The Ballad of ASUCAGA

"I didn't want you to witness my weakness, so I tried not to cry…

Though the pain was excruciating…

I am strong, and I will always be…for even if the tides are rough, I will not cave in"

I. Crossed paths

It was a sunny afternoon. Lacus was talking to Kira about his sister's condition; a week after Cagalli was hospitalized due to over fatigue. The doctor told Kira about his sister's deteriorating health due to stress. It's been a year after the concluding battle between the Minerva and Archangel. Peace was again achieved, but certain damages can't be undone.

" I've decided to take care of my sister. I'll convince her to have a vacation with us." Kira said to Lacus.

" Is her condition that serious?"

" Not that she's very ill, but I think Cagalli needs some rest. I mean, she hasn't been spending time with us right?"

" I see, how about Athrun? Did you tell him about what happened?"

" No. We haven't spoken for 4 months since we returned here on Earth. I don't want to think he's already given up on her… It's difficult to say that he doesn't care for her anymore. But then, it's been a year since he went back to PLANTS… with Meyrin."

" He's our friend and like you, I don't want to be involved in their situation, but I can tell that Cagalli was really hurt when Athrun left."

Kira diverts the topic. " Do you notice something different about Shinn?"

" Different?"

" He doesn't hate Cagalli anymore. It sounds amusing but I think he likes her…"

" If he decides to express his intentions to her, it may be the end for Athrun. Do you think she likes him too?"

" I honestly don't know, but it's obvious that she's developing some fondness towards him. I mean, when I saw the two of them on the day before Cagalli was hospitalized… He's really concerned about her. And the way she speaks to him, it's like she's talking to Athrun." Kira pauses for a while, and then continued. "I think it's time for my sister to move on…"

"But Kira, it's a little unfair on Athrun's part. If he still loves her… only to find out she's already with another guy who turns out to be Shinn!"

" He was the first one to leave. After the war, he went back to PLANTS with another girl and never spoke to her for a year…well, that's what I know."

" Cagalli wasn't wearing his ring anymore when he last spoke to her." Lacus counters.

Kira joked, " I think if we continue this, we are going to end up in a verbal combat."

Lacus smiled, and remained silent for a while. And something made her giggle.

"Kira, do you want your sister to be with Athrun…or with Shinn?"

Kira gave her a questioning look.

"If I say I wanted Athrun for her, what would you do?"

"It's not the question of what would I do", Lacus replies, "It's the question of what could we do…"

"Lacus, you sound very serious. How can we possibly bring the two of them back together?"

" I still believe Athrun loves her. And even if we don't do something, he'll eventually realize that. We just have to make a way for the two of them to have some time together, without distractions."

"You mean, without Shinn or Meyrin, or us right?" Kira concluded.

"Yes, and don't worry about that, I think I have brilliant idea…"

II. Brother

Two days after their conversation about Cagalli and Athrun's problematic love affair, Kira received an invitation. He handed this to Lacus with a disappointed look and said:

" I think our plan to bring the two of them together won't push through. It's over."

Lacus reads the invitation and was shocked by what it said. We are inviting you to our simple wedding celebration.… - Athrun and Meyrin.

" They've decided to tie the knot…"

" Oh my…" Lacus blurts out.

" We can't do anything about it…let's just accept this ok?" Kira brushes away Lacus' tears.

" Could you phone Cagalli?" she said.

"And tell her about this good news?" Kira answered. "I can't."

Just after Kira's remarks, the phone rang.

"Uh… Hello?"

"Hey Kira, it's Cagalli…"

"Just as I thought," Kira says under his breath. " Hey, is there a problem?"

Lacus listens while indulging on a deep thought.

" I just received an…invitation…from Athrun and…Meyrin…"Cagalli was difficult with her words. "Well, I'm just confirm…or checking if you also had the invitation?"

Kira, sensing his sister's grief half- jokingly replied, " We could ignore that if you want since we all have more important things to do…uh… just kidding. Are you ok?"

" Actually, I have several meetings next week to attend, and… other similar stuff so, could you please send my regards to the two of them?"

"Ok," Kira replied. "I don't want you to ponder on this things. It isn't good for you. Remember what the doctor said? Anyway, will you visit us? I'm planning on some great summer vacation."

" You know I can't do that, I have tons of work here," Cagalli says.

" Well you can send some representatives on those meetings and Murrue volunteered do those things for you… remember what she said after that incident? Nobody wants to see you fall off the stage again. I insist that you stay with us, just for a week. You can't push yourself and work 'till you're dead!"

" Ha! You sound like you're my mother… But I'm ok. Everyone here also wants me to have a break, but I'll think about it. I love you brother," Cagalli finished.

"Just remember that I'll always take care of you. If you have problems, just call us ok?"

Their conversation ended, and Kira hung up.

III. Decisions

Cagalli laid back on her chair and closed her eyes, just as Shinn entered her office.

" Did you decide to go?" Shin asked.

" No, I told Kira to send my regards to the couple…"

" I don't think that's a good idea. Well, I'm going too since Lunamaria and Meyrin insisted me to be there. But I can't leave you here on your own… I mean… " He didn't continue his words, and looked away.

" Thank you for your concern, I really appreciate it. Just have fun out there. I'll be ok. I'm going to ask for another personal bodyguard for your replacement. This isn't your job in the first place. I feel so embarrassed since a pilot as good as you…"

" It was me who insisted to be your bodyguard so don't feel guilty," Shinn cut off Cagalli.

" If ever you change your mind, just tell me," he continued.

Two days before the party, Cagalli was on her office, working very hard to forget about the upcoming event. Reading through the papers, she began to reminisce over the times when Athrun was hers. She began to recall their first meeting … how they survived the turbulent times when the world is at war… and how everything that they had was lost by her simple removal of their promise ring. " You must not be involve with Athrun…could you still carry your family's name after that?" she remember what Yuna said. She can't be with Athrun, and abandon Orb. Or is she making up these excuses? Or maybe he isn't for her after all. He fell in love with another coordinator, and now, she was invited to their engagement party! They didn't have an official break-up and now, he seems to have forgotten all about her.

Her head was reeling with all this. And tears began to fall. And the rain came soon after…

Shinn saw everything. Cagalli was crying when he entered the room.

" Are you going to sit there and cry 'till you're sore?" he asked.

" Just leave, please," Cagalli tried to regain her composure.

" I was just thinking... Well, we could go there together so he'll see that you're already over him. I could pretend to be your date…"

"Why are you saying all this?" Cagalli sounded annoyed.

Shinn replied, " What would everybody think if you ignored Athrun's invitation for some reason that you need to work? You know that you aren't required to attend those meetings since Murrue volunteered to the committee to be your official representative. Everyone might think that you're bitter about this."

"It's easy for you to say it… But I AM bitter about it! I don't want to see him there, happy with his fiancé…"

" Then, take this opportunity for yourself. Just show him that you're ok. Four days of pretending wouldn't matter. Besides, everyone here wants you to take a break. Let's just enjoy ourselves for whatever lies ahead of us."

They stared at each other for a while. And Cagalli stood up and said:

" I don't know what would happen to me if I saw them together. I don't think I can maintain a straight face…"

Shinn stepped forward and said: " I'll be there, I won't let you lose yourself. Let's just make them see what Athrun's lost when he left you. It's not revenge, more of a self- defense mechanism."

" Why are you doing all this?" Cagalli asked.

Shinn just smiled. " I want you to see me as a someone who can love you more than Athrun can, and I don't want to see those tears again," he thought.

IV. A House on Fire

It's the day Cagalli has dreaded for. She was inside the car with Shinn. They have just arrived and are currently cutting across the long path that leads to the place for the event. " Four days," she thought.

Kira, Lacus and Miriallia went there early. Together with the other chosen guests, they waited for the couple to arrive.

" It's been a year since I last saw the two of them, and I didn't have the slightest idea that they'd end up together. Amazing isn't it?" Miriallia said. " Hey, is that Yzak?"

" And with Dearka…" Lacus gave Miriallia a meaningful look.

" Hey, we're history…"

" Ok…" Lacus finishes.

Kira looked a little bothered. He wasn't speaking to anyone. Lacus notices it.

" Is there something wrong?" She tucked her arm around his.

" I'm thinking about Cagalli, a little worried. What could she be doing right now."

" I understand. I'm actually feeling the same as you are."

Conversation stopped when they saw Athrun and Meyrin entering the hall. Cheers echoed from everywhere. Everyone approaches to congratulate the couple.

" It's nice that the two of you planned to settle down!"

"How many kids…"

Meyrin was wearing a peach gown with her hair down, and Athrun was handsome in his coffee brown tuxedo and off- white top.

Kira, Lacus, and Miriallia approached them. Lunamaria was there too.

"Congratulations," Kira greeted his best friend.

"Athrun smiled and said, " You should be next…" giving a meaningful look towards Kira and Lacus. Lacus blushes.

"That would take a little while…" Kira commented. " We don't want to rush things and regret it," Kira answered.

" Nice comment," he whispered to himself.

After exchanging words, the couple left and greeted other guests. Lacus approached Kira. " What do you think?" she asked.

"He seems to be happy," Kira said with a sigh.

" Not for me…" said Lacus. " I 'm sensing it. He's happier when he's with Cagalli. Meyrin looks ok, but I have a feeling she's a little troubled."

" I hope she wouldn't come," Meyrin thought.

It's unconventional for a woman to propose marriage, but that's just what happened between Athrun and Meyrin.

" You know how I feel about you. We've been together through tough times (referring to the last war on C.E. 73). And…please tell me if you don't love me."

Athrun was caught off-guard by this confession. " I really care about you Meyrin, and you've been very special, but I'm a little confused right now…"

" Then give me a chance to prove myself," Meyrin counters. She hugged him and gave him a kiss. " I'll wait."

Three months after her confession of love, she proposed to him, during their trip in Italy. He accepted.

Lunamaria was laughing when her sister told her about this. " You actually did that? How much courage and face did you buy to pull that off?"

"I guess I'm lucky I wasn't rejected. How are you and Shinn?"

" We're over. I finally realized that we're just too immature back then to think that we love each other. After all, I'm with someone else now. Everybody has to grow up. I think he's falling for another girl too, but I don't know who she is. He decided to stay at Orb and volunteered for the special military forces, under princess Cagalli."

" So, how are the invitations?" Athrun asked, after pressing a light kiss on Meyrin's cheek.

" I've sent some to my friends, as you know, my sister is my only living relative. And, these are for you. You decide whom to send them." She handed out several envelopes.

" It's funny that we only have friends to attend… I'll send this to Kira and Lacus…" Athrun began to enumerate his guests. "… Yzak, Dearka, Miriallia, Shinn… I think that's it!" Meyrin was watching him, afraid to hear that name. But then she decided to say it.

" AndCagalli?"

Athrun, who was also trying to forget that name, coldly replied. " No. I don't think she'll engage herself with this. She may be too busy." Then he stood and left the room.

Left alone, Meyrin reached out for an envelope, and wrote Cagalli's address on it. " I want to know if you still love her. Even if it hurts me, but I have to make sure…"

She sent the invitation without Athrun's knowledge.

And now, she was cursing herself for doing so. Cagalli wasn't there yet, and no one knows that she'll come. Meyrin is starting to feel troubled.

The celebration is starting. Wine starts to pour and the smooth jazz fill the air. Everyone seems to be having fun. One of Meyrin's friends takes the floor to introduce the couple and the guests.

" Could the couple stand here in front please," she said. Everyone was cheering. Kira and Lacus remained silent. Smiling. Observing.

