Meant to Be

by the Black Rose

AN: I began writing this in February this year. I had a friend beta it, but I just never could feel like it was complete… Sometimes, these things need to sit for a while, I think. And it still could be better, but I'm kinda tired of looking at it….

I have approximately 26 more AxL fics to write for the 30kisses community, 4 of which have a start (tentative titles include: The Blind Date, Out of Luck?, I Ran Away from You) I'm also toying with the idea of 1-2 more parts continuing the Meant to Be storyline. But I'm not promising anything, yet. I'm a Gundam WING writer, a Gundam WING one… Darn addictive GSeed series and Athrun and Lacus…

Thanks so much for reading! Love, Rose


Meant to Be

'What will she say?'

Athrun Zala stared at the front door, his heart pounding in his ears. 'How long has it been?' He raised his hand, noticing that it trembled as he reached to ring the doorbell. 'Will she be glad to see me? I wonder if—'

The SNAP! of leaves crunching under shoes caught his attention. He pulled his hand from the bell, grabbed his gun, and stepped away from the door.

'Who is it? Who's there?'

Athrun glanced around, scanning the property for any sign of an intruder. The rustling stopped, and a face he hadn't seen in far too long appeared from the side of the house. It was familiar, but different, changed since the last time he had seen it.

"Kira..." A slight breeze swept in, catching strands of his friend's dark brown hair.

Kira's blue eyes flickered. He nodded. "Athrun."

Athrun lowered the gun and tucked it back in his shoulder holster. He stepped down off the porch; Kira shoved his hands in his pockets and seemed to be watching Athrun approach.

"It's been a long time, Kira."

His friend remained silent. That breeze picked up again and swept the space between them. Athrun stopped a few feet away, noticing, for the first time: Kira's hollow cheeks, the dark circles under his eyes, the way his shirt and jeans hung loosely on his frame.

Athrun met his friend's gaze. Kira's eyes narrowed. "You've come back."

"I'm sorry. I never should have asked you to—"

Kira's hands balled into fists, and he took a step forward. "You can't just come back, Athrun!" His voice sounded strained, and it cracked in mid-sentence. "Like nothing's wrong, and...And take her away from me."

Athrun bowed his head and closed his eyes. Pain formed the blade of a knife and stabbed through his rib cage into his chest. "Go home, Kira."

"I don't have a home." His voice was softer, now, though no less acid. "Or a family—"

"Give it up, Kira." Athrun opened his eyes and glared at his friend. "Cagalli is still your family. You can always go home to her."

Kira's gaze lowered to the ground. Wind swirled through the small clearing, stirring leaves and stinging Athrun's eyes. He waited a moment for it to die down again.

"Maybe you can find peace with her." He lowered his voice in the natural silence left in the wake of the breeze. "I'd hoped you would have found it—"

"I've protected her." Tears swam in Kira's eyes and he held up his clenched fists. "Just like you asked." He looked away. His shoulders slumped and his hands fell back to his sides. "All this time..."

"You're relieved from duty."


Athrun left the breeze outside to stand in what should have been the calm of the storm - the interior of the Clyne residence. The wind no longer slapped his face. He didn't have to see his friend's tears fall like drops of rain. But for some reason, when the maid let him in, and Lacus came into view, Athrun felt his breath hitch in his throat. The palms of his hands moistened, and another whirlwind began to blow - an invisible storm that raged within.

"It's very kind of you to visit, Athrun." His former fiancée stood in the middle of the hallway. A small smile, very small, graced her rose-colored lips. She was wearing a white, strapless sundress and her long hair fell loose around her shoulders. Her blue eyes were the same as he remembered, but the expression was a little off. He couldn't read it.

'But then again, I've never been what anyone would call an expert on Lacus Clyne.'

"It's been a long time. Haro's missed you." Lacus held the pink mechanical ball out to him.

Haro flapped its little round wings and squawked: "Hello, hello!"

Athrun smiled. Some things never changed… "Yeah."

