have done this a long time ago," he paused, searching for the right words. "I'm--"

"No! Don't say it!" she shook her head violently. "I'm not listening!"

Nonetheless, Athrun continued. "I'm sorry. I could not return your feelings, Meer."

"No Athrun...! No!"

Athrun averted his eyes as tears cascaded down Meer's cheeks. "Please forget about me, Meer."

"No Athrun! You should be the one to forget that Attha!"

Meer had started to become hysterical as Athrun shook his head. "No... No..."

"I'm sorry, Meer." But Meer ran away from him. His gentleman side compelled him to follow and comfort the lady but he knew that doing so would make it worse.

She needed to hear that. If she didn't, she would just keep chasing him, believing that she would be happy. Unknown to her, she would be tying herself forever to loneliness in the process.

No one deserved that pain, not even Meer Campbell.

He stood there for the longest time contemplating until a voice interrupted his thoughts.

"Athrun," The said person turned to be greeted by Dearka and Yzak. Both were sporting smug looks on their faces.

Athrun stretched his arm and Dearka handed him the black folder he was holding. "It took you quite a while, Dearka."

Dearka crossed his arms defensively, the smirk on his lips unwavering. "It was a challenge to compile everything, Athrun. There were so many."

Athrun scanned the contents of the folder and his lips twisted in a cold smirk. "Thank you, Dearka, Yzak."

Noticing the change in Athrun, Dearka and Yzak exchanged looks. "Is this the return of the Athrun Zala, colder-than-Pluto chairman of PLANTs?"

A hollow laugh escaped Athrun's lips that sent a shiver down the spine of his fellow coordinators. "Maybe. Dearka, Yzak, would mind accompanying me for a while? We'll be visiting the Seirans."

"Do you even need to ask?" Yzak answered sarcastically as Athrun started walking back to the mansion.

He was going to save her, not just because he promised Kira but because he could not just stand there and watch.

Meer was right when she said that he could not attempt to make a scene at tomorrow's wedding.

But who said that he would do such a thing?

He was going to save her-- even if he needed to become once more the colder-than-Pluto Chairman of PLANTs.

sOs

When Cagalli had returned to her room after, she found herself sitting in front of her vanity, staring at her reflection blankly as she faintly heard the light tapping of the rain against her window.

What did Yuna see in her?

She almost laughed at the glaringly obvious answer. He wanted power. He wanted to share her authority as the chief representative of Orb. After all, her authority was the only desirable thing she possessed-- her golden eyes or once glowing skin could easily be replicated by coordinators, her golden hair---

She took a few moments to stare at her hair-- it now reached past her shoulders, not having been trimmed for the past months.

"After we get married, I want you to grow your hair longer, sweetheart."

Anger welled inside her as she remembered Yuna's words. How dare he ordered her like she was his property...

"Do you like my blonde hair long, Yuna?" Cagalli asked an imaginary Yuna Roma Seiran standing beside her, her focus never wavering.

"I want you to grow your hair longer, sweetheart."

Disgusted. She was greatly disgusted. An intoxicating urge overcame her as her right hand grasped the handle of the drawer of the vanity. She needed to do this.

Outside, the thunder rolled, foreshadowing a heavy rain.

If Yuna thought that she will be his, then he was sorely mistaken. An Attha will always be an Attha-- strong, independent and never to be conquered.

A stubborn smile crossed her lips as she pulled the drawer open and took the pair of scissors inside. And in one swift motion, and strands of golden hair fell down the carpeted floor.

She felt overwhelmed. Each snip made her feel in control, as if she were regaining her freedom. The act was a solid proof of her defiance. She will never be his.. She was an Attha that will never be conquered by someone was despicable as Yuna..

Outside, the pattering of the rain grew harder.

"Cagalli!"

Finally, she stopped after hearing her name. Glancing to her right, she saw Lunamaria's shocked expression as she rushed to her side.

"What are you doing?! Why did you cut your hair!" Lunamaria cried out as she took the scissors from her hands and warily assessed the damage.

"I won't give him what he wants, Luna" she whispered firmly.

Luna surveyed her for a while before finally sighing. "I understand." Slowly, she smiled. "I'll fix your hair." Tilting her head to the sides, she asked, "as short as before?" Cagalli nodded.

Luna silently worked until she stopped and exclaimed, "I almost forgot!" She placed the scissors down and opened the vanity kit she had brought. "I met chairman Zala on the way here." Cagalli stiffened at the mention of the name. "He asked me to give you this."

Cagalli glanced at the velvet wrapped box Luna was holding. What would Athrun want to give her? After all she had done, she would not be surprised if the box contained a bomb.

Luna smiled encouragingly. "Take it. I'm quite sure it's not harmful."

"Have you opened it?" Luna shook her head.

"I just have a feeling it's safe."

Hesitantly, Cagalli took the box and carefully unwrapped it. Her heart skipped a beat; inside was a very familiar dark blue, palm-sized box with golden carvings...

Her fingertips traced the letters carved on the side: L.Z.

Her hands shook as memories that seemed long ago drifted back to her...

"What's that?"

"It's a music box."

It was his mother's music box.

Pushing the golden lock, the box opened as a familiar tune echoed through the whole room.

It was the same tune he played on his violin a long time ago.. on that fateful night on the beach..

Athrun...

"There's a note," Luna whispered as she gestured at the small folded paper inside.

Hands still quivering, she slowly unfolded the note and read.

'I am going to save you.'

And at that moment, believing in him was the only thing she wanted.

sOs

One of the many advantages of being the Chairman of PLANTs was having connections-- lots of connections. This was why it had been quite easy for Athrun Zala to ask someone to take him, together with Dearka and Yzak, to the Seiran manor late at night, without the knowledge of their host, Representative Attha.