Shinn got out of the car. Cagalli followed. " Are you ready?" he said.

Cagalli took a deep breath and said, " Uh… how do I look?"

Shinn just smiled. Cagalli was wearing a green off-shoulder gown with a long slit at the side. " You look heavenly," Shinn said to himself.

No one noticed them as they entered the hall. They continued to walk nearer to find the couple, but their presence was soon announced by the speaker.
" And last but not the least, we have a very special person who's going to be with us for this celebration. We acknowledge the presence of princess Cagalli, and her…uhh…companion, Shinn Asuka!"

It looks like the two of them we're the ones to be married, not Athrun and Meyrin. Everyone turned to see this beautiful princess with her escort who looks as handsome as the groom-to-be.

Cagalli was so embarrassed. She let Shinn to lead the way. They approached the betrothed couple.

Athrun was shocked. He watched Cagalli walk with Shinn, with her arms wrapped on Shinn's. He couldn't help but admire her serene look. That tomboy attitude was definitely gone. She had grown up to be a beautiful lady. Meyrin's face turned white. What she had feared for is becoming real.

So they were face to face… and time stopped… Cagalli was only inches away from her former lover. Athrun held his breath.

He said to himself," I can't believe I'm staring at those brown eyes again."

Cagalli's eyes were clear, but soon it became misty. Tears.

" Please don't look at me like that," she pleaded. She never thought she'd said it aloud.

And she did. To regain herself, she smiled sweetly and reached out for his hand.

" Congratulations…"

Athrun looked at those hands. He held out his, and when her soft skin touches his, he began to remember how she felt against his skin.

Shinn and Meyrin became aware of what's going on, so they tried their best to end it.

" Congratulations, I was surprised after receiving your invitation. Such haste!" Shinn said.

" We really thought it would be the best time for us, right Athrun?" Meyrin looked beside her. But Athrun's reply was far related from her question.

" I heard you were going to Panama for some conference?" He was talking to Cagalli.

" Well, I sent Murrue to take care of everything. It's not that important. They just need some representation from Orb," Cagalli said with confidence.

Shinn took Cagalli's hand as a sign that this conversation is over.

"Well, best wishes…" He said to Athrun, looking at him in the eye.

"Hope you'll enjoy staying with us until the wedding'" Meyrin finishes.

V. Let's Dance!

The night is approaching and everyone is in high spirits. The dance floor was never empty. Dearka asked Miriallia for a dance and when she accepted, the rest of the "lovers" followed. Kira was dancing with Lacus.

" So, how's Cagalli?" Lacus said, as she moves gracefully, guided by Kira's hands.

" She's enjoying herself, hopefully. I never thought that you're a good dancer!" Kira complemented his partner's moves.

" Well, I can do a lot more besides waltz," Lacus said.

Elsewhere, the emcee announced, " We would like to request the couple to dance with us, to this special song."

The song changed, from the traditional waltz, to a contemporary love song.

Everyone stopped and watched Athrun and Meyrin take the dance floor. Other couples who were there joined them, including Kira and Lacus.

The song was " Time Enough for Tears".

Shinn stood and bowed in front of Cagalli. "May I have the privilege of dancing with you, my beautiful princess?"

Cagalli, who was again on the verge of tears while watching Athrun and Meyrin, looked at him. She held out her hand and with a smile she said, " Of course my prince…" She was very thankful of Shinn. He was somehow saving her from this torture.

He led her to the dance floor.

Shinn was a good dancer. Both of them looked like a fairy tale couple, dancing as if the wind is carrying them.

Shinn eyes were locked at Cagalli's, never leaving them. And he said the last verse of the song…

" Time enough for tears…"

And she understood it. She laughed and breathed under his ear.

The sight of the couples' dancing enchanted everyone.

" Such a romantic sight, the youth. I can feel it," says one of the older guests.

" Love must be in the air, don't you think?" Dearka asks Miriallia.

" Jealousy always comes with love," Miriallia said without thinking.

" How can you be so serious?" Dearka said, feeling a little hurt for something that has happened between them long ago.

" It's not about us ok," Miriallia clarified. "Somehow, it's around here…"

"Whether you've lost you feet for dancing, or your tired, or too bored to dance with me… what's the matter?" Meyrin could not hide her displeasure.

"Nothing, just a little tired, I guess…" Athrun wasn't listening to her.

He was actually too preoccupied watching Shinn and Cagalli. The way she laughed when he accidentally tripped on the hem of her gown. The way he held her close to him, his hands on her hips…and his face too close to hers… and the way she enjoys everything about it. Athrun feels this jealousy, surging within him, that it's beginning to cloud his reason.

Dinner was over and cocktails were again served.

Lunamaria stands and proposes a toast for his sister's marriage.

" This is for the bravest man that I have ever met, and for my beloved sister…I hope you'll be happy together and be blessed with lots of kids!"

Another one said " To the couple that gave us this sumptuous meal, lots of wine (He was obviously drunk)… May they find true love in bed and out of it!"

Kira was the next one to propose a toast. " To my best friend, and to the woman who won his heart… (He looked at Meyrin), I hope that your marriage will be strong and you're love for each other withstand all the challenges ahead. Congratulations," then he finishes his cup.

Cagalli was there, watching everyone. Silent. Shinn, who was beside her, said: "Why don't you offer a toast for them?"

Cagalli just looked at him and remained silent.

"Any other who wants to make a toast for our beloved couple?"

Cagalli stood up, with the wineglass on her hand. The laughter faded, and everyone was quiet. Lacus held Kira's hand. Meyrin did the same with Athrun's.

Arthrun on the other hand, looked at Cagalli. The world seems to disappear, leaving the two of them in an empty space. Cagalli avoided his gaze and began to speak.

" It's funny that I don't know what to say…um… I just felt this… I'm honored to witness the marriage of a dear friend, and I…um…was happy that he's been with a beautiful woman, who deserves his love…" Though tears were hurting her eyes, she looked at Athrun, and Meyrin. " To a long and happy marriage, " she ended.

Cheers soon followed. Meyrin was in tears, holding Ahrun's hand. Somehow she understood what this means. Athrun's eyes were still on Cagalli's. He was searching for some truth in her words. Feeling Meyrin's hand on his, he turned and gave her a meek smile.

The couple shared the last dance, with the song, " The Way You Look Tonight."

Athrun and Cagalli had danced to that tune more than two years ago, in their first "formal" date after the war (C.E. 72). Ironically he was dancing to the same song again, only with another girl.

After that, Miriallia took the stage and began to sing " True to Your Heart."

" How appropriate," said Kira.

Kira led Lacus to the dance floor and danced to Miriallia's song.

Everyone was enjoying the lively beat.

Shinn approached Cagalli and said," It's time to let go. C'mon lets dance!" He brushes away her tears and once again took her to the dance floor. The song relieved Cagalli's grief.

" Everyone is happy," she thought. She remembered what Shinn said: " Let's just enjoy what lies ahead of us!"

She embraced Shinn and said, " Thank you…"

…And they danced the night away.

VI. Lonely Moon

The guests have retired for the night. Athrun and his fiancé were in a saloon, when Kira and Lacus came.

" So, how's the party?" Meyrin asked them.

"We had a lot of fun, really," Kira answered." I was surprised that she's a good dancer."

He placed his arm on Lacus' shoulders. " How about you guys?" he continued.

" We were a bit tired, but we had fun, right?" Meyrin looked at Athrun.

Athrun, whose mind was somewhere else said, "Huh? I'm sorry I wasn't listening. What did you say?"

Meyrin took a deep breath and didn't answer.

Sensing the tension in the air, Lacus intervenes between the couple, and said, " So, what are we up to tomorrow?"

" We're planning for a picnic with our close friends. As you've noticed, very few guests remained for the night, which include you as Athrun's friends, and some of mine's. We will spend tomorrow and the next day with you guys for the bridal shower and bachelor's party."

" Sounds a lot of fun to me!" Lacus said.

Athrun left his chair and said that he was very tired. He asked if Meyrin would still want to join Kira and Lacus.

" I think I'll be with them for a while," Meyrin answered.
"Then I guess I'm off. Goodnight…" Athrun pressed a kiss on Meyrin's cheek, and exchanged a few words with Kira. Then he left the saloon.

" Still awake?" said Shinn. He saw her along the hallway staring at the pale moon.

" I would like to take a walk," said Cagalli.

"Do you want me to accompany you?"

" No, I'm ok. Please rest now. I've been bothering you all day. You don't have to worry about me. I'll go ahead."

Shinn retreats, and bid her goodnight. " Just tell me if you have a problem. Be careful."

Cagalli went to the garden. She traced the path towards the ruins of an old building that was formerly the mansion of Athrun's father. The newly built mansion where the party took place was not far from the site of the ruins. She began find comfort under this lonely sky. She almost forgot that this was the house of the man she loves… or used to love.

Athrun couldn't sleep. He decided to stroll in the garden. He was surprised to see someone out there, for it's already past midnight.

He came closer to see… and he froze.

He saw Cagalli, sitting on a bench beneath the plum trees. Her eyes were closed, as if she was asleep. The cold wind rushes through her hair (which was longer than it used to be), and it floats gracefully in the air. The moon illuminated her skin.

Athrun stood there without making any if he could be like this forever.

Cagalli opened her eyes. She felt someone was watching her, so she looked around. She was not prepared to see who was there.

Their eyes met. Silence.

Cagalli broke the ice and said, " Hey, can't sleep too?" Then she offered him to sit on the bench.

Athrun stepped forward and sat beside her. For minutes, they stayed like that, side by side without talking.

"I never thought I could find plum trees here," Cagalli begins. " I remember when I was young, we used to have a lot of these back in Orb." She was smiling.

Athrun sensed the warmth in her voice and in her smile. He couldn't believe she can still show him such, after all that he's done. He left her, and they didn't even have a proper closure before he involved himself with Meyrin.

Cagalli was always like that. She's capable of showing kindness to other people even if they hurt her. He remembered the day when she found out that he had presumably killed Kira… she gave him her amulet, saying that this would take care of him.

" Why…" Athrun whispered. He thought she didn't hear it.

But she did. She continued her pretense and said, " I would like to see you for the very last time! You didn't say goodbye to me, so I think I should be the one to do it. You're my friend right?" She stood and said, " Go on and be happy…"

Perhaps she didn't sound as genuine as her words, because Athrun caught her hand as she began to turn away from him. She stopped.

" Please Athrun, if you have any respect for your fiancé, don't do this…" She struggled to get her hands off his, and she left.

VII. Picnic

" Everyone ready?" Lunamaria said. She was definitely excited for the day's event." We'll go to our family's estate for the picnic!" She grabbed her luggage and went straight to the service bus. The rest followed: Kira with Lacus, Miriallia, Dearka, Yzak, Meryin and Athrun, and some other friends. Cagalli and Shinn were the last to leave the house. As they entered the bus, Dearka began to tease them. "It looks like you haven't slept at all!" He winked at Shinn.

" But I didn't have eye bugs, do I?" Shinn answered.

Cagalli wore sunglasses to hide hers. It was not just the eye bugs. Her eyes were completely sore, after crying for what happened in the garden and due to lack of sleep.

They walked past Meyrin and Athrun's seat. Shinn greeted the couple, Cagalli just smiled at them. They continued to move forward and for some reason, Cagalli stopped at Lacus and Kira's seat.

" Uhh…Lacus, could I sit beside my brother, if it's ok with you?" she asked.

"No problem," says Lacus.

Lacus sat beside Shinn at the back of the bus. Miriallia thought it would be nice to join them so she convinced Dearka to transfer seats.