Lacus twirled around and held the pink haro close to her chest. Athrun looked up from his place amidst the leftover pieces of metal on the floor. She laughed, and it bubbled up and swirled with her white dress and pink hair – making her seem like a child's pastel-colored top. Athrun felt his mouth stretch into a grin.

"I think the pink one likes me best." She stopped spinning and knelt down to extend Haro out to Athrun like she was a five year old offering to share a toy.

He shook his head. "It's a machine, Lacus. It doesn't have feelings. Or a personality."

"You're always so logical," she said with a huff. Lacus stood up, and cradled the haro in her arms like she was holding a baby. "But the pink one is different. He's…happier than the others, I think." She moved away from him, and he got the impression he had hurt her feelings somehow.

"Lacus…"

"I know you think I'm silly, and maybe I am." She went back to holding Haro in the palm of both hands. It rocked back and forth and flapped it's little round wings. "But each one is different." Lacus met Athrun's gaze. The skin around her eyes sagged and her pink eyebrows drew together in something resembling a frown. "Each life is unique and special – even a manufactured one. I don't believe that…"

'What is she talking about? It's just a machine. Why does she have to act like such a child?'

"Well, I don't believe just because you were its maker that Mr. Pink isn't…" She glanced away. "It's not important."

"Would you like me to make some tea?" Her voice called over her shoulder. The former Gundam pilot blinked and glanced up – he hadn't seen her walk away.

"Sure." Athrun remained standing in the open archway separating the hallway from the living area. He stepped through the doorway, and slid his hands into his pockets. Lacus made her way around the circumference of the white fur rug that looked like an island holding all the furniture in the room. A tan leather sofa sat along one edge. In the center, an ornately-carved coffee table played host to the two sling-backed chairs in the corners - as well as guests who might make themselves comfortable on the couch. A tall vase of orchids made a fresh floral centerpiece on the table.

On the other side of the room, a tall, marble-topped sideboard sat along the wall separating the living area from the kitchen. It held another bouquet of flowers – roses and lilies, now that Athrun actually bothered to look at them.

Lacus stood at the other end of the couch; she held one hand in the other at her waist. "Did…did you bring Kira in with you?"

His heart leapt into his throat. It took him a moment to swallow and untie his tongue. "I sent Kira home."

She nodded and bent to dust off the top of the sofa cushion. "He still needs time to heal." Lacus swirled about the living room, fluffing couch pillows and examining flower petals as she went – like a lovely sort of domestic dance. Athrun caught himself smiling.

He stepped over to the sofa and sat down on the edge of the cushion; the former Gundam pilot placed both elbows on his knees and leaned forward. His stomach knotted up, and some part of her behavior… "You're not…upset?"

"I'm very glad." Her voice sounded strong, decisive, but it could have been forced.

He wasn't good at reading people's intentions. Why couldn't he just ask her: 'But I thought you loved him. Why—'

"He's been too long in your debt."

His eyes shot up from the floor to find hers, but she was staring out the back window in the direction of her garden.

"You knew I asked him to protect you."

"Oh my," Lacus said and placed a hand on her collarbone. "I forgot the tea." She turned and moved towards the kitchen. "I'll go put the kettle on. Please, don't get up."

Athrun noticed he was already standing. 'How did she—'

Lacus paused in the doorway, but didn't turn around. Her voice lowered to just above a whisper. "Am…am I in some sort of danger, again, Athrun?"

"No," he said and frowned at her back. 'Why would she ask me that?'

With a swish of pink hair, Lacus disappeared into the kitchen; Athrun sighed and lay back against the overstuffed pillows of the couch. The room was warm, but not overly-feminine. It had its touches – the orchids in the small vase on the coffee table, the teddy bear with a lace ribbon around its neck in the art niche on the opposite wall.

The atmosphere was homey, comfortable, and he felt something, some taut string in his neck and shoulders finally release.

'She knew, Kira. All this time, and she knew…exactly why you stayed by her side.' He glanced at the doorway where she had been standing only a moment before.'How painful must that have been? To see you everyday and know…you were only doing your duty?'

"It doesn't matter how I feel. I have a responsibility, Athrun. I can't disobey—"

The accusation hit home. Kira had become a soldier. A soldier just like Athrun.

