Being Athrun Zala
Disclaimer: Sunrise. Or else I wouldn't write a fanfic, you see.
Notes: see Afterword.
Five years ago, Murrue Ramius gave Athrun a long, long stare as he appeared on her door and presented himself in her house.
"My ears must have played a trick on me," she said. "Or rather, you're playing a trick on me."
"It's not a trick."
Murrue leant forward, almost intimidating. "You did not tell me you wanted to take Captain Gladys' son with you."
"But I did."
He knew where this talk would lead to. He was not on the highest place in the father-to-have list. He was a deserter in hiding, son of a mad leader whose madness almost literally destroyed Earth and above all a man who never had a normal relationship with his father whatsoever. Even Kira had objected his visit to Murrue's house.
Behind them, Mwu La Flaga stood quietly, leaning against the wall. He seemed to have wanted to say something but decided to keep his silence. After all, being an estranged son himself, he was not one to comment on Athrun's sudden desire to father—in a way—the late Captain Talia Gladys' only son.
"What's this? Did you owe Captain Gladys something?"
"I owe everyone as well," he replied. "This is not a play of debt, Murrue-san."
Murrue groaned. "Santa doesn't come before Christmas, you know."
That made him smile despite the nervousness he swallowed back into his stomach. Not even in his wildest imagination would anyone call him Santa. Even La Flaga flashed a small smile from his place.
A small boy, brown-eyed and messy-haired, chose that moment to appear on the doorway. Noticing a stranger's appearance in the house, he quickly hid behind La Flaga. Still, he did not stop looking at Athrun.
It's him, Athrun said to himself. It's him.
And Murrue noticed where his eyes were caught. Sighing, she raked a hand through her hair. "I couldn't make you say no, could I?"
Athrun smiled a little. "If Dietmar doesn't want it, you don't have to make me say no."
And so began his days as Dietmar Gladys' guardian.
A series of painful throbs on his wounded knee called him back from the land of memory. Correction, he noted silently, not wounded. It's destroyed. A dim ray of moonlight peeked from the gap between the curtain and the window. It was past midnight already, he assumed. He shifted a little to rearrange his position so that the pain would not get worse, but he found himself unable to. Ah.
He smiled wryly as he imagined what the press would say to find out that the one of the world's most known political representative had spent a night with today's most notorious crook.
Perhaps only Dietmar would give him a big grin with such happiness in his eyes.
He forced the stray thought to disappear, though. Not even the pain on his knee could compare to the pain of thinking about his boy. So he refocused on the sleeping Athha heir, hands curled against his right arm, almost hiding her face from anyone's view but his. In the dim light, she had never looked more like herself seven years ago, like that first time when she slept uncaringly near an enemy in an unpopulated island. How many years had he spent to imprint this image of hers in his mind, in his heart, in his soul? This profile of her high-boned cheeks, this proud bridge of her nose, this firm line of her mouth?
If he were a painter, he could make a portrait painting of hers out of memory only.
But then again, he was not sure if he knew her as well as he thought he did. What kind of painting would he make? What kind of expression would he paint for her when he himself was not sure he could understand any?
War is always a part of politics, she once said in private, notwithstanding her significance as Orb's leader, but it's only soldiers who get to do the dirtiest job of it all.
So said a leader for whom her followers would gladly give their lives, he countered at that time, realizing that it would draw the worst of a feeling from Cagalli. After all, he knew how she felt knowing that in her hands lie a life too many. All she had to know was that her follower did so because they wanted to. Anything else did not matter, anyway, not even what she wanted.
Then again, last night she admitted to him that she was selfish.
If it makes me selfish, so be it. I am selfish, Athrun. I really am. I want you to feel this, realise this, admit this, admit that I'm not the only one being like this. Even if this will suffocate you, even if this wish of mine breaks you, I still want to. I want to leave a mark on you, a mark so inerasable, unforgettable, undying. Even if it's just a scar. Even if it's just a wound. God, I want to.
