Title: I Ran Away from You (part 2 of 2)
Author: the Black Rose
Disclaimer: I do not own Gundam Seed. This fanfiction has no commercial value and I am not making any kind of profit or income off of this story, or the use of characters owned by Sunrise and Bandai.

Part 2

The rain continued to fill the air like a heavy, grey mist. Athrun stared at the young woman with pale pink hair in the dark-colored suit; she hugged her arms about her body as if to shelter it from the cool air that seemed to hang in this place. Silence filled the small space left between the raindrops…

"How odd it is that hearing a few simple words would sever that connection so completely," Lacus said. "So quickly."

The former Gundam pilot winced.

"I left the graveyard in a daze. I still can't remember how I got home. All I knew was that you were hurt.

"And I was alone. Again."

'I never imagined you as lonely. You were so loved, so adored…and who was I but another face in the crowd?'

"I cried for hours, not knowing which I was truly grieving for – me or you. Because I had always been lonely, I knew…" Her voice dropped, and the rain intensified. Athrun had to move closer to continue to listen. "I knew I would be all right. But you…"

"Huh?"

Lacus turned to look at him again. She was closer now, and her blue eyes held his gaze. "You weren't meant to be without someone who cared about you. Your life was different, warm, filled with people close to you – and filled with love."

The former Gundam pilot glanced away.

"But from that moment on, you were different. Cold. Your eyes were no longer soft and kind, rather filled with suspicion and anger."

Athrun's heart twisted, and so did his stomach. They tied together into one big knot in the center of his body.

"So much bitterness…. And on the rare occasions you spoke. Your words carried sorrow and guilt."

"It was more than I could stand," she said in a soft voice that wavered like her throat was thick with some emotion. "So. I ran away from you."

Athrun looked up, but she had moved away. Again.

"Not physically, because I couldn't, well, I wouldn't have gotten very far, would I? Where would I go that people wouldn't recognize me? And why would I bother when I could stay where I was and still be so far away from you?"

He bowed his head and stared at the sopping ground.

"I could have tried harder to help you with your grief. I suppose that's what a fiancée would have done. Or a wife…

"I blame a lot of things on being as young as we were. Even though we're not physically much older – just three years since we stood here, at this graveyard, and wished your mother goodbye – I feel like I've lived an entire lifetime. I look back and I realize, I shouldn't have run away.

"You were a battle I should have fought. Not just for me, but for you as well."

His hands clenched into fists.

"How much suffering could have been avoided? How much pain…" Her voice took a melancholy timbre as it trailed away. "But, the past is the past, and though I wish I could have done things differently sometimes….

"I still ran away."

Athrun choked. "But we didn't—"

"I don't think you even realized when I withdrew from you. I don't know how I appeared to you or to anyone, but I know I felt differently around you. You were cold. I was distant.

"And we were both hurt. But neither one of us could console the other… It was like some invisible fortress held us both prisoner in a dark cell, and neither of us could see the other. Maybe we even heard someone else crying, but we didn't know which direction to go to reach out to the other person…

"Or if we could."

Athrun lifted his eyes; it took a moment to bring her back into focus, and he realized that one of the water droplets trailing down his cheek was warmer than the rest.

"And neither of us was brave enough to try."

"Lacus…"

-
It was the first time Athrun had the chance to visit since he'd been deployed to outer space. He didn't know how long they stood in silence, their backs turned like they were fighting, when neither of them had even said a word. Mr. Pink hopped up and down between them, like a child upset by his parents' argument.

"Will you be staying for dinner?" Lacus pivoted to look at him. "I could ask Misses Cha—"

"No. I-I apologize," he said while staring at the floor. "I have another engagement. The military only gives me so much leave…"

"I know. It's all right." She stepped away. "Perhaps another time."

He looked up and found her across the room with his eyes. "I-I wanted to see you…before I had to go back."

"Thank you," she said over her shoulder. "It's very kind of you to make time to visit. I'm sure your father—"

"My father won't even—" He stuffed his hands in his pockets and returned his gaze to the floor.

"I won't be seeing him on this trip."

Lacus turned all the way around to finally face him. "I'm very sorry to hear that. It seems harsh that the military doesn't allow its soldiers more time to visit their families. They're people, too." A frown pinched her delicate features.

"Lacus… The military can't just let their forces come and go as they please. There's a war going on, and—"

"I know…" She began, and then trailed off. Athrun continued, but ended up speaking over the rest of her sentence.

