Spoiler Warning: This takes place in a time period starting from episode 39 of the anime series Mobile Suit Gundam Seed until the end.
Author's Note: For those of you wondering where the heck Dearka is... Putting him in the same room would have made this story much too complicated, so let's just pretend that for reasons of security he was assigned to a different one.
Sleeping With the Enemy
Whether out of habit or because of current circumstance, Athrun Zala always kept the privacy curtain around his bed tightly closed. He pulled it shut behind him when he brushed his teeth in the mornings, and he invariably closed it after gathering his clothes to go to the showers at night. He slept with not so much as a gap that a ray of light could pass through.
The only exception to this rule was when Kira and he sat together in the men's dorms, chatting, reading, and doing other off-duty things. It was only then that he might -- might -- be found laying on his bunk, exchanging playing cards or words or excerpts from magazines with his friend in the bunk below him.
It was only then that Ssigh ever saw Athrun Zala even remotely as someone he might want to befriend.
The day after ZAFT Special Forces Elite Mobile Suit pilot Athrun Zala appeared in front of the Archangel with the Justice GUNDAM, and the day he helped them to repel the invading OMNI forces from Orb during their harrowing launch into space, Captain Ramius assigned him a bunk in the men's dormitories, in the room that Ssigh shared with Kira.
"You don't mind, do you?" Captain Ramius asked, and Ssigh could only shake his head, no. It seemed only right to offer him a bed after what had happened, and as Ssigh knew better than anyone, Kira was the sole person on their side capable of keeping the Coordinator pilot in line.
"So you'll be sleeping with the enemy, huh?" joked one of the mechanics. Captain Ramius gave him a reproachful look and he ducked away, falling silent.
Ssigh was too much in shock to respond himself.
That same evening, Ssigh was engrossed in an engineering volume borrowed from Murdoch when he heard the door open and looked up to see Kira and Athrun Zala walk in. Their hair was wet and Kira was laughing.
"I don't think I can ever put pineapples and Helmsman Neumann's uniform in the same sentence again without wanting to hurl," he heard Kira's Coordinator friend say, obviously following a conversation that had started in the hallway. The comment was so unexpected, especially coming from the reserved pilot's mouth, that Ssigh stared.
The next moment, though, the blue-haired boy noticed Ssigh watching, and immediately the humorous spark left his eyes and his body went militarily rigid. He looked away. Ssigh thought that his expression was not so much embarassed as -- withdrawn.
"Well, it's not as if..." Kira trailed off, noticing his companion's change in manner. He glanced at Ssigh, and Ssigh could tell that he was embarassed. Kira looked at the ZAFT soldier who was also his friend, and something seemed to pass between them.
Athrun shook his head -- a negative to what question, Ssigh couldn't tell -- and left the room. Kira followed him with his eyes, but let him go. He sat on his bunk and toweled his hair.
"Cards?" he asked Ssigh.
Ssigh declined politely.
Two weeks later, Ssigh came back after visiting with Milly in the women's dormitories, and he walked in to find Athrun Zala sprawled on Kira's bunk, hands folded behind his head and staring at the bottom of the bunk above with a troubled expression.
"Don't be such a dope," Kira was saying. He was sitting cross-legged on his bunk at Athrun's feet, a magazine propped up on his knees but obviously forgotten. "We both know how dangerous..."
Again he trailed off, as both boys looked up. Ssigh experienced a moment of deja vu when he saw Kira's friend freeze up and look away.
"Anyway," Kira continued after a moment, in a quieter voice. "If we don't tell her today, she's just going to find out tomorrow, and then what will you do?"
Athrun turned his body to the wall and did not reply.
As he found himself doing often lately, Ssigh picked up the first book at hand and left for the lounge. He did not realize until he sat down and opened it that it was the OMNI code manual.
The next morning, Athrun Zala left for PLANT -- and shortly thereafter he returned with the Eternal and Lacus Clyne.
Something changed in him then. He became even more reserved than before, spending long stretches of time alone, and he often didn't sleep until after Ssigh and Kira had gone to bed.
One day, Ssigh forgot his ID card for the first time. When he went back to his room to retrieve it, he saw Athrun Zala standing in front of Ssigh's bunk with a thoughtful expression. Noticing the angle of the former ZAFT pilot's gaze, he realized that he was staring at the bunk above Ssigh's own -- the one that had belonged to Tolle.
Athrun spun around on Ssigh's entrance, and his stare was intense but so guarded that Ssigh couldn't begin to imagine what he was thinking.
The next moment, he was pushing past him through the door, and the moment after that, Ssigh was alone once again.
It was several seconds before Ssigh could remember what he was doing there.
The day of the battle at the Mendel space colony, Ssigh was told that Kira was being kept for observation on the Eternal.
When Ssigh asked Athrun, "Is Kira all right?" he was answered, "His injuries are relatively minor, considering."
And when Athrun asked him, "Who is Fllay?" Ssigh found himself answering, "A girl from Heliopolis."
That night, Athrun and Ssigh were both very quiet as they prepared for bed. Several times, Ssigh looked across at Athrun's bunk and tried to think of something to say.
But Athrun slept with his curtains shut tight.
After that, the headlong rush towards the end of the war, littered occasionally by the adrenaline-packed start and stop of battle, was foremost on everyone's mind. Like everyone else, Ssigh had little time to spare for much more than his job and the necessities of life.
