Yasashii te ni sugaru kodomo no kokoro wo
Moesakaru kuruma ha furiharai susumu
(The heart of a child clinging to a gentle hand
The blazing wheels cast it off and continue on)

-Wheel of Destiny, Gundam SEED

When Athrun entered the recreation room of the Minerva, he did so in the assumption that it would be empty. At this time of night, the only ones awake would be the skeleton crew left on duty. The rest of the crew slumbered in the deep sleep of the justly tired; service on-board a warship, much more the Minerva - front-line champion of ZAFT - left the crew very little energy to do much more than collapse on their bunks when their shifts were over. The walk to the rec room from his quarters had been almost eerie in its silence.

'Stupid insomnia,' he groused inside his head, fully awake but wishing very much that he was asleep. He'd be paying for it in the morning, he knew. In any case, after all his fruitless attempts to fall asleep, he'd rolled out of bed, threw on his pants, and then headed for the rec room in search of something to fill his hours. God knew he wouldn't find it in his room – the only things there were his uniforms, his workstation…

He didn't even have any pictures to stick on the walls.

As Athrun entered the rec room, the dimmed illumination panels set into the ceiling automatically brightened as they sensed his movement. The new white light revealed that the rec room was not, in fact, as empty as Athrun had assumed – Shinn Asuka lay curled up on one of the room's sofas, his red jacket a crumpled heap of cloth on the floor beside him.

Shinn's face creased a little at the new light, and he shifted slightly on the sofa. Athrun froze in the doorway. But then Shinn's expression eased, he made a soft noise like a sort of half-sigh, and settled back into sleep. Athrun let out a breath he hadn't even known he'd been holding.

He entered the room carefully, smiling a little as he realized he was using all his ZAFT Special Forces training (had it been only two years since then?) to avoid making any noise. Somehow, he found himself standing beside Shinn, looking down quietly at the sleeping boy.

Of all the people onboard the Minerva, Shinn confused him the most. He was a brilliant pilot – and Athrun would know, he being no slouch in that department himself. Along with that brilliance came a cocky self-assurance, an aggressive, hot-blooded temperament, and a major problem regarding authority figures.

But sometimes…sometimes…

Shinn looked very young as he slept, his face unguarded and subtle, his dark hair thoroughly rumpled. Even his posture seemed childish – half his body nearly rolling off the sofa, with his left arm and leg dangling right over the edge, sprawled face-down with his head resting on a crooked arm that served as a pillow. Athrun held back a snicker as he observed a tell-tale spot of drool on Shinn's sleeve.

But that was the thing, wasn't it? Sometimes, when he looked at Shinn, he saw someone so unbelievably young. Which made no sense – he wasn't that much older than the other soldier, and he'd been the same age when he'd first become a redcoat ZAFT elite. But Shinn was…

Shinn swung between extremes. Athrun had never met anyone so reckless, so hard to control – not even Yzak had been so openly insubordinate. Shinn had sniped at him, argued, sulked, disobeyed orders. He flew Impulse – now there was a Mobile Suit perfectly named for its pilot – like he had a death-wish, and then complained that it didn't go fast enough. His grasp of military courtesy was an on-again-off-again affair – although the timing for Shinn's 'forgetting' of rendering salutes and proper honorifics seemed a little suspect.

Whenever Athrun was in the vicinity, for example.

Shinn's resentment of the other boy was obvious. It had begun soon after Athrun had landed on the Minerva, a new-minted officer of FAITH, and Shinn found himself with yet another authority to rebel against; one, moreover, who'd only newly enlisted, and who was closer to his age – and, what was more important, closer in his field of battle – than the officers in the bridge. Before Athrun had come, flight had been freedom.

Athrun remembered Shinn's angry rebuttals of when Athrun tried to get him to calm down. He remembered the snide comments, the defiant smirk. He remembered the rage in those fire-red eyes after he'd been forced to discipline Shinn for acting without orders.

He also remembered Shinn's unabashed question, "Why is someone like you in ORB?" and the warm glow of compliment inherent in it – even if he didn't agree with the darker-haired pilot's harsh judgment of ORB, his comment had been unmistakably admiring. He remembered Shinn grinning at him after battles, exhilarated, high on adrenaline and victory, and wanting Athrun to grin back. He remembered Shinn shyly ducking his head and telling the Chairman that 'Commander Zala's plan' was the reason they'd won.

He remembered a talk on the top deck of the Minerva, the sunset casting red-gold light on everything.

Shinn was a war-orphan, a tragedy which the world was all too familiar with. Athrun himself could be called a war-orphan. Unlike Shinn, however, Athrun had learnt – or forced himself – to bury the pain, keep it under lock and key until he could deal with it. He'd lost precious people in the war, but he'd found – and rediscovered – people too. And…well…his father's death had been complicated. Yes, he had wept. But… (And this was something he admitted only in his darkest, loneliest hours) somewhere there was relief. His father had always been…distant. And at the end…at the end…

Sometimes Athrun thought he had really been crying for the loss of what could have been, instead of what he had actually lost.