Cagalli sat beside Kira. " Hey, brother…"

Kira understood. His sister needed him. He and Lacus exchanged meaningful glances. Then he said," How's my dear sister?"

She hasn't spoken to him since yesterday. Kira knew how hard this situation is for his sister…

He took off her sunglasses and whispered, " You haven't slept last night, and you cried. You're a mess!" he joked. Then he offered his shoulder. "You can sleep while we travel. C'mon, just take a nap."

Cagalli was very happy to know that her bother somehow understands how she feels. She laid her head on his shoulder and fell into a deep slumber.

They arrived at their destination. Everyone left the bus and started preparing for the picnic. Cagalli was still asleep on Kira's shoulder. Athrun checked the bus for some belongings. He saw them.

" Hey…"

Kira answered, " We'll be there in a moment. I couldn't wake her up 'coz she's enjoying her sleep…"

Athrun felt guilty. Kira knew it. " We'll talk later," Kira said.

It's been a humid day. The cherry blossom trees made the place look like a typical Japanese garden.

Miriallia, Yzak, and Dearka are talking while enjoying the wonderful view.

" It's good that everything's in peace now. Hey Yzak why did you come here? I thought this stuff bores you, " said Dearka.

" Oh, you mean, he doesn't engage himself to social events," Miriallia said.

" Just don't have any plans for this week… I think I can bear with it," Yzak answered.

Miriallia laughed. Yzak asked her what's funny about that. She replied, " You're very different from him," she pointed towards Dearka, who was starting to leave.

"Hey guys!" Lunamaria called out. The three went to her and she asked if they want to play dodge ball, just for fun.

" But that stuff is for kids!" says Dearka.

" We'll modify it," Lunamaria countered. " Since we don't have any plans until the tomorrow, maybe we could make this day worthwhile."

"Ok, how do we modify it?" Miriallia asked.

They went silent for a while until Dearka said," I got it!"

He discussed the plan to them.

Cagalli woke up soon after Athrun left the bus.
" Are we there yet?" she asked her brother.

"We've arrived a few minutes ago. I'm just waiting for you to wake up sleepyhead!" Kira replied.

Cagalli gaze at the window and said," You know, Shinn said that I should take this opportunity to enjoy myself. But I can't."

Kira replied, " It's all up to you. No one can dictate you to be happy or not."

" Yeah you're right. I guess I've been contemplating too much about my feelings for him, that it somehow blinded me from the truth. Tell me brother…" She looked at him.

"…Are my eyes that sore?"

" They're still round and cute…" Kira said.

"Thanks…c'mon! We'll lose the fun if we stay here."

They left the bus and joined the others.

VIII. Dodge ball!

After luncheon, everyone gathered upon Lunamaria's request.

" We've been thinking earlier about what could we do to spend the day, and we thought of something fun! The four of us, " she pointed Yzak, Miriallia, and Dearka " created a game… and we call it Dodge ball!"

" How creative…" Kira commented.

" It's not just an ordinary dodge-ball that we play. Anyone who's interested, well I guess all of you are, please sign up on this paper. Just write your name…"

Some of the guests, including Athrun and Meyrin were doubtful.

" Could you please explain the mechanics of the game?" Meyrin asked.

Dearka took the floor and spoke.

" The game is… uh… very simple. We will have two opposing teams. Each player within the team will randomly select his/her target from the opposite team. The rules are; you are only to "attack" your designated target. Just like the simple dodge ball rules, if a player fails to catch the ball and it hit him, he's out of the game. If you manage to hit your target and he's out, you now have the privilege to attack other players of the opposing team. Get it?"

" Can I protect my teammate for example, I'll catch the ball that's meant to hit him?" Athrun asked.

" Of course you can. You can do whatever team strategy you may find useful, as long as the rules aren't violated. "

One of the listeners asked. " What would be the prize for the winners?"

" Good question!" says Dearka. " The losers will become the "slaves" of the winning team, for a day! So, are we playing?"

" What?" Kira exclaimed.

"A slave?" Athrun continued.

"Whoever your target is, he will be your slave if your team wins," Dearka explained.

" I think I like that," Cagalli said to Kira.

10 out of 18 people joined the game. The rest served as referee and the others, just watching.

Random selection was done, and the members of team A are: Kira, Athrun, Miriallia, Meyrin and Dearka. On the other hand, Shinn, Lunamaria, Cagalli, Yzak, and Lacus comprise team B.

" Now for your targets. Listed on those folded papers are the names of your opponents." Dearka handed the fish bowl with the names on each team.

Kira opened his choice. "Shinn…"

To summarize…

Name Name of target

Kira Shinn

Shinn Dearka

Dearka Lunamaria

Lunamaria Miriallia

Miriallia Yzak

Yzak Meyrin

Meyrin Cagalli

Cagalli Athrun

Athrun Lacus

Lacus Kira

The referee said, " I'll give you 2 minutes for talk this over, then the game starts. By the way you must choose a team captain for the toss coin."

Team B started their meeting.

" Now, I know that none of us would like to become slaves so we must do our best. I think we should prioritize those who can become easy "targets" for the enemy." Shinn looked at Lacus.

" I'm not going to be useful you see…" Lacus answered.

"It's ok, we'll watch over you," says Lunamaria.
" I think I have a plan," Cagalli whispered.

" Hey ref, I think it's a bit unfair for the other team since they have 3 girls while we only have 2," Dearka said to the referee. Cagalli heard it. Her eyes were like daggers, ready to slash Dearka's shirt.

"Hey, do not underestimate the other team," Kira said. " Look at my sister, she's ready to kick your butt anytime…"

" As you can see, all of the members of the opposite team became mobile suit pilots," Athrun added.

" Still, they're no match against us," Dearka concluded.

Cagalli approached the referee. " I will be the captain of our team."

" We ask for the captain of team A to step forward."

Meyrin spoke, " I will be our team captain."

" Then, let the games begin."

Meyrin's team was the first to throw.

While holding the ball, Kira teases his sister, " I'm not gonna be nice to you…"

" Bring it on…" Cagalli replied.

Lunamaria was the first one to be eliminated after 15 minutes of intense match between the two teams.

" I told you we'll win," said Dearka.

However, his triumph was immediately spoiled because Shinn managed to hit him, with Cagalli's help. When Cagalli held the ball, everyone thought she'll aim Athrun, but she suddenly passed it to Shinn… and Dearka was history. Miriallia was next on Shinn's list.

After 45 minutes, everyone was wasted. Only five people were left, and they are, Kira, Athrun, Lacus, Cagalli, and Shinn.

" I can't believe Lacus could stay that long," Dearka said with disbelief.

" That's our strategy," Lunamaria boasted.

" I remember, when the game started, everyone was shielding Lacus. You don't want Athrun to get her and you somehow managed to succeed," Miriallia complemented.

" I don't want to be a slave!" Dearka complained.

" Don't worry, we still have a chance, " Meyrin tries to revive Dearka's spirit.

Athrun was determined to hit Lacus. Before doing so, he told Kira.

" I'll try my best not to hurt her…" he reassured him.

And he succeeded. Cagalli thought she could save Lacus, but Athrun aimed a sure hit. Lacus struggled to hold the ball but the force was too great for her to stop. She was out.

" Oh yeah, we still have some chance of turning the tables!" Dearka exclaimed.

Cagalli was obviously tired and quite depressed.

" Don't worry, we'll get them," says Shinn.

In the entire ball game, Athrun couldn't help but notice the closeness between Cagalli and Shinn. He was not the only one that noticed it, but almost everybody.

" Cagalli and Shinn make a good pair," Miriallia joked.

" You noticed it?" Lunamaria added.

" I think it's going to end up like that," Meyrin said

" I hope so," she thought.

" It's my turn so say your prayers. " Cagalli warns the other team. Shinn threw the ball, and to everyone's surprise, the ball aimed Cagalli. With all her strength left, (and some of her anger against her target), she kicked the ball towards Athrun. The ball hit her target, on the head.

Time out was called. However, Athrun was not that hurt. Cagalli tried approached him to say sorry, but she immediately backed away when Meyrin rushed forward to check her fiancé.

" I'm ok," says Athrun.

Kira was the only player left for team A. He managed to hit Shinn. Now he's against his little sister.

" This is good, Freedom versus Akatsuki eh?" Dearka commented.

" I'd prefer if they were in those mobile suits," Yzak said.

"Just give up. You're tired." Kira tried to distract his sister. But Cagalli was determined to win. And she did… or perhaps Kira gave in.

"So, you will be my slave, ha, ha!" Lacus said to Kira.

" Well, we hope you guys enjoyed the game," says Lunamaria.

Everyone agreed that they had fun. They told Shinn that he and Cagalli are the winning combination, even better than Kira and Athrun.

Cagalli didn't notice that her right knee was bleeding. The force she used upon kicking the ball wounded her. Athrun saw it, but as he tries to get near her, Shinn rushes forward to take care of the injury.

Seeing her fiancé's concern, Meyrin approached him and said, " Her wound isn't deep. Shinn can take care of it." She tucked her arm around his and said, " Let's have some refreshments…"

Shinn placed the medicated plaster on Cagalli's wound.

" There you go," he said as he finished.

" Thank you." Cagalli said. " You're not even my slave," she joked.

" I was sorry 'coz I'm not your target," Shinn told her with a grin.

He helped Cagalli towards the others.

" So, have any plans for your slaves?" he asked them.

IX. Truth

It was indeed a long afternoon for everyone. Another game was held after the dodge ball, but the ten participants of the previous game were too tired to join.

Kira and sought the chance to have a talk with Athrun.

" I was surprised when I saw her here," Athrun begins. " To tell you frankly, I didn't send any invitation for her…"

" Oh, but she received one. She called me on the same day when we received ours," Kira said. "It's Meyrin…"

Athrun stared blankly at the setting sun. Kira hesitated asking the question that's been bothering him and Lacus.

" Tell me the truth Athrun. Do you still love Cagalli? Are you having doubts about this marriage?"

It took a while for Athrun to respond. When he did, tears were in his eyes.

" If I could somehow turn back the time, I wouldn't have left her… But I guess it's too late."

" I'm not making you change your mind. Meyrin needs to know the truth, so you have to tell her. If not, then let my sister go. You must choose," Kira said.

" I guess you're right. It's all my fault," Athrun replied.

" Someone's going to be hurt one way or another. I hope you find the answers soon," Kira said, and with that, he left his friend.

After supper, the women went to the veranda for some cocktails, while the men were in the other room, except for Cagalli and Shinn. Both were missing.

"Hey, do you know where Cagalli went to?" Miriallia asked.

" I heard Shinn's also missing," Lunamaria said.

" No one has seen them after supper. Looks like they've been buying some time for themselves …" another guest said.

" Maybe she isn't feeling well and Shinn's looking after her," Lacus speculated.

"Let's leave those two lovers ok," Meyrin said ecstatically. " Do you know how to play cards? Let's join the men…"

The men were in the middle of a poker game. Kira isn't good in playing cards, so he just watches them. The women joined them. Now, everybody came to notice Shinn and Cagalli's absence.

" It'll be a long night for them, " Dearka joked. Athrun didn't find that remark amusing.

His mind was detached from the game, causing him to lose everything that he had won from the previous games.

" Hey, maybe you're tired," one of his friends said. "You could pass on this and let Kira play for you."

" No, I'm not good at those, " Kira said. He knows the reason for Athrun's distress.

" No, I'll play," Athrun said gravely.

The girls were completely indulged with their game, so no one noticed Athrun's change of disposition. Not long after, it was very hard for Athrun to stand his own atmosphere of annoyance. He went outside to get some air.

