Special Thanks to my best friend and critic/beta-reader, Lee!
General Disclaimer: I do not own Gundam SEED. And this applies to the whole fic.
Chapter One – The Great Escape
"Could you please move farther away from me? I do not like the idea of you, or anyone for that matter, in the vicinity of my breathing space."
"Well, tough luck, buster! If you don't want anyone of us breathing in the same air as you do, you might as well move your ass to Mars – or better yet, Pluto!"
Cagalli Yula Athha was in a frenzied state. She was beside herself. She clutched the letter with trembling hands. The blasted letter that was about to ruin her life – if not, had ruined it already. She turned blazing amber eyes to her cousin, Shinn Asuka. "Do you have any idea what this letter means!"
Shinn took off his eyes from the magazine that he was reading to look at his shrieking cousin. "No… but I'm sure you'll tell me, anyway."
Cagalli crumpled the crisp letter and threw it forcefully at Shinn's forehead, where it bounced off and landed on the carpeted floor. "It says here that my father has already arranged for me to get married!" she cried. She collapsed on the sofa that Shinn was lazing on. "It's so unfair!"
"You know what's even more unfair?" Shinn asked crossly, rubbing his forehead and tugging on his magazine that Cagalli was now sitting on. "Good, quality reading material getting squished by a huge bum." He shoved Cagalli a little roughly and pulled his magazine free.
"Is that all you're going to say?" Cagalli snapped. She snatched the magazine out of her cousin's hand and threw it halfway across her messy bedroom. "I'm in dire straits here! Words of comfort would be nice and appreciated!"
Shinn sat up, rolled his eyes and grabbed the letter that Cagalli threw at him. "'Cagalli'," he began in his most accurate imitation of Uzumi Nara Athha's voice, "'I am pleased to inform you that I have found someone whom you can finally live the rest of your life with. I will be coming home soon with your future husband'…blah, blah, blah." He snorted. "God, your dad's freakiness still manages to shine through."
"Shinn…" Cagalli warned in her most threatening tone. She sighed and closed her eyes resignedly. "Ugh…if only Kira was here."
"Yes…if only Kira was here, I wouldn't be stuck here in your room listening to your whining," Shinn muttered sardonically. Aloud, he said, "It's not that much of a surprise, Cagalli. We all know that Uncle was bound to do that sooner or later…after your brother's 'successful' –" he made imaginary quotation marks in the air with his fingers "– engagement."
Fiery, amber eyes glared at him. "But not this soon!" Cagalli cried. She knew what Shinn was talking about. But that was different! His wimpy twin brother and Lacus Clyne were a match made in heaven! Kira was just lucky he landed with someone he actually liked. She doubted she had the same luck or that she would end up with prince charming! Plus… "I haven't even finished college yet!"
"Why don't you just run away, then?" Shinn suggested dryly and, at the same time, jokingly. But the 'joke' was lost on his desperate cousin.
Cagalli suddenly turned to face him with an unreadable expression on her face. "What…did you just say…?" she asked slowly.
Shinn could practically see a bulb lighting up on top of Cagalli's blonde head. He frowned. "Aw, wipe that dumb look off your face! I was only joking, so get your mind off the gutter!" he scolded.
But Cagalli was already on her feet kicking aside all the trash cluttered on her messy floor. Shinn stared dumbfounded at her as she took out a large duffel bag, some clothes, some girly stuff, and other miscellaneous items. She threw it inside the bag and zipped it. She gave Shinn a triumphant look. "You know, I never thought I'd say this but, you're a genius!"
Shinn finally found his voice and he stood up abruptly. "W-wait!" he sputtered. "What the hell are you planning to do?"
"I take that back. You -are- dumb!" Cagalli snapped. "What does it look like I'm doing? I'm running away, you numbskull!"
"Y-you can't do that!" Shinn stammered.
"Oh, yes I freakin' can!" Cagalli replied angrily, making her way towards the door.
Shinn finally snapped out of his dumb trance and grabbed Cagalli's arm to stop her from whatever drastic thing she was about to do. "Listen here you! I'm not doing this because I am, ugh –" he rolled his eyes "– concerned about your well-being! I am doing this because of my own self-preservation! Do you know what Uncle will do to me once he finds out about your temporary (or permanent) bout of insanity!"