"And I keep a prayer in my hear—"

"Battles. We can be under attack at any moment. There's no room for—" He stopped to let her continue.

"Many people on the PLANTs still hope for a peaceful solution to these incidents. I believe that—"

"Lacus. Stop being so naïve. It's too late for that. It was too late the day they decided to attack Junius 7 and destroy it. I'm sure there are plenty of people on the PLANTs that feel that way, too."

Her gaze met his for a brief moment before she looked away. "I believe you're—"

"Or maybe you don't care how anyone else feels."

-

"It wasn't long after this that I met Kira. If you were my gift, Kira was a dream. The very moment I saw him, I could tell what kind of person he was. And I admit; I found him very handsome."

Athrun felt the knot inside him tighten. He opened his eyes and found her again. Standing there, with her back still turned towards him – Lacus didn't seem to be near as wet as he was. Almost like even the sky knew…

"I was reminded of you…." Lacus whispered.

She paused for a moment before continuing. "The first time I spoke to him in private, I knew all about him – the kind person he was and wanted to be. I didn't know anything of his past, but that really isn't the important thing when it comes to knowing people. When he told me he was a Coordinator, I knew then… He felt just like me. Alone."

Athrun set his jaw. His heart and stomach continued to twist and churn.

"He was close to people, had many friends – just like you. But, like me, there was always something separating him from those people. Always a feeling like we were trapped in a clear, plastic box where we could see and even interact with the people on the other side, but never really be a part of their world.

"I liked him very much."

A strange, grey-and-black haze sparked pinpoints of light in his peripheral vision. Her image sharpened to the point she almost glowed.

"And it was your name that tied us together. He was your childhood friend. You were my childhood love. In other circumstances, we might have been happy, comparing notes on a mutual friend, and we could have relaxed knowing that we'd certainly meet again.

"But we were in the middle of a war. And so you changed from Athrun Zala, someone Kira and I knew from our childhoods…

"To Athrun Zala, Kira's enemy. And Athrun Zala, my broken heart."

Athrun swallowed against the hard lump in his throat.

"The very name that connected us, also kept us apart." Her voice became a whisper, and she sounded like she, too, was crying.

"And I could have loved him…."


The cold breeze slapped Athrun's cheeks, and stung his eyes. Something inside him felt like it snapped. Some connecting line between emotions and logic - located in the back of his neck – broke and leaked hot toxins in his blood. Athrun snarled. "It's always Kira!"

Lacus turned around.

He stepped towards her. "You would stand here, Lacus, by my mother's grave and blame—"

"You should know by now that I don't blame you for anything." Her head tilted to her left and she settled her eyes on him.

"Things between Kira and I were always complicated. Though on the subject of your mother, it is very nice that you decided to come for a visit." She managed to smile in all this rain.

"I'm sure she's very happy to see you. It has been three years—"

Athrun looked away. "I don't need you to remind me."

"You don't need me at all." Her voice sounded steady, even, like the pitter-patter of the rain.

"Huh?" He glanced up again and met her gaze. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means exactly what I said." She shrugged. "It's not an accusation—"

"And what am I supposed to say to that?" Something bitter filled his mouth – like those toxins had leaked from his bloodstream into the rest of him.

"Say anything you want, Athrun. I don't mind…."

"How am I supposed to need you? Huh? Why am I supposed to need you? Because our parents decided that we should marry each other and have children? Does that mean I have to need you, too?" His voice echoed in the clearing, and Athrun realized he had been yelling.

"No. It doesn't." She turned back to his mother's grave and picked up her umbrella. "And as I told you in my last letter…"

"You told me. Yeah, you told me all right." He moved forward, closer to where she stood. "You told me a lot of things…" He stopped, still a few feet away. She didn't turn around.

"But I don't understand why you're leaving."

The umbrella went up over her shoulder – like she was using it as a shield between them. "Was it any different for me, Athrun?" Her voice was quiet.

"Wha—"

"You asked if you were supposed to need me…" She spun slowly to face him. "Was I supposed to need you?" Lacus's gaze met his, and she stared at him with an intensity….

"You've never needed me, either." He glanced away. "It took me a while…to know that about you. I-I thought… It just never seemed to bother you. That someone else was deciding your life." Another hot wave of emotion washed through his system. "And you were the one! You were the one who suffered from it most. With your career. You seemed to always have managers or parents—"

"But that was my choice." Her voice remained clear and seemingly unmoved. The sadness from before was gone.

