Being Athrun Zala

Author: pratz

Disclaimer: Gundam SEED and Gundam SEED Destiny belong to Sunrise Studio and Bandai helps to popularize them even more. I am from being Tomino-sensei's long lost child or Yadate-sensei's forgotten offspring, so I write fanfictions. This will run until the end of this fanfiction and, of course, until the end of the world. I just borrow their characters for a non-profit purpose. Additional characters are originally mine, though.

Warning: will be a long story to complete. And I write slow.

Notes: All gratitude should be passed to dearest Fledgling for betaing and much, much more. This is also a gift for those who read and especially those who review my previous SEED fanfics.

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Chapter 1

'At the young age of twenty-three, Alex Dino is a man worth all the attention in the world. He is extremely good-looking with a smile that can melt the heart of the Mermaid of Copenhagen statue, gallant with capital G, wealthy enough to afford three of the world's best sports cars in his garage, and—the reason why women of all ages love him—is a bachelor.

'If one believes that a bird is in its prettiest moment while flying, then Alex Dino is the most beautiful bird indeed.'

Poor analogy, Meyrin thought as she threw the magazine onto the table in front of her. Why can't people mind their own business? It's the third time Athrun-san has appeared in the main article at the top on Orb's Most Wanted Men list. Sighing, she stood up. She still had lots of work to do. Being a school counsellor was fun, but it, too, could be a rather notable pain in the neck.

The doorbell rang. Once. Twice.

"Coming!" Wondering who her guest might be, for it was still early evening, she went to get the door. There were not many people in this neighbourhood whom she was closely acquainted with, so this might mean one of her closest neighbours needed a hand.

Meyrin blinked and blinked as a familiar face greeted her sight. "Well," she drawled, grinning, "look who I have in my doorway. Orb's most wanted man of the year himself."

Alex Dino, or better, Athrun Zala, had his face twisted into an expression of mild disgust. "Quit it, Meyrin. I had buckets of bright red roses sent to my office today, my secretary's unplugging all the telephone cords to stop all the calls for me and I still have a boy to search for because he wasn't there when I arrived at home."

"Oh?"

"Where. Is. He?"

Meyrin laughed at the undertone of stress in Athrun's voice. "Don't be so distressed, Mr. Most Wanted. Just take the prettiest rose and dump the rest into your garbage bin. Surely the National Domestic Security Affair Office has one, no? Next, there's no need to tell Will-san to unplug your phone. Just tell him to get Mark-san's number. I think Mark-san'll be Very Happy to help you to send unidentified computer viruses to the callers. And about the one you have to pick up," Meyrin straightened Athrun's crumpled tie, "I sent your darling boy to Elaine-chan's birthday party."

Athrun's expression melted slightly into a more relaxed one. "I owe you."

"Of course. Meyrin-sensei knows the best for her student—the boy of Orb's Most Wanted Man."

Groaning, Athrun flattened his suit as best as he could with his hands. "I'm going to pick him up now."

"Drive carefully, Athrun-san. We don't want to lose our most loved man, do we?"

"I said, quit it."

"Enjoy your day!"

Meyrin's merry laugh was swallowed by the loud roaring sound of Athrun's car.

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The Athha Mansion's backyard that evening was more like a kindergarten playground than a backyard belonging to an eighteenth century-styled mansion. Athrun assumed that there were at least thirty children running all over the place, all screaming and making noises that could probably wake the dead. So much for being a good father and orphanage administrator, Kira, he thought. A small boy accidentally bumped onto his legs as he ran forward without looking. Athrun did not need to think to know what would happen next.

The boy started crying. Loudly. Afterwards he ran away from the cold-hearted monster he had run into.

"Why don't you tell him it's not his fault and that he's a good boy and good boys don't cry?"

Kira was there when he turned around, a small girl Athrun did not know in his arms. He eyed his friend's clothes and sighed. "Tight leather pants for your daughter's birthday?"

The brown-haired man shrugged nonchalantly. "Couldn't think of anything else. Why the awful mood, Alex?"

"You don't know how worried I was when I came home and found out that he wasn't there. We've agreed to come to Elaine's party together, but he wasn't home when I came home! Now. Where. Is. That. Little. Demon?"

"Oh, you didn't meet Dietmar when you're heading here? I think he's still playing on the seesaw with Elaine." Kira tilted his head in the direction of the seesaw near the back veranda.