Cagalli stared at him incredulously and then wrenched her arm free. "I don't want to get married to some strange jerk with some nerdy name like Jona Roma Seiran!" she screeched in Shinn's ear.
Shinn, probably on instinct (and self-preservation), brought his hands to his vulnerable ears to cover them. After Cagalli's screeching had stopped, he removed his hands from his ears and gave Cagalli his trademark crimson death glare. "Okay, let's make a deal. Let's talk about this calmly and rationally –" he pointed at the sofa "– while sitting down, if you don't mind."
Cagalli angrily stomped towards the sofa and collapsed on it, throwing her bag carelessly at the floor. She crossed her arms stubbornly and glared at her cousin, who was currently pacing the floor anxiously.
Shinn ran a hand through his black hair. "Look, Cagalli. I may hate you and you may hate me…but…er, let's just pretend for a moment that I don't hate you and that you don't hate me," he muttered hurriedly.
"Get to the damn point," Cagalli snapped (though a bit less harshly than normal).
Shinn stopped walking to and fro and stared at the messy floor as if it held the answers to the universe. After a moment of (uncharacteristic) silence, he sighed resignedly. He reached into the back pocket of his jeans for something and threw it at Cagalli.
Cagalli caught it and, after recognizing it, held it up curiously. "Your house keys?"
He nodded unenthusiastically, as if he was already regretting some decision he made. "Yeah, those are my house keys. You can't just leave and go someplace completely unknown. You can sort of hide in my apartment." He held up three fingers and ticked off the reasons one by one. "Since: one, we hate each other; two, the apartment is for males only and; three, because it's so far away, no one in their right minds would go look for you there. You're lucky that it's spring break…" he trailed off uncertainly.
Amber eyes stared at him in complete and utter amazement. "You'd do that…for me? Really?"
Shinn gave her a sheepish look that was soon replaced with a snarl. "What the hell are you talking about? I'm doing this for my own self-preservation!"
Cagalli pulled her cap lower as she entered the bus. It did nothing to hide her shoulder-length blonde hair, but it at least shadowed her features. She nervously glanced around. After seeing her surroundings, she fought the urge to run back to her house and forget about the whole thing. She wrinkled her nose disgustedly as she made her way down the aisle to look for an available seat…preferably next to someone normal.
'Too fat…too fidgety…Ugh, that one just drooled! Too noisy…too pretty…NO! That one's a certified pervert!'
Finally, she found the most acceptable seat. The seat next to it was empty and if luck was on her side, she would have to seat next to no one at all! She dumped her duffel bag on the aisle seat and settled herself on the window seat. It wasn't that she was picky or whatever…Okay, okay, she was picky. But Cagalli had always hated bus rides. They were bumpy, full of annoying people, and with perverts, to boot. Plus, the bus itself was old, rickety, and smelly.
Shinn had forbidden her to use her car (or his car, for that matter) for her 'great escape'. Cars were easy to follow. If she were to use public transportation, then she would be almost impossible to track.
'Hmmm… for once, Shinn gave me good advice. I might as well consider forgiving him for that videotape of me dancing to the tune of Baby…One More Time…' she contemplated.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the shrill ringing of her cell phone. She dug around her bag for it and flipped it open, slightly embarrassed at the curious stares that all the busybodies were giving her.
"What?" she hissed.
"Where are you! Are you there yet?" Shinn boomed from the other line. "Remember, you promised to clean my bathroom!"
Cagalli rolled her eyes. "Yes, yes, I remember. And the bus hasn't even left the terminal yet, so would you quit bugging me?"
"Yeah, whatever. Well, if anyone asks, I had nothing to do with this!"
And then, the line went dead.
Muttering about annoying younger cousins, Cagalli stuffed her cell phone back into her bag, crossed her arms, and settled down for the long and bumpy ride.