It was truly overwhelming to have her letting it all out. Of all the time he had known her, this was the first time that she had cornered him this far, forcing him to see things her way. A part of him said that she did this for him, but another part of him said that she did this for her own sake so that she would not have to endure all the pain, so that he would never forget her.
And all this time, he had always asked her if they could be more than what they were today.
Athrun the idiot, his mind berated.
He grasped the answer for his own question too late. We can't, he answered for himself. We two are too much alike. For no matter how it hurt, it was true.
And Cagalli wondered whether she should thank him for that. For saying the words I could never say aloud myself, she said.
It indeed felt like a merciless jab to his stomach, one that forced him empty his bowels, food and intestines and all. And it made him angry, for fuck's sake, angry that she wanted him to hurt as much as she did, angry that she still had a tight hold over him even after all of these, angry that even after all of these, he could not stop thinking about her, measuring himself by her needs, wondering about his past and future by her presence, filling his head and mind and everything with Cagalli, Cagalli, Cagalli, Cagalli, Cagalli, .
Then she stopped his irate tirade even before it even had the chance to start by placing her hands on his cheeks, effectively making him look at her. Look, you fool, she whispered, my thanks doesn't have anything to do with the pathetic little game that you accused me of doing, no, or with The Talk—and I have to admit I admire you to still remember to use it as a sorry excuse of yours. See, it's because I'm still the naïve little girl of seven years ago who still believes—realizes that she's in love with someone she shouldn't be. The light in her eyes were strange, and he could not make himself believe that this was really Cagalli. So look at us, look at what we could and couldn't become. We're running in a circle, but that's how it should be, because only in a circle we could still be with each other, because this way we have no beginning and no end. Another pause, this time to sweep her thumbs across his cheekbones. And that's how much I want to be selfish of you.
At that time, something with otherworld power choked him, leaving him bereft with no single word to be realized. It was strange, he thought. With their own darkness and fears exposed, ready to be faced and settled, they had never looked so much alike.
So look at me. You don't have to accept the me I've become, but look at me. I'm not a shadow of your past; neither I'm your future. I'm just—this circle of ours—it's just—it's ours. We just have to accept it.
He did not know why she would always be the one to voice his mind, using the same words that he wanted to say. He just knew that she did.
With that, gone was his much treasured Rapunzel from her unreachable tower—that he understood.
Now, with or without the understanding, he wondered why he was not surprised as her eyes opened fully, staring back at him. He watched as a corner of her mouth rose in a tiny, rather sleepy smile.
"Done with your staring?"
"Did I wake you up?"
"Even asleep I could feel the prickles of your staring at me so devotedly."
"Admiring you is a work that could never be done, Cagalli." Even with the very minimum light in the room, the flush on her cheeks was still palpable to his eyes. He winced a little when she slapped him on the arm.
"So said one of Earth's most wanted bachelors," she countered smartly, "who happens to be quite a Casanova."
"Ex-Casanova," he corrected. "A convict now, remember?" Just like that, and the easy mood turned sour again. To watch her face fall did not bring Athrun any satisfaction, so he turned to look at the white ceiling, now dark though. Stupid, stupid, stupid. "I'm sorry."
She shifted a little, now pillowing her head with an arm. It would take a big risk to move too much and unnecessarily jostle his wound. She was waiting, he knew.
"It seems I just can't stop being a fucked-up-in-the-head."
Her tone, despite the weigh in the lone word and her hand on his cheek, was comfortingly light. He wondered why he had never had the guts to admit it before, admit that wherever they would go, they would never get to the end of the line. Because, after all, it was a circle, right?
"We can't stop," he corrected, though rather uneasy, but it was only a beginning. He could learn.
She gave a weak laugh, short in the wake of her acceptance. "Yeah. We can't."
"Cagalli." His hand rose to cup hers on his cheek, bringing her palm to his chapped lips, kissing it, worshipping it, knowing that it was finally the time for acceptance. "Cagalli." He closed his eyes, basking himself in the spread wing of their acceptance, inhaling and filling his lungs, his inside, his everything with this closeness, this familiar presence. "Cagalli."