"I understand."

Haro rolled over and tapped Athrun's foot. The former Gundam pilot glanced down at the pink ball. It hopped up and down and squawked at him again.

"She still has you. I wonder why…"

The pink-haired girl entered the room again. She carried a tray with a very proper, silver tea set. It seemed out of place, like something left over from another time…

"Do you like cream and sugar?"

"No. Thank you."

She sat down on the couch next to him – not quite close enough to touch, but a comfortable distance away. Her white dress hugged the tops of her arms, and took a slight dip at her chest. Her skin, where it met the fabric, was pale, with a pinkish tone – it looked light and delicate, like the orchids in the nearby vase. And for a long time, he had thought she was like those orchids: beautiful but so fragile.

"Do you believe in destiny, Athrun?" Fourteen-year old Lacus looked up from where she sat on the lawn.

"No." He shook his head and continued to tighten the bolt on the orange haro – the latest gift he was making for his fiancée. "There is only what we choose to do and what we are obligated to do - by either ourselves or other people who can influence our actions." He frowned at the orange ball. The gear he had just replaced wasn't fitting right. "I don't believe in fate or destiny."

"It's a shame…I believe there are some things laid out for us at the time we're born."

He scowled at the hunk of metal. "Then how does that work when our parents manipulate our genes?"

"Science has made it possible to change our bodies, but I don't think they can change our fates." Her voice grew closer. Athrun looked up from his work to see her soft smile.

"They can't change who we are, or what we will become." She sat down beside him. She looked at Athrun, and he felt like she was waiting for a response.

"I don't know. I've never given it much thought." He turned his attention back to the metal frustration on the table in front of him and picked up his ratchet—

Her small hand gripped his arm. "I think you're meant to do great things, Athrun Zala."

His heart skipped at the sound of his full name. He glanced back at Lacus.

"I believe in you."

"Athrun?" Her gentle voice broke into his thoughts.

"Yeah." He shook his head to dispel the memory, and focused on the present. Lacus stood to the right of the coffee table, one arm stretched out and holding a cup of what was most likely tea. He took the mug and managed a smile. "Sorry."

"How…is Cagalli?" Lacus sat down in the same spot she had occupied earlier. Her hands smoothed the skirt across her legs before they folded together and remained in her lap. "Have you seen her?"

He shook his head. "No. We decided…it'd be too hard on her right now. She has to adjust to being married. And I…" He frowned into his cup. "…only make things difficult."

"I'm sorry. I know it must be hard for you."

"Yeah. We've…been growing apart since the engagement." His grip tightened on the handle of the cup. "It's like, I could see the distance, and I couldn't do anything to stop it. I tried, but I—"

"I understand." Her voice sounded quiet from across the room. Athrun looked up. He hadn't even noticed that she had gotten up until she spoke. Lacus bent to smell the blooms set in the large vase next to the kitchen door; she had her back to him again.

'Something's not right. But why won't she talk to me?'

Athrun scowled and placed the teacup back on the tray. 'Why doesn't she ever tell me…anything?' He stood up, shoved his hands in his pockets, and watched the girl for a moment.

He couldn't shake the feeling that something seemed…out of place. Her hair was drawn to the side of her face – the side nearest to him – so as he moved towards the kitchen, the former Gundam pilot could see nothing of her features. She straightened from her bent posture and began rearranging the roses and lilies in the vase. Haro rocked quietly on the floor.

He gritted his teeth. "Lacus…"

"Hm?"

"It's a stupid dream, Lacus. Can't you see how naïve you're being?"

"Athrun…"

"The world doesn't work like that just because it's what you want to believe. There's a war out there—"

"You're wrong. The war is here."

"There's something I want to ask you."

"Of course, Athrun."

"I…I never asked you…."

"War is something we carry in our hearts. It's in your father's thirst for revenge, and your own feelings of guilt. War wouldn't exist, it won't exist when people can find a way to let go of the pain and forgive one another." She wore a soft smile on her lips, but her eyes were filled with tears. "And sometimes, we have to learn to forgive ourselves."