Cagalli was sitting in a gazebo at the middle of the garden. The night was chilly, same as the previous one. However, it was Shinn who was with her.

" Why are we here?" Cagalli asked. " Everyone may be wondering where we've gone to."

Shinn remained silent. He was standing on the side of the porch, watching her in the glow of the moonlight. It was the perfect time for him. He was thinking of this the whole day…

He was like a firefly, ready to be burned by her flame. He was looking at her intently. It sent shivers to Cagalli's spine.

Cagalli left her seat and went near him. Shinn did the same. He was only inches away from her now.

Cagalli, who was innocent with all this, smiled at him. He raised his hand and touched her cheek. Cagalli turned her face to avoid his hands. Shinn held her and used a little effort to pull her towards him. She looked at him in the eye, questioning.

" I know you've been loving someone else, but I want you to know…" Shinn started.

"I… " Cagalli's words were empty. She couldn't swallow the lump on her throat. His eyes were locked on hers. " Please Shinn…"

"Let me prove that I'm worthy of your love. I'll wait. But for now, please, let me show you how I feel."

He pulled her nearer, and his lips touched hers. Her lips were soft, but cold. Cagalli was shocked. Her eyes were completely blank. She began to feel again what it was like to be kissed. "It's been so long…"

"His lips were warm, and soft too," she thought as she closes her eyes. His hands held her close, asking her to cooperate and kiss him back. Cagalli remained still.

From a distance, Athrun's feet must have rooted on the ground. He saw the two of them, kissing. Perhaps he couldn't believe his own eyes. The cold wind pierced his skin, tearing deeper, through his soul. He backed away.

Cagalli recovered from the nostalgia that Shinn's kisses were giving to her. But she didn't say anything. She was thinking.

Shinn hugged her. Long silence.

" I'll take you to them," he finally said.

As they went back to their friends, everyone was teasing them.

" I thought you've gone to somewhere and never come back," Miriallia said.

Cagalli blushed. She was really embarrassed that everyone seems to become aware of their absence.

" Is there a second wedding party?" Dearka joked.

" We, I mean… she just wanted some air, and I accompanied her…as her …bodyguard," Shinn immediately saved Cagalli from this verbal interrogation.

Cagalli turned away so no one could see her reaction to Shinn's lies. Her eyes met Athrun's. His was distant, stoned. During those two days, she liked to believe she saw warmth on those eyes. But that night, what she had hoped for was all gone.

Meyrin was observing all this. She was also aware of Athrun's behavior. She approached him and asked if he wanted to retire for the night. He agreed.

The other guests continued their game, while the others also decided to take a rest.

In their room, Meyrin was sitting on the other side of the bed. Everything that transpired on this day, including yesterday was so frustrating for her. Her speculation was starting to realize. She tried not to see it, but it was always there, appearing before her… the phantom of Athrun's past.

She couldn't contain herself anymore, so she decided to talk to Athrun about this. She wanted to prove at least to herself that this was all a lie.

" Hun? Umm… How are you?" She approached him on the other side of the bed, hugged him and whispered this on his ear.

" I'm ok…" Athrun replied.

But his words were empty. Meyrin backed away. She was hurt. It was terrible because she need not ask what was going on.

" It's her right?" She was in tears. Anger was beginning to show.

Athrun didn't reply.

" Why don't you speak to me?" Meyrin shouted. " I knew it, hell you think I didn't notice? The way you react when she's with Shinn!"

Athrun stood and faced her. But still, he didn't answer. He was ready to accept any verbal or physical assault that she may inflict on him, because it's his fault. Meyrin left the bed and moved towards him. She looked at him in the eye. Seconds after, she slapped him. His head jerked sideways. His face was red, with her hand marked on it. But still he didn't reply. This only made her more furious.

" You can't answer because it's true, you… bastard!" She continued her monologue.

" Don't think that I'm too blind or even stupid! You, and your friend… the way you speak to her… She even offered a toast for us! I knew it… I shouldn't have invited her." She was crying now.
" Meyrin please… She has nothing to do with this." Athrun pleaded.

" You even have the nerve to defend her… from me!" Meyrin fired back.

Athrun embraced her. She was struggling against him. Her sobs were even louder.

" I…I'm sorry." That was all that he could say.

After minutes of staying like this, Meyrin started to speak. " Just… leave me alone." Her voice was cold. She pushed Athrun away, but Athrun hugged her tightly. She couldn't break away. " Please."

Athrun, who was on a state of shock and anger for himself, let her go.

He left the room. After hearing the door shut, Meyrin dissolved in tears.

X. Strawberry Pancakes

It was breakfast time. Miriallia went to the dining area with Dearka and Yzak.

" Where's everyone? I thought we were late." Dearka asked Lunamaria.

" I honestly don't know," she replied.

Athrun, Meyrin, Cagalli, Shinn, Kira and Lacus weren't there.

" What are we having for breakfast?" Dearka asked.

" I requested for strawberry pancakes. You could choose your preference,' Lunamaria said.

" I like pancakes. I haven't tried strawberry…" Miriallia was about to finish her sentence when Athrun arrived.

" Good morning everyone," Athrun said flatly.

He wasn't able to sleep last night because of what happened between them, and stayed in one of the guest rooms, near to Shinn's. He saw Shinn earlier and he asked him where he's going. Shinn said he'd pick up Cagalli. They didn't say a word to each other after that. He sat down and looked around him. Meyrin was not there.

Meanwhile, Lacus and Kira were on their way downstairs towards the dining area when they saw Shinn, knocking on Cagalli's door.

" I've been here for more than a minute, but she's not answering," Shinn sounded worried.

"Maybe she went there earlier," Kira said. " C'mon, let's go and see."

When they arrived, everyone was starting to eat.

" She isn't here," Shinn said to Kira.

" Maybe she's still asleep," Lacus said.

Lacus also noticed Meyrin's absence. She asked Athrun about it.

" I think she overslept," Athrun replied.

" No I didn't," a voice came from behind. It was Meyrin's. She seems to be in good disposition. She sat beside Athrun, smiling.

"Strawberry pancakes… my favorite!" She said as she examines her plate.

"You sure are sisters…" Dearka said.

Conversation is a good diversion. Meyrin and Athrun seem to have forgotten about last night's quarrel. But they rarely speak to each other. Meyrin was not aloof, but she kept her responses to him as short as possible.

Cagalli was the one who overslept. She woke up two hours later. Everyone was preparing for that night's party… the last before the wedding. After what happened in the gazebo, Cagalli wasn't able to get a good sleep, for the second time. She was thinking.

"Shinn's not a bad choice," she said to herself. " But, I don't know if I will be able to return his feelings." She began to reassess her feelings for Athrun. Part of her regrets those lost chances where she could win him back, but then, another part of her wants to be free from him. She wanted to move on, because that's what he did. She had finally made up her mind, before closing her eyes. " I have to move on. And Shinn will be the way for me to do it…"

When she went to the dining area, the maid asked her what she wants for breakfast.

" Pancakes will do…"

"Strawberry?" the maid asked again.

" Yes, and coffee please."

What makes a strawberry pancake special? Of course it's the strawberry. The characteristic sweet with a little bit of sour aftertaste, gives more excitement to the taste buds. The bright red color complements the dull brown hue of the pancake itself. Whether with syrup or whipped cream, it's all the same…

After having her late breakfast, Cagalli went outside to see the others. She was not aware that they're going somewhere for the party. She saw Miriallia on the hallway.

" Hi! Woke up late huh?" Miriallia said.

Cagalli smiled. They walked together towards the garden.

" Where is everyone?" Cagalli asked.

"It's funny that question's been asked twice this morning," Mir said. " Everyone's preparing for the bridal shower and stag party tonight. We're going to some inn later. The boys are well, going somewhere for their own party."

" I see. Have we chosen our venue?" Cagalli asked.

" Hot springs is nice," Mir said. " Meyrin is thinking of the same venue when I talked to her earlier this morning, so maybe that's where we're heading to."

Mir was unexpectedly aware of what's going on and was too discreet about it.

She said, " Strawberry pancakes are delicious, aren't they?"

Cagalli was quite surprised about her question. " Uh yeah…" They continued walking.

" Well, I'll go see Dearka, how about you?"

"I have nothing to do. Can go with you?" Cagalli asked.

"No prob." Mir said. She held Cagalli's hand. " Be with people whom you share your soul with, and you'll find true happiness…" she added meaningfully.

XI. The Way of Words

They arrived in a saloon and everyone was chit chatting about the poker game last night. " We'll continue the game tonight and let's see who's going to be the ultimate winner," Dearka said.

" It was Yzak who bagged our fortune last night," the other says.

"Playing poker is like engaging in a battle. You're never sure whether you'll live or die," Yzak said.

"C'mon you're being dead serious again!" Dearka complained.

"Hey guys," Mir said in the doorway.

"Everyone… here's the champion in the women's tournament!" Dearka announced upon seeing Mir.

Shinn was on the other table, smoking some cigar. Upon seeing Cagalli, he stood and went to her.

"I've been worried about you. You weren't answering me earlier."

Cagalli gestured at Mir, and Mir understood. She went ahead.

Cagalli looked at Shinn in the eye. " You shouldn't worry much about me," she snapped at him. Then she walked towards Mir and the others, leaving Shinn behind.

" So, what are your plans for tonight's party? " She asked Dearka.

" Well, it's a secret. We'll have to talk to the groom about that," he answered.

" I hope it's not something obscene…" Mir said.

" Looks like you're jealous again," Dearka said meaningfully to Mir.

" How about you princess…or …uh" one of the other guests said.

" Please…I don't like the word princess. Cagalli's fine," she emphasized.

She seems to be enjoying the company of other people. Shinn was just observing her as she converse with them.

" She's angry about last night," he thought.

Kira and Lacus arrived. They noticed Cagalli's distance from Shinn.

"Is there a problem?" Lacus asked Kira.

" I have a strong feeling that something's about to happen," Kira answered.

They noticed the coldness between the betrothed couple earlier during breakfast. And now, it was Shinn and Cagalli.

"Do we have to do something?" Lacus again asked.

" Let's just wait and see…" Kira replied.

Late in the afternoon, when everyone's about to dress up for the night, Shinn sought the opportunity to talk with Cagalli. They were in the receiving area of the house.

Cagalli was looking at the window. Shinn began.

"I'm sorry about last night. I shouldn't have done that."

" Shinn, about what you said," Cagalli replied. " I need some time… to think about it."

Shinn suddenly felt hope. He smiled. "Like what I've said, I'll wait."

Lunamaria heard their conversation. " Now I know who she is," she whispered.

Athrun was dressing up for the night when Meyrin knocked.

" Come in," he said.

Meyrin entered the room. Athrun waited for her to say something.

" Please. Act like nothing has happened." Meyrin started. " I don't want to spoil this night." Her voice was cold and distant. She began to turn away when Athrun caught her hand. He pulled her against him and embraced her.

Meyrin was crying. She somehow knew what was there, right in front of her.

" I'll see you later."

The men celebrated in a certain pub, about a ten- minute ride from the women- who had their party in a hot spring resort.

" I'm so excited!" Lunamaria said as she took off her clothes and went to the hot springs.

" Let's have cocktails in there…" Miriallia suggested.

All of the women prepared for their bath, but Lacus stayed with Cagalli.

" Don't you want to join the others?" Lacus asked.

" I'll be there in a minute. Just go on," Cagalli replied.

" Ok, but if you have problems, just approach me. I'm in charge of watching over you since Kira's not here." With that, she left.

