For You and I

A/N: So I think I'll stop with these author's notes, I think I abuse them and that's not fair to you guys. So from now on, there won't be an author's note unless something important is up or I respond to some reviews~ Speaking of which, thanks for the reviews everyone, I certainly appreciate all of your input, including the constructive criticism! Especially so, since I can put it to use to make the experience better for you all!

(But I certainly make no promises to let up on the dark or "emo" stuff, though I certainly detest the use of emo describing anything other than music or fashion, but that's just me~)

Oh, and the winner of the Name Contest was Efflorescent, and my baby is now named Trixie. I have a much longer thank you to everyone who contributed and reviewed in my livejournal if you were hoping to see your name, but I didn't want to take up too much space here and prolong your reading of the chapter. You can thank Efflorescent for this update, as I was on a miserable vacation and not up to much of anything not DeviantArt or Pokémon related – long story (and I have a DA account, link in my profile to see some of mah arts...yeah, shameless advertising, are you surprised?) – and the request was for an update at the end of the month, and I tried to type this up the entire sixteen hour drive home on July 31…but things didn't work out, and these past few days have been a bit…ehh…EITHER WAY.

Here now, boring author's note done.

Chapter 22 When We Die

The afternoon sunlight spilt through the windows, pale with winter's approaching kiss, but the sky outside was clear and light. All was a welcome change from the cold, wet days before.

A pen scratched diligently on paper before the holder dropped it with a bored groan. Stretching his arms above his head, Athrun glared darkly at the written assignment on the desk before him. Before he could slack off much, a sharp flick to the back of his head shocked him back to earth and he lurched, reaching up to rub his head, glaring at his abuser.

Kira eyed him and rolled his eyes, resting his cheek in his palm as he stared at his companion. Their punishment for the fight days before had been two weeks worth of after school detention and after two days of boring and wool-thick silence between them, Athrun hesitantly brought up resuming tutoring. The brunet easily agreed, and the sessions had gone more or less without incident.

Well, despite being the person who initiated the continuation, Athrun certainly seemed to feel it was his duty to kick and hiss the entire way. He certainly didn't like that Kira had ended his meekness from like before, as seen with the fearless annoyance he had to be able to strike the other…as harmless as it was.

"I hate this fucking shit…" he grumbled, grabbing his pen and messing with the cap.

"Watch your language." Kira narrowed his eyes and Athrun sneered.

The raven haired boy once again resumed his assignment, uttering a colorful curse at Kira who stared back with bemusement and a shit-eating-grin that seemed to say 'You don't scare me.' Because, to be honest, he really didn't…not now.

Ducking his head, his longish hair covering his face, Athrun sighed quietly and stared at his writing for a few moments, trying to regain focus. For just a split second, his lips pulled just slightly into a small grin, and then it was gone.

Quickly as it came.

Silence returned to the otherwise empty classroom, but it was not suffocating.

In yet another classroom, a few more students milled about. Most of them were from a home economics class and working on sewing projects or reading over recipes. Due to the population being mostly of the fairer set, there was light chatter in the air and stage whispers dotting the conversations with peals of giggles.

At a group of desks pulled together in the back of the classroom, Lacus sat with a girl from her own home ec class and listened to try and understand what had been gone over in class the past few days she was gone. Miriallia sat beside her, pleasantly enough, eating from the many baggies of cookies and treats her classmates had made as get well presents for Lacus.

Miriallia had offered to help her with homework when she'd appeared at school that morning, looking ashen and timid, but she'd smiled and said Kira was helping her, and Miriallia had backed off crossly. When Kira came up to meet them, embracing Lacus gently, she'd glared at him over the pale girl's shoulder, but had said nothing.

"Hey Milly, pass me one of those red-filled ones, please?" Lacus asked, turning to her.

Mir complied and dropped the cookie in the other girl's hand, grinning kindly.

"I'm glad you've got an appetite, you were sick for so long I was really worried," she added, her smile faltering just a bit to show the concern she still held underneath.

Lacus averted her gaze and stared back to the textbook her classmate had gotten for her. The dark haired girl was waiting patiently for the two to finish talking, but catching Miriallia's look, she patted Lacus' shoulder and promised to be back in a few minutes.

With no present distractions, Lacus popped the whole cookie in her mouth, giving her a few chance seconds to not have to talk to the other girl.

Mir still watched her like a hawk, eyes narrowed and observant, but her demeanor caring. Reaching a hand over towards Lacus' face, the short haired girl meant to brush some bangs from the other's forehead, but Lacus flinched and squirmed as though wishing to move away.

Still, Mir's fingers had moved the pale rose locks and in the corner of Lacus' forehead was the remains of a large, painful bruise.

"Sorry for making you worry so much, Milly," Lacus finally squeaked out, her hands gripping her skirt tightly to stop the shaking.

Another hand covered hers, and Miriallia pressed her forehead to Lacus' shoulder, her aqua eyes closed. She squeezed Lacus' thin hand tightly.

"It's okay, really…" she said quietly, loud enough for the other to hear, "I…just really hate to be left behind…"

"Milly…?" Lacus whispered, misty confusion crossing her eyes.

"Don't leave me out, okay?" Milly whispered, voice almost not there, flashes of someone else running through her mind.

Lacus was quiet, and then turned her head to press her lips to Miriallia's hair.

"Okay, Milly. I promise."

He shivered, felt another prickling in his nose, and before he could even try to avoid it, Dearka let loose a loud sneeze. Wiping his nose with the back of his hand, he cringed and sighed heavily.

Leaning against his car in nothing but his school uniform and a sports coat, the blonde hadn't expected to be waiting this long. He'd cut school early again and decided to drive down to where he remembered Miriallia's house to be. It was just as unwelcoming and decrepit as he remembered, but it was her house, so it was different.

He'd been waiting on the roadside, his shiny sports car looking even more out of place in the old neighborhood, when a car had pulled up and the Tolle guy stepped out of the driver side, and Katie hopped from the passenger. They skirted him a curious glance, and Katie tugged Tolle's sleeve to whisper something. The tall brunet grinned, ruffled her hair, and carried her school bag for her up to the house and saw her inside.

Returning, he glanced at Dearka neutrally, not at all caring about the less than friendly glare the blonde gave back to him. No words were exchanged, but Tolle's smug face when he went inside his own warm home was enough. Dearka hated him even more.

That had been nearly an hour ago, and the tan young man was considering that maybe, just maybe, he'd drive home now. But every time the thought was considered, he recalled Miriallia's gloomy look the past few days, and the twinge in his twisted insides made him stay.

She hadn't been with Tolle the past few days at school, he only drove Katie. Miriallia was alone, she didn't smell like him.

That had to mean something, right?

Something bad…but also something good?

Maybe…just maybe…

He shivered again and rubbed his arms. His fingers felt frozen and it hurt to move his hands. With a miserable breath, he sneezed again.

Hard packed snow and ice smashed into his face and Shinn was so stunned he fell over to the snow covered ground.

Ahmed hooted loudly and chucked a snowball at the fallen boy, hitting his shoulder. Shinn got up, sour faced and glaring, and his dark gaze met with Cagalli's. She stood not far off, still and foreboding, her bare hands dripping with snow, and a blank look on her face.

He growled and muttered a curse under his breath, but was suddenly tackled back to the snowy ground by a giggling Mayu. Unable to hold his anger, he couldn't help smiling at her.

"That was a hard hit, Cagalli," Stellar murmured, giving the other blonde a worried look.

Cagalli shrugged silently and bent down to scoop more snow into her hands. This time she didn't take aim at a person, but rather the side of Shinn's house and sent the snowball flying right into the siding where it shattered in a cloud of snow flurries.

Stellar was considering trying to talk to her, but Ahmed came after her with some misshapen snowballs and she shrieked happily and began running in the opposite direction.

She would just have to talk to Cagalli later…that is…if she would let her.

Ever since a few days ago when Cagalli had shown up at school with a bruise on her face, she'd not spoken much about herself. She claimed the bruise was from a fall she took in the kitchen against the table, and said nothing of her brother. She walked ahead of her brother in the mornings and didn't speak a word to him either. Stellar was worried, but there really was nothing she could do, Cagalli was never really into talking much about herself as it was. Stellar had wanted to bring up the Yamato name that man had addressed Kira with, but she'd lost the nerve.

After school, they'd all gone to Shinn's house since he mentioned his little sister was with him and his mom for the day and she wanted to see everyone again. Katie had politely declined and said she had to be getting home early that day anyway, and some guy they'd seen Miriallia with a few days ago showed up to pick her up.

She hadn't looked much better than the morning she broke down, and Stellar was suspecting she was still sick, or something else had to be up. At least she had been able to have the small study sessions with her, and Cagalli had even come along with them as planned. It seemed though that Katie just wasn't interested in any of it, even though she did certainly try.