She continued to fidget with the flowers. One of her hands shook as she plucked a long-stemmed rose out of the vase and placed it on the table.

"I can't talk to you when you're like this. You just don't understand... I don't know how we're supposed to be able to spend our lives together when you can't even understand me."

"I never asked you how you felt. When the engagement was—" Called off? Terminated? "…ended."

She stopped. Her hands came to rest on the top of the vase; delicate, slender fingers laced together and held tight to one another. "I was relieved."

Athrun felt his heart lurch against his ribcage.

"I'm sorry I'm not who you want me to be, Athrun." Lacus's voice was quiet as she seemed to speak to the floor.

"For you. I know…our arrangement was always hard for you."

The former Gundam pilot felt like he had been sucker-punched. He pulled his hands from his pockets and they balled into fists at his sides. "That's not what I asked."

"Lacus, I didn't mean," Athrun began. But she had already turned away.

'I'm sorry.'

She picked another stem out of the vase and placed it on the table. Her hand trembled, and knocked the flower to the floor. "I-I don't know what you mean."

"Hey, I brought your favorite flowers. How has your tour been going?" Athrun stepped into the hallway and extended the bouquet he had brought. He swallowed and waited for any sign she was still upset at him from last time… His whole body sagged with relief when she smiled and moved to take them.

"The media has been giving us a lot of coverage, and the halls have all sold out." Lacus buried her nose in the center of the bouquet. "Thank you for the flowers, Athrun. The gesture is very kind."

"You always talk about everyone else's feelings. You consider everyone else's but your own."

She hadn't been her usual self all day. Her eyes had remained downcast during most of his visit, and she hadn't said half as many words as she normally did. Athrun frowned. "Lacus, you look tired. Are you sure you're all right?"

Her mouth automatically lifted into a smile. "I'm fine, thank you so much for asking. How long are you on leave this time?"

"That's not exactly the truth." She said in a quiet voice.

Athrun swallowed, for some reason, his mouth was dry. "I know. It's how you hide from people."

"About last time I was here…" He shoved his hands in his pockets and stared at the ground.

"The last time? Oh, I'm sorry, I can't even remember, I've been so busy…"

"I'm sorry I yelled. I'm…I wasn't mad at you. I just—" He glanced up to look her in the eye in the hopes she'd see… But she had turned away.

"Naughty Mr. Pink, get out of that potted plant. I've told you before—." She hastened in the direction of the dirt-covered haro.

"Lacus…"

Her fingers flit over the top of the petals as she continued removing stems from the vase. Her hand jerked several flowers out at once. "And when did you decide you knew me so well?"

'Is she angry with me?' He sucked in a breath; his fists unclenched. "I didn't…decide anything. I just don't want you to shut me out anymore."

He saw those delicate hands still, and her head bowed. "If you must know. I was…a little sad, but I knew you'd be happier this way." She went back to rearranging the flowers in the glass – picking out one stem, and placing another back in the container. "I'm sorry things didn't work out between you and Miss Athha."

"I thought you were in love with Kira."

She paused then, and Athrun had to stop his hand from sweeping aside the hair that shielded her expression from his view.

"I…loved Kira. I still love him. But someone else stole his heart, and he still weeps for her." She began arranging the flowers again, but it seemed like she wasn't actually changing anything.

"It's…been a long time since I believed I was in love with him." She plucked a rose from the vase and placed it carefully on the table. Her right hand stayed on top of the stem and she pressed it in place as she stared straight ahead at the wall. "He needs someone that he can let in; someone who can help him heal." Lacus bowed her head, but her curtain of hair never relented. "I couldn't be that for him. He wouldn't let me."

"I see. So then why…"

"You asked him to protect me. And I couldn't interfere with his duty."

"But Lacus—"

"Athrun, it's over, now. You've done the right thing. People will heal, find their places, and move on. Even you, despite what you're thinking, you have your own destiny to fulfill."

"You know I don't believe in that."

Her shoulders sagged. "I know. But I believe in it for you."

She still refused to even look at him. And she was still…it was like she was speaking in riddles. Patient, knowing, puzzles issued from her mouth and he constantly felt like he was the one who was a child - like he knew nothing compared to her.