"Just because someone else desires an outcome, doesn't mean that I have to want it. Or that I have to be against it. My managers ask me to do things all the time, that when I think about their requests, I determine their decision is the same one I would make. That doesn't mean I let them choose for me. I could tell them no, but my experience indicates that their decision is the best one."

"But—"

"I suppose on the surface that would seem like they're running my life, but the actual practice is different, I think. Of course, people will still say whatever they want… I don't pay much attention to that."

A cool breeze wafted against his skin and he shivered. "Lacus…"

"And with you…"

Athrun looked up. The rain picked up as well – hiding her expression from his view.

"My father may have made a promise to yours, but you and I still had the responsibility of honoring that promise."

"How could we—"

"Marriage is a contract between two people." He thought he saw her smile. "Our parents and even the PLANT government could have made our choice very difficult, but it was still ours to make."

"I…"

"You knew that, too." Lacus spun away again; the umbrella blocked his view from her shoulders up.

"Which is why you never asked me." Her voice lowered again. "Isn't it, Athrun?"

"Yeah." The knot in his stomach wouldn't relent. "It is. I never wanted an arranged marriage. But more than that, I hated my father making that decision for me. It bothered me that you didn't seem to care one way or the other…."

"I did care." Her voice sounded very quiet. He could barely hear it above the constant patter of raindrops.

Athrun swallowed against something lodged in his throat. "I know that, now. I didn't then. And you never told me…how you felt before now."

"I wanted to…" Her voice sounded distant from the other side of the umbrella. "But we were younger then. We didn't know…I didn't know how to love you the way I should have."

She stopped. The force of the rain beat into his skin - even through his jacket.

"The way I do, now."


Silence stretched in the small space between them. The constant drizzle continued its steady tap on the soil and on Athrun's skin. The cemetery was quiet and empty – no one else was crazy enough to stand in the rain having an argument about…a discussion about…

'Why couldn't we make this work? Where did we fail? And…does it really matter now?'

"And what if I asked you…" He shivered again and his tongue felt heavy in his mouth. "What if I asked you to…try…to work…" He ran a hand through his sopping wet hair."I don't know what I'm trying to say, except… What if I thought I wanted to work this out? Work out…us."

She gasped. The umbrella trembled.

Athrun stepped around her shield to stand between her and his mother's grave. "What if," he swallowed and met her gaze. Her blue eyes stared back, eyebrows raised to a peak in her forehead – almost like she was pleading with him not to finish what he was going to say.

"What if we made it our choice, now?"

"It depends on why you're asking." Her voice wavered, and he saw her shiver. Lacus looked away. "I know I told you I'm leaving… If that's—"

Athrun removed his jacket and placed it over her shoulders. He gripped the top of her arms through the fabric. "It's not the reason I'm asking, Lacus."

"You're not the reason I'm leaving, Athrun."

"Then tell me why, and make it quick because this rain is getting worse and we're both going to catch cold." He tilted her chin up to make her look at him. "And be honest because I'm tired of you running away from me."

"I'm leaving because…" She pulled away and turned her back towards him again. Athrun felt like she had slapped him.

"I don't know."

"You don't know." He felt numb and he wasn't sure if it was the cold…

"Because I don't know." The umbrella fell to the ground, and she spun around. Tears coursed down her cheeks. "I don't know…anything. But at least…at least they need me there."

She turned her gaze to stare at the ground again. "The house has been so empty…."

"Lacus…"

"Sometimes…" Her voice started soft, but as she spoke, it rose to a strained pitch just above her usual speaking voice.

"I just want someone to be there. I want someone…" Lacus lifted her eyes. "I want you to talk to me, make a toy for me and have my father call to say he'll be home late… I want to be a little girl again, riding in the car with father to my lessons, and stopping for ice cream on the way home. But I can't go back…" A sob broke through and then she lowered her voice again to a whisper.

His stomach and heart decided to release, but his insides still felt tender and sore.

"We can't go back, Athrun."

"Shhhhhh… "

His hands came up to wipe tears from her eyes using his thumbs. His palms rested on either side of her face. Athrun bent his head and brushed his mouth against hers. Her eyes widened, and then slid shut. He felt something pull at the front of his shirt.

Her lips were trembling, at first, and cold. The hand that gripped his forearm just beneath his elbow shook; her fingertips dug into the fabric of his sleeve. Athrun's hands slipped down to her shoulders and then followed the skin of her arms. When they found her waist, he pulled her into an embrace and deepened the kiss.