Dmitrij Feyedorov once told him that the colour black was intimidating and frightening (1) like the colour of a wizard's robe that tainted belladonna fruits with poison. Therefore, it made Athrun thought of the man's previous words when said man stopped for a covert visit in a pullover and tweedy jacket. A change of season, his guest reasoned in his usual affable manner. Athrun just did not understand the man. He did not even know how Feyedorov could be here, giving his own situation and the man's significant fame.
This is the man responsible for everything, his mind reminded him. It was true, but even he himself was not sure whether he hated Feyedorov for that.
"Actually," Feyedorov eyed Athrun's bandaged knee, "I come to say goodbye."
"And to put a closure to your revenge?"
"Why the sarcasm, Athrun? I told you it's not revenge." The prime minister gave him a smile, but now it looked alarmingly like a predator's smile. "I came to find my answer, yet you gave me another question." Again, his eyes shot to Athrun's knee. "Why?" With his hunched shoulders and the mix of curiosity, fury and long-due anguish on his face, Feyedorov looked more like Heimlich Westenfluss the man rather than the prince charming he masked his true self as. And said man asked, Why did you do that, why did a lost man like you survive and a resolute Heine die, why are you still here?
"So that I will not run away." Athrun himself was surprised that the answer came out effortlessly—though not without long-suffering resolution. "Because I don't want to anymore."
When Feyedorov barked out a short laugh, it was a broken mixture of cruel satisfaction, pity and resentment. "Very literal, aren't you?" he said in between. Then he quickly grew silent. "Have you found your answer, Athrun?"
"It will take me lifetimes to get there," he replied. "And much slower now given my state of being."
A sinister sneer appeared on the thin line of Feyedorov's mouth. "There is difference between not wanting to run away and not able to run away."
"As it is with the saying of Rome and roads."
Feyedorov was quiet for a while before he reached into his jacket and took out a black flash disk. "My farewell gift, then." He tidied his jacket. "Perhaps then you could merrily celebrate our parting with some friends from Neo Equator, some of Walter's friends and also some friends from the media—including that pretty photographer friend of yours (2)." Feyedorov made a move to stand.
Athrun looked at the flash disk beside his leg and at Feyedorov again.
Feyedorov's lips supported a thin smile. "You don't tell a fisherman how to fish."
The man then made a leave, but he was stopped in the middle of his task as Athrun said, "Where are you going from here?"
Feyedorov did not bother to turn and look at him, giving Athrun a view of his broad, lonely back. "If only my heart is not as black as it is today, I'll be glad to have tea with you again." He chuckled a little, laughing perhaps at nothing in particular. "You will not see me again, Athrun. That I assure you."
The next day, Athrun followed the news broadcasted by every TV station, saying that the official helicopter that carried Neo Eurasia Prime Minister Dmitrij Feyedorov and his two adjutants crashed onto an uninhabited island during their flight to Indonesia from Orb. The Neo Eurasian contingent had returned to Orb immediately, and then began the rescue team work. The incident, as well as its causes, was still under investigation until now.
The only thing that gave Athrun guarantee that he had really talked to the fallen prime minister within the last 24 hours of said man's life was the black flash disk and its data inside.
Kira was breathless in front of his multipurpose notebook. Stunned would be an apt word for his best friend, Athrun thought.
"This—" Kira began, half choked. "Where did you get this from?"
He shrugged. "A wizard, a fisherman, who knows. Who cares about from who I got that?"
"Athrun." There was a mild warning in Kira's voice. "You can't just show me the whole data of this—this enormous conspiracy and say it comes from a wizard."
"So you said," he acknowledged.
His best friend grunted under his breath. "If you don't want to tell me, fine then." He looked at his notebook screen again. "But this is beyond serious. You have the hands and how they did it, complete with the details. And look at the names. Military seniors, politicians, public figures..." Kira trailed off. "And the coverage—I don't even know where to start—almost all countries in the world are in this."
Athrun nodded quietly.
"What will you do with this?"
"Hunt them, get them and make them pay?"