But the pale haired girl was suspecting that it was more for Stellar's sake than her own…and that worried her.

Running from Ahmed, Stellar didn't realize Mayu was watching her and suddenly a snowball hit her square in the chest and startled her enough to stop her in her tracks. Ahmed was able to catch up and wailed a few snowballs at her, only one hitting her back. But the blonde didn't care in the least, she was still surprised at the dark look Mayu sent her way before the little girl darted off back to her brother's side.

"Hey kids, come inside and warm up!" Shinn's mother called from the porch, smiling out at them. "I have hot chocolate and cookies!"

It was agreed the snowball fight would resume after food, and the teenagers began heading back to the house. Stellar glanced over to see Cagalli send one more snowball straight into the siding once more, and only then did the girl turn to head to the house, a miserable look on her face for all of a few moments before she shook it away.

"Man, Shinn, your mom is awesome! Like hell my dad would ever mess with cookies and junk," the dark skinned boy said laughing. Mayu giggled charmingly and gripped her brother's hand as they walked up the porch steps.

"Mom really is great! She's my favorite!" the girl chimed, and Shinn chanced a glance at her smiling face.

Looking away, he decided he didn't want to think too much about what she'd meant.

The hotel suite was spacious and eloquently decorated with fine furniture, dotted with tasteful flower arrangements and knick knacks that gave the space a homey feel.

It felt like home to Via, and she was thankful for that. This entire expedition was not going to her plans and it was making her miserable. Walking, or rather pacing, around furniture on the plush carpets in circles, wringing her hands, the woman sighed and stood still for a few moments.

Collapsing on one of the antique overstuffed couches, she clutched an exquisitely embroidered pillow to her chest. She hadn't yet showered that morning, and was still dressed in rumpled silk pajamas. After the incident with Kira in the shopping district, she'd wanted to go after him, but Alaire had dissuaded her.

Now, days later, she was miserable and anxious and surely would sprout gray hairs and wrinkles any moment from all of her worry. He'd told her to wait, and she had been waiting. She'd been waiting for years, she didn't want to wait any longer.

But still…Alaire knew how to do these things, he'd assured her. He knew how to work people, and apparently he know how to work Via Hibiki because despite every bone in her body telling her to act now, she was staying put.

A knock on the suite door alerted her to company, and the click of a key card sounded before the door was opened and Alaire stepped inside, carrying a plastic bag she could only hope was not detestable fast food. She could very well order room service for him; she hated the smell of greasy food.

"Alaire," she greeted tiredly, despite having slept the entire morning.

The man nodded to her and set down the bag. The scent of Chinese food wafted from inside and Via crinkled her nose. He unwound a thick scarf from around his neck and placed it over the back of an overstuffed chair, then did the same with his overcoat. Sitting himself down, he reached for his bag and opened one of the white cartons before snapping cheap chopsticks apart.

"So I think we may be able to try again," he finally said, popping a round dumpling into his mouth.

Via stared at him with wide eyes as though entranced, and patiently waited for him to finish chewing. Dabbing his mouth with a napkin after swallowing, Alaire grinned at the woman.

"He hasn't seemed to have changed his schedule any since the café incident, though he has stayed later after school. But do you recall the girl I mentioned was with him?"

Via took a moment to think, and brightened, nodding enthusiastically. "Yes, long hair, thin and pretty?" she asked.

"She's returned to school, and he's been with her most the day. I suspect he'll return to walking her home, I could meet with him once he's separated from her."

Via smiled prettily and ran her fingers through her messy long hair. A look of pure relief and joy had crossed her face at the prospect of meeting with Kira again. But a serious look crossed her features.

"I should choose a more secluded location, somewhere he can't run from so easily, more private…" she suggested, looking to her detective for assurance.

Alaire shook his head.

"Bad idea, Via. He's a kid, and he's skittish and suspicious. A second meeting won't happen if he feels threatened. Need to keep it public and open." the man explained, feeling unexplainable guilt to see her expression falling.

Via looked disappointed but nodded her understanding.

"Good," Alaire said, grinning around a mouthful of chicken. He swallowed and licked his lips. "Maybe we should go out to dinner tonight, to get you into better spirits? I'm sure a nice restaurant will be more pleasurable than room service again."

Via cast a disapproving look to the Chinese and looked back to the detective and nodded her consent with another pretty smile.

"You're absolutely right. I'll go pamper myself with a bath, then," she said as she stood, walking towards the bedroom of the suite to collect clothes for the night, "We'll do dinner at, say, seven?" she called and Alaire called back to tell her that was fine.

In her elation, Via thoughtfully chose a silk blouse whose shade of violet reminded her of Kira's eyes, and a black layered skirt. On her way to the bathroom to draw her bath, she affectionately traced her fingertip across the glass of a picture frame she'd placed on the nightstand.

The picture was old, discolored, a bit torn from being folded and unfolded so many times, and Via had concernedly placed it in the small frame in hopes to preserve it. The small child inside the frame was dressed in Christmas attire and wore a silly elf hat, and in his arms was a little girl.

Soon, Via told herself, soon she too would have adorable family photos just like that one to fill albums and books and frames until she suffocated in them.

Homework really, really sucked. Athrun was no stranger to this, but with Kira watching him like a hawk, he was getting sick of it faster than usual. Glancing back at the clock, he groaned. There was still plenty of time left. Great.

The quiet of the room was disturbed by a quiet vibration and Kira dug his cell phone out of his bag and flipped it open, his thumb quickly going over the number pad to reply to a text message. A small smile tugged on his lips, and he flipped the phone shut and placed it on the desk, as though expecting a reply soon.

Athrun rolled his eyes, it had to be the Clyne girl.

"What's with her?" Athrun asked after a few moments, his utter boredom bringing him to bother with conversation.

"Who?" Kira asked levelly, eyes narrow.

"Chill, I meant your girlfriend. Why her? Yeah, she's pretty, but she's quiet, boring, and seems clingy." Athrun drawled, examining his knuckles absently.

Kira was silent a few moments, and Athrun glanced up to find an unamused brunet. Before he could do or say anything, Kira stuck his foot out and around one of the legs of Athrun's chair and yanked, knocking the chair and the student sitting on it right over.

Lips twitching in dark amusement, Kira glared at the downed Athrun who was beginning to really dislike this new Kira…and yet he couldn't make himself angry anymore.

"The hell's your problem?" he hissed anyways, and Kira leaned back in his seat.

"You don't know her; you don't say a thing about her." Kira said shortly, and Athrun rolled his eyes again…but didn't say another word about the girl.

A few moments of quiet, and Kira sighed quietly, glancing out the window.

"She has pretty eyes…" he said finally, but didn't turn his head.

"Hm?" Athrun looked up at him, green eyes piqued with semi-interest.

"…and she can sing."

"Her? With that quiet little voice of hers?" Athrun asked with just a tad too much incredulity.

Kira nodded slowly, watching snow melt and drip down the windowpane outside. He wanted to take Lacus to their park again…today…He really wanted to see if he could get her to sing again.

Athrun didn't speak again, just watched the other for a few moments, and then turned back to his work. He wasn't getting anywhere, he didn't want to think about the subjects at hand…and yet there was all this time stuck here…Glancing down at his school bag hanging on the hook of the desk, the dark haired boy reached inside and pulled out a thick book which he plopped on the desk top.

Flipping it open, examining a few pages, tucking reference photos and magazine clippings back in among the pages, he finally reached the page he was looking for and searched for his pencil case. He was using a specific sepia ink pen for the drawing, and he had to use the exact same pen.

Pulling off the cap with his teeth, Athrun stared at a reference photo and the page, glaring critically at it before continuing the work as though he'd never stopped.

Hearing noise, Kira glanced back at Athrun to see the other furiously scribbling over an open book. Curiosity got him to move closer to inspect it, and when he saw what it was the brunet was certainly surprised.

The tree, though unfinished, was already amazing. There was no pencil work on the page; Athrun was just working with the pen. It looked better than the photo.

"I didn't know you could draw." Kira commented quietly. Athrun paused for only a moment, then continued.

"I didn't know you had any guts. Guess we're even."

Kira pursed his lips and sat back in his seat, glancing at his cell phone a second before it vibrated. A heavy silence fell over them again, but it was not as bad as it had been before. Gazing at the other for a moment, Kira looked away yet again to reply to Lacus' message. He did not see Athrun glance at him from the corner of his eye.

They had been enemies a few days ago. Now that they weren't, they didn't know what they were. They certainly weren't friends…but…and not that they would ever admit it…

That didn't change the fact that they felt comfortable in the other's presence.

