Neighbors had a whopping 10 pages of work laid down. This one was actually my favorite of the three that I started later on, so I felt I had to post it up. This is very very broken up, with some parts fully written out from about 5 years ago, and others just written in to fill the gaps. It is NOT how I originally wanted to end this, but it will have to do.
So their banter went on for days almost, and it was clear to see where things were heading. They were sending text messages back and forth as if trying to conceal their need to talk to each other. Perhaps it didn't come as such a surprise then, when Athrun sheepishly walked up to her office one day with a draft for an article to ask her to take a look at, with a sticky note on top.
"Will you go out with me?"
Suddenly she couldn't stop laughing or smiling. Her response was to run into his office and hug him, the entire office as an audience be damned.
Everyone felt an uplifting feeling around them, even strangers on the bus that they sometimes took on the way home from work. They wood always stand, so that others could have a seat. And Athrun would always have one hand holding a rail on the bus, and the other wrapped around her, to make sure she wouldn't fall during the sudden starts and stops. And if she or he sometimes did trip, the other would help them regain their balance, and they'd laugh it off.
When they got home they'd head into one person's apartment to eat dinner, then afterwards there would sometimes just sit on the couch and watch television together, or read in each others company. If necessary, they would do some work, but in general they preferred not to use free time together to do that. At the end of the night, other person would head across the hall, both being much too shy to suggest sleeping over.
At work they were the "cute couple", that everyone wanted to watch. The girls who used to fawn over Athrun had suddenly changed spots, and could often be found trying to catch moments between the two. More often than not, it was pretty annoying and so eventually Athrun and Cagalli just didn't bother trying steal time for each other. Neither had found the ability to do something like kiss with an audience, and so they settled for affectionate glances, or inconspicuous brushes against each other every now and then.
And they were happy.
So much so that time flew by in a way that had made both of them forget something very important to both of them...
Eventually, Athrun got an e-mail at home from the organizers of the contest, reminding him that in a week's time the judges would convene and vote on the final few entries.
Cagalli, who happened to be propped across the back of his shoulders, stole a quick peek at the e-mail then pressed a quick kiss against the back of his head. Her left arm slipped out from under her and wrapped around him.
Athrun smiled at the gesture. "I had almost forgotten about the contest... I finished reading all the preliminary ones a while ago, so it wasn't really on my mind."
"Hmm... I sort of did. I finished writing my entry a while ago, and submitted it, but it's always been important to me. I just didn't realize that the winners would be announced so soon." She replied. "it's just that... other things have been occupying my time." She added with a bit of a grin, poking him on the side where she had discovered he was mildly ticklish.
Her boyfriend jumped a bit, turning his head to look at her. "Are you complaining?" He grinned with a slightly mocking tone.
"Distraction. That's your new nickname." Cagalli teased, dipping her head a bit lower. Her bangs slipped forward over her eyes a bit, but Athrun brushed them away for her, then kissed her forehead and nuzzled against her cheek.
"Well, as long as it's not in a bad way..." He sighed contently, beginning to sway them back and forth slightly to the beat of the cheesy love ballad coming out of his laptop speakers.
The girl wrapped around him laughed, playfully shoving him a bit. "You're such a flake."
"I'm a romantic." Athrun shrugged, reaching back to her with his right arm, a smile still evident on his face.
"And I'm completely wrapped up in you."
Here I need to make some serious explanation for the rest of this to make sense. When Cagalli submitted her entry she also explained if she won, what she would use the prize money for. And what she had written was that she would relocate to another country entirely and start a new life. Athrun, upon reading this is shocked that apparently she had planned to leave all along. Feeling betrayed, he doesn't vote for her entry and she doesn't win.
Cagalli indirectly finds out she lost the contest due to one vote. When she asks Athrun about it, after a long evasive conversation he reveals that he did not vote for her entry. And so we arrive at this situation, a confrontation at work in the break room.
"You KNEW! You KNEW how important this was to me!" She cried angrily, tears of frustration leaking from the corners of her eyes, despite her efforts to hold them back. Gradually, she began to care less and less about how bad she was going to look. She was wanted him to fell as miserable as she felt. "If you really felt that I didn't deserve to win that contest, then I would be fine with it! But you even told me upfront that you thought my entry was best!"