Athrun ignored his best friend's questions and headed straight for the seesaw. He had come to the backyard through the mansion's left wing; that was why he had missed the seesaw on the back veranda. Two little children were playing happily on the seesaw: one in a frilly, pink gown, the other with a white beret cap on his head.

"Dietmar, look! Alex-ojiki's coming!" the girl said aloud.

Being at the bottom of the seesaw, the boy with the beret turned his head and waved at him. "Alex!"

The girl on the top of the seesaw, regrettably, also raised her hand to wave. "Alex-ojiki!"

"Elaine, don't take your hands off—"

"Aaaah!"

"—the seesaw!"

Athrun coughed as the weight of the girl landed on his torso, entirely cutting off his air for a few tormenting seconds. Thanks to his fast legs and his body, the girl did not get even a scratch, though she had been free falling seconds before. The boy on the other side of the seesaw immediately rushed to him and also the girl, already panicking.

"Elaine, you alright? You hurt? Elaine?"

Athrun coughed, lungs burning. He was also hurt; why did not the boy ask him too?

Rushed steps came to their place in no time. Kira, some children, and some people Athrun did not recognize were there.

The little girl hurriedly ran to Athrun's best friend, sobbing onto Kira's chest. "Daddy!"

"You alright? You almost gave me a heart attack, sweetheart. Thank Athrun-ojiki for saving you." Smiling, Kira offered a hand to the man still lying on the ground. "You alright, buddy?"

Athrun shrugged the offered hand off, sitting up by himself. "I'm the victim here, and yet nobody came to my aid first."

"Well, you're a grown up; Elaine and Dietmar are children. It's only natural to check on them first."

"It's only natural to pay less attention to me, you mean?"

The girl on Kira's arm swivelled to face Athrun. "Athrun-ojiki," she whispered brokenly, "I didn't mean—"

Oh no. Please, no....

And she began to cry. Loudly.

Rolling his eyes, he dropped his head onto his palm. Not again.

"Athrun Zala!"

He winced at the very loud and familiar sound of someone screaming his name, his real name.

On the doorway in the back veranda stood the owner of the mansion, sister to Elaine's father, heir to the Lion of Orb, and current Head Representative of Orb, Cagalli Yula Athha.

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Dearka raised his glass high. "And now," he declared, "to our dearest young lady, who's celebrating her birthday today."

"To Elaine," the others answered.

The sound of glass clinking and people sipping juice from their glasses—because Kira had stated firmly that it was Very Bad to drink alcoholic liquor in his daughter's fourth birthday party—could be heard afterward. Kira sat next to his sister, looking as tranquil as ever. Lacus's chair, on Kira's right side, was still unoccupied, because the rightful owner had not arrived yet due to her duty as one of PLANT's Representatives. Athrun sat on the chair next to Lacus's, sipping his juice quietly. His chest still throbbed, though faintly, and it was definitely not comfortable. At his side sat Dearka and Miriallia. How the couple could attend the party together and sat side by side as after they had tried to strangle each other less than a month ago was beyond Athrun's ability to understand.

Athrun put his glass on the table. "I'm going to the restroom," he announced.

Returning from the rest room, he unintentionally passed an alcove where Dietmar and Elaine had fallen asleep a while ago, tablets of scrabble scattered around their feet that did not touch the ground. The sight brought a small smile to Athrun's lips. Here they were making a merry party for the girl, yet the birthday girl herself was not there to make it even merrier. A child's still a child nevertheless, he thought, leaning onto the railing on the alcove. Looks like it's time to go home, right, boy?

"You know, I think now I see a different person than I did back then."

That voice almost, almost tempted him to offer her a place next to him on the railing. "How am I different?"

"Because you made my niece cry. That's so kind of you, Athrun. Making a girl cry, that is." She paused. "Not that she's the first one, though."

He groaned. He did not need the mental reminder. "Since you don't know, I'll tell you: I was helping her."

"It's your duty to take care of her, too."

"She didn't want to be taken care of by me."

Ignoring the lack of invitation up until now, Cagalli walked toward him and leaned onto the railing, too. She offered him a can of beer, which he eyed enquiringly. "What?" she asked.

"I'm driving after this, and I still have work to do for tomorrow. You know I can't drink."

"Come on, Athrun. Loosen up. Tomorrow's a holiday; you can spend the night here. Kira wouldn't have the heart to kick you out of his house. Besides, Dietmar's already asleep."

"True," he replied, "but that doesn't mean I'll drink."

"As much of a tight ass as ever." Cagalli laughed, taking a sip from the can herself. "How old is Dietmar now? Seven? Eight?"