The silence was heavy, but it was not impermeable.

Lacus grinned and tucked her phone away once again, much to Miriallia's annoyance. She didn't really care that Lacus was texting Kira, but she was still mad at Kira and she was good at a grudge.

"Lacus, pay attention would you? You told me you wanted the help with math," the short haired girl sighed, her lips pulled into a no nonsense frown.

"I'm sorry, Milly," the girl replied, a bit of coloring doting her cheeks. A few girls from her home ec class who were close enough to hear giggled, knowing perfectly well who Lacus was messaging.

"Did something happen between you and Kira?" the long haired girl finally asked after a moment's hesitation. A worried look marred her face, and Miriallia felt bad, as though her mood had caused Lacus to worry…

Even though it's all Kira's fault…Mir stabbed in her head childishly. She refused to put the blame on Lacus, even though it could be argued she and Kira were equally to blame for Miriallia's lack of knowing what was going on the past few days.

"Not…really…" Mir stumbled, not wanting to meet Lacus' baby blue gaze.

"Please tell me, even if it was something small? Kira hasn't mentioned anything, and you look upset, Miriallia," Lacus pleaded.

"It's just…you and Kira can get so…I dunno…" Miriallia's voice dropped to a whisper, causing Lacus to have to lean closer to hear. She became tense and squirmed a bit when one of Mir's hands moved to lightly hold Lacus' wrist, the same one Mir had seen bleeding all those months ago.

"You both go off in your own little world sometimes, you're both so secretive and withdrawn from me…" Mir's expression did nothing to soothe Lacus' worry, so she stood from the desk, grabbing her friend's arm.

"Come on, let's go somewhere to talk?" she suggested, and Mir stared at her for a moment before hesitantly nodding.

Outside of the classroom, it was quieter and more private already, but Lacus didn't stop until they were far away, and found a windowed wall that overlooked a small courtyard one of the science classes used for botany experiments. Lacus let go of Mir, who crossed her arms and leant back against the thick window. The glass was really cold.

Lacus waited a few moments, wondering if Mir would start talking, but she didn't.

"I'm sorry, if you feel like we leave you out," Lacus said softly, genuinely understanding and feeling guilty.

Mir glanced up, feeling bad for bringing it up in the first place. They were together, that certainly gave them grounds for being so separate from her…but they never told her anything. It's like her entire world was being pulled out from beneath her, and no one told her anything anymore.

Katie, Tolle, Kira, and Lacus…and somewhere deep in the back of her mind she remembered the totally neutral and blank look Dearka had given her in class before. Everything she did or didn't want was a mess.

"I'm just overreacting; don't worry about it, okay? I'm sorry that I ended up making you worry," the auburn haired girl confessed, looking up to see Lacus standing just an arm's length away.

"Milly," Lacus whispered, eyes conflicted, lips trembling. Her pale hands reached for Miriallia's, and gripped her tightly.

"Hey," the girl began, trying to smile.

"I know it's not fair leaving you out of some things, you're too good a friend to not know some things…but…" Lacus lifted the other girl's hand close to her chin.

"But…you shouldn't know some things, okay? It's easier for you, better even. It's not fair to make you worry," the pale girl explained, stumbling over her own words. When she looked up at Mir, a hopeful, troubled look was on her face, but she paled –if that was even possible – seeing Mir's face. The other girl's hand was ripped from hers.

"What is it…with you and himeveryone…" Mir hissed, her lips trembling and shoulders shaking, "thinking that it's better to just tell me nothing!" she cried bitterly, gritting her teeth, remembering Kira's words.

Lacus flinched and her face crumbled.

"If you care about someone you should be able to talk to them, turn to them for help. No one asks me for anything, but you all need fucking help." Miriallia hissed, glaring at the floor, her hands shaking.

"I need help," she muttered, bringing a hand to her face to cover her eyes.

"I'm sorry!"

Mir glanced at Lacus through a break in her fingers, seeing a dark, angry look on Lacus' face. But the anger was mixed with sadness and guilt and helplessness…and color stained the pale girl's cheeks.

Breath lost, pain inching through her chest and head, Lacus felt her knees tremble under her weight. Miriallia was hurting…and Lacus understood why…But she couldn't bear to drop her problems on her, she didn't even want to tell Kira. But Milly…was crying…

A weight pressed against her, and Miriallia stood frozen in uncertainty as Lacus' arms wrapped around her, the girl burying her face in her friend's shoulder. They didn't speak, neither knew what they could possibly say.

"I can't tell you…I can't tell you…I can't tell you…" Lacus mouthed into the girl's shoulder, unable to bring her voice up to sound it.

Miriallia shuddered, and finally released a breath she didn't know she'd been holding. She suddenly felt empty, lethargic, she'd finally said what she'd been bottling up for so long…and now there was nothing. Giving a helpless mile to the ceiling tiles, her hand dropped from her eyes and fell atop Lacus' head.

Her hair was so soft…like Katie's…

And because Katie wasn't there, Tolle wasn't there, and Kira wasn't there, Miriallia embraced Lacus, clutching her close.

Because she was.

Every so often, the curtains in the front window of the house would move. Dearka was certain of it.

And each time he wondered why. Did he seem suspicious? Probably. But he'd been there for over an hour, standing there, doing nothing, freezing his ass off. Did he seem to be an entertaining spectacle because of it? Most likely.

He didn't know who else lived with Miriallia, but he was guessing it was the younger girl, Katie. He didn't really know her, Miriallia really hadn't let him get the chance.

Whenever he'd stuck around after school weeks before, hoping to catch a word with the short haired girl, he'd often seen Katie waiting for her sister with Kira's sibling. He'd got about as far as a casual 'Hello' before Mir appeared, ready to lead Katie off and fix him with a dark glare. Kira and Lacus had offered worried grins, not really sure how to appease either party, and simply let it be.

Dearka was at least thankful for the small group…even if he just seemed to have more enemies than allies. The fallout with Athrun hadn't gotten any better, and Yzak clearly still wasn't talking to him. Thanks to his time spent being a right out asshat to the student population, his ass covered by Athrun's standing and Yzak's reputation, now that he was kicked out of the nest everyone wanted a piece.

Just the other morning, a girl with thick glasses and fucking braids had tripped him. He hadn't even seen her until he was already down on the ground and she was walking away, pleased. And then he vaguely remembered making fun of a girl awhile back for having too big glasses and braces.

The braces had done her well…she still needed new glasses frames.

Shaking his head, clearing his thoughts of the oh so pleasant memory, the blonde brought his hands up to his face, breathing on them rather uselessly. It seemed even his breath was cold. Fabulous. He really shouldn't use that word…

Closing his eyes, the tan teen leaned back against his car, furrowing his brow and growling something unintelligible. The last thing he needed was to spend all this time thinking. He didn't like thinking, hated where it led to.

Feeling another sneeze coming on, he braced himself and scowled. He hated the cold, too.

The sound of a door opening and slamming shut drew his attention back towards the house, and he watched with interest when the small form of Katie walked slowly but surely down the driveway. She was bundled up in a heavy jacket a few sizes too large, ear muffs, furry boots, a scarf, and fuzzy mittens. An added measure was a thick, pale orange muffler draped loosely over her shoulders and around her neck.

Dearka felt as though his fingers would break off like icicles just looking at her.

When she was close enough, he nodded stiffly towards her, unable to wave his fingers for obvious reasons. She didn't seem to mind and quietly rocked back on the balls and heels of her feet. It was then Dearka realized she was holding a thermos, and it appeared to be steaming.

Thinking in the back of his mind that Katie must have gotten all the sweetness Miriallia seemed to lack, he was ready to sing praises for the younger girl…

Until she sipped from it contentedly and made a satisfied sound after licking her lips.

"Have you ever had raspberry tea?" she asked, and Dearka stiffly shook his head.

"Oh, that's too bad." she said, almost smugly, but the blonde knew he'd never be able to prove it.

They stood in silence some more, and Dearka found himself almost a little…disturbed…by Katie's wide eyed stare.

She was pale as the snow, ashen looking, with dark rings under her eyes. But her eyes were still just as vibrant and bright as her sister's. They were locked on him with a curious interest, and Dearka couldn't help wondering how Miriallia would look if she stared at him like that.

"You don't look weirded out." Katie noted, sipping from her thermos again.


"I don't freak you out…?" Katie ventured, tilting her head to the side.

Dearka stared at her for a moment, taking in the sunken cheeks, tired lids…how skinny her legs looked from above the boots and underneath the coat hem. How no matter how many layers she wore she wouldn't look normal.

"No…" he said, and then he closed his eyes, swallowing, "…yeah…"

"At least you're kind of honest." she shrugged, looked pleased.

"Your friends don't know, do they?" he ventured quietly.