"It was!" Athrun protested, desperate to fit a word into this one sided argument.
"Well you must have lied somewhere along the way! And I'm not sure what I could be more angry about. You lying to me about my own work, in private, or you lying about my work in front of a panel of judges and crushing my dream!"
"Goddamn it Cagalli!" Her victim of verbal assault finally spoke angrily, his eyes also apparently beginning to water. "I wasn't lying to you when I said your entry was best! It really was! But when I read your reasons, and how you'd use the money... I just couldn't vote for you anymore. You know, that wasn't really the best way for me to find out that my own girlfriend was planning to pack up and move away forever! Call me a coward for being afraid to lose you, because I am! But God help me if I just let you stroll out of my life like that!"
"How can you be so selfish like that?"
"Well someone has to be selfish about this relationship of ours! Because apparently only one side cares enough to-"
"I wrote that damned reason before I even knew you existed!"
"But if you had won, you'd still leave!"
She blinked, the surprise from the accusation evident on her face. And he could only feel his heart drop as she never refuted his statement. So… she would.
Both were glaring at each other: Cagalli in fiery anger that he had ruined her chances of dreaming. Athrun in cold fury, that she was treating their relationship like rubbish. He had felt guilty, but he wanted her to understand his reasons at the very least. Instead, she was apparently trying to pretend his reason never existed in the first place.
He swallowed hard.
"What's even worse than if you would simply refuse me and turn away from the start... Is the fact that you can act with such ambivalence. As if denying Every Single Feeling that I have confessed to you... As if saying that they don't exist. 'So what if you love me, I don't care, I need to run off alone and never even tell you that.' My feelings are a reality. Just refuse me. At least then I'd know that you recognize there's something to refuse. But indifference, as if you turned a deaf ear to my confessions... I can't take it." He let out a desperate sigh and looked away.
Cagalli felt furious. Furious at him for being like this, and furious at herself for being unable to stop the tears coming out of her eyes. She took a moment to steady her voice, which she wasn't sure she could trust...
"Don't... don't say things like that, as if you were the one hurt most by this! From now on, don't even think that I want anything to do with you past a professional relationship. Even though I won't have moved away, as far as things go for you, I may as well have." She spoke in an eerily calm voice. Athrun still caught her vocal chords straining to make out the words, yet did not point it out, too angry to care.
"If you wish to live in denial, then I won't try to force you into anything." Standing up perfectly straight, he turned and walked out of the room briskly. Cagalli stared at his retreating figure for a moment, before turning and realizing that they had quite an audience. Biting her lip she also quickly exited the room, leaving the spectators quite numb and in shock.
Again, too lazy to write out everything that happened in between. In short Athrun went over to Cagalli's later that night in hopes that they could talk it out.
A pause. For a while, he just stared at her back for a while, unsure of whether she was going to respond. His hand rested unsettled on the doorknob, unsure whether or not to simply swing the wooden barrier into its place between them, or wait.
It was a simple answer. In some ways, he was just happy she had responded. In others, he was disappointed that she didn't say more.
Because just "okay"... could mean a number of things. And the heavy silence that clung to the air afterwards only served to make him grip the doorknob tighter.
"Are you sure?"
She gripped the pillow clutched against her chest tighter, her fingers pressing into the soft material. Instinctively, protectively, she brought her knees closer towards her.
His fingers felt numb from clamping onto the doorknob, his knuckles clearly white. Well, at least she was telling the truth. At the same time, hearing it only unsettled the twisted feeling in his gut.
He fought to keep his erratic heart rate under control. If it were someone else, anyone else, he would protest. He would walk into the room and force them to say more, or at least face him when speaking.
Yet fear, yes, cold fear drowned him in its icy hold, and he was totally paralyzed. For if he did stay, and she did turn around he would be faced with the brightest pair of amber eyes he'd ever seen...
Clouded by the pain of betrayal.
Slowly, he stepped back and into the hallway, carefully turning the door knob so that not even a soft click could be heard as the door swung tightly. He stayed there for a while, gradually letting go of the door.
In some ways, he wasn't sure what to do from this point. He just, didn't know where to go after he let go of the brass knob, the last thread connecting him to her.