"So, what, this miserable existence is our fate?" He ran a stiff hand through his hair. "What God decided from the beginning? That Cagalli would have to marry someone else, that Kira would be broken by the war, and we—"

"We haven't seen our destiny, yet, Athrun." She gripped the top of the vase with her left hand. "I used to believe that you and I had a future together. That we would grow old together, that we would be there for each other."

"Until you met Kira." Why did saying his friend's name leave a bitter taste in his mouth?

"No, despite how I feel, felt, about Kira – neither he nor the war changed my belief."

"Not even knowing what my father did, everything he was responsible for? You would have gone through with it? Our marriage? Even though he…" Athrun swallowed against a lump in his throat. "After my father killed—"

She stood close to Kira - too close to be considered "just friends". Athrun's suspicions about his fiancée's feelings for the pilot of the Freedom were confirmed in just the way they stood near each other, the way she sought Kira out and approached him instead of Athrun. Tears began to stream down her face and she launched herself into his friend's arms.

"Lacus!"

She buried her face into Kira's shoulder, and Athrun could see the way her body shook and trembled in his friend's embrace.

"Don't you mind?" Cagalli spoke up from her place beside him. "She is your fiancée."

"Ex-fiancée," he said with a sigh.

"Because I was an idiot."

Lacus's hand clutched the stem of the rose she had placed on the table. "I don't hold you responsible for the actions of your father, Athrun." Her voice rasped lightly, and her fist tightened around the flower; it shook as she spoke. "No more than I hold you responsible for Kira's."

"But this wasn't our choice." Athrun slammed his hand against the wall and he leaned forward, over her shoulder. "They took that from us, force-fed us a future we never wanted, pretending at a marriage, pretending at a life—"

"I know you're upset about Miss Athha's arranged marriage. And I know it's hard to let someone you love go." She finally turned her head to look at him. An ice-blue fire lit the depths of her eyes. "But certainly being married to me wouldn't have been quite so unpleasant as that. Despite my apparent inability to understand you, Athrun, I always thought we were friends."

He had made her angry. But at least she was— He caught a trail of red leaking down the hand clutching the rose. "You're bleeding."

"Oh…" She glanced down at her arm and dropped the rose onto the table. Athrun took her fingers and laid her hand palm up in his to survey the damage. Several small puncture wounds marred the soft skin; angry red blood boiled to the top layer and stained the lines etched into her hand.

"We should wash it off before it gets infected." He released her and moved to open the door to the kitchen. She entered first, and walked directly over to the sink. Athrun followed; he flipped the water on. Lacus held her fingers under the stream.

The wind was blowing; the fans had probably been turned on specifically to scatter the ashes at the many memorial services being held all over the Plants. Soft, airy fingers lifted pieces of his hair, and tickled the back of his neck where the starched white shirt collar of his suit pulled away from his skin.

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." The preacher's voice sounded…much more stable than Athrun felt.

Beside him, Lacus slipped her hand into his palm, and pressed his fingers in her grip. He glanced at her from his peripheral vision. 'She doesn't belong in black'.

From his left, the preacher continued the reading. "…as the one who would turn aside his wrath…"

"I know that words alone are little solace." Her voice whispered just loud enough for him to hear. "But, I'm so very sorry…for your loss."

A tight band constricted around his chest. "Thank you."

'I wish that I could cry. I feel like I should…do something, be able to express, something. That I owe my mother at least that much. But I—'

He glanced up at Lacus. Tears slid down her cheeks, and landed on her dress, her arms, their intertwined hands.

"Lacus…" He felt his heart twist, and tears sprang to his own eyes.

"And it is said, do not grieve," the preacher said. "For anything you lost comes around in another form."

"It's all right." Her other hand came to rest on the top of his. "I promise. I'll cry enough for both of us."

Athrun leaned back against the counter as Lacus turned off the water and moved towards the cabinet. She pulled down a small box and began to sift through it - it appeared to be something akin to a first aid kit.