"No…I mean, I kinda wish they did, but I like that they don't. It would just be more annoying…Milly never let me forget." Katie confessed, looking a little sheepish.

"It's pretty scary, though, isn't it?" Dearka asked, and then he wanted to kick himself for it.

"Yeah…" Katie sighed, her voice trailing off as she glanced down the road, looking for nothing in particular.

"Y'know what else is scary, all the homework I have to do for missing so much school…" she said with a laugh. Dearka stared at her wide eyed. "I don't want to do any of it, it's too hard…such a waste of time…But my friends want to help me, don't want to let my report card look bad." a dark grin lit Katie's lips.

"Wish my friends cared about me like that," Dearka mused, grinning stiffly. He wasn't just cold from the weather, now.

"It's not going to matter," Katie chuckled, shrugging. "I'd rather watch TV all day, or read, or eat lobster or something…"

"You like lobster, huh?"

"No, actually. I'm allergic to it. And I hate fish."

"Lobster's not a fish." Dearka smirked, then sucked in his lips to make one of the most ridiculous fish faces Katie had ever seen.

"Close enough," Katie giggled.

A short silence passed between them, and Katie slurped her tea loudly. The blonde grinned.

"Not very lady like,"

"You're not much of a gentleman, either." Katie quipped, looking to him with cat-like eyes and a smug smirk.

Dearka quirked a golden brow.

"Really now? And how would you know?"

"Milly said. She calls you a pervert and an idiot and a jerk and a bunch of other things," Katie noted casually with glee. Dearka looked bemused.

"She said that…I'm not really surprised…"

Katie waited another moment, and then sighed, kicking at a hardened clump of snow stuck to the driveway.

"Okay I lied. She doesn't talk about you that much, and really only called you names a few times…" the girl confessed, and though he didn't show it, Dearka's surprise made something in his chest leap.

"It's not nice to lie."

"It's not nice to punch someone in the face."

Dearka was silent after that, shame written over his face. Katie seemed appeased by his reaction, and took in a breath.

"She wasn't always so mean, you know…not to everyone, anyway," she added with a sideways glance towards him. "She hates change, never liked Mom's boyfriends…until Ray, anyway…and she used to date Tolle but they got into a lot of fights and broke up. Said he did stupid things," Katie added.

"She's nice enough to Kira and Lacus…" Dearka noted, feeling a bit anxious, or excited. Something he could figure out about Miriallia, something she herself clearly was not ever going to tell him.

"She likes them, they're nice," Katie pointed out, lifting a thin eyebrow at him, "I'm glad she has them, they'll be good for her…"

That was odd.

"What do you mean? They're already there for her…" the young man murmured, eyes narrowing. He thought he knew where this was going. He didn't like it.

"It'll be different when they're all she has." Katie said with another shrug, face a mask. She took another loud sip from her thermos.

Dearka crossed his arms, shivered a little. It was morbid…surreal even, to be talking to a girl younger than him about death. He hated the acrid taste it put in his mouth.

Katie looked him over, and benignly held out her thermos.

"Here, want some?" she asked, smiling.

Dearka smirked and shook his head. "No way, ever heard of an indirect kiss?"

Katie scrunched her face. "Gross, I'd never kiss you. Do you like standing there freezing?" she asked.

With a heavy heart, Dearka reached over to take the thermos, which Katie nudged towards him. But under her watchful eye, he unscrewed the top, and went to sip from the edge while grinning at her.

When the pleasantly hot liquid met his lips and then tongue, it took him a moment to comprehend the taste. Meaning to swallow like a man, but unable to do so, Dearka spat the small mouthful of salt water into the snow. Glaring at the thermos wide eyed, the blonde looked immediately to Katie, who looked pleasantly entertained.

"The hell you drinking this for!" he demanded, handing it back to her with the top loosely capped on it.

"I can't stomach much of anything, even just tea…I figured if I went crazy from dehydration it'd be a little more fun," she explained, smiling as she poured the hot, salty concoction into the snow.

"It's not that bad once you get used to it." she added, smirking.

Before Dearka could retort, the small girl's face twisted into a pained expression and she dropped her thermos, bringing her gloved hands up to her mouth. Eyes wide and a little frightened, she wobbled on her legs and nearly toppled to the snow, but Dearka caught her shoulders and helped her slowly to her knees.

It was just in time, too, because the next second she was heaving right there onto the snow. It wasn't much, mostly clear liquid, and though it was certainly not on his list of things to watch, Dearka fearlessly knelt beside her and pulled back her hair from her face with his icy fingers.

"C-cold!" she garbled in protest, before coughing and heaving again. She lifted a hand to swat him away, but the glove covered fingers merely latched onto his arm and clutched him tightly.

Dearka didn't care, and waited until she was done, and then scooped up clean snow and held it out to her. She stared at it blankly for a moment, spat in an unladylike manner, and then grabbed at it, glove and all, and wiped her lips and chin. He'd been to enough parties, he knew a few tips on the worst things.

He gently tucked her short hair behind her ears and looked over her face, noting nothing unwanted seemed to be clinging to her lips. She shook for a moment, and her eyes finally met his. His throat constricted, and he felt as though his insides were dry. She began to open her mouth to speak.

Before either of them could say anything, Tolle was rushing out of his house, hurrying towards them.

"Katie!" he growled, but his ferocity was in concern. He scooped the girl up in his arms, and easily carried her back to the house. From over his shoulder, Katie glanced back to Dearka, who stood silently from the snow. Her thermos was forgotten in the ice.

Rubbing his arms, Dearka went back to his car. Staring at the door handle, he considered going home. He…didn't think he could stay there anymore that day. But he was frozen stiff. Her eyes…had been…frightened…resigned. The stupid books he'd read from the library hadn't covered this.

"Hey, wait."

Dearka stiffened at the sound of Tolle's voice, and he was a bit surprised by how quickly the other had come back out. Nonetheless, he turned to face him, and realized he was carrying something. The pale orange muffler Katie had been wearing.

When Tolle reached the blonde, the curly haired boy hesitated a moment, and then handed over the muffler.

"Don't know why, really…But she said to give this to you." Tolle's pale blue eyes flashed to Dearka's violet gaze, and the blonde slowly reached out for it.

The material was soft and warm, gentle and smooth against his frozen fingertips. He dug his fingers into it, and with both hands he held it close to his chest, not really knowing what to do with it.

"…Thanks." he murmured after a bit, and Tolle nodded.

Just as he was turning around, he stopped, looking up at the house's front window. The curtains moved, and Tolle shook his head, chuckled quietly.

"There was one more thing," he added, glancing back at Dearka, "she said you were good, too…whatever that's supposed to mean," the brunet said, shrugging. He didn't stick around long, and on his way back up to the house, he scooped up the thermos and cap from the ground.

Dearka stood frozen for a few moments, going over her words, fingering the muffler. After a few moments, his lips began to pull into a grin, and he lifted the scarf to his face. Breathing in, he caught a light scent, something…floral…or something. It didn't matter, really…because he immediately thought of Miriallia and that was fine.

With sudden determination, Dearka opened his eyes and gripped the muffler tightly. It was decided. He'd go now.

Throwing open the car door, setting the scarf on the passenger seat, Dearka slammed the door shut and started the car. Nearly ramming on the gas, he backed away from the curb and turned onto the road, meaning to head back to the school.

"I should be getting back home," Ahmed sighed, gazing longingly back towards the large television and gaming consoles that took residence in Shinn's living room.

"It is getting kind of late," Stellar agreed, leaning back against the couch.

"You're just sore losers," Shinn quipped with a smirk, pressing a few buttons on his game controller. The screen was split four ways, and four different cars were racing on a forested track.

"And you think you're hot stuff?" Cagalli smirked, watching with satisfaction as her own car passed the dark haired boy's around a sharp turn and took the lead.

"Damn…" he cursed, making Mayu giggle at his side.

"I'll tell Mom," she said in a singsong tone, holding her hands out.

Shinn sighed and handed over the controller, allowing the younger girl to take control of his car.

Stellar's car was drawing closer, and for a moment she thought she might be able to pass Shinn's car, but Mayu suddenly spun the car and smashed it against the terrain, the interacting environment bringing down trees that caused Stellar's own car to veer and crash.

Ahmed whooped with amusement, and Cagalli snorted while Shinn bemoaned his score. Stellar wasn't that bothered, she was never really that competitive with games, but she felt something strange prickling in the back of her head. Glancing over to wear Mayu and Shinn sat, her eyes widened, Mayu's garnet stare glaring straight at her.

Swallowing, Stellar blinked, and Mayu was no longer staring at her. That was certainly…disconcerting. Turning her attention back to the television screen, the blonde girl watched her car respawn a few paces back on the track, and meant to accelerate, but a sharp pain in her palm made her drop the controller and make a small sound.