And another part of him, silently prayed that the door would swing open, and she would burst outwards towards him.
But no, she wasn't that kind of person. She would sit in there. This was his punishment: It wasn't supposed to be, but it was. For hurting her, he now had to hurt... He had to feel pain, from the thought of causing her pain. From the thought of her being in pain... and there being nothing he could do.
And so gradually he slipped away, to accept his cruel fate.
And as she heard his quiet footsteps grow distant, then gradually fade away, she slowly let go of the pillow and lay down, placing it under her head.
And she cried.
As the night went on she lay on her bed, fully awake and frowning at her cell phone, clutching it tightly. Why wasn't he calling her? If he was so willing to simply let go of what they had-
She stopped herself. What they had?... What was it that they had?... Did they have anything?
And didn't... she almost throw it away too? For her career...
But he had stopped her. That wasn't his decision to make. To stop her like that... such a thing was completely selfish.
But he was protecting what they had, wasn't he?...
But... what did they HAVE?
She had never felt more alone in her life.
The next day, the usual crowd around the coffee machine's subject of conversation was the obvious. The heated argument between who used to be known as the "couple" that everyone wanted to keep track off, looked like they were angry enough to kill each other.
The rest of the day had been awkward for everyone, and Athrun and Cagalli didn't even see each other. Cagalli left early, no doubt in effort to avoid having to met Athrun on the way home. Athrun didn't even take the chance. He stayed behind very late, and decided to take a cab anyways, with the route cars taking being considerably different from the path that they would take to walk home.
Now the first test came. The morning rush way was always crowded and it would be impossible for they to completely avoid each other. Perhaps the next confrontation would be another verbal duel?... Or would they both give up?
They were speaking about it so much they didn't even realize that they two people were already coming down the hall. By the time Lacus quickly made the notion to signal everyone to shut up because they were approaching, everyone's were fixed. Miriallia was biting her lower lip, trying to keep herself form saying anything, Kira didn't seem to notice that he was clutching his Styrofoam coffee cup so hard, that it was beginning to crack a bit, and Lacus observed silently. Sai pretended to be getting more sugar. In nervous anticipation they held their breaths.
Both Athrun and Cagalli passed by each other without the slightest sign of noticing that the other existed, looking straight past each other. Neither person's eyes flickered in the other's direction for even the faintest of moments. Their shoulders didn't even graze each others, as both tilted their bodies in their step to avoid doing so. Each walked with a step so brisk that their hair was blown back as if by a slight breeze, giving the impression that they were flying past each other.
The only thing that either had done, was completely subconscious. Unnoticed by those watching, by the other person, or even by themselves, both had taken a slightly deeper breath when they passed each other, as if trying to catch a scent of the other person.
Perhaps that was why it wasn't until they were safely out of other's view that the strong facade began to crack slightly. Athrun's eyes narrowed a bit, as he continued down the hall. Cagalli's right hand, which was holding a jump drive, tightened ever so slightly.
A lot of stuff happens here. To make it short they do grow distant and eventually after weeks of essentially not talking to each other at all, grow apart. Athrun leaves the company to work elsewhere and Cagalli, though upset congratulates him. They have both learned to deal with the separation and are in that way, leading independent lives and slowly on the path to becoming friends again. Cagalli reveals that she has applied for a journalism grant and is hoping to be able to travel abroad again. Athrun, still feeling guilty for what he did, is happy that she is still pursuing her dream and will be moving forward.
Cagalli does in fact receive the grant and is going to be moving. On the day she receives her notice, she holds a party at her house and Athrun is there. At this point they have been talking more, and essentially rebuilt their friendship into a close one. Athrun is torn between wanting to try dating again, not sure if they're ready of if it's right. And Cagalli is somehow feeling much more hesitant to leave than she initially thought she would have. Athrun decides to stay after everyone else has left to help her clean up and deal with some unfinished words.