Cagalli fought the urge to tear her hair apart. Shinn's instructions weren't very helpful, plus, his handwriting was illegible! She bet not even the best military code-breakers would be able to decipher it! She dialed Shinn's number once again. She heard a female voice saying that her 'call was being connected' and that she should 'wait a moment'. Finally, she heard the familiar ringing sound.
"Hello?" a slightly groggy voice answered from the other line.
"Shinn, you bastard! You fell asleep didn't you!" she shrieked. She glared at a passer-by that was raising an eyebrow at her. "Bug off!" she snapped to the man. The man raised his hands in mock surrender and quickly ambled away.
"What did you expect me to do while waiting for you to get there? Twiddle my thumbs?" Shinn asked sarcastically.
"Well, you see, you big buffoon, that's the problem! I'm not 'there' yet! Wherever 'there' may be! I'm in the middle of nowhere with only your horrible instructions in your equally horrible handwriting to rely on!"
"Do you see any of the landmarks that I described?" Shinn asked impatiently.
Cagalli huffed, but looked around nonetheless. She spotted a sign. "Well, there's a sign here that says 'Camp Schneider'."
There was a pause. "Camp Schneider? Hmmm… You got off at the wrong stop. Walk further north; the road leading to the town should be nearby."
Cagalli grumbled and proceeded to walk. After a few kilometers, her feet began to ache. "Shinn! Are you pulling my leg! Where is the goddamn entrance to the goddamn road that you're talking about?"
"Just walk some more! It's near!"
"Near! NEAR! Well, tell that to my dead feet! You should see my sneakers! They're smoking 'round the edges! I'm bathing in my own sweat! My bag's strap is cutting through my shoulders!" Cagalli yelled, her voice getting higher and higher. "I HAVE NO IDEA WHERE I AM! I AM LOST! LOST! AND IT'S ALL YOUR FAULT! YOU LAZY, RED-EYED FREAK! I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHY I LISTENED TO YOU WHEN WE'VE HATED EACH OTHER'S GUTS ALL OUR LIVES! YOU COULD BE SETTING ME UP, FOR ALL I KNOW! I –" she paused as a sign caught her eye.
"Are you finished insulting me?" Shinn asked dryly.
Cagalli began to laugh loudly; more passers-by were giving her 'you're-crazy' looks. "I found it!"
"I found it!" Cagalli continued laughing triumphantly, not caring that she looked fresh out of a loony-bin. From there on, her hide-out was just a ten-minute bus ride away…well, that was what it said according to Shinn's scrawls.
Cagalli stared up at the ridiculously pink, ten-storey building in front of her. Imagine! Shinn 'macho-man' Asuka lived in a -pink- apartment! She fought the urge to laugh out loud. It was bad enough that she had been labeled 'crazy girl' on her way here – no need for the locals to think the same way.
Overall, the building looked clean and pleasant enough – considering that it was an all male's institution. She followed the cemented pathway and entered the building through its glass doors. She wrinkled her nose; the interior of the building was the same gaudy color. The stairs were located at the center; a hallway on each side of the stair that probably lead to the first floor rooms. Beside the stairs was an old, rickety elevator – the kind where the doors were just metal-railings and was -manually- pulled close by the passengers. There was some sort of reception area on the space at the center where several couches were placed.
There was a lady behind the counter, presumably the receptionist or caretaker. She looked like she was in her mid-fifties, with her salt-and-pepper hair tied-up in a neat bun behind her head. The lady peered at her through wire-rimmed glasses. Frankly, Cagalli thought she looked more like a librarian than a receptionist. She pushed the thought away and approached the lady.
"Good afternoon," Cagalli greeted politely. "I'm Cagalli At – Cagalli. I'm Shinn's Asuka's housekeeper and he sent me here to clean up his apartment."
The receptionist looked at her from head to foot. The bespectacled, middle-aged lady returned her gaze to Cagalli's face and eyed her suspiciously. "You're Mr. Asuka's housekeeper, you say? And he sent you here to clean his apartment?"
'Duh? Are you deaf? I just said that,' Cagalli thought sarcastically. She returned the gaze evenly. "Yes, ma'am. I bought a letter from Shi – er – Mr. Asuka, as well as some I.D.'s." She whipped out her cell phone. "And if you would like, you can talk to him and ask him yourself."