"I had some of these left over from when Reverend Malchio brought Kira—" She plucked a package of gauze from the box and peeled it out of the wrapper. "He had so many wounds, I was afraid they'd leave scars." She held her right hand still and tried to wrap the cottony material around it with her left hand. But the gauze kept moving. She finally turned and held out her hand to Athrun. "I could use your help."

He crossed the kitchen and took her hand gently in his. The former Gundam pilot carefully dressed the minor wound.

"I guess they did," she said. Athrun looked up, but she was staring at her hand in his.

"Huh?"

"His wounds did leave scars. Just…invisible ones. The same kind you've carried for a while."

"When did you decide that you know me so well?" He meant his tone to sound lighter, teasing, but... "I'm sorry. I know we've never talked about…a lot of things." He secured the bandage with medical tape and bent to cut it with his teeth.

"You never wanted to."

Athrun finished smoothing the tape against her skin, and loosened his hold on her hand; she immediately pulled it from his grasp.

"I only did the best I could to respect your wishes." Her voice was gentle; it didn't sound like she meant it as an accusation.

He sighed. "You know my father. When he told me… I was angry. It wouldn't have mattered who you were. Him making that decision for me, just…." Athrun hung his head. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean what I said to come out like that."

"I know. And you were always so kind to visit me."

"I didn't visit you because he forced me to, or anything like that."

"I know. That's why it made me happy."

He raised his head again. She was back to wearing that soft half-smile she had on her lips when he first walked in the door. "You…you never told me what you thought about it. What you wanted… Were you disappointed when you met me? Were you angry?"

Tears collected in her eyes for a brief moment before she turned away. "It's over, now, Athrun." Her hands danced along the countertop, slowly putting things back in the first aid box. She was still shutting him out. Didn't she understand?

There was no one left! Not for her, not for him. The only person left for either of them was the other. How could she—

"I don't see the use in revisiting the past."

He stepped forward, grabbed her shoulders and spun her around. "You never told me anything! You told Kira, but you—"

"I told Kira because Kira listened to me."

Her words hit him like another fist to the stomach. He released her arms and stepped back. Athrun turned away. "I know I wasn't fair. I went through the motions, but I never tried. I never tried to know you. But I'm here, and I'm trying now."

"How did I feel? I wasn't like you, Athrun. I didn't hate my father."

He winced.

"I remember the day he came home and told me I was getting married. I was twelve, and I had been singing in the garden, dreaming I was on stage…. That was what I dreamed of. I hadn't yet learned to dream of other things or other people." Her voice wavered and strained; she sounded like she was trying not to cry.

"My father was and still is one of the greatest men I ever knew. He sat me down and told me that he had met you, and afterward agreed to your father's proposal." Her voice calmed and he felt his own heartbeat slow. Her words flowed around him and he could almost picture the story she was telling.

"I can remember the smile on his face, and the tears in his eyes when he said that he wouldn't have been able to part with his most precious gift to anyone less." Her voice hitched and she gasped for air. "He thought the world of you."

Sigel Clyne smiled and placed his hand on his future son-in-law's shoulder. His blond hair fell over his forehead, and his light-colored features always made him look younger than Athrun's father. And kinder…

"Athrun, you're quite the young engineer, aren't you?"

"Y-yes, Mr. Clyne." He nodded. "Or at least, I hope so – one day, sir."

"I fell in love with you, then."

He hurtled back to the present, the image of her father disappeared in an instant. Lacus's voice formed an invisible hand; it grabbed his heart and squeezed.

"I know people would say it's impossible to love someone you've never met." Her eyes met his gaze, but for only an instant before he had to turn away.

"But I know I loved you, then."

He could hear it – somewhere in his heart, Athrun knew she was crying. He knew he should turn around. He should take her in his arms and comfort her. But he couldn't force himself to do it. It was like his entire body was bound, and some unseen power kept him away from her. It was cruel, to bind them together like this and yet—

"When I saw you for the first time…. You were so kind to me. You were always kind. But I was like a doll to you. Something you took out to play with for a while, then placed back on the shelf, or back in the box with the label 'fiancée'."

'She's right. That's exactly what I did.'