Cagalli was not in the mood to celebrate. Though she made up her mind about Athrun, her heart just keeps on betraying her reason.

She didn't expect who came after to fetch her. It was Meyrin.

" Got some colds?" Meyrin asked.

Cagalli was surprised, that it took some time for her to reply.

"Uh… no. I was just…"

" C'mon let's go! Everybody's having fun there." Meyrin grabbed Cagalli's hand and led her to the dressing area. As they entered the springs, everyone was cheering.

" To the future Mrs. Zala!" one of the guests said.

Meyrin and Cagalli were standing before them, with their towel on.

" Uh… me or her?" Meyrin joked.

Cagalli looked at Meyrin. Meyrin just smiled at her and dismissed whatever Cagalli's eyes were asking her.

After the leisure bath, they went to the pub near the inn. It was reserved for the night's activities.

Everybody was in drinking spirits. Lunamaria was the first one to get drunk.

" Guys! Hey! Listen to me." She said as she stood on top of the platform. The loud music faded. " We have a visitor… I'm giving you the authority… to harass this guy, just for the night!"

Those who were as intoxicated as her were cheering her on.

" But first. I'll give him to the bride… my sister…" She went off the platform towards Meyrin, and pulled her out of her chair.

" C'mon it'll be fun! Athrun wouldn't know about this, will he?" She shouted so that everyone would hear.

Everyone, including Mir and Lacus were cheering the bride to go and meet this special guest. Cagalli was smiling. She isn't comfortable with alcohol, but for the sake of the occasion, she indulged herself with some.

A handsome coordinator entered the place, and went to Lunamaria. He was Janus, professional stripper. "It's ok, don't be so childish," Lunamaria said to Meyrin. "Lets just have fun with him. I'm sure the boys are doing the same…"

The men were not as adventurous as the women. They've been very busy, engaging in some drinking and poker. The stakes are high, and everyone wanted to have the pot money. Even Kira became seriously involved in the game.

"Holy shit!" Dearka exclaimed as he studies his card. He's losing every cent that he has brought for this occasion.

"Just give up man," Yzak said. " I'll win this round."

"Don't be so sure," Kira threatened.

Athrun and Shinn were sitting right in front of each other on the other side of the table. Shinn was smoking his cigar. Athrun already folded his cards.

" I'll raise to 3000…"

"Confident eh," Shinn said.

However, it was Kira who won the round.

"Beginner's luck!" Yzak commented.

One of the guests came in with two strippers. He said he wanted to give them to Athrun.

Dearka says that "sharing" is always a good practice.

One of the strippers approached Kira. She seems to like him. " Hey, you shouldn't be partial to anyone!" one of the guests jeered.

The stripper introduced her name. " It's Reena," she whispered on Kira's ear.

Kira backed away and said, "Nice to meet you Reena…" Then he moved farther.

" Afraid of Miss Lacus Clyne?" Shinn asked as Kira approached him.

" You can put it that way," Kira answered.

The men were cheering when the other "guest" started to "entertain" Athrun.

Athrun just allowed "things" to happen, but not too far.

Shinn was smoking his fifth stick. He wasn't interested in all of this. But he's looking forward to seeing Cagalli. " What could she be doing right now?" he thought.

The same thing was in Athrun's mind. He wanted to see what the women are doing. But he wasn't sure if it's Meyrin or it's Cagalli whom he's interested in seeing.

"Hey, I'm going…" Shinn said to everyone.

"Where," one of the other guests asked.

"To some sights," Shinn answered briefly. Then he picked up his jacket and left.

Kira knew where he's heading. Athrun too, however he never bothered stopping Shinn. He plans to go there too.

XII. Painter Song

Meyrin was blushing. She isn't used to doing things like watching some strippers do their thing. " You know, I'll kill you if Athrun finds out about this," she said to her sister.

"I'll wager he has two of those instead of one," Lunamaria replied.

Janus left and a band of musicians who was scheduled to perform came in. It's been a long night indeed.

Everyone was drunk. Lacus was now on the platform with the band.

"Before anything else, I would like to thank the bride for this wild and wonderful night."

Lacus sang the song "Somebody to Love".

Shinn entered the place just as the song ended. No one noticed his appearance.

Then, the crowd asked for Cagalli to sing. Cagalli said she isn't a good singer, but Lacus said that she's lying. Everybody, including Meyrin was cheering, so Cagalli gave in.

She went up the stage and whispered something to the band. The music started to play. The song was, " Time Enough for Tears."

Shinn's eyes were on hers. Alcohol was starting to take effect on Cagalli as everyone listened to her serenade. She began to go off the platform, towards the audience. Shinn moved forward to anticipate her. Everyone was surprised upon seeing him. Cagalli wasn't thinking very clearly. She thought it was Athrun, but her eyes unfolded the truth… it was Shinn who was holding her close. The song ended, and everyone was going rowdy. She was still on Shinn's arms. She didn't quite hear what the others were saying.

They were requesting for them to kiss.

Shinn did kiss her, and she responded. Perhaps it was the loneliness that made her do it, or the frustration that it wasn't the man she expected.

Shinn was quite uncertain about the meaning of Cagalli's response. Had he won against Athrun? Cagalli pulled against him. She's starting to recover from the alcohol, or from the kiss.

" Would you like to go back and rest?" he whispered.

" No," she said flatly. " I'm sorry…"

Lunamaria intervened between them and began to ask Shinn. " This is not the stag party. What are you doing here?"

"Just checking on his… uh… " Miriallia answered for Shinn. She wasn't sure what to say, or how to end her answer.

" He's not the only one spying on us. Even the groom's here!" says one of the female guests.

Athrun was on the doorway. Meyrin approached him and placed her hand around his neck. " Missed me already?" she asked.

"Uhuh…" Athrun kissed pressed a light kiss on her lips. " What happened here? I saw someone outside. He said he's name was Janus."

Meyrin blushed. " Oh no…"

Lunamaria noticed Athrun's presence. She asked him to stay with Shinn and join them.

Meanwhile, Athrun saw Cagalli. She wasn't looking at him. . He saw her on Shinn's arms, but he wasn't able to see them kiss. He didn't hear Meyrin's response on his inquiry about Janus because he was staring at the two of them.

The betrothed couple walked towards Lunamaria and the others.

However, the drunken Lacus once again went to the platform.

"We would like to request our two gentlemen to sing for us!" she announced as the spotlight points to Athrun and Shinn. The crowd went noisy.

" She's definitely drunk," Shinn said.

"Kira needs to get here soon," Athrun added.

Cagalli, who's already been as intoxicated as Lacus, left Shinn and went to the stage as well. She said, " Well, I'll be the one to sing for them. I dedicate this song… to the couple… if they don't mind."

Everyone went silent.

" I thought she wasn't confident with her voice?" Mir said.

Lacus, who left the stage as soon as Cagalli came, answered " Well, that's alcohol…"

Everyone settled down to listen to Cagalli's song.

" This song was one of my favorites and was played by Athrun when he was in Orb. He's really good in playing guitar… and this was our song. Well to make it short; I wanted to share this love, that I have felt back then…" Cagalli began.

If I were a painter I would paint my reverie

If that's the only way for you to be with me…

We'd be there together, just like it used to be

Underneath the swirling skies for all to see…

And I'm dreaming of a place, where I could see your face

And I think my brush would take me there, but only

If I were a painter, and could paint a memory

I'll climb beside the swirling skies to be with you…

Meyrin was obviously shocked by Cagalli's deliberate display of affection for Athrun.

She didn't say anything, and just looked at her fiancé. What she saw made everything clearer. Athrun was affected, a great deal.

Tears were hurting Athrun's eyes. He wasn't looking at Cagalli.

On the stage, Cagalli find it hard to hide her feelings just as it was difficult for her to finish her song.

Athrun left Meyrin and went outside. Shinn, who was aware and was infuriated by all of these, followed him.

To the other guests who seem to learn a little about what's going on, it was just a gesture of farewell. To Lacus, Lunamaria and Mir, it was Cagalli's last option to win Athrun back.

XIII. Duel

Outside, Athrun was walking farther when Shinn yelled at him.

" Running away again Athrun Zala?" he said sarcastically.

Athrun stopped walking. He didn't face him and remained quiet.

" Why don't you go back there and finish your charade. You can't stand to be near her because it's two days before your wedding and you're still undecided whom you're going to marry… It's just so you," he added harshly.

" Don't speak as if you know everything," Athrun replied. Anger was beginning to show in his voice.

" What would you expect? You invited your former girlfriend to your wedding for what purpose? To mock her and make her look like a loser?"

Athrun turned around to face Shinn.

" Don't act like you've been saving her from shame," Athrun countered. " You've been using this opportunity for your own selfish reasons."

"Huh, you mean I'm taking advantage of her?" Shinn said with sarcasm. " Whatever my reasons are, it's none of your damn business. She's not with you anymore. You don't even have the right to get jealous."

Athrun was silenced with Shinn's words. Shinn has a good point.

" Tell me, why didn't you broke up with her and involve yourself with Meyrin?" Shinn asked. " There must be some logical reason," he added.

" If there's one person whom I could talk about this, it's Cagalli." Athrun replied.

" Well you won't be able to do that. I'm not going to let her believe in your lies." Shinn fired back.

" I thought you're just the bodyguard. You're assuming too much responsibility…" Athrun said bluntly. " Or has she considered offering you a better position? Well, it couldn't possibly happen…" Athrun kept his last sentence hanging.

" And why don't you think so?" Shinn asked. The muscles on his cheek were beginning to throb because of anger. The same is happening with Athrun.

" Because you only filled my place," Athrun said without thinking.

Shinn launched forward and punched Athrun. Shinn's fist landed on Athrun's face, but Athrun immediately recovered his balance. He was able to hit Shinn back.

One of the guests saw what happened. She immediately went back to the bar and told this to the others. Cagalli was already finished with her song and was sitting beside Lacus and Mir. " What you've done tonight will surely lead to something bad," Lacus warned her.

" Don't scare her. It's because of the alcohol…" Mir tried to put humor into this unpleasant situation.

On the other side, Lunamaria was with her sister.

" Feeling ok?" she asked Meyrin.

" I'd like to go now sis," Meyrin said.

" No. You will stay here. This is your party," Lunamaria insisted.

The witness to Shinn and Athrun's brawl stormed inside.

" Hey, Shinn and Athrun are fighting!"

" What?" Meyrin said as she stood.

But before she could react, Cagalli rushed towards the door and went outside.

"Cagalli no!" Lacus shouted. She was starting to run after Cagalli when Lunamaria caught her hand.

" Let her fix this…" Lunamaria said.

Kira, who has just arrived from the other side of the street, saw his sister running.

"Hey Cagalli!" he called out. She ignored him so he followed her.

"What the hell's happening?" he said to himself while running after his sister.

When she arrived, both Shinn and Athrun were on the sidewalk, holding each other down.

"Would you please stop it!" she shouted.

The two men began to let each other loose. Cagalli stood between them. Both men were catching their breath.

"So, who's side are you going to?" Shinn asked.

Cagalli faced him. " I'm not going to take anyone's side. What in the world are you thinking Shinn?" Cagalli shouted.

" I think it's time for you to choose…" Shinn answered. " You can't be with him." He pointed at Athrun.

"Please." Cagalli said, with her head bowed.

" Cagalli…" Athrun called out. " Let me explain…"

"Just stop it!" Cagalli replied. Athrun went to her. He was starting to pull her towards him, but then she struggled to get him off. Shinn was beginning to attack Athrun again but Cagalli pushed him away. Then she turned around and slapped Athrun.