"Athrun, please. You know I'm here as an agent from the Office."
"And I'm an avenger."
Kira put his notebook a little aside. "Don't."
"This data is just a start, Mark. It's a bait; nothing more." He clasped his hands. "It leaves me with how to drag them out."
"But to think that Coordinator-haters and ZAFT deserter-hunters are actually plotted in this..." Kira shook his head. "Whoever did this must have taken you seriously." He took a glance at Athrun's knee but said nothing.
He did, Athrun thought. Only Feyedorov himself knew what he himself was really capable of, and any possible explanation was lost with said man's disappearance. If Kira knew or suspected something, he did not say, and Athrun was glad that Kira did not.
"I didn't know that there are people who hate you for deserting for good," Kira said solemnly.
"We'd taken an oath of fidelity to our motherland, and we broke it. It's that simple." He looked at the ceiling, now so white, unlike himself. "We were soldiers, and we should have realized it in the first place."
"It doesn't mean you have to follow orders out of blind loyalty."
"But there are some who could change from the inside—like Yzak."
"Different courses have different turns." Silence, then, "Why are you showing me this?"
Disbelievingly, he looked at his best friend again. "I don't think it'll take an Ultimate Coordinator's brain to answer that."
"I mean," Kira hesitated, "you know I couldn't bear to pull the trigger once again."
"And that's why!" His voice rose with the impatient annoyance inside ready to explode. "If it were me or Shinn, without doubt we will only resort back to what you hate. But you—you're different. You see what I can't, and that's the determination I don't have."
Across the room, Kira looked strangely stricken with guilt. Athrun wondered if he had said something that rubbed the wrong way.
"Determination, eh?" Kira's lips twisted into a humourless smile. "You put yourself at the very front in this and you said I have determination that you don't? I hope you don't forget who's still in hiding right now."
If only they were in their child selves years ago, he would have already bopped Kira on the head, but no. Things changed, and things were different now. He should have known that and that his no longer hiding behind a fake persona might mean some kind of a slap to the face for Kira.
"You hide because you must," he said finally. There would only be more problems should Kira decide to leave the Mark Siegfried mask, and he mortally shuddered to think of what would happen to Lacus, Elaine, Cagalli and more and more people who were in acquaintance with Kira.
"And you don't?"
"And I wouldn't want to see you hold a weapon ever again," he added in glum codicil.
Kira avoided his eyes, staring outside the window instead. "Will you forgive me, then?" Not only guilt was present on Kira's expression, but also there were shame and regret.
That alerted him. Somehow, he now could sense when things were going to go worse. "Mark?"
"Remember our first all-out fight? The one after you killed Tol—my friend," Kira said in very small voice, "and after I killed your teammate."
It was something he was desperate to forget but could not. "We have moved on from that day." Right now, he did not really want to talk about it.
"Actually," Kira's voice was now more akin to a whisper, "I was glad it's you that I killed."
He waited, chest tightening and eyes starting to burn. He remembered the day when Cagalli held him down roughly to the cot, tearfully demanding his explanation what a life meant to him, what madness made him kill his own best friend, why he did so, why he simply killed. Even today the memory of his fight with Kira was still powerful enough to leave him staggering with guilt and shame.
"It—your getting killed by me, I mean—was such a hard blow, but it made me make up my mind and promise to myself I wouldn't kill anymore." Kira's hair fell and shadowed his face from Athrun's view. "If it weren't you, I would still be a weapon of war." A strangled sob. "I'm so ashamed."
"So, so ashamed to remember that I swung the beam sabre thinking that you're going to be my last kill, that it's you—my best friend—who would be the last on my dead count. There's nothing I feel so guilty more than that, and I do think I really deserved the post-fight nightmares. Every flash of beam sabre, every angry shout, every clash of metal that rang in my ears—they're mine to bear, and I never tell you this because I don't even have the smallest bit of your courage."
"Mark Siegfried," he called again, louder.
His best friend raised his face slowly.
"I've done my crying for that. It's no longer your burden more than mine."
