Spoiler Notes: This story takes place about two weeks after the end of the anime series, Mobile Suit Gundam Seed. It's pretty packed with spoilers, so watch out if that bothers you and you haven't yet finished the series.

Author Notes: Wherever possible, I try to adhere to the information given in the series, the official guide books, and the website gundamofficial .com. If you notice any discrepancies, please feel free to feed my anal retentiveness by dropping me an email or writing a review.

by Kuonji

0. Moving Out

Athrun slammed out of his bedroom, adjusting the bottom of his T-shirt as he ran. He swept his wet hair out of his eyes as he rounded the corner to the entrance hall and yelled, "Door!"

The monitor next to the front door obligingly flashed to life. It showed a slight, golden-haired young woman wearing a bright red tank top, khaki shorts, and a beret far back on her head. She was currently leaning into the doorbell for the eleventh time.

"Cagalli..." he groaned, coming to a stop. If his laptop weren't already packed, he would have seen it was her from his room and just let her wait.

He yanked the door open.

"What do you think you're doing?" he demanded.

"What took you so long?" Cagalli demanded in return.

"I was--" he fumbled. 'I was getting dressed' hardly sounded appropriate in mixed company. "I just got out of the shower." He rolled his eyes. That hadn't sounded any better. "You're early!" he accused.

"Am not!"

"You are!"

"Are not!"

"Actually..." interrupted a laughing male voice. They both turned to see Kira, who was not at all trying to hide his amusement at the exchange.

Like Athrun, he was dressed in a form-fitting T-shirt. Athrun's was a plain white and blue affair left over from his early ZAFT training days. Kira's, however, was black with loud multi-colored German text plastering it in random directions and sizes. A dark red bandanna wreathed his head, separating his glossy brown hair into a mess of bangs across his forehead and unruly locks on top.

Athrun smiled at the sight. Apparently, Kira had never gotten over his fascination with the youth fashions from their parents' generation. The slightly wild ensembles seemed at odds with his ingenuous -- almost naive -- personality, but the look had always worked for him.

"We're almost half an hour early," Kira said.

Athrun firmly refused the impulse to yell, "See!" Instead, he nodded at Kira. "Thank you."

Kira returned a casual 'civilian' salute. "Yo, Athrun. It's good to see you."

torii?, added a tinny voice from his shoulder.

"You brought the nuisance." Athrun smiled fondly despite his words.

Tolliy cocked its crested mechanical head, then leaped off Kira's shoulder. It circled Athrun once before soaring into the house. Lacus would have said that it knew it was welcome there. Athrun, who had designed the AI and built the sensors for the bird, wouldn't argue -- but only because he knew he would lose any argument to a determined Lacus.

"He's not a nuisance," Kira protested needlessly.

"Well, anything that never listens to orders and can't lift heavy objects is a nuisance today," Athrun said, inclining his head towards Cagalli.

"Hey!" Cagalli protested. "I can lift over twenty kilograms, no problem!"

1. A picture is worth...

In the end, despite her protests, neither of the boys were willing to let Cagalli lift any heavy boxes. So Athrun put her in charge of clearing and packing up what was left in the living room. He and Kira would start carting boxes from his bedroom. He'd finished packing the rest of the house already, so he hoped for a quick and painless exodus.

A yelp made Athrun come out from the bathroom, where he was finishing towelling his hair dry. Kira had swiped the boxes on the table with the one in his arms, the top one falling to the ground with a dull clatter. Athrun sighed tolerantly. "You haven't changed a bit."

Kira shrugged, sheepish. "I hope there wasn't anything fragile in there," he said, as he reached for the toppled box.

"No, I think it's just..." At the same time as Kira's fingers touched the box lid, Athrun remembered exactly what was inside it. Athrun's first thought was to say, "It's nothing important," and dismiss the whole thing.

The moment seemed charged with destiny, however, and so he held back and waited to see what Kira would do. As if in slow motion, he watched Kira lift off the cover.

"It looks okay..." Kira's voice trailed off as he stared, transfixed at the contents of the small cardboard container. After a moment, he reached in with steady hands to lift out a framed photograph. His expression was completely neutral. Wordlessly, Athrun sank down beside him on the floor.