" How dare you… try to persuade me to listen to your explanation? Is this what you want? You fiancé is in there, waiting for you." She paused." Aha… you want to know the truth… About the song? It sure brings back a lot of memories… but what I did earlier was a stupid mistake! I'm always like that when it comes to you… What do you want to hear huh? That I still love you and that this whole wedding thing has tortured me more that anything I can bare? Well you win. I'm already suffering! Does that make you happy now?"

Her confession startled Athrun. It had the same effect on Shinn.

Kira was already there, but he wasn't doing anything.

Cagalli backed away and turned to Shinn. "I'm sorry, I can't bear this pretense anymore. But this doesn't mean I'm going to do the wrong thing."

After that, she ran away. Again, Kira chased after his sister.

Cagalli took off in a taxicab, but before she could, Kira caught up with her. " Where are you going?" he asked.

"Home…" she said.

Back in the bar, everyone started to pack up and rest for the night. Tension is indeed in the air, as the men arrived and learned about what happened to Athrun and Shinn. Kira went to the other people to check if anything other than the fight has transpired.

" Who started this?" He asked Lacus.

" If you ask every person in this room, they'll say it's your sister," Lacus said with a sigh.

Lunamaria was with Meyrin. Kira approached them.

"Where are they?" Luna asked.

"Not very far from here…" Kira answered.

Kira looked at Meyrin. She was staring through the glass of champagne on the table.

Before he could speak, Luna said to him, " Just leave us for a while, please."

Kira understood. He went and joined the others. Meanwhile, Dearka approached Mir and whispered," We must do something…"

"What do you think is the best way to do other than stay quiet?" Mir replied.

"This is not a good way to end a party," Dearka said meaningfully.

"You mean, somebody's got to steal the spotlight from those two immature boys," Yzak said.

"Precisely," Dearka concluded.

Again, Lacus went up the stage and talked to the band. The music resumed and Mir announced that the party isn't over. She looked at Lunamaria, hoping that she understood what this means. Luna did.

" Would you like to rest or to party?" Luna asked her sister.

"I'd like to go home…" Meyrin said.

" Then, just bid everyone goodnight. C'mon!" Luna convinced her sister to hold herself together.

Meanwhile, Athrun and Shinn remained where Cagalli had left them. For minutes, they stayed that way, until Shinn started speaking.

" I guess she didn't choose anyone of us..."

Athrun was still quiet. He was thinking of Cagalli's confession.

" So, what are you going to do now?" Shinn asked.

" I honestly don't know," Athrun said briefly.

"I… am sorry," Shinn said.

Athrun, who was also ashamed of what he did, replied.

" Yeah, this was stupid… I'm sorry too."

" So, she's gone," says Shinn. " I guess nobody won." Then he paused and thought for some time.

He turned away from Athrun and began to walk away, but before doing so, he said.

" Don't hurt her again, for if you do, I'll have to revive Destiny and go after you."

It sounded like a threat, but to Shinn, it's a symbol of defeat.

XIV. Chains of Truth

Cagalli went back to the mansion to pack her belongings. She was in a hurry because she doesn't want anyone to see her leave. Her cell phone rang, and it was Kira who's calling.

" Where are you?" Kira sounded worried.

"Packing my stuff. I'll leave in fifteen minutes," Cagalli replied.

" Wait for me, I'm on my way."

" No, just stay here." Cagalli insisted.

"I'll go with you whether you like it or not. I'm not trusting that you'll be ok. " Then he hangs up.

Kira called Lacus and told her that his sister was leaving. He said that he'd accompany her for a while.

"I think I need to talk to him too," Lacus replied. " I'll be ok here…"

Kira arrived at the mansion and went to his sister's room.

" Are you still there?" He was knocking at her door.

No one answered so Kira went inside. He saw Cagalli sitting on the couch.

" Hey," he said.

Cagalli was crying. Kira sat down and embraced her.

" I 'm always like this… such a mess…" Cagalli said while weeping.

" I'm getting used to it," Kira replied with a laugh.

" Remember how many times did you cry like this?" He continued. " When you thought that I was dead… and when you almost married that loser from the Atlantic Federation, if I hadn't kidnapped you… and you practically yelled at me for ruining your dress!"

" I didn't yell at you because of that!" Cagalli protested.

" Well, I cried back then, because… I couldn't fight for what I believe… for Athrun."

" Are you giving up now?" Kira asked.

Cagalli looked up at him. " No. But I don't want to ruin someone's life…"

" If that's what you believe, I'll respect it. Let's get going." He concluded.

He was waiting for Cagalli outside the house when a car came.

The passenger seems to notice him because it pulls to a stop. It was Meyrin.

She got out of the car and approached Kira.

"Is your sister here?" she asked sternly.

" She's packing her bags. We'll be leaving in a moment." Kira answered.

" I'm sorry for all of this…but my sister has nothing to do with it. She doesn't mean to…"Kira wasn't able to finish his sentence.

" I'd like to talk to her…" Meyrin said.

" She's still inside the guest quarters."

Meyrin was a few steps away from Kira when she spoke. " I need to know the truth. Something that I've been avoiding…"

Cagalli heard someone knocking so she opened the door. She didn't expect to see her rival.

" May I come in?" Meyrin asked.

It took a while for Cagalli to regain herself, and then she replied. " Of course, this is your house…"

Cagalli continued to pack her belongings while Meyrin entered the room. It was the last piece of Cagalli's clothing that needs to be stocked, when Meyrin broke the silence between them.

" Why did you come here? Please, don't lie to me. I've been sick of watching this drama for too long." There was anger in her voice.

" If you want the truth, then I'll give it to you. I didn't want to come here in the first place, because I couldn't stand seeing the man I love with someone else. But it was Shinn who convinced me to go and watch him off." She turned and looked at Meyrin in the eye.

"I'll cherish everything that has happened between me and Athrun. But that won't give any reason for me to take him from you. I never did, and you know it. He was mine from the beginning." Cagalli's words hit Meyrin as she recalls that moment when Cagalli told her to look after Athrun. It was the day before the battle between the naturals and coordinators came to an end.

Meyrin was attracted to Athrun since the day when he and Cagalli took refuge onthe Minerva. But she was just a wallflower. She wasn't receiving any special attention from Athrun, not until the time when she left the Minerva with him, and both of them branded as traitors. It was a known fact however, that Athrun was not just Cagalli Yula Atha's personal bodyguard. She was romantically involved with him, and that made the coordinators think of Athrun's foolishness, for being with a pacifist natural.

After the war, Athrun never came back to Orb…to Cagalli. Athrun went back to PLANTS, with Meyrin and other fellow coordinators, except Shinn .

" What you did earlier, does that justify what you're saying?" Meyrin fired back.

" No. And am deeply regretting everything that I have done back there. But I was just being true to myself…"

Meyrin turned away. " I'm sorry," she said. Perhaps because she understood how Cagalli feels. She was the one who invited Cagalli in the first place.

" You don't have to apologize. If I knew this would happen, I shouldn't have come here…"

" No," Meyrin said. " I'm sorry, for taking him …"

" He was the one who left me… After all, it was I who tried to marry someone else." Cagalli explained, as she recalls Athrun's resentment after learning about her betrothal with Yuna Roma Seiran of the Atlantic Federation. .

Meyrin suddenly remembered that moment during their trip back to PLANTs. She asked Athrun why he'd come with them.

" I don't belong there," he said. " She will never find peace with me. I could never protect her because I'm weak."

" How could you say such things?" Meyrin reacted.

" We're living in totally different worlds… she's the leader of Orb. She always has to suffer because of my mistakes. I still couldn't forgive myself for being a dog of the enemy, leaving her struggling everyday just to become a good leader. Her country needs her, and I'm always standing on the way… "

" He didn't leave because he wanted to. He was just… afraid to cause you any more suffering than he already did." Meyrin said softly. " I was there, I saw him go through the pain of war, of losing you. " Please don't judge him, he did not betray you." Meyrin was in tears.

" That's why I'm giving up on him, even if hurts me…" Cagalli concluded. " He deserves someone like you."

Meyrin suddenly rushed forward and embraced Cagalli. " Now I understand," she said.

XV. The Day of Haumea

It was a sunny day… a perfect time to hold a wedding. The temple dedicated to the goddess Haumea was decorated with different flowers; white roses, lilies, and tulips.

The female members of the entourage went to the bride's room to say their best wishes.

" You look fantastic!" Mir exclaimed as she enters the room with the other girls.

" I see, you're wearing the same style of gown as before," Lacus said, as she secures the hem of the wedding gown.

" I didn't have much time to choose… you know I'm not particular with these stuff, " the bride said.

"Either way, you still look great," Lunamaria concluded. " We're happy for you… at last."

Someone knocked at the door, so Mir opened it. It was Kira.

" Hi!" Mir said.

" Hey, is the bride in there?" Kira asked.

"Yeah… c'mon inside." Mir stepped back as Kira entered the room. The women were laughing over Lunamaria's joke about the honeymoon. Lacus noticed Kira's presence, so she asked everyone to leave the room for a while.

"They need to spend some time together, before she goes off," she said.

XVI. Faithful Friends

" Can I talk to you for a while," Lacus said upon seeing Athrun on the garden.

After the party, everyone went back to Meyrin's house to spend the night.

They were quiet for some time, until Lacus decided to speak.

"I really liked Kira upon first sight. I didn't want to tell you because I thought you'd be mad, since we haven't broken our engagement yet." She suddenly recalls about her politically motivated engagement with Athrun Zala, which was arranged by their fathers, who happened to be two of the most influential people in PLANTs.

Athrun remained quiet. Lacus continued.

" But, I didn't know that in those times you were already falling for Cagalli, who happens to be Kira's sister. Funny isn't it? The two of them… have a lot in common. Both of them have a good heart…"

" And now, you were getting married. Not to me, or her, but to Meyrin." She went towards Athrun and held out her hand to hold his. She looked at him in the eye.

" I see a lot of confusion Athrun."

" This is all my fault Lacus," Athrun replied. " I didn't want to hurt Meyrin…but still, I couldn't give her up."

She sat beside him and said," You're always like this. You suffer a lot of setbacks from your indecisions, but you always manage to go through them, with your head up high. I always believe everything would fall in place, not matter how messy they are."

She smiled at Athrun. It was a very warm smile… comforting.

" It's just so you…" Lacus ended.

Lunamaria was affected by her sister's distress. She was thinking about what happened in the bar and about Cagalli's message. She was beginning to fall asleep when she heard someone knocking.

She opened the door and saw Meyrin.

" Hey…" she said.

"Can…I sleep here?" Meyrin asked.

" Sure…"

Meyrin was lying on Luna's lap, and crying. " Just cry if you want…"Luna said.

" Sis… did I do the wrong thing?" Meyrin asked.

" You were brave enough to love… and humble enough to accept defeat."

XVII. It's Going to Rain…

It was 7 a.m. but the sun is still hiding.

" I think it's going to rain," Mir said to herself.

Shinn was packing his luggage when Lunamaria came. " Where are you heading now?" she asked.

" Back to Orb…" Shinn said without looking.

" I hope you know…" Luna said

" That it's over…" Shinn continued.

" Yeah."

They shared the silence that was beginning to creep on everyone's sleeves.

Athrun entered their room and Meyrin was there. She was clad in a yellow dress, with her hair neatly braided. Athrun sat in front of her. Her eyes were distant.

" I've spoken to her last night," Meyrin said.

" We don't have to do something if we're halfhearted about it," she continued.