It was Kira, after all, the one brother that the Mighty Creator forgot to bless him with. Even in a burst of anger or when shadowed by guilt, he could never hate Kira. And he knew that Kira could not, too. Being forgiven was one state of Freedom, truthfully, and there was no better way to Freedom than to give Justice through forgiveness.
It was his best friend, after all.
There was a beginning of a wistful smile on Kira's lips, slowly brightening his face like the sun after a dark night. "Some say the more, the merrier," he said. "If you don't mind, of course."
He could not help smiling back. "And you said you envy my front-liner guts."
"Still not as courageous as you, though. I'm merely joining you there, partner."
Two days afterward, he had other visitors.
"—geez, if only you leave that babes as they tell you, we'll get this done much sooner, brat. He's only a man with a hole on his leg, you know."
"With all respect, Major, this man with a hole on his leg bested me once out of anger when he was dying, so I have to kindly decline your advice." (3)
"Gentlemen, please. We've had enough with procedures, haven't we?"
Athrun counted the steps until they stopped in front of the door to his isolated room. One knock and Young's honey-brown head popped inside.
"Good morning," his defender greeted. "How are we doing?"
"We feel irritated because of these two unsought guests," he said dryly.
Dearka snickered smugly, while Shinn gave him a nasty look. Sighing, Athrun straightened his posture to a sitting position. Adding Young's presence to the fact, he knew that the two ZAFT members had to be here for a reason. If it were a good reason, good for him, then. It if were bad, well, he could not say he had had the worse, could he?
"Spill it out."
Dearka snickered again. "For a man who's been shot twice in less than three months, you sure look feisty."
Beside Dearka, Shinn looked very uncomfortable. "Major," he tipped Dearka off. "I think it's best to just go straight to the point."
"Oh, shuddup, brat. If it's not because of you, we'd have been here faster."
"They have to go to the ransacking twice because First Lieutenant Shinn Asuka refused to leave his minigun with the guards downstairs," Young kindly informed him as his defender pulled a chair to sit next to his bed.
"So?" he asked his two former teammates to just cut it. "Any bad news for me? Or worse news?"
Shinn gave a cough once. "ZAFT has issued its stance in the Tribunal."
"And that is...?"
"ZAFT declines all call for a military court for any of its former members except that they turned against ZAFT after their defections. All further decision is now solely trusted to the International War Tribunal."
Somehow it was funny to witness Shinn's being very formal like that, but Athrun could not bring himself to laugh. There was still more for him to know—that was the reason why two prominent ZAFT members were here themselves.
"Concerning your service in ZAFT," Shinn paused, now looking more and more uncomfortable, "ZAFT has come to two conclusions. One, that Athrun Zala decided on his own to leave ZAFT in the First War, accepted an exile as decided by former Chairwoman of the Supreme Council of PLANT Eileen Carnaba and was pardoned by former Chairman of the Supreme Council of PLANT Gilbert Dulindal. Two, that in his capacity as a member of FAITH, Athrun Zala has been stated one-sidedly as a defector by Chairman Dulindal and has acted on his own to overthrow him," here Shinn took a relatively long breath, "as a deserter."
Even Young, who was not a military member, knew what it meant.
"ZAFT cannot annul any of its past decisions," Dearka said, "and more, you're an Orb civilian who serves Orb military. It's a one-way ticket, you know."
He closed his eyes. Yes, I know this will come, he said to himself. ZAFT would not set a trial for him because ZAFT saw he was labelled a traitor first then later deserted and not the other way around, yet ZAFT would not interfere with the Tribunal either. Furthermore, because he had served in Orb military as an active member, it would be forbidden for him to reenlist ever again in ZAFT.
"As for PLANT," Shin continued, right now he looked like he did not know how to deal with concern and pity altogether, "the Supreme Council has decided that Athrun Zala is not to be present in PLANT and its sovereign territories until the Tribunal finishes its whole course of action."
No one said anything, no one—until the subject of the affair himself broke the silence, that was.
"What about Dietmar?"