Stepping out of the black convertible, Athrun readjusted his dark blue trench coat. The rain had just stopped after a brief but heavy pouring. This had made the night chilly.

The Seiran mansion stood as a large silhouette against the minimal light from the moon. There were still light from some windows.

Noticing Athrun's halt in movement as he stared at the mansion, Yzak crossed his arms and remarked, "there's no turning back, Athrun."

Clutching the black folder on his arm, he straightened his shoulders and walked to the door. "I know, Yzak, I know."

The butler was reasonably surprised upon opening the door to find the Chairman of PLANTs. Stuttering in greeting, the butler ushered the coordinators to the drawing room and excused himself to call his master.

"Prepare some tea and cookies! Quickly now!" the butler ordered to the curious maid he met as he strode quickly to Yuna's chambers.

Ten minutes in waiting and Yzak's patience was wearing thin. Just as the silver-haired coordinator was about to comment on Yuna's lack of respect for people's time, the door opened and the person in question walked inside dressed in a glamorous suit.

"My! Chairman Zala, what a surprise!" Yuna greeted as he opened his arms wide. "I wasn't expecting you." Glancing behind him, he beckoned a servant to bring in the tea and cookies.

Dearka and Yzak were watching Athrun from the corner of their eyes. The chairman merely nodded, his lips set in a thin line as he remained seated.

"I apologize for visiting this late," he said in a deep cold voice. "I just wanted to have a private conversation with you."

Arching his eyebrows, Yuna repeated, "a private conversation?" Athrun nodded. Considering the request for a moment, Yuna finally spoke, "very well then. Please leave us alone." The servant bowed and closed the door behind her.

Yuna sat down on velvet-cushioned armchair nearest the window, a triumphant smirk on his lips. "I assume this is about my wedding tomorrow with Cagalli."

"In a way, yes."

Yuna puffed his chest out in pride. "Are you here to congratulate me, Zala? Well---"

"On the contrary, Yuna," Athrun cut dryly and Yuna's smirk wavered. Athrun took the black folder and tossed it on the table between him and Yuna.

"What's that?" Yuna asked, an ounce of fright evident in his voice.

"Read it."

Hesitantly, Yuna reached for the folder and scanned the contents. His eyes widened.

"Smuggling weapons from Morgonroete to Alaska-- and not just ordinary weapons but Orb's latest military artillery," Athrun commented frostily, each data written on the black folder imprinted into his memory.

"Where-- where did you get this!" Yuna was shaking in terror as he hastily turned the pages.

Athrun evaded the question and instead remarked, "I wonder what Representative Attha would do to you if she finds out. In ZAFT, treason is punishable by death."

Yuna shook his head vigorously and chanted "She won't know! She won't know!" as he tore the pages in a hysterical reverie.

"Tearing those won't help, I have numerous copies. I thought Representative Attha might want one." Athrun felt disgusted as he watched Yuna stuttering in fright like a lost kitten.

Yuna paced back and forth before throwing himself on his knees. "You.. you wouldn't dare! You wouldn't dare, Zala!"

His emerald orbs hardened. "Representative Attha does not need a traitor in her government."

Panicking at the sight of Athrun's serious cold eyes, Yuna pleaded helplessly, "please! D-don't! I--I'll give you anything you want.. Anything!"

A malicious glint lit his eyes. "Anything?"

The Seiran family's pride and honor were at stake. His life was at stake. If Cagalli found out.. she might not hesitate to sentence him to life-imprisonment or even death! And so, without thinking of the consequences, he cried, "anything! Just spare me!"

At that brief moment, Yzak and Dearka felt a twinge of pity for him. Poor man, he was at the mercy of Zala.

Athrun's lips twisted into a cold smirk. "Do not show up at the wedding tomorrow." He watched as Yuna's eyes widened. "Leave Orb tonight and never show yourself again. Ever."

"That's a.. blackmail!"

"Why Yuna? Haven't you played this game before?" Athrun asked sarcastically. "You did not hesitate to blackmail Representative Attha, after all."

Yuna moved away from the chairman. "That's too much!"

Athrun closed his eyes and sighed. "How inconsiderate am I? Very well, I'm giving you time to think about this, Yuna." Standing up, he dusted his coat of imaginary dirt.

A glimmer of hope shone from Yuna's violet orbs, "so you're not going to tell her, chairman?"

"The condition still stands." Athrun passively took the now empty black folder and held it up for Yuna to see. "If I see you at tomorrow's wedding then.." he paused and tossed the black folder on the floor, "say hello to prison, Yuna."

He was going to save Cagalli. Even if it meant wielding the dark authority that he possessed as the Chairman of PLANTs.


To be Continued...

So what do you think? Please review!

Some of you might be raising their eyebrows at the unconventional way Athrun did to save Cagalli. Some of you might have expected Athrun to barge in the wedding but I just felt the idea was quite overused. I wanted Athrun to do something new. And so, I tapped his old cold self and made him act that way. Comments and violent reactions are welcome~

I am currently reading the past chapters, identifying loose ends so that I can tie the story together. I am also revising old chapters, cleaning for errors and inconsistencies in grammar and writing. I want this story to be presentable when it ends.

Yes, this story is ending. Only two chapters and the epilogue left. I never thought I would reach this point. Four years ago, this story was just a day dream I had while waiting for the class to start. And now, it's ending.

Thank you so much for all the support you have given me these past years. I cannot say for sure when I would finish the next chapter but hopefully, it wouldn't take me another year.