"I'm sorry Meyrin… this was my fault. I should have been honest from the beginning."

" Even if you don't say it, you have always loved her. No one ever replaced her, not even me…' Meyrin said.

Then she pulled the ring off her finger. She handed it back to Athrun. " I could make this wedding continue, but part of me says that I shouldn't. I couldn't possibly get in the way of two people's happiness."

" Meyrin, please, don't say that…" Athrun said. " You were never in the way. It was me who was foolish enough to make myself believe that I can go on…"

" You were kind enough to hide your true feelings. You don't want to hurt me, that's why you've accepted my affection. You can't be like that Athrun. Sometimes, you have to be true to yourself, or else you'll hurt more people even if you don't want to."

She reached out Athrun's palm and placed the ring beneath it.

" Go, to her. She already went back to Orb with Kira. I know that she won't accept you at first, but then, once you've explained your true feelings, she will understand." Meyrin paused for a while then continued. " If you're worrying about the wedding, I've asked Miriallia and Lunamaria to take care of it."

They exchanged a few words before Meyrin said her goodbye.

" Can I have a last hug, from a dear friend?"

Athrun embraced her. Tears were flowing on Meyrin's eyes, just as the rain started to fall. The windowpane was filled with sorrow of the weather.

XVIII. Remembrance

It was ten o' clock when they arrived at the airport of the Orb Union. Their arrival could have been earlier if they took the 6 a.m. flight. But they were able to leave PLANTs at half-past six and the space shuttles heading Earth are at 2-hour intervals.

" Well, we're here… and you're back to work," Kira said as they walk down the space shuttle.

" It's better that way," Cagalli answered briefly.

The limousine that was meant to pick up Cagalli came.

" Thanks brother," Cagalli said as she headed for the car, but Kira caught her hand and said.

"I don't think it's a good idea to leave you now, so… you'll have to go home with me ok?"

"But…" Cagalli started to protest.

Kira ran towards the limousine and talked to the driver.

They went to reverend Malchio's home where Kira and Lacus are staying.

"You'll rest here, just for the week's end. But if you decide to stay longer, it would be more than fine with me." Kira said as he unloads their belongings.

Cagalli was just staring at the window, the sun was high up and the clouds were thin. It's a fine weather.

" I'll call Lacus and ask her if she'll be with us sooner."

Kira dialed the phone, but no one answered. Kira tried again.

" What could have happened?" he whispered.

It was 5:30 in the afternoon. Kira and Cagalli were walking along the shoreline.

" It's been a long time since I've done this," Cagalli said.

" Work has done a great deal of damage to you," Kira said under his breath.

"What if I get married, and decide to retire?" Cagalli said. She stopped walking to pick up a piece of shell.

Kira looked back at his sister. " You don't have to be torn into two. Orb needs you, and I know that whoever that lucky guy is, he would understand." He paused for some time then continued.

" We've had our share of bad experiences, and lost our loved ones because we're trying to save others. Now that the war is over, I think it's time for us to think of our own happiness."

" You're always saying the right things. I wish I could be like you" Cagalli spoke as she examines the piece of treasure.

" You're even more special. You just don't know how to handle yourself sometimes…" Kira answered.

Cagalli enjoyed picking up empty seashells and stones, so Kira went ahead. While walking, he saw someone sitting in front of their house. It was Shinn. Kira approached him.

" Hey," says Kira. He was starting to realize what just happened back there.

Shinn just smiled. It was a sad smile. Kira knew it.

" The wedding's over…" Kira concluded.

Shinn nodded in approval. " Can I talk to Cagalli?"

"She's still back there," Kira pointed towards the shore.

It was the last shell among the piles that Cagalli saw. She was about to place it in her pocket when a familiar voice called after her.

She turned and saw Shinn coming. She waited for him to come nearer.

" Hi…"

" Shells eh?" Shinn said as he notices Cagalli's pocket overflowing with it. " What are you going to do with those?"

" I want to set up my own aquarium, back at central." Cagalli replied.

The waves were closing in, and the tide, rising. It's sound filled the space between them. Both weren't speaking but the message was clear.

" I want to go off for some time…" Shinn said as he watches the waves hit the cliff near them.

" Can I have a vacation leave?" he continued.

Cagalli was quite surprised with his question.

" I knew I'm such a pain… well, you can go. I'm allowing you… "

" As a friend …" Shinn whispered.
" Yes, as a friend."

Shinn began to recall his first conversation with Cagalli after the war.

He went back to Orb because he wanted to atone for his transgressions. He blamed the Athas, especially Cagalli for the death of his family and tried to destroy Orb, his homeland. He entered the special military forces, organized to keep the Orb's military facilities off the hands of greedy politicians like the Seirans and maintain the mutual trust between the Earth Alliance and Zaft forces. When Athrun Zala left Orb, the representative needed a personal bodyguard that would replace Athrun's duty. Shinn volunteered for the job. At first, he was quite uneasy with it, especially when Cagalli's just within arms reach. But then, he needed this opportunity to make up for all the insults that he inflicted on her, as well as those times when he tried to kill her.

Cagalli felt the same. She was hesitant to accept Shinn as her personal bodyguard, because of the things that happened between them during the war. She discussed this with Kira and he said that she is a good person like her father, and that if she does not learn to trust other people, then nobody would trust her.

Shinn smiled upon recalling their first casual conversation. He was with her in a limousine, and they were heading for a certain conference at Shanghai. He was feeling nervous and uneasy beside her. "You should smile a little," Cagalli said. " I'm like that before, until my brother told me that if I continue being so serious, then I'd grow old before my time." Then she smiled at him. Shinn blushed. Her smiled warmed his heart, and for some reason, she was taking his pain away. " I'm sorry…"It was all that he could say. From that moment, he wanted to see her smile… and he wanted her smile to be part of his life.

They continued walking until they reach the house. Kira invited Shinn for dinner, but Shinn refused and said that he will be spending the night with a friend.

"Ok, I'll leave you two." Kira went inside to prepare dinner.

" So," Cagalli said with a sigh. " Goodbye for now…"

"Yeah," Shinn said.

"Thank you for everything."

" No. Thank you for everything," Shinn countered. He reached out for her, offering a hug. Cagalli embraced him. " When I come back," Shinn said with tears in his eyes. " I'd like to see you walk down the isle of Haumea's temple…" He smelled her hair and kissed her cheek. " With…whoever that lucky guy is. And if he hurts you, just tell me and I'll punish him," he joked.

Cagalli felt sad because she was beginning to appreciate Shinn. He was always there when she needs someone. And somehow, he fills up the emptiness that she felt. But if she accepted him without being sure if she'll return his feelings, it would only be unfair for his part. She doesn't want to rely on him.

" Take care of yourself," she said as she watched him walk away.

They were having dinner with reverend Malchio and the orphans.

" I hope you don't mind this simple meal," the reverend said.

" No, not at all," Cagalli replied. " It's delicious…"

"I cooked that," Kira boasted.

"How domestic brother! Lacus is very lucky…" she said as she goes for another bite.

"Is Lacus returning?" reverend Malchio asked.

"She sent a message. She'll be here any time tonight."

" Miss Cagalli, where is Athrun? One of the orphans asked.

" He said he will be playing with us when he comes back from space," says the other.

"Athrun can't be with us. He's getting married…"Cagalli said gravely.

Kira dropped his spoon. " You mean, Shinn didn't tell you?" he asked.

"About what?" Cagalli was confused.

"Umm… " Kira was hesitant so tell the truth.

"About what Kira?" Cagalli sounded irritated.

"I'm home!" Lacus said as she entered the dining area. " Cagalli… you're here!" she exclaimed. She looked at Kira, questioning.

"Thank goodness," Kira whispered.

The reverend stood to get another plate for Lacus. Kira offered a seat for her.

"You were early…I thought the wedding's tomorrow?" Cagalli asked.

The couple looked at each other, conversing with their minds.

"Should I tell her?" Lacus asked Kira. Kira was thinking of the same question.

"There will be no wedding," they said in unison.

Cagalli's reaction was comical. She couldn't believe her ears. She said nothing until dinner's end. The children went to the kitchen with the reverend.

"It's my fault isn't it?" Cagalli said.

" I can't really say that," Lacus replied. "We aren't sure if they were postponing or canceling it."

"But still… Meyrin is probably hurt by all this…"

" She made her decision. How about you?" Lacus asked.

"Me?" Cagalli sounded confused.

" I'll go get some coffee…" Kira left the two women.

"It's ok. This is not the time for you to think about what I mean… If he comes to you, would listen to his explanation? Would you still accept him?"

Cagalli was silent. At that moment she didn't know how to answer those questions.

XIX. Wishes

" Wearing the same dress?" Kira asked as he approaches his sister. " It could mean bad luck…" he joked.

" You're not planning of kidnapping me again, are you?" Cagalli replied.

"The groom will definitely kill me if I do," her brother said with a laugh.

Then, he reached for something in his pocket. He went behind her and asked her to sit in front of the mirror,

"What do you have there?" she asked.

"A snake…" he said.

Then he pulls out a beautiful necklace, made up of seashells. " It's from the children. They worked hard for it…" he said as he placed it around her neck. He noticed the diamond necklace on the table. "Oh… you're wearing those…"

"No! I'd prefer this one. I really like it," she said with a smile.

"You will escort me to the isle, won't you?" Cagalli asked. She was in tears.

" I thought it was the father's role?"

"You'll fit the part," she said.

After wearing the silk veil, Cagalli turned around and said. " How do I look?"

" Well you could be like that everyday… he's very lucky," Kira replied with a grin.

XX. Drenched Flowers, Wilted Season

Cagalli stayed with her brother for the weekend. Then she went back to central.

" I'll go now… thank you very much," she said as she heads for the limousine.

"Visit us anytime you feel like, ok?" Lacus bids goodbye.

Kira helped her with her luggage and before leaving her he said, " Take care and don't work much. If you get hospitalized again, I'm going to get you out of there…they'll have to find a new representative."

"Don't worry too much about me. I'll be ok," Cagalli reassured him.

She woke up late the day after. It was the week's first executive meeting.

"Good morning ma'am," the butler said.

"Morning…" She was still half asleep. It was the strong coffee that woke her up.

She was scanning the papers her secretary had sent her to evaluate.

"Ma'am, about your bodyguard…"

"Oh, he requested for a vacation. I've told you that yesterday right?"

" Yes ma'am. Someone came earlier this morning. He said he wanted to apply or reapply for the position. He said if he could talk to you personally so you can evaluate his qualifications."

"Where is he?" she asked.

" He's gone ahead but he left his number. I'll be contacting him once you've considered his application."

" Tell him that I'm available after the meeting."

" Welcome back representative Athha," Murrue greeted as Cagalli entered the conference room.

The other officials were already there.

" Are you sure you're doing fine, representative?" one of them asked.

"I'm fine. I'm not going to faint ever again," she reassured them. " So, shall we begin?"

Cagalli was in her office with her secretary, an hour after the executive briefing on Orbs military policies. Her secretary was enumerating all of the week's activities, which she needs to attend to.

" Tell me Milagros, what if I die this week, could you be my replacement as representative?" she joked.

But her secretary took it seriously. " Ma'am, why are you saying those things? Is something the matter?"

" No, I was just curious of your reaction, that's all," she sighed.

" Here are the documents from your last trip to Panama. Both the Alliance and ZAFT are requesting for a private meeting with you…"

" I'll go over them later. Thank you." Cagalli dismissed her.