Shinn decided that time to hit the roof, however. "Think about yourself for once, will you? It's your life we're talking about!"
"Shinn—" Dearka tried to interrupt.
"This—this bastard!" Shinn spat. "Is it okay for you to wear the Judas badge? To the point that you'll probably never see your homeland again?"
"I will never be okay with that," he said, looking down at his lap just to find that his hands were shaking. "But it's my problem to deal with. Not Dietmar's or anyone else's."
Shinn kicked the floor childishly in his frustration. Athrun could not help being a little amused. Yes, that was the Shinn Asuka he was familiar with, the one who thought with his heart and was so honest in expressing what he felt.
"According to the Tribunal's temporary assessment," Dearka intentionally put a very visible stress, Athrun knew, "Dietmar Gladys is to stay under neutral, standard care. I believe by that they meant his biological family or blood relatives."
"He doesn't have any."
"I know," Dearka raised a hand before he got cut further. "Well, where was I? Oh, right. Taking into consideration his late parents' aptitudes in society—mind you, even Leopold Gladys himself was a renowned scientist, the Tribunal has decided to return him to PLANT."
If the fact that he became an exile once again had not made his heart drop to his toes, this one did.
There were more on-goings that Dearka updated him with, but he could not care more. Everything just felt too wrong, he too drained. Every time he tried to pay attention to what Dearka was saying, his thought always returned to Dietmar in full blast.
"So that's all," Dearka finished. "I think it's time for us to leave, no, Shinn?" he eyed his younger teammate. "And you'll be eager to propose one or two new ideas for your defendant, right, Young?"
"No ideas for now, but of course I will," Young replied. "Thank you."
He still could not retune with his surrounding even when Young spoke himself.
"Will," he paused, then continuing hopefully, "if you... happen to see Dietmar, please tell him I'm sorry for everything," another pause to swallow the bitterness, "will you?"
Pausing on the doorway, his defender looked over his shoulder. "No, you're not," Young said softly. "If you are, you'll only make the little guy sad, boss."
The door closed, and Athrun was left with the thought that he did not want to be—was not sorry for every single time that he spent with Dietmar.
During the break in his scheduled hearing session, he had another visit from the Neftali Basoalto, the prosecutor he had almost violated in his previous session. Said man had nerves from steel, Athrun thought. Basoalto was not even flinching when he sat very close to him.
"I think it's best to be straightforward." Even his voice was firm.
"Mr. Athrun Zala," Basoalto corrected gently, "the Tribunal has set time for you to see Dietmar Gladys before he leaves for PLANT."
It was like a lotus bloom in the middle of a muddy pond. "I... could?"
Basoalto nodded. "Personally, I would be very glad to grant you this one small privilege." His smile turned a little pensive. "What the Tribunal did—ah—we didn't think it would cost you this much."
He did not want this pity. "Surely it's not the first thing in your concern, is it?"
"We—I'm not in the place to comment on that. Nor will I ever be. To be honest, I only want for the world to face the past and move on. What will it make for a man, a nation, a world who's afraid to know himself?" Basoalto said. "And to do such, it takes more than just being oneself."
It doesn't mean anything, he said to himself. Gaining respect from them won't bring Dietmar back.
"You're too honest of a man, too noble to hide and leave the burden to others." Basoalto made a move to stand. "The Tribunal is very honoured to have you in our court." A small bow, a gratifying smile, and the prosecutor left him just like that. He did not even give Athrun the chance to bask in the simple respect that Athrun would find in his expression.
He kept repeating in his head that it did not mean anything.
Or perhaps it did, though a little, because after the hearing session, he had his moment. Dietmar appeared from behind the door, looking so small and lost.
And behind Dietmar, there was his silver-haired former teammate.
"Fancy meeting you, Zala," said friend said in his usual haughty tone.
What did Yzak Jule have to do with this? he almost asked aloud, but the thought was cut off as Dietmar threw himself to hug him.
"I—" For a while, he could not find his voice, and so could not Dietmar.