Cagalli immediately looked over to her and Shinn even turned his head, looking ready to get up, but Cagalli dropped her controller and knelt beside Stellar.

"You okay?" she asked, glancing down at the other girl's hands. They were still red, and surely had to be sore. Stellar nodded after hesitating a moment, but Cagalli made her stand up anyways.

"Come on, let's go to the bathroom," the blonde insisted, latching her fingers around the girl's wrist before dragging her away.

The boys watched after them, Ahmed looking a bit concerned, but shrugged it off. Shinn looked far more worried, but Mayu tugged his sleeve and caught his attention back.

"Hey, Shinn, can we start a new race?" she requested, and the dark haired boy couldn't help but nod.

"Let's make it a team race," Ahmed suggested, scooting closer to the Asuka siblings, "Mayu can be on my team, since Shinn sucks and all," he joked, making the girl laugh.

"Har har, real funny," Shinn mused with a sour look. But to Mayu's insistence, he did as Ahmed suggested and started the race.

In the bathroom, Cagalli was watching as Stellar gingerly washed her hands. They hadn't been able to find a cream or balm, but Cagalli had managed to find some clumpy lip balm Stellar had buried in the bottom of her school bag. Deciding to make due with large bandaids and the balm, Cagalli yanked off the cap and began to spread the mostly clear gunk on her friend's palms.

"Ow," Stellar hissed, her hand twitching when Cagalli pressed too hard.

"Sorry," Cagalli murmured, going about the spreading more gently.

A few more moments of silence, and Cagalli paused, causing Stellar to eye her expectantly.

"How did this happen? You never told me…" the blonde inquired, her attention still on her friend's hands.

"I did something stupid…" Stellar shrugged, cringing when the action caused Cagalli to press the wrong way. "Neo burnt some postcards from Mom and Dad…I tried to save them," she admitted, feeling silly recalling it…and feeling empty all over again.

The cards were both charred messes now, just like her family…How poetic, she mused satirically.

"…Your parents sent you cards?" Cagalli asked, pausing to look up at Stellar.

Stellar nodded, looking away. The bathroom was small, not much to distract yourself with…

"…at least…they were thinking of you…" the girl added, going back to pressing lip balm to Stellar's burn marks.

A light fluttering filled Stellar's chest, and her lips broke into a bit of a smile while her eyes pricked with moisture. Even though much couldn't have been expected, Cagalli was right, Stellar reasoned, having felt the same way when she first saw the cards. Her parents had to have remembered them, even for just a second, to have grabbed a card and scrawled out a few words and the address.

"…I think I'm done…" Cagalli said, popping the cap back into place as she eyed her friend's hands. "You know…we probably shouldn't have done that," she added, a nervous grin and laugh creeping up to her face.

Stellar nodded, unable to find her voice, her private and pointless elation making her unable to do so. Without any warning, she threw her arms around Cagalli, and held her close.

"Ah, hey, I get it, but…don't get any of that stuff in my hair," Cagalli teased, trying to push Stellar away, despite not putting any force behind the motion.

"Can you walk me home?" Stellar asked, quietly and almost in a whisper. Cagalli easily agreed, patting her friend's back uncomfortably, but smiling nonetheless.

This was easy…almost fun, in a morbid way, to pretend to be someone else around her friends…Cagalli decided this quickly and easily while unknowingly comforting her friend. Kira…Muruta…Lacus…they weren't connected to this, to them, so Cagalli could be someone else, if even for a little while.

Her hair was so soft, fell from between each of his fingers, and he couldn't help watching it, entranced. The sunlight was beginning to fade, but it still shone down in the most perfect way, and created a halo around her head in soft light.

A cold nose pressed against his cheek, and soft lips brushed over his skin and he smiled, wrapping an arm around her shoulders loosely as his hand continued to bunch in her hair. A cold kiss was pressed to his ear, and he grinned, pressing his own lips to the girl's soft hair. It had been so long since they had a true moment alone after the incident a few days ago, Kira was glad to be able to feel her against him again.

Lacus brought up a hand and traced the contours of the brunette's face, her fingertips ghosting over his skin and resting on his lips. Kira's eyes rested on her face when she pulled away from him, and his hand left her hair to grasp her fingers. He pulled her hand away to kiss her fingertips, closing his eyes as he rested his lips against them.

She smiled, and pressed her lips to his knuckles, closing her eyes as well.

Within seconds, their lips gravitated towards one another once more, and they kissed again, sweetly, slowly. Kira gently moved up along her face, kissing her cheek, and then her eyelids. With a soft laugh in his throat, he moved along her pale brow, and then her forehead. Lacus' eyelids fluttered, and her lashes tickled his chin.

"I've missed you," he murmured.

"Me too," she replied, wrapping an arm around his neck, burying her face in his throat. He was so tall…

A few moments of serene silence passed, and Lacus finally pushed away. Kira glanced down at her when she tugged the collar of his jacket, and he noticed a conflicted look in her eyes.

"Kira…you and Milly aren't talking," she stated, staring at his tie, "Why? Did something happen?"

Kira was silent for a few moments, and made to touch her hair, but she turned away from his hand. Glancing up at him, her face was serious. He sighed.

He explained the incident between he and Miriallia a few days ago, and a guilty look flashed over his eyes, but his lips twitched and settled into a tight frown.

"But I couldn't tell her the truth, it's not mine to tell, I wouldn't do that," he said, and Lacus' lips pulled into a feeble smile, her expression conflicted.

"She's hurting, I don't know everything, but I know she's upset and hurt…" she admitted, clutching Kira's jacket tightly between her bony fingers. "We hurt her…"

"So you want to explain to her?" Kira asked quietly, already disliking the idea of Lacus going through that again…and feeling almost possessive…as though if someone else knew, his knowing wouldn't be as important…but that thought itself was ridiculous and mad and he cast it away quickly.

Wasn't he supposed to fighting with her to make her tell people? To make her reveal the truth and to save herself from the pain and darkness she surrounded herself with…to break the torturous masochistic chain…

"I don't…know…" Lacus muttered, "Will I look weak to her? Will she be disgusted with me? What will…she do?" the pale girl muttered, feeling naked.

Kira's arms were around her protectively, and her buried his face in the top of her hair.

"She's Miriallia…" he admitted, and Lacus nodded. This long, painful game was almost over. With each person, she'd eventually heal the cracks, right? Right…that's how it worked…that's how things would work themselves out…

"Kira?" Lacus whispered, and pulled back to look up at him.

He gazed down at her, and smiled assuredly, his arms tightening around her.

She stood up on her toes and pressed a kiss to his lips, and with no words, she thanked him.

In the abandoned midst of their park, old structures and weedy grass blanketed in a thin layer of snow, the distant sound of the bay waters lapping at the bottom of the hillside's cliff, they stood still as statues in one another's warmth.

Pressing his nose to her forehead, Kira breathed in her scent, and his knuckled traced the side of her face contentedly. His eyes were closed, but hers weren't, and she was staring absently, enjoying the gentle touch. He was being careful of the remains of her bruise, and hadn't hurt her once.


"Mm?" she hummed, eyes half lidded, lips chapped already from the cold air.

"Um, could you…sing again, for me?" he asked shyly, hesitantly, and a light and airy laugh filled the air around him.

"Alright…because you asked so nicely," she said, giving in easily.

She took in a breath of the chilled, clear air and filled her chest, and then her voice rose and she began to sing. The words didn't even matter, sometimes they dipped into nothing but sounds, yet Kira didn't mind.

Her voice cradled him, and stilled his stirring thoughts, her body beside his warmed the inches that felt fingers of cold ghost over.

"Beautiful…" he whispered, and she closed her eyes and continued to sing.

The café wasn't exactly on the way to home, but Miriallia realized after several minutes of walking that she definitely wasn't heading home. Somehow she'd ended up here, and she was making the most of it. She'd ordered something from the menu, not really paying much attention, and took her steaming drink back with her to a table by one of the large bay windows.

She didn't spend much time walking around Red Shoals, but she was familiar with her location, enough to know she wasn't lost, anyway.

Sipping her drink, she was pleasantly surprised to taste vanilla and caramel, mixed with a strong blend of coffee she hadn't had before. It was delicious, and most importantly, it was warm.

Not one for people watching, she grew tired of seeing students, some in her own uniform, some in others, strolling outside on the sidewalks, along with some adults. Housewives getting late afternoon groceries, probably ingredients for dinner, men leaving work, going out with colleagues…Everyone had somewhere to go.

Glancing over at the patrons in the café, Miriallia noted that it wasn't quite filled yet, not exactly busy. It was probably nice, though, not having to stress but still having service. At least whenever she was working she preferred a happy median between slow and packed.