She began to recall her stay at Kira's house. Back there she was like a child, and everything seems to be easier. She didn't have to worry about work or about ZAFT and Alliance. But then, she must continue her father's legacy and leadership, for the safety of Orb. She's starting to realize the sacrifice that she has to endure for the sake of her people.

She was starting to dissolve in those documents when Milagros rang the intercom.

" Ma'am, someone wants to talk to you. He said he is applying as your bodyguard."

Cagalli remembered her appointment with the applicant.

" Ok let him in…"

She wondered how did this guy know her address. She thought maybe the security service had forwarded him to her for her personal evaluation.

She was still reading when the visitor entered.

" Take a seat please," she said without looking.

The visitor remained quiet and approached her desk. Cagalli was expecting him to introduce himself but she didn't hear a single word.

" Would you mind introducing…" she said as she raised her head.

"…yourself," her words hang like a pall upon seeing the applicant's face.

It was Athrun, standing before her.

" What are you doing here?" she whispered. Her eyes never left his.

"I'm…applying as your bodyguard," he finally said.

"I don't need you," she snapped. She began to read the papers again.

Athrun took a deep breath. He remembered what Meyrin said.

"I know that she won't accept you at first, but then, once you've explained your true feelings, she will understand."

"Could you please listen to me," he pleaded.

" You broke up with your fiancé just to become my bodyguard… tell me, how reasonable is that Athrun Zala?" she mockingly replied.

" I have no time for this," she continued. She stood and started to leave but Athrun held her back. He pulled her towards himself and embraced her. It's been a long time since he held her like this. He began to remember that familiar smell of her hair, and how her skin felt against his.

" Let me go…" her voice was weak. " Please…"

"No. Not until you listen to what I say." There was authority in his voice.

Cagalli felt Athrun's warmth return. Back then, his arms was all she needed to feel safe. He was her shield, when everything was wrong… and everyone is against her.

Then, he cupped her face with his hands.

" I came here, because this is what I want, no matter how illogical or how stupid this is for you… " He brushed away Cagalli's tears. " I've become your worst enemy… I've hurt you a lot of times, but then it was me who keeps coming back because you're the only one that I need to exist."

"Liar…" Cagalli snapped as she cries. " You didn't even say goodbye to me, then you fell in love with someone else… and even invited me to your wedding!"

"If there is one thing that I regret, that is when I went back to my homeland without expressing how I truly feel about you. Please listen to me…" He recaptured her as she tries to get away.

" You were mad at me because I tried to marry someone else out of responsibility! You don't know how I felt back then, when you went back to ZAFT and become our enemy. And when everything's over, you didn't even bother explaining yourself to me!" she cried. " You… you just ran away…" her sobs were getting louder. " Leaving me all alone."

Athrun remembered Kira's words to him. " When you look at her, she seems to be very strong. For me, she's just a child who's trying to grow up before her time. I couldn't be there for her all the time… that's why I'm asking you to take care of her…"

Athrun held her in his arms as she cried.

" I was …pretending to be strong, trying to do everything by myself… You don't know how it feels like…"

He recalled not so long ago when the news about Cagalli's collapse during the Pacific Union Conference came out. He was in France with Meyrin and a friend told him about it. The scene was captured on TV… Cagalli suddenly fell unconscious while delivering a speech. And it was Shinn who rushed forward and carried her. Athrun told Meyrin that he'll visit Cagalli but when he was about to leave, Meyrin complained of having an asthma attack.

" I was afraid back then," Athrun started his confession. "I'm so ashamed of what I did. The war isn't over for me yet. I'm still a bloodthirsty ZAFT soldier, like before and because of that you've suffered a great deal. Orb needs you and I didn't want to get in the way. I thought that Meyrin could take away the pain, the loneliness that I felt, but I was wrong. In the end, it was me who was dying of jealousy upon seeing you and Shinn…"

" It's just so you… childish and stupid…" Cagalli sobbed while fixing the documents that were already drenched with tears.

" I guess that makes us a perfect combination…" Athrun replied.

Their conversation was interrupted when Milagros came and handed Cagalli a letter.

"Ma'am, are you alright?" Milagros whispered. She couldn't keep but stare at Athrun. " He looks familiar," she said to herself.

Cagalli nodded and took the letter. Outside, Milagros searched the database in her computer, and typed the name that was on Athrun's resumé. "Alex Dino… just as I thought…"

Cagalli opened the letter and read it.

"What is it?" Athrun asked.

"A resignation letter from Shinn."

"Will you accept it?" he asked.

"I haven't found a replacement," Cagalli said meaningfully, ignoring Athrun's stare.

" Well I guess I have to convince you to take my offer," he said with his eyes on her.

"Try me…" she said without looking.

Athrun's eyes were glittering. He knew it. She will be his.

XXI. Wishes II

The limousine was waiting for them. Cagalli left the mansion with Kira. Everyone was cheering upon seeing her on the red carpet. The children were showering her path with flowers. " You're like a movie star," Kira joked.

Kira received a message. It's from Athrun.

" Who is it?" Cagalli asked.

" The groom is very anxious to see his bride…" Kira commented.

" Tell him to wait," Cagalli said with a lazy grin.

"You still haven't told me how he proposed… C'mon, there's still time to tell your story."

" Brother, there's nothing special about it…" Cagalli said. She was blushing.

"No fireworks, or detonating mobile suits? Knowing him… he's good at those…" Kira said.

"NOPE. Nothing special." Cagalli answered as she stared on the car's window, reminiscing that night of Athrun's proposal of marriage to her.

XXII. The Wind's Song

After their conversation, Cagalli excused herself and said that she has other things to do for the day.

" I'll take you home tonight." Athrun said as he walks away. Cagalli's eyes weren't blinking.

" He's talking to me as if I were his…" she said to herself. But instead of being annoyed, she said. " Well, if that's what you want, you'll have to work hard for it…"

Perhaps she trusted herself too much, that she could bend him to her will, and in the end, make him fall on his knees. But some things happen because they ought to happen.

Athrun took her not to her home, but to his house outside central. He wanted Cagalli to live there with him when he was still in Orb. But Cagalli refused and said that she has to stay at the central mansion.

" Why are we here?" Cagalli asked after seeing the familiar view. " I thought you were to take me home?"

" We're in our home now," he said without looking.

They went inside and Cagalli was starting to feel nervous.

"Let's have dinner. I'm starving," Athrun said.

They ate without speaking, or it was just Athrun who was talking. Cagalli answered his questions, but she wasn't able think of a good topic to converse with.

" You look exhausted. You want to go to bed now?" he asked her.

That made Cagalli jump from her seat. " No! I…I'm ok…" She started babbling about everything.

She was deliberately prolonging their conversation, and Athrun knew what she was thinking about. It only made him more patient to pursue his plan.

He stood to fix the dishes while Cagalli was still busy telling him about everything that she can think of.

Athrun came back from the kitchen with glasses and a bottle of brandy.

" If you don't want brandy, I have some sherry…"

" No… I'm allergic to alcohol…" she said while recalling those things that she did during Meyrin's party.

" …Can make you do a lot of crazy things right?" he said as he takes a sip.

" Why do you look so nervous?" He began to ask.

" It's because I'm here in your house, with you getting yourself drunk, and I don't know what are you thinking," Cagalli thought.

" Nothing… well… why exactly are we here?" she said.

" You're not thinking that I'll seduce you right? Oh you did…" Athrun said. He couldn't help but laugh.

" It's not funny!" Cagalli said as she stood. " I want to go home now…"

Athrun caught her hand. His tone became serious all of a sudden.

" I took you here because I wanted you to see what I've been dreaming about, ever since I stayed here. I thought this dream would never come true. But now that I have the chance to make it happen, I'll do everything."

" What is your dream?" Cagalli whispered.

The pale moon was watching them.

"To be with you for the rest of my life… "

He pulled something out of his pocket. It was a ring. He held Cagalli's finger and took it with his hand. Cagalli turned to him, her eyes were as clear as the sky. He placed the ring on her finger. She didn't protest.

" This… looks familiar," she said smiling.

" It was our promise ring, remember? You returned it to me before I went to space for the battle…"

" And you kept it all along…" Cagalli whispered.

Athrun cupped her face and kissed her languorously. She placed her arm around his neck and kissed him with equal passion that he's giving her.

Athrun couldn't stop but reminisce their first kiss. The boyish Cagalli surely doesn't know how to respond back then. But now, she was matured enough to understand the meaning of passion, yet maintains here sense of decency.

He was longing for this night to happen, and now, he was finding it hard to control himself… She was the only woman who could waken his desire. He then recalled the night when he saw Shinn and Cagalli kiss.

He suddenly grunted.

Cagalli studied his expression as he stopped kissing her. Her eyes were questioning.

"Nothing," he said. " I remembered seeing you and Shinn kiss…" He looked away from her.

Cagalli smiled and whispered under his ear. " Jealous?"

"Crazy jealous…" he replied.

"He did kiss me but I did not kissed him," Cagalli clarified. " You and Meyrin kissed a lot of times. I was never angry at you…" She started to move away from him.

But Athrun pulled her nearer. She could feel his breath on her ear.

"How did you feel back then?" he asked.

"I… I felt like crying…" Cagalli confessed. Athrun tipped her chin and her eyes met his.

" Want to know how I feel when I kiss you?" He teased. His eyes were burning and Cagalli felt it. She closed her eyes.

He kissed her again, but this time it was more ardent and possessive. Her lips were yielding against his. He held her nape and began to touch her obsessively.

She began to whimper when he instinctively pulls off her coat, and he realized that this was not the proper time. He was still holding her when she raised her hand and touched his face. She traced the contours of his lips and cheek and began to kiss them. That was her sweet gesture of longing… of saying that she wanted him as much as he wanted her. That was one of the things that he admires about her. She was very honest to show her feelings.

XXIII. Vows Forever

As they arrived in the temple, lots of people have already gathered to witness the event.

Cagalli stepped out of the car with Kira, and the music started to play.

Just as she was about to start her walk, a voice came from behind called out.

It was Meyrin's.

She approached her… and they hugged each other. " May the goddess Haumea bless your marriage with lots of kids…" She said. Then she places something on Cagalli's hair. It was a beautiful flower that accentuated her blond hair. " That's better," she said.

"Thank you" Cagalli replied.

Again, another voice came and it was Shinn's.

" Congratulations…" he said sincerely. Then he embraced her.

Lacus felt like crying upon seeing Cagalli. " I thought this would never happen," she said to Kira."

"We didn't carry out you plan, but it was the higher power who accomplished everything," Kira replied.

Dearka was with Mir and Lunamaria with Meyrin.

" I hope you'll be the next one," Lunamaria said to Mir.

"There's no problem with me. Ask him." She pointed towards Dearka.

Lunamaria held her sister's hand, and Meyrin smiled at her.

Cagalli started walking along Haumea's isle. Her heart was pounding with anxiety.

" What's the matter with you Cagalli…This is not the first time you've done this," she said to herself. Her first wedding was like the worst day of her life. This was different. This day was her dream, becoming reality.

Athrun was there, waiting. He saw Cagalli walking down the isle. She was like an angel, gliding with the wind that was carrying her feet. He was smiling at her when she reached him.

" I thought you've changed your mind…"

" If I did, would you come after me?" Cagalli teased him.

" Maybe I'll make this marriage a necessity for both of us, if that's the way you want it…" he said meaningfully.

" I… love you" Cagalli whispered to his ear.

" Same here…" Athrun replied.

Well, thank you for reading my story. It's the first time that I have done this... and I'm not really good in english, because it's not my official langauge. I'll be happy to receive your comments and reactions ( I hope it's not so violent). - crookedsmile