He tried his best to hug back without upsetting his knee. His wheelchair was definitely not the most comfortable place to sit on and do so. "...You're taller," he said against Dietmar's hair. He did want to say that everything was going to be alright; it was not within his power, after all.
"Yzak-san's friends play basketball with me." Dietmar's answer was muffled by the fabric of Athrun's sleeve.
His eyes felt hot. Has my father ever felt like this? Felt this pride to know that his son has grown? Across the room, his eyes found Yzak and Young, waiting for him. He knew that his time was limited; it was grave, but he knew.
"Here." Dietmar took something from the pocket of his jeans and shoved it to his chest. It was the small, yellow duck figurine from his car. He had sold his cars and house; Dietmar must have known it. "Will says you don't have the car anymore, so I want you to keep this for me." He wiped his tears with the back of his hand. "Promise? I'll take it back someday."
His tear duct chose the moment to brim his eyes with tears.
"I promise I will be good so you don't have to be worried," Dietmar says, obviously trying not to cry any harder. Athrun's heart immediately went to his brave, brave boy.
"I promise." Torn between the want to weep or crumble, he could only tighten his hold on Dietmar. Distantly he could hear what had passed unvoiced between them: I don't want to leave. I want to stay here. A stark realization spelled that perhaps it would be years before they could see each other again. Perhaps they could not anymore. It was frightening as it was heartbreaking. "It's a promise between two men."
Minutes ticked, and he let go with heavy will and heavier heart. He did not know whether to be disappointed or proud when Dietmar moved to stand near Yzak. His former teammate gave him a faint, knowing nod.
"Can I burden you with one more thing?" he asked. "There's a photograph in my old room in ZAFT Headquarter—my mother and me. I don't think the Tribunal took it as evidence."
"I will see what I can do," Yzak replied. "After all, there's no use in keeping your belongings there."
Despite the sarcasm, he was glad for this friend, the friend who once gave him a brilliant assist in a football match years ago. (4)
And Yzak had to add, "No need to thank me, though, Zala."
That gained him a small yet grateful smile from Athrun. "Of course."
A guard entered the room to get him back to the hospital. Yzak and Dietmar moved aside to give him a way. Outside the rooms, quite numbers of guard stood in rows, each on his left and right side. He looked at Young, asking, but his defender shrugged. Their commander, the man who helped him after the incident with Basoalto earlier, gave him a military salute.
And his men followed him.
It was a small group of guards, but they were still part of the military. So why—
"Farewell, First Lieutenant Athrun Zala," a firm voice said from behind.
When he turned to see, Yzak was in formal salute posture. Next to him, Dietmar was crying.
"Look ahead, boy," Yzak said to Dietmar, giving a gentle pat on Dietmar's shoulder. "A real man deserves your head up. Be proud of him." And Dietmar held his head up, his proud posture only betrayed by the tracks of tears on his face.
Athrun did not look back again, but the duck in his hand felt much heavier than before.
From the window of his hospital room, he could see a white trail of smoke in the sky, left behind by a swishing space shuttle above. It was heading for PLANT, he knew, and it marked the closure of his separation with Dietmar. Sighing, he closed the curtain. He only hoped that Dietmar would not keep insisting to take his name—Yzak would make sure of that, thankfully.
Young had left earlier. Athrun had given him his bank account with the total amount of his house and cars altogether. Young had refused vehemently, saying that he did not do all of this for money, but it was the least Athrun could do for him. It's not a payback, Will, he had said. I trust you; I know this would make more benefits in your hand than in mine.
To count what he had lost hurt, but he did not know where to start to count what he still had. The wounds would fester, would still be there. It would be a reminder, and it would serve its purpose as long as he remembered. He just wondered how long he could endure before his self collapsed with the wounds eating him bit by bit.
Then the bed dipped.
He sighed. "Shall I ask you how you could always find your way to me?" He was quarantined, his room isolated, and she was the Head Representative. Even more, it was like the Pope visiting Stalin himself.
"Let's just say I have my way."