Something certainly did stand out to her, though, and it was a head of blue raven hair. Athrun Zala was sitting alone at a table, sipping something from a Styrofoam cup while bent over and open book…scratching out something with a pen.

She didn't know exactly what was going on, since she wasn't speaking with Kira still, but Mir had seen the two together, at least after school. They always went to the same empty classroom she knew was one used for detentions. She'd heard about a fight, and though she'd initially been worried for Kira, she held off breaking her cold shoulder when she saw he had no broken bones and looked just fine…save for the dark look that haunted his eyes for the past few days…

Of course seeing Lacus that morning had wiped every trace of that away, but still…It was Athrun Zala…

And for some reason, Miriallia just couldn't pull up the ability to care.

Sipping her coffee, she huddled in her chair and tried to lock her thoughts away. Those precious minutes with Lacus had been torturous, over too quickly, falling upon her too suddenly. But…at least she'd finally said something, and it seemed to have made a difference…if even a small one.

The restaurant was classy without being too extravagant, which was certainly a pleasantry for where it was in the city. A gentle color scheme of crimson and gold was employed from the walls to the floors to the decorations and furniture, warming to the heart and appetizing to the stomach. Even a high quality restaurant resorted to color psychology.

Small and large flower arrangements were littered about the place in delicate vases and basins. On the tables a stylish and small centerpiece was placed with an arrangement of flowers. Via was currently fingering one with interest whilst ignoring her menu.

"Aren't they divine, Alaire?" she asked, her fingertip rubbing along the velvety surface of a violet colored petal.

The young man took a glance at the arrangement to humor his employer and he gave a nod. The flowers were small but the colors were vivid. Violet mixed with orange and yellow for contrast, and the greenery surrounding them was delicate and didn't steal the eye but complemented the flowers. He knew Via had a particular interest in the flora, as she had her own business arranging flowers.

Of course, it was more of a hobby to her. Alaire had guessed she'd never worked a day in her life, and the boredom of living off of her divorce settlement for the past few years had driven her to seek fulfillment elsewhere, and that had brought her to flowers. She often worked at weddings and other such affairs, and it brought in a surprising income, not that she needed it.

Though she'd contacted his senior and mentor detective some years ago, when she was still married to her husband. She'd met with him discreetly, and Alaire had been privy to those intense, emotional meetings. Unfortunately, the older man was not able to continue with the case, and upon retirement passed it along to his apprentice, along with the recently divorced client Via Hibiki who chose to keep her ex-husband's name.

"For social purposes?" he'd asked her in good humor when they went out to celebrate their now working together and her apparent freedom.

"For safety," she'd replied cryptically.

Now, several years later, and she was so close to her goal. Just as beautiful as she'd been before, though aging a bit from stress as of late, a new light seemed to have lit her eyes. Her long auburn hair was swept back in a loose up-do, and she'd slipped in a pearled barrette. Matching pearl earrings were in her ears, and two strings of small pearls were draped around her neck. She never wore heavy makeup, and tonight was no exception.

When Alaire had first seen her, and then the few old and worn photographs she'd had when she first came to his boss, he'd easily seen a resemblance. Even now, after seeing her and him, he had no doubts. He knew this long case was almost complete, properly righteous.

"So what were you planning to order?" he asked, glancing at the long, elegant menu.

"I am not quite sure yet…" she murmured, attention drawn back to the long lists of entrees and appetizers. A small smile rose to her lips, "I wonder what he likes? I should take us out once he's more familiar with me," she suggested, and Alaire nodded absently.

He honestly should have been a bit more strict with her, laid it down that she can't just jump into things with him, that it never worked that way…but seeing her so happy after so long, so many broken leads, so much grief…

"I heard they have wonderful Chicken Cordon Bleu," he noted, and Via smiled at him.

A waitress approached then, dressed nicely in a white dress shirt, black pants, and burgundy waist apron with detailed black embroidery. She carried a bottle of red wine Alaire had asked for and offered to pour their glasses.

After asking for their orders, the waitress smiled in a friendly manner.

"May I bring you both an appetizer dish? We have a delicious seasoned and sliced pepper array in a honey sauce as our special tonight," she suggested.

"That would be lovely," Via said with a smile as the girl took their menus and retreated.

Alaire went to sip his wine, but he stopped when Via glanced at him, grinning. She held up her glass to him, and he chuckled, reaching over to clink glasses with her.

"What's the toast for?" he asked, and her lips pulled up in the corners.

"A little victory."

A few tables away from the celebrating pair, a young man and his father sat, silently picking at their meals.

"How's school?" the man asked his son, looking up over the table.

"It's fine." Yzak replied curtly.

His father nodded, glancing back to his plate.

"Ezaria is out of the hospital?" the man asked, trying to ignite the conversation. Yzak's expression soured and he glared at the tabletop.

"With Elijah, of course," the platinum haired teen answered, taking dark glee in the tight look in his father's face.

Alphonse Duel was a quiet man of good lucks and dark features, happy to stand back and let his glitzy wife Ezaria lead her political crusades, manage her campaigns, make her speeches for the issues…Her raving success allowed him to sit back and manage his business. They kept their separate names, having grown into success under them, and not wishing to change either of them. He'd easily allowed for his son to take his mother's name. But after one child, she seemed to lose interest in him and began seeking out younger men to satisfy her insatiable tastes.

He'd tried to remedy things, for their child's sake, but both led busy lives and Yzak was left to a series of nannies and sporadic appearances of his parents. Ezaria had been pregnant twice in the past decade, and both had been miscarriages. This last one seemed to have taken a cruel toll on her, and she had yet to speak to her estranged husband or neglected son.

"You can stay with me, if you would like," his father offered, but Yzak's expression was enough answer to that.

"Just another empty room, isn't it?" he stabbed, and Alphonse quieted.

They ate in silence for a few minutes, their waiter returning twice, offering quietly to refill their glasses, bring them dessert, but both times he was waved away. Finally, the dark haired man set down his silverware, and dabbed an embroidered napkin to his mouth.

"Yzak…" he began, resting his hands folded on the table, "I will be moving soon."

"Really? The penthouse too small for you now?" the blue eyed boy asked fiercely.

"Our branch in Junius City is growing quickly, I decided to oversee it myself." he explained, adjusting his glasses. "I'd like…you to come with me."

Yzak stared at his father for a moment, and then smirked.

"No thanks." His father sighed, looking a little disheartened.

"Yzak, there is not exactly much room open for discussion on this matter," he confessed, "The truth of the matter is that your mother and I have decided to…file for a divorce."

That caught the pale boy's attention.

"So? I'm not a little kid, I'll be an adult soon, custody battles would be useless and pointless," he began to ramble, but his voice died off, catching another odd look in his father's eyes.

"Yzak, your mother's lawyer relayed that she feels it would be best for you to come stay with me," he admitted.

They didn't say another word, Alphonse couldn't bare it, seeing his son's expression. Yzak himself was frozen in place, hands shaking, barely, his heart pounding in his throat.

What the hell was that supposed to mean?

"Hey Mom, Mayu, you guys coming? I'm not waiting anymore," Shinn called from the living room.

Mayu skipped in, holding a deep bowl half filled with popcorn, recently refilled with M&Ms and sprinkled with some more salt. Their mother followed behind her, and settled herself on the couch between the two of them.

Shinn sighed, smiling, and pressed PLAY on the remote to resume the movie they were watching.

After Cagalli and Stellar left, Ahmed didn't wait long, either. He lost a race or two, endured giggly insults from Mayu, and finally got up to leave. Shinn and Mayu spent their time playing games, and then their mother came in with a few movies and the idea to eat junk food for dinner. Mayu was ecstatic.

The first movie wasn't all too long, and they'd immediately started the second. About halfway through, they stopped to refill on snacks. It was getting a bit late, and the movie was drawing to its end.

Mayu picked around the popcorn to snip out the chocolate candy, grinning happily when her mother tapped the back of her hand or Shinn threw a Twizzler at her.

Just as the credits began to roll, a knock came at the door, and their mother sighed, getting up to answer it. Another impatient knock followed it, and the woman called that she was coming. Shinn and Mayu wandered out of the living room to see what was up, but both looked crestfallen when they saw who it was.

Their father stood in the doorway, looking peeved. He gave a cursory glance to his estranged wife, and then looked to his children. Bringing up a bit of a smile, he waved to them, and gestured to Mayu.

"How about a hug for your Daddy, huh? I missed you," he chimed, and Mayu grinned and ran to him, giving him a girlish hug around his waist.

"We had a lot of fun today! I love coming to Mom's!" she exclaimed, letting go to run back to Shinn. She grabbed for his hand, and gave him an odd look, and then began pulling him towards the stairway.