"Nine," he corrected. "I just took him to Colonel Gladys's grave last week. As usual, we added one more scratch." It was a ritual between him and Dietmar. They would scratch a small line on the surface of the grave to note the number of times they had visited the grave. He could remember clearly that it had five scratches, including this year. He had Dietmar since the boy was four-year old, so now it had been nine in total.

"So it's been five years, huh?" Cagalli tipped her head up, her look wistful. "Time sure runs fast."

"My agreement on that." Athrun watched his boy's feet dangling. Children could be cute sometimes, really. "How's the schedule for tomorrow?"

"I'll get a delegation to meet from Neo Eurasia."

"Oh. No holiday, Your Excellency?"

"Well, it's the same for you."

They both laughed at that. True, with Cagalli having guests tomorrow, Athrun would get no break either. After all, one of the main responsibilities of the National Domestic Security Affair Office was to ensure the safety of the nation's leaders.

"I'm crossing my fingers, hoping they won't send a guy like the one before. I don't mind sitting with Lacus for hours, but I do mind sitting with an old geezer who can't even pronounce my name correctly," Cagalli said, taking another sip of the beer in her hand.

"You've had enough of that." Athrun took the can from her, meeting no resistance from her at all.

"Just say you want some, Athrun. I don't mind sharing." She grinned, eyeing her wristwatch in a swift glance. Despite the beginning of drowsiness due to the alcohol, her eyes widened at once. "For Haumea's sake! It's past ten o'clock!"

"Yep, it is. Why?"

"I should've been home already!" she shrieked. "I haven't written my speech yet, and my stylist wants to confirm what dress I'll wear tomorrow!"

Athrun thought for a short time, taking a small sip of the beer. He knew that Cagalli's schedule was tight, maybe even tighter than Lacus's, but she did not want to upset Elaine, so she had stolen some time to attend her little niece's birthday party. That meant she had not told even Kisaka about it, had come in incognito and had to return unknowingly before the time Kisaka would check up on her. "I'll drive you." He tossed the can into the nearest garbage bin.

Narrowing her eyes, Cagalli shot him with a suspicious look. "Don't you have your own work to do?"

"It's no big deal." He shrugged indifferently. "I can reach my office in thirty minutes from the Royal Palace. Let me just tell Kira I'll leave Dietmar here for a night."

Athrun told her to wait in his car as he spoke to Kira, and in ten minutes, he was ready in the driver's seat.

Cagalli took hold of a small, yellow duckling figurine on the dashboard, swaying it lightly before Athrun's nose. "Cute. Didn't know you would have something like this in your car."

Flushing mildly from embarrassment, Athrun quickly grabbed it from her hand and put it back on its place. "It's Dietmar's. Now, don't speak at all starting now, or you'll bite your tongue."

They arrived at the road next to the Athha Mansion's backyard just in thirty minutes, thanks to Athrun's mad driving. Cagalli looked like she would throw up her heart from her mouth right then and there, face white and lips pale. Athrun smiled at the expression on her face, unbuckling her seatbelt gently. From what he knew, Cagalli still had about ten minutes before Kisaka went on his routine check up on her at eleven o'clock. It meant that he himself still had another ten minutes to spend with her, and that brought another not-so-well-hidden smile onto his lips.

"What are you smiling at?" she snapped.

"Oh, nothing."

Scowling, she turned to unlock her door. "None of my staff drives like you, I tell you."

"It was an emergency."

Door half open, she stopped shifting in her seat to turn and face him again. "It isn't if you accidentally kill the Head Representative."

"I wouldn't want that to happen."

Extending a hand, she got a good hold of his rumpled tie and used it to pull him closer. He did not even have the chance to blink before her lips left his cheek. All he knew was that Cagalli was now standing outside his car, door still open.

"What was that?"

"My thanks." Shrugging, Cagalli closed the door. "Night, Athrun."

Athrun remained still until her figure was lost from his sight, beyond the steel gates of the Athha Mansion. The people's princess was climbing the gates of her own house. What a scene. The digital watch on the dashboard showed him that he still had seven minutes left to head to his office to finish his own delayed work, which was checking all the security arrangements for Cagalli's schedule tomorrow.

He raised his hand to touch his cheek wordlessly, swallowing once and noticing how, just now, his lips had gone dry. Licking his lips to wet them, he thought that he did savour the mild taste of Cagalli amidst the taste of beer that lingered there.

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