The hush of water grew louder, and he felt the rain renew its vigor. Both of her arms wrapped around his shoulders.

The kiss broke. "Don't go," he whispered.

Lacus's arms slipped from his shoulders to just above his elbows. "You don't need me."

"But I want you. To stay." He choked on the lump in his throat and had to struggle to continue. "To be my wife. Isn't that enough?"

"I—"

"It took me a long time to figure out…certain things. But I…I'm in love with you." He tightened his hold on her waist. "Stay and marry me. The Interstellar Peace Corps can do without my wife."

"But Athrun, I'm— "

"Isn't that the right reason to ask?" He rested his forehead against hers and closed his eyes. "Because I'm in love with you?"

"Yes." She kissed his cheek and then placed her head on his shoulder.

Athrun hugged her close.

"And…" Lacus said in her gentle tone. "It's the right reason to accept."


Epilogue

Lacus stood in the rain, Athrun's arms around her – protecting her like he had when they were younger. His heartbeat resounded in his chest beneath her head. It was strong and steady – just like him.

"Athrun…"

-

"I'm…I'm Athrun Zala. Your…that is…I mean… I'm your fiancé."

"Thank you," he said as she turned to lead him inside her house.
"For what?"
"For understanding…what I meant."

-

"Come on." His voice rumbled in her ear. "We're both soaked. I'll take you home." He extracted himself from her embrace. She instantly felt the loss of warmth as he turned away.

Lacus clutched his arm. "Wait." He spun around and glanced down. His eyes searched hers, and her cheeks warmed.

"Lacus, what's wrong?"

"Take me to your home." She drew closer to him again. "I want…" Her whole body felt hot and cold. The heat from Athrun's embrace, his stare… The cold from the air, the rain, and…

"I want to stay with you."

A smile formed on his lips, and his eyes crinkled at the corners. He really was so kind and…

"All right. But we should probably drop by and pick up haro, don't you think?"

And he always knew just the right thing to say.

She smiled. "Oh yes! We definitely can't forget Mr. Pink." She watched him pick up her umbrella, then extend it towards her. Lacus took it from his hands. The same hands that had built Mr. Pink and fixed her Okapi when they were fourteen. The same ones that had fought so many battles…

She looked up at him again. "He was part of my engagement present after all..."

Athrun chuckled. "Yeah. But, only part of it, remember?"

Something tugged at her heart and made her stomach flip over. "I do remember. But…"

"But, what?" His lips curved downward, and his dark eyebrows creased together.

"I want to make new memories with you, Athrun."

His green eyes smiled at her from beneath his drenched hair. Lacus brought her left hand up to cup his right cheek. "I know…I know not all memories will be happy. And things…get difficult at times. But, we can work things out as long as that's what we both want."

"Yeah." He nodded. "I think so."

Lacus started away, then paused a few steps down the sidewalk. She turned back around. Athrun stood near his mother's grave; his head was bowed, and his hands were hidden in his pockets.

"Do you want some time alone with her?" She moved to his side, placed the umbrella down on the concrete, and pulled his jacket off her shoulders. Lacus draped the maroon fabric around his arms and pressed another kiss to his cheek. "I can wait in the car."

"Yeah." He glanced over his shoulder at his mother's headstone, then back at Lacus. "Only a minute though. I'll be right behind you."

She smiled and picked up her umbrella again. "Take your time. She is your mother." She started down the sidewalk towards Athrun's car.

"Thank you."

Lacus paused to call back over her shoulder. "I'll wait for you."


Athrun turned to face his mother's final resting place. The gardenias that Lacus had brought and placed at the foot of the headstone seemed to be enjoying the rain, while Athrun felt like something closer to a drowned rat.

He knelt by the grave. "Hello Mother…. I…I know it's been a long time. And for that, I can only say that I'm sorry."

The rain seemed to dissipate into a dense mist. "I'm…I'm not very good at this. Finding things to say, that is." His eyes felt hot and he blinked back tears. "I just wanted to tell you…I miss you, mom. And I hope…" His voice strained against the lump in his throat. "I hope you're looking after Father, now." He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. A few tears escaped and he felt them trace warm paths down his cheeks.

"I haven't forgiven him." His stomach twisted and turned over. "Not yet. I'm not ready to, yet.

"I'm sure Lacus will find a way to change that about me eventually." He glanced over his shoulder at the pink-haired girl…woman making her way to his car.

Athrun swallowed and returned his gaze to the gardenias. "She's good at that. Changing me, that is..."