"Mayu, don't run off, we're leaving," their father spoke up, but their mother caught his attention.

"Don't you think Mayu could stay the night? It's late, I can wake her up early to bring her to school tomorrow morning myself," she offered, much to their father's disdain.

"I have custody of Mayu, she only stays with you on your days," he growled.

"It's just one night,"

"And then it'll turn into another night, another week, and soon both kids will want to stay with you! Are you trying to turn my kids against me! You heard her! She already prefers it here!"

And soon a shouting match ensued and Shinn and Mayu scrambled up the stairs, eager to get away.

Past the threshold of Shinn's bedroom, the door was slammed shut, in hopes to block out the demons of the screaming, and the siblings sat with their backs against it, hunched over as bitter nostalgia overtook them. Each had one hand over an ear, and their other hands were viciously locked in a vice-like grip with one another, not wanting to let go.

Shinn felt his stomach flip when their parents' shouting easily breached the door.

Don't leave, don't leave, don't leave, don't leave…

Lacus felt Kira's fingertips slip from her hand, and she stared at him with a masked gaze and painted smile. The streetlights did little for the early and oppressive darkness of the wintry night, and she could barely see his face. It was probably for the better, he couldn't see hers.

She felt his hands touch her face, gentle brushes of his fingertips, mapping her contours in the darkness, and then his lips were brushing over her nose. Shuddering, she leant towards him, gripping his shirt collar and pulling herself up to kiss him on the lips. The dark haired boy kissed back, his knuckles affectionately stroking her jawline.

"…your step mother, she isn't," Kira began, giving the house a sideways glance.

Lacus shook her head, biting her lip.

"Then…I'll see you tomorrow?" he asked, for assurance.

Her hands clasped around one of his, and she kissed his fingertips.

"Of course, I'll see you," she whispered, almost more to herself than to him.

He smiled, she knew he did, she just knew, and he brushed his hand through her hair once more before she gently pushed his hand away.

"I'll cut my hair if you keep doing that," she threatened, but she was unable to summon enough of a playful tone to her voice.

Kira chuckled and tugged a pale lock teasingly.

"I'd cry,"

"Serves you right,"


"Ah…um, goodnight…"

The boy turned, and Lacus glanced over her shoulder to her front door. Icy panic seized her and she clutched the fabric of her uniform over her chest, feeling her heart pounding in her ears. She looked back to Kira, made to reach out for his arm, her fingers could have made it…

Please don't leave!

She wanted to scream, but she didn't. She couldn't, Kira paused and spun back to face her.

Before she could comprehend it, his arms encircled her and his lips were pressed to her ear. Shocked and knees buckling, Lacus loosely embraced him, looking up at the crystal clear, night sky.

"Have sweet dreams," he whispered, pressing the soft flesh of his lips against the skin just beside her ear, and then did he pull away, backing up to where the streetlights shone upon him. A bashful grin spread his lips, color splashed his cheeks, and Lacus realized it.

He waved to her, quickly turning his back to hurry down the long drive. The pale girl meant to reach out to him, but she dropped her hand mid air, allowing it to fall back to her side. Gazing wistfully after him, she closed her eyes, clenching the hem of her skirt.

Really…could she have thought such a thing?

The broken, dirty her?

She stood there, frozen and silent, until she remembered how cold it was. The ice was creeping up her fingers and toes, and she could feel in somewhere deep inside, a place she wasn't sure she could find otherwise. Turning to face the front door, she stared at it, and felt her shoulders tremble. Her hand…just couldn't grasp the door knob.

Perhaps it wasn't the cold that was freezing her, but the anticipation of what…or rather who waited behind that door.

Taking in a deep breath, the girl turned the knob and pressed it open…but she fell against the still closed door. It wasn't opening. It was locked.

Blinking, eyes wide open, she stared.

Meer never locked it…which meant…Meer wasn't home.

Lacus breathed a sigh she was most certain had to be relief, because it couldn't possibly have been anything else, right? And then she dug for her house key from her school bag.

Stepping into the foyer, she marveled at the dark veil placed over every inch, pale light from outside slipping in from high bay windows and cracks between curtains stretching like skeletal fingers. She called out, to see if Meer really was home, but she was only met with echoes. Looking around, feeling almost a little overwhelmed, Lacus slowly brought herself to kneel on the floor in the center of the foyer, and then she was sitting, drawing her knees to her chest.

Arms wrapped loosely around her legs, she looked around, mesmerized by the slight movement in the light. A car passed, the muffled noise was accompanied by a travelling beacon that ran the expanse of the front windows. It passed, and Lacus blinked. Her hands suddenly gripped herself, fingers digging into her stockings.

Her body tensed, and she threw her head back, and screamed.

In horror, in fear, in anger, in frustration, in elation. She really didn't know, but she was screaming, and because there was no reason, she wanted to make it louder. She paused for breath, and a twisted smile broke over her lips and she began laughing, and she felt safe.

Alone in the big house with nothing but shadows and memories, she felt at home. Lacus was feeling more at home screaming into the empty crypt of ghosts and screams and tears than she ever had before.

Stellar had parted with Cagalli at a crossroads, and rather than going straight home, she'd back tracked to another school. It was a large elementary school, and rather close to her Junior High, so the distance covered walking home was rather useless and moot. But still, she liked to see the old playground outside the school.

She'd met her friends there…Shinn, anyway…But that hadn't been until the end of grammar school. Some of her best memories were scraping her knees and banging her elbows. She'd sprained her ankle on the swings, jumping too high, and she'd lost her first tooth…after getting her face bashed into a bike rack…but that was another story altogether.

She'd walked around the playground for a bit, running her eyes over ever old surface. It was like a living dream, it was…nice.

After awhile, the sun was close to setting, and she still didn't really feel like doing much. She supposed that she should go home, but really…there was nothing there she wanted to see right then. So she stuck it out at the park, sitting herself on an rickety old swing that threatened to give out from under her, but that was alright, too.

Stellar kicked her feet lightly, bringing herself a slow, gentle motion.

The blonde was lost in her thoughts while daydreaming, she didn't notice the basketball until it had rolled over to bump her foot. Blinking, she looked up and was surprised to find she wasn't alone anymore.

Two figures approached, one waving enthusiastically.

"Sting? Auel?" she called, not exactly pleased to see them.

Auel grinned and swooped down to grab the ball, and then spun to lean against a swing set bar.

"Happy to see us, Stella?" he said, a teasing tone making his blue eyes bright.

"I wouldn't exactly call it that," she snipped, eyeing Sting as he approached calmly, hands in his pockets. They were still in their school uniforms, and despite the cold, Auel had neglected to wear his jacket and carried it under his arm with the ball. Sting had his draped over his shoulders.

"Friendly welcome," he nodded, crossing his arms.

A few uncomfortable moments of silence settled between them, and Stellar kicked her feet against the hard, frozen dirt. Sting and Auel were older and a grade ahead of her, though Sting had been held back early on in grammar school and was a year behind his usual age group. They'd all been friends once…but they hadn't been on swell terms for some time. She hated passing them in the halls at school, though they never threw derogatory words at her, it was annoying all the same.

"So…" Auel drawled, licking a chapped lip, much to the apparent chagrin of Sting, "Why're you here?"

Why they happened to be here now was a better question, Stellar felt.

"None of your business, what are you doing here?" she quipped.

Sting smirked and rolled his eyes as Auel chuckled.

"Real bad mood, but since you asked…" he tossed the basketball in the air, "We were in the gym over there, daycare, camp, afterschool help, whatever they need us for," he explained in a rush as he failed to catch the ball with one hand.

"R-Really?" she stammered, wide eyed.

"Those brats have better manners than you," Sting noted, grinning.

Stellar pursed her lips and looked away, finding his amused look annoying. That's all Sting and Auel were, annoying. Constantly playing off each other to drive someone absolutely nuts.

"Aw, Sting, you embarrassed her!" Auel prodded, dropping his ball and jacket carelessly to the ground. Strutting in front of her, he struck a stupid pose and pointed at the green haired teen. "In the name of the moon, I'll punish you!"

Sting smirked and ran a hand through his short hair and slung a sideways glance to the blue haired boy.

"I'm not playing that game with you, Pretty Soldier," he mocked.

"But I'm adorable!"

"That's a reason?"

"You're not denying it!"

"Were you trying to prove something?"

Watching the absurdity, Stellar knew she was more perplexed than anything, but still…a small smile was creeping in the corners of her mouth.

Auel seemed to notice when he glanced at her over his shoulder, and he grinned widely, showing rows of straight white teeth. Leaning down close to her, he laughed and went to poke her cheek.