The night of the events at Jachin Due, Ssigh worked late. He was exhausted by the end of his triple shift, but the euphoria of the war's end carried him through. When he came back, both Kira and Athrun's beds were dark and closed, and he went to bed himself as quietly as he could.
The next morning, he heard rustlings and was shocked upon peering through the crack in his curtains to see Athrun Zala climbing out of Kira's bunk. He was still wearing his pilot uniform, the top zipped down around his waist, and his movements were stiff. Ssigh saw him look back inside before pulling the curtain closed and leaving the room with his towel and morning accessories. His face had a soft yet slightly bewildered look.
Several minutes later, Ssigh was even more shocked to see Chief Representative Uzumi's daughter Cagalli Yula Athha crawl out of the same bunk, wearing a large T-shirt that she had obviously slept in. Her eyes were red and puffy, as if from crying, and her hair was flat on one side and wild on the other. At a half-formed sound of inquiry from within, she turned back and murmered something soothing but unintelligible from this distance. Ssigh could only guess that the person she spoke to was Kira himself.
While Ssigh's mind was still filled with questions, the door opened, and Cagalli turned towards the sound. She stared for a long moment before Athrun Zala, now in his Orb uniform, came to stand before her.
"You should head back," Athrun said. "Your people need you on the Kusanagi."
"I want to stay here," she protested. She swiped quickly at her eyes. She sounded like a pouting child, and she seemed to realize it, for she immediately added, "I'll go back in a few hours, after I've talked with Captain Ramius."
"Ah." Athrun shifted, awkward, then started to move away. "I should--"
"Come back with me," Cagalli interrupted him. "To Orb."
Athrun did not answer right away and Ssigh held his breath in surprise. "I... I'll think about it," he replied.
"...okay." Seeming at least partially satisfied with the answer, Cagalli picked up a towel that Ssigh recognized as Kira's, and she left the room. After the quiet whispers, the double swish of the pneumatic door seemed loud.
Athrun stood half-turned towards the door for a long time, and Ssigh found himself missing Fllay, whom he hadn't thought about in what seemed like an eternity.
The first and only time that Ssigh spoke more than the most utilitarian of words with Athrun Zala was that afternoon.
He was on his way to his afternoon shift when he decided to grab a drink from the mess hall. He passed a dark common room, and a slight movement drew his attention. Ssigh turned to see Athrun shift on the couch. He seemed to have fallen asleep sitting there.
On an impulse, Ssigh rounded the couch and took a seat across from him. Athrun looked up in surprise, one hand stopped in the midst of massaging his own forehead. "Ssigh," he greeted.
"Hi, Athrun." He hesitated, then decided generalities were his best bet. "It's been a difficult week," he said.
"For everyone," Athrun answered. Ssigh nodded in acknowledgement of the credit.
"That was some battle, even for a Coordinator." He bit his lip. He hadn't meant to say that. "I'm glad you made it."
"What are you going to do now?"
"...I don't know." He put his face in his hands. If he were Kira's age, he should be about sixteen, Ssigh thought. One year younger than himself. This was the first time in Ssigh's memory that he had truly looked it. "I can't go back to PLANT. But I don't want to live with anyone from the Earth Alliance, either. I couldn't stand..."
Athrun shook his head and looked up. "Sorry," he apologized. "I guess I'm a little stressed." His smile looked rueful but genuine. He looked very tired.
"Not at all." Ssigh cast about for something to say. "You're very... admirable."
"Admirable." Athrun laughed darkly. He clearly did not believe the compliment. "There's nothing admirable about anything I've done this entire war."
"You made some difficult decisions, and you stuck to them."
"Does a decision made too late even matter?" Athrun's smile was old. "And how do you tell when it's the right decision? Just because it feels right to yourself, is it right for the millions of other people it may affect?"
Ssigh didn't have any answers for that. But the fact remained, "You and Kira, you've saved a lot of lives. That can't be wrong."
Athrun nodded, accepting it, but the move looked tired, as if he had heard too many similar-sounding platitudes.
Considering the dejected boy, Ssigh tried to think what kind of inspiring truths he would have liked to hear, were he in Athrun's position. He couldn't think of any, but he could offer the one comment:
"I probably don't have any right to say this..." he started, and Athrun looked up at the different tone in his voice, "but... I'm proud of you. The both of you."
Startled eyes widened, staring at Ssigh in something like disbelief. Ssigh wondered how many people in Athrun Zala's life had been proud of him, and had told him so.
Finally, Athrun lowered his eyes. "Thank you, Ssigh."
Finding nothing else to say, Ssigh made the usual noises of farewell and left the younger boy alone. When he looked back, Athrun had moved to the window and was staring out at the gleaming zero-degree preserved debris of battle.
Soon after, Kira moved his sleeping quarters to the Eternal, and Athrun went with him. Ssigh never did share a room again with Athrun Zala. Occasionally, after the war, he would think about the former MS pilot, and when he heard the rumors that Athrun had indeed come to live in the Orb capital, he was glad. He was also one of the few people who were unsurprised by the news.
The first time someone asked him, "How did you sleep at night, knowing there was an enemy soldier in the same room with you?" he was taken aback.
Being a person who thought about things before speaking, it was a few seconds before he answered:
"It wasn't too different from sleeping with a new friend."
And he left it at that.