Athrun looked at the photo with Kira, and his feelings were strongly mixed.

He remembered stopping in front of the dresser sometimes to study the framed spotless image of himself and the others of his graduating class. They stood at parade rest in neat rows, just getting used to their brand new dress uniforms. He had used to feel a renewed sense of pride and purpose.

Now he thought they all looked a little foolish. And much too young to be taking any part in changing the course of humanity.

Kira ran one finger over the line of blood-red in the front row. "Which one?" he asked. Athrun didn't understand at first. He himself was second from the far left and easily recognizable. Then Kira said, "Was he in your class?" and Athrun knew.

He considered lying and saying no. But as soon as he drew breath to do so it felt wrong.

The times when he had protected Kira from the world were long over.

"On the very right," he answered instead. He studied the uncommonly solemn image of his green-haired friend, then added, "His name was Nicol."

"Nicol..." Kira repeated. Athrun kept his eyes fixed on the photograph, but he could hear the deep sadness in Kira's voice. "Tell me about him."

Athrun hesitated. There was so much to say... The words welled up in him -- everything that he could never share with Yzak and Dearka because they had to appear strong to each other, and everything that he could not bear to tell Nicol's mother. Just visiting her and seeing her grief-stricken face had been more than enough. The overwhelming urge to punish Kira for the destruction of such a wonderful life gnawed at him again.

But in the end, all he said was, "Tell me about Tolle."

Kira jerked, obviously startled. A moment passed, and then he bowed his head in understanding.

After all that had happened, there was no need to hurt each other any more than they already had.

Kira's finger touched Nicol's image through the glass, lingering for a long moment -- and finally moved on. Skipping over Dearka, whom he knew, and Yzak, whom he had met once and had surely seen on videocasts since, he stopped on the slim red-haired girl who came next.

"She was assigned to a different unit," Athrun supplied without being asked. "I didn't know her." He took a breath. "The one next to her is Rusty."

God, he hadn't thought of Rusty in what felt like years.

"Who is he?"

"He was in my squad for a while. He died--"

He died trying to capture Strike.

He died when Captain Ramius' team shot him through the heart.

He died on Heliopolis, the day we met again for the first time as enemies.

"...He died," Athrun finished. There were still some things that Kira did not need to know. He could feel Kira's eyes on him, wondering, considering. He shook his head, then ran one hand through his hair to disguise the impatient motion. "I'm still dripping everywhere," he said in way of explanation, and he stood to go.

"Hey, guys, what are you up to?"

Athrun startled, feeling oddly guilty. "Cagalli."

Cagalli gave him a questioning look but made no other indication that she noticed anything out of the ordinary. Tolliy looked on curiously from her right shoulder.

"I ran out of tape. Do you have any here, Athrun?" She came into the room and leaned over Kira, who was still holding the photograph. "What's this?"

Kira shot Athrun a look, but Cagalli was already taking the photograph out of his hands. Athrun saw Kira tighten his grip as if to pull it back, but he shrugged at his friend, and Kira let go.

"Your graduation?" Cagalli asked, once she got a good look at it. Athrun nodded. Face pensive, she ran her finger across the row of elite graduates in exactly the same way as her... brother had.


"Top of the class?"

Athrun smiled grimly. "Yes, actually." He had scored higher than Yzak Jule in every category, something that the silver-haired and blue-blooded boy had never forgiven him for.

"You look really good." She squinted at the two-dimensional miniature of the boy who now stood beside her. "But so serious."

"There wasn't much to smile about." Athrun grit his teeth, hating the abruptness of his own words. "The uniforms were new," he offered, trying to soften it. "I wasn't used to the heels."

Cagalli's peal of laughter gratified him. He caught Kira muffling a chuckle into his fist as well.

"I liked them because they made me taller," he admitted, warming to the subject, "but it was hard to walk in them at first."

"I know the feeling exactly," Cagalli said. The look that she gave him was filled with compassion even as it was filled with laughter. And her deep amber eyes were warm, warm, warm.

(to be continued...)