"And all I wanted was for you to love me."

His whole body felt the blow. Pain wracked through him until his legs felt like they would give out and throw him to the floor.

"Kira was just as kind, but he saw me as a person. Someone real. He was my second love. But he changed from the time we first met to the person he became at the end of the war." Her voice was sad, regretful – the same way Cagalli's voice was when she told him things…'they' were over.

"I know it's hard to believe, but sometimes things happen for a reason." Cagalli's hazel eyes were downcast; her hands tightened around his.

"You sound like you're happy about it," Athrun said to the top of her blond head. She wouldn't look at him at first; when she did, he wished she hadn't.

"I wouldn't have been happy before. The last time the council introduced something like this, I was miserable and thought it was the end of the world." Cagalli glanced up and met his gaze. And he knew…

"But now—"

"You don't have to say it." He wrenched his hands from her grasp and turned away.

"I'm glad we met. I'll never regret one day we spent together. But it's time, now, for us both to move on."

'But, I loved you, Cagalli.'

"You've changed, too. Miss Athha's been good for you. I was…glad you finally found someone to open up to, to share your heart with. You have such a good heart. It was a shame to see it locked away."

"Athrun, I know you will, but I feel I should say it, anyway." Cagalli's voice called after him. He stopped in his tracks.

"Take care of her…."

'Is this what you meant? Is this where I'm supposed to be?' The emotional tempest slackened. He turned around and let his eyes settle on the pink-haired girl - woman - that he was only starting to know. Perhaps Lacus was right all along…

He raked a hand through his hair and stared at her. "I…I don't know what to say."

She shrugged and graced him with a wider smile - one that crinkled the skin around her eyes and seemed genuine for the first time since he had arrived. "You don't have to say anything. You listened, and that was enough."

"I never knew…how you felt. I never knew you at all." She was closer, now, but Lacus hadn't moved.

"I know. Which is why I said there was no point in revisiting the past – we were friends, then." His hand reached out and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. Her eyes met his.

"We're still friends, now. Aren't we, Athrun?"

"Yeah." He nodded, and pulled her into a loose embrace. It was comfortable and warm - holding her like this. When she rested her head on his shoulder, the former Gundam pilot had to consciously remind himself how to breathe.

"Do you…still, maybe, love me?"

She raised her head and stared up at him. "Of course, I—"

"I mean as more than friends." He searched her eyes, wanting to see if they would betray anything of what she was feeling, of what she felt for him.

"I've heard it said that a girl never forgets her first love." She pressed her lips against his cheek. "I've never forgotten…" Lacus smiled against his skin and pulled out of his embrace.

He grabbed her waist and kept her from getting too far away. She leaned back when he tried to pull her towards him. "Lacus, I… I came back to try to work things out – between us."

She gasped and stopped her minor struggle against his grip.

"When Cagalli and I ended things, she told me to take care of you. I thought, then, that she believed I would return and we would go back – to the engagement you and I both left behind. I thought she didn't know me, but I—"

She stepped away from him. "Athrun, I don't—"

"I don't want to go back to the way things were." He caught her arm and pulled her back to him. "But I think we could try…being friends; maybe more than friends."

Lacus stared as he closed the gap and settled his mouth over hers. It was just a light brush of lips against lips before he broke the connection. "For a long time…you were the one I pictured…." He stroked a hand through her hair and pressed his forehead against hers. "It's hard to let that go."

She brought one palm up to cup his cheek. "I know it's hard, but I think we have to let it go."

Athrun's heart shattered. His mouth went dry; he clenched his eyelids shut and somehow managed to croak: "But I thought—"

"I'm not saying we can't try." She traced her thumb over his cheek. Athrun tightened his arms around her and felt blood flow back into his heart and urge it to beat again.

"I meant that when we can let go of the hurt and our pasts, all the painful scars, and expectations of others." Her touch was soothing; her fingers traced a line down his face to his neck. "I believe that's when…"

She pulled out of his embrace and stood there, looking up at him – her blue eyes a smile all their own; and she was once again the teacher, and he the child. 'Lacus…'

"That's when we'll find what's meant to be."