"Yes, please," the woman said, somewhat coldly.
Cagalli dialed Shinn's number.
"What now!" Shinn snapped from the other line.
Cagalli ignored Shinn's rude greeting and plunged in. "-Mr. Asuka-?" she specifically emphasized the two words to get Shinn's attention. "This is Cagalli. The receptionist lady would like to have a word with you," she intoned. It was Shinn's idea that she pose as a hired help, anyway.
She gave the phone to the lady and stared at the sudden change in her demeanor upon hearing Shinn's voice. Cagalli almost gagged at the woman's severe politeness. After a few minutes, the woman finally hung up and nodded at Cagalli.
"You may proceed. I trust you already know Mr. Asuka's apartment number?" the lady asked her, haughty expression back in place. "I am sorry for the inconvenience, but this is a first-class establishment, after all and we have to make sure of our residents' security."
Cagalli gave a polite smile even though she wanted so badly to snort and roll her eyes. First-class her ass! The lobby wasn't even air-conditioned! "Yes, ma'am. Thank you very much." She nodded once in acknowledgement and proceeded to the open elevator beside the stairs.
She pressed the button for the tenth floor ("God, why does Shinn have to live at the topmost floor! I just hope that this old contraption won't break down while I'm here!") and just before she pulled the elevator doors closed, she caught a glimpse of somewhat familiar blue-black hair, approaching the lobby-lady – with a polite and welcoming expression in place.
Cagalli ignored it and sighed happily. She finally reached her hiding place. Her father could look for her in every nook and cranny for all she cared. For now, she needed sleep.
As soon as she got off the elevator, she dragged her feet to Shinn's apartment. She didn't have time to revel at how Shinn's room was slightly cleaner than hers. She dumped her bag on the sofa and immediately crashed on Shinn's bed, not caring that it smelled funny.
She was too tired to care…too tired to whine…too tired to get angry…too tired to…
Blue-black hair…jade-green eyes…snobby sneer…haughty attitude…
Cagalli woke up with a start. She bolted upright in her bed. Now that her mind was refreshed, realization and recognition finally sank in. Here eyes widened in shock.
"God! How could I forget! Athrun Zala lives here, too! Argh!"
She ran out of the bedroom and lunged at her duffel bag sitting oh-so-innocently at the sofa. She spilled its contents on the floor, looking for her phone. When she found it, she immediately called her cousin.
"Damn it, Cagalli! Do you know what time it is!" Shinn yelled. "Why didn't you call me while I was awake! Don't worry, they still don't know that you're there. Your father won't be arriving until the day after tomorrow," he assured her, automatically assuming that it was the reason why she called.
"That's good. But that's not the reason why I called," Cagalli answered breathlessly. "Shinn, I need you to tell me something…" she took a deep breath, "Is Athrun Zala here?"
There was a pause, and she could hear Shinn scratching his head irritably. "Zala? Well, I'm not sure. He could be. I mean, he got sick during finals week. Unlucky guy… I guess he's there to take some removal exams." He snarled. "Is that all? Ugh! Stop bugging me!"
And the line went dead.
Cagalli dropped her phone in shock. Normally, she would've been irritated and annoyed as hell at Shinn's lack of phone ethics. But there were more pressing matters at hand.
Athrun Zala, possibly the most snobbish person on earth, was there in the same building as she was!
Author's Notes: Yes! I finally uploaded this fic! It has been sitting in my hard drive since November. I uploaded this fic because it's already half-way done. I'll update every week.
Background Notes: Would you believe that this story is loosely based on real life? It all started when my cousin called me up asking for the keys to my apartment. Well, being the nice cousin that I was (and because he promised to clean my bathroom), I relented and agreed to help him with his great escape. He needed to get away from his parents because he had a lot of failing marks, heh. He met an old childhood friend there, who was also a friend of mine and one of those who helped me through tough college times. They went out for a few times during my cousin's stay at my apartment, and the rest is history.
…But, to be completely honest, they didn't end up together. Hehe.
REVIEW and let me know what you think!