"Ha, made you smile!" he began to gloat smugly, but Stellar whacked his hand away, not without the cost of a small twinge of pain in her own hand.

"Ow," she mumbled, glaring down at her palm. Auel looked down as well, and even in the weak light he saw the discoloration in her skin.

"Hey, that looks painful," he said, seriousness replacing his silliness from before as he reached out to take her wrists to examine her hands.

"Let me see," Sting demanded, coming closer and taking one of her wrists. He looked just as concerned as his blue haired companion.

The blonde girl pursed her lips and pulled her hands back.

"It was an accident, and they're getting better, don't worry about it," she snapped.

Both boys stared at her for a few moments, and then shared a glance between themselves. The mood seemed to have dampened, and Stellar was getting fed up with the duo's prolonged stay in her presense. Now couldn't have been a better time to head home.

"Have fun, I'm leaving," she spoke up, standing from the swing. She nabbed her school bag and began stalking away, but Auel and Sting ran to catch up with her, a few beats off as Auel had to rush back to grab his ball and jacket.

"Hey, wait up!" Auel called, probably to them both, as Sting muttered he wasn't waiting on his ass.

"Stellar," Sting spoke up, voice low, serious. For some reason, it held some power over her and she paused and turned to look at them.

"You're heading home, right?" Sting asked, and Stellar narrowed her gaze.

"What else?"

Auel and Sting exchanged devious looks, and then Auel stepped a bit closer, grabbing Stellar's shoulders – much to her displeasure- while Sting easily slipped her school bag into his own grip.

"You don't suppose your brother would make us dinner?" Auel asked, rubbing her shoulders encouragingly.

"He's probably already eaten," Stellar sniffed, not liking where this was going.

"No way, he always waits for you," Sting noted, bumping her elbow with his.

Stellar was silent.

"I'm not hearing a 'no' am I, Sting?"

"No, you're not, Auel."

And both boys weaseled past Stellar, Sting with her bag and his, and Auel walking backwards.

"Think he can make lasagna?" he asked, and though Stellar was royally irked, she couldn't help the part of her that wanted to easily give in to this game.

It would be like…old times.

Before Mom and Dad became faceless and loveless postcards.

Before Kira…Yamato…?

Before Cagalli…

Before Shinn.

One night of reminiscing wouldn't kill her, right? She could be Stella for a night, the name Auel and Sting had called her for the longest time when they weren't particularly fond of her current name. Besides, she supposed, Neo had never disliked them. He should be fine with it.

Yes, everything would be, was, fine.

Something crashed and shattered, sharp pieces scattered over the floor and clicked across the kitchen tile. Cagalli shrieked in fury and kicked out at her attacker, gripping his arm and maneuvering so that she could sink her teeth into the joint between his thumb and index finger, not letting loose until she could taste blood.

It was probably hers, she'd bit her tongue.

Muruta cried out in pain and tossed her aside, the jerking motion overturned her and she toppled over, hitting her head against the cupboard edge. Her legs curled up against her body, and her hand went to her head, sifting through her hair, finding no blood. She tried to say something, but her words were garbled and her eyes rolled back as she passed out quietly.

The blonde man breathed heavily, staring widely down at the blonde girl's still form. He didn't notice the boy staggering to his feet behind him, and wasn't prepared for the attack from behind.

Kira threw himself in blind rage at the man, wrapping an arm around his throat and yanking backwards while he sputtered, clawing at Kira's face. Neither were paying attention to their surroundings, and Muruta was lucky to slam Kira's back against the kitchen table.

The boy was winded, lost his grip, and fell back onto the surface. Muruta stood, turning to grab him, and Kira's hand flew over the table, searching for anything he could use against the man. His hand slipped in his sister's vomit and he gasped when one of Muruta's hands gripped his throat, the other taking a tight hold of his hair.

"You…" Muruta gasped, glaring down at the boy with senseless fury.

Kira growled and choked out a gasp and twitched beneath the blonde man. In an act of fearing Muruta would cut off his air completely, Kira's hand reached for the man's face, fingers slipping over his skin from the wetness. The man balked, and Kira meant to make a stab for his eyes but he had back away and released him long enough for Kira to roll away.

He looked to Cagalli rapidly, his heart beating fast, and he tripped running to her. He kicked out at Muruta's legs, the man fell off balance and collapsed to the floor. Kira stared at him all of a second before dragging himself to his little sister's body. He rolled her onto her side, and held his face close to her head. She was still breathing.

Glancing over his shoulder, Kira glared with a feral hatred towards their guardian and stood up. Stalking over to Muruta, he came down upon the man, his hands clenched into fists. The blonde man had few seconds to brace himself, but kicking out Kira's balance from his ankles caused the boy to lose his own balance and the man shoved him away.

The two scrambled to get to their feet first, and Muruta won. He reached out to grab Kira by his hair and slammed his head down on the kitchen table. Kira saw stars. His body was stunned, and he groaned in fury, unable to move himself properly for a few moments. He was only able to bring one hand on top of the table as he tried to balance himself. A few moments was all Muruta needed.

Grabbing a plate from the dinner table, the remains of food slipped away to splatter on the table, and he grinned maniacally before slamming the porcelain down on the boy's hand.

Kira's entire body jerked violently and he screamed.

Muruta, dragging him by his hair, tossed Kira backwards from the table, dropping the plate, which hit the edge of the table and fell to the floor, cracking in half.

With wide violet eyes, Kira stared up at the man, clutching his hand tightly to his chest. He was scared. It didn't matter, nothing mattered, he couldn't think anymore, his ears were RINGING, and his hand HURT.

Unable to understand or piece together his thoughts, Kira pushed himself backwards along the kitchen tile, eyes fluttering all about the room, seeing everything, seeing nothing. Seeing a dark gleam on Muruta's face, the dark haired boy froze for a moment when his back hit the door frame.

Without waiting another second, he leapt to his feet and threw himself into the other room. He stumbled and staggered, his blood was boiling and racing in his veins, he couldn't breathe, he couldn't fucking see.

But then he saw the outlines of the foyer, and there was a door there…double doors. Doors…they led outside, that was good. Outside was good, safe. He had to get to the door…NOW.

He leapt for it, and tripped over his feet, landing face first in the carpet. Crying out in frustration and panic, he scrambled to get up, and a sudden sharp pain in his leg spurred him forward. Muruta had…kicked him? He didn't know, he just wanted OUT.

His fingers slipped on the doorknob, and he yanked it open, just as Muruta caught up to him, and slammed him against the closed door just beside the open one. Pressing his face against the wood roughly, Kirra growled, and his hand began reaching for the edge of the door, maybe he could still get this one open, even if it was a ridiculous thought.

Muruta saw the hand, and smirked. As though time had been slowed, he released Kira somewhat, and reached for the open door. Before the boy could move at all, Muruta was slamming the door shut, and wrapping his arm around Kira's neck, the sleeve of his shirt in the boy's face as his mouth opened to release an agonized scream.

But what came forth was a garbled choking noise, a hiss, with just the barest hints of a voice behind the sickening sound.

Hot tears streamed down Kira's cheeks as his body became paralyzed. He didn't even register when Muruta pulled back the door and dragged him back away from it. The man ripped the boy's shirt sleeve, revealing the wiry arm beneath. Rummaging in his shirt pocket, he pulled a small tube from it, and gazed at it critically before pulling off a cap with his teeth.

A small needle was inside, attached to it a small glass barrel of a clear liquid. Muruta carefully brought it to Kira's elbow, prodding the skin roughing, searching for a vein. Stabbing the needle into the boy's skin, Muruta twisted the small glass barrel, and the liquid began to drain through the needle.

Kira had begun to stir when the needle tip was pressed against his skin, but he'd practically gasped silently and gave up as the drug slipped in and numbed his senses almost immediately.


Muruta stood over the boy's unconscious body, holding the small needle between his fingertips, a grin on his lips.

"It works faster than before, doesn't it?" he said quietly, toeing the boy's leg, getting no response at all. He looked back towards the kitchen, and sighed. He had to get the needle put away…and he headed back to the kitchen to find a steak knife from the knife block. Tearing into his shirt absently, twisting it to make a large, jagged tear, the man inspected his handiwork for a moment.

He then took a deep breath and began running the serrated edge against his skin and the edge of his clothes.

There wasn't exactly much time, he had to create a home invasion before a troublesome neighbor decided to pick into his business and call the police before he had the chance to do so himself.

And I know that we're gonna be fine
As long as we live, time passes by
And we won't get it back when we die
When We Die – Bowling for Soup

I am so fucking easily distracted FFFFFFFUUUUUUU-


(Cookies for whoever gets the reference...vague as it may be)

Thanks for reading, pretty please review if you can or have the time~