They were sitting around her coffee table now, each sipping on their drink of choice. For her, an Earl Grey with lemon and sugar. For him a plain black coffee. "You know, I think I am going to miss my apartment. I've spent a lot of time here. But to be honest this place never really felt like home until you moved in across the hall." Cagalli smiled. "I know we've had our… ups and downs"
He laughed at her choice of words. Ups and downs indeed. They had both build each other up, knocked each other down, grown together and apart… and when it came down to it he really did love her. Though he had said it before perhaps he had been mistaken. Not in that he didn't love her then, but it was in many ways a love that was based on who he thought she was and perhaps even who he wanted her to be.
And though it had taken time and quite frankly a great deal of pain on both their parts, they had grown to understand each other much more clearly than before. Though she was still the bright and stubborn girl that he had first been attracted to, it was clear that her stubbornness would not always go in his favor, nor would be always be able to overcome it. For that, he deeply respected her.
Cagalli on the other hand was almost shocked by how hadn't realized before how determined and stubborn he could be as well. Over the past year it had become evident that the guy who she thought would always be selfless and eternally giving for her has his limits as well. In the end it probably really did take this sort of thing for her to realize just how much she had asked of him sometimes. Perhaps she had been self-centered. Perhaps she had been guarding herself too much. In the end he had always been tried to be completely honest with her, ever constant, ever caring and for that she deeply admired him.
"Are you angry at me... for not being able to stay?" She asked, not sure exactly what she was going for. It was just something that seemed appropriate to ask, given past circumstances.
He laughed, knowing this would inevitably come up. "No... But I am frustrated. That you became someone who I wanted to stay, but I could not persuade to do so. " Athrun smiled, aware that in that sense some things hadn't changed.
There was a long drawn out silence as both of them became increasingly aware of the fact that whatever happened next would probably change a lot of things. It almost made them want to turn and run away from it, if not for the fact that they were both tired of running. Both tired of wondering.
"I used to think that I loved you too much for my own good..." Cagalli started. He remained silent, eyes intently focused the calm features that graced her complacent face. Suddenly, the placid pools of amber in her eyes turned towards him, illuminating her visage. "But that's not it, is it? I didn't love you too much... My mind just wasn't willing to love you enough. I just... couldn't handle all the emotions in my heart, quite yet."
Athrun reached out his right hand and put it on top of hers, his thumb stroking her wrist comfortingly, without either of them even realizing it.
"For me…" He started, "My heart... soul... whatever romantic or spiritual analogy you want to use... It's not like I've reserved a spot for you in there. It's just that there's always been an empty space. And you just happen to be the only person that fits in there."
Deep breath now…
"I'm not going to ask you to stay. Because I'm not in a position to do that, and maybe I never was in the first place, and maybe I never will be. But I am going to tell you, that I don't want you to leave. And if you do leave, though I will want to, I may or may not follow you. Because I'm not sure I would be able to."
Hearing this, she was puzzled and it was evident on her face. "I figured… I mean I sort of thought that you wouldn't. To be totally honest I have my own reservations about this. It's a big step for me…"
"Look what I'm saying is that though I want to stay with you, I don't know if I'm ready to do something like chase you to the ends of the world." He interrupted. "For a number of reasons which, I'm sure you understand. I've learned to be a little more firm in taking a stance for myself… perhaps from you."
She couldn't help but laugh at this. "I'm so proud of you!" Cagalli declared facetiously. And he smiled because she was smiling. "Okay then, time for me to show you what you've taught me. I love you Athrun. I really do and I want to stay here with you but I can't give up on my dream again. And I wish I could ask you to leave with me, but I know that's too selfish."
At this point she may as well have been speaking in Greek because he wasn't hearing anything past the 'I love you".
"Did you just say you love me? Say it again, so I know I wasn't hearing things. Seriously? You do? You're not kidding right? You're not just saying things to make me feel better because you're leaving right?"
And suddenly it was all a jumble of laughing and hugging and he couldn't stop kissing her which made her blush like there was no tomorrow.
So maybe they hadn't had the perfect relationship that was roses and butterflies right from the start. They had both made mistakes and both hurt each other, but grown learned more about one another than either would have thought possible. In the end, between all the anger and frustration and even the breakups, they did love each other. Be it distance, or time, or work, everything else was just that.
This concludes 'Neighbors'. I think it some ways it is the most honest and true of the stories I've written, though perhaps the least romantic. Thank you for reading.