Shinn wasn't like Athrun. Shinn's entire world had been ripped out from under him in a flash of fire and pain, and he'd never tried to get it back…only wanted to make the ones who'd taken it away from him pay. Shinn was wounded, like how Athrun had been wounded, but somehow his remained raw and open and bleeding. Sometimes Athrun seriously worried that Shinn's mind had been permanently damaged by what he'd seen that day. Even for his mother, Athrun hadn't had to see…

He shied away from that thought.

So Athrun tried to reach out to him. So Athrun didn't pull rank as often as the Hawke sisters hinted for him to do. So Athrun watched out for the younger pilot when he flew too recklessly again. So Athrun didn't retaliate every time Shinn lashed out, because he could too clearly see the desperation behind the anger.

Didn't mean Shinn wasn't being a jerk, though.

There was a soft clatter, and Athrun's eyes darted to the flooring beside his foot. Shinn's hand, dangling over the edge of the sofa, had loosened. And because it had loosened, a small pink cellular phone, previously held in his fist, had fallen to the ground. Athrun picked it up curiously, turning the light-weight plastic casing over in his hands. Why did Shinn have a cellphone with him? ZAFT soldiers were provided with personal commsets much more advanced than anything on the commercial market…

And in any case, why was it pink…?

Absentmindedly, he'd flipped the cellphone casing open. His thumb brushed over the keypad, and suddenly a young cheerful voice rang out. "Hallo! Asuka Mayu desu! I can't come to the phone right now, so please leave your message at the sound of the beep, okay?" A tiny laugh, somehow bringing to mind the thought of kittens and puppies and fuzziness and warmth. "Thanks!"

At the sound, loud in the silent rec room, Shinn stirred restlessly. His head moved from side to side. Athrun froze again, glancing down at the sleeping boy nervously. If Shinn – confusing, angry, hot-headed Shinn – woke up to see his commander standing above him with his sister's cellphone in hand…But again Shinn's breathing steadied into the rhythm of sleep, though this time there was a tiny frown on his sleeping face.

A sigh of relief puffed softly through Athrun's lips. He turned his attention back to the pink phone. The default background for the main screen showed two young children set against a perfect summer sky. The girl was a little more in the foreground, smiling happily. The boy behind her was unmistakably Shinn, clad in a simple black t-shirt that seemed a little strange after seeing him only in ZAFT general issue wardrobe. The expression on his face – a little softer and rounder, and more tanned, than Athrun was used to seeing it - seemed confused and a little startled, as if he'd been caught unawares; his eyes were fixed on his younger sister. Though her coloration was different – violet eyes, rather like his friends Kira's and Dearka's were, rather than startlingly flame-hued, and her hair rich brown instead of raven-dark – there was no mistaking who she was.

Athrun quickly figured out the cellphone's simple menu system, pulling up the photo-gallery with only a few buttons. He cycled through the images stored in it slowly, his eyes intent on the tiny screen. In the first picture, the brown-haired girl – Mayu, wasn't it? – held up a tray of cookies proudly, her hands encased in pink oven-mittens. In the next, she cuddled a large stuffed panda, the dim background of what might have been her bedroom blurrily visible. The next picture was of Shinn, looking over his shoulder from where he was seated at a personal computer; the shot was completely unexpected, as could be seen by his surprise-wide eyes. Athrun realized he was grinning; Shinn's sister seemed to like surprising her older brother with candid shots. The next shot was of a handsome young couple – the man grinning widely, the woman smiling more demurely but just as happily – who could only be Shinn's parents. Athrun felt a little sad as he looked at them; the picture was altogether too much like the family he'd built up for himself when he was little, before he knew his father and before his mother had…gone.

He flipped through more images: Mayu posing in a cream-colored school jacket, Shinn trapped in his father's playful headlock, the mother setting the table, unaware that Shinn and Mayu, in the background, were sneaking closer with grins on their faces. All the images spoke of a simple, happy life; one where there were no jagged, empty holes where love used to be. They spoke of home and family and laughter until Athrun could feel his heart clench.

This was what Shinn had lost. This was what tormented him everyday, keeping his rage hot and bright and all-consuming.

Athrun flipped the tiny phone shut. Carefully, he placed the phone down, on top of Shinn's jacket, before turning around to exit the rec room. He paused as Shinn moved a little, mumbling words through a dream. "Mayu…"

The door slid closed with a tiny hiss, and the lights darkened once more.

AN: One thing I've always wished would happen in Destiny is that Shinn and Athrun would be better friends. Athrun was certainly willing; and Shinn swung between resentment (rather like Yzak!) and friendliness. So many mixed signals, Shinn!

The pictures on Mayu's cellphone mostly really exist, it can be seen in an episode - 8, I believe.

AMV rec: Shinn's Destiny, on animemusicvideos dot org. The beginning is especially poignant, I think.