Blearily, he opened his eyes—which he did not remember of ever closing. Cagalli sat on the bed, not looking at him, feet dangling off the floor. Clad in her white uniform and basked in the dusk sunlight, she looked an illustration of innocence and patience.
"Lacus called me," she said. "She told me about Dietmar. He's in a good hand, I think. After all, he's with PLANT's future Minister of Defence, no?"
However, he could not find a tad of strength to smile at that.
She swung her feet to and fro. "Orb's going to run the trial for Nkono and his compatriots. We're not going to lose in this. We can't. Also, we'll deal with the Tribunal fairly. We're not—let me quote some media—'an asylum country for warmongers and scoundrels.' Can you imagine that?" There was a tint of distant sadness in her voice now. "I bet Father's never imagined Orb will take a stance like this." Then she turned to look at him in the eyes, for the first time that evening. "...I'm scared."
He knew how much it took her to admit it aloud. Had he all this time overestimated her by thinking that she was stronger than him, much stronger that she could support the both of them on her own? Or had he underestimated her by belittling her strength to admit her darkness and fears, thinking that she would always be too wrapped-up in self-righteousness to admit them herself?
"I'm scared, too," he said. "But can a blind man help another blind man?"
"You're right." She tilted her head a bit. "But I'm no man."
"Cagalli," he began shakily, too broken to remain unshaken. "I..." he swallowed, voice so desperately close to breaking, "I have nothing left."
She curled beside him, laying her head next to his on the same pillow. Tensing up, he stilled. Her breath fell between his collarbones. His arm trembled when she reached to grasp his hand.
"Just for now, Athrun," she whispered. "Just for now."
And somehow he heard it. It's alright. There was something in her that Athrun was desperately holding on to. It's alright. I've got you. It's alright.
So he held her close, fiercely, selfishly, and she held him in return just as fiercely, just as selfishly. And just like that he sagged against her, face buried on the joint between her shoulder and neck, and he cried. Maybe later he would prepare something for the ongoing trial. Maybe later he would ask Cagalli and Kira to tea or thank his friends in PLANT. Maybe later he could say that he was fed up with alright and fine, that he only wanted his dreams to be dreams and not nightmare anymore. Maybe later he would think of what he would do with no house to stay in or belongings to use, no motherland to return to, no Dietmar to wake him up in the morning like always and to drive to school, nothing. Maybe later he could do something—anything—right.
Right now, in those arms, he just wanted to stop dying.
The Emirate of Orb
It was not the first time.
Athrun Zala could only sigh when he found that half of his garden destroyed beyond salvation. The rose bush was pulled off, its remains now scattered along with tulips, gerberas and bits. The lone, waist-tall lemon tree on the corner of his garden also was not spared from the vandalism, its still green fruits lay trodden on the dirt. Here and there the green grass that carpeted his garden was stomped and pulled.
It was not the first time, and he knew that it would not be the last either.
He rolled the sleeves of his shirt and crouched near the watermelon plant next to the lemon tree. A day more and the watermelons would have been served as a desert in his lunch or dinner. My poor watermelons, he thought. People really need to think more than twice before they run off destroying something.
"Good morning, Athrun-san!"
He raised his head to find a girl wave at him from behind his low wooden gate, standing on her toes to get a look over the gate. "Good morning, Sophie." He smiled at the seven-year old girl, his neighbour by two houses. "On your way to school?"
"Un!" The girl nodded enthusiastically, her ponytail going up and down with the move. "Mama is still looking for her shoes, so I think I will say good morning to you while waiting for her."
"So kind of you, Sophie." He looked around to find a flower to give her. "Here's for you," he said, handing her a fresh red gerbera, one spared from the wreckage. It was not in full bloom yet, but it would do. He laughed a little as Sophie squealed happily, thanking him.
Sophie's mother chose that time to get her daughter. "Ah, g-good morning, Mr. Zala."
Ignoring the protest from his left knee, he straightened and stood properly to greet his neighbour. "Good morning, Mrs. Groenmeyer."
"Look, Mama. Athrun-san gives me this flower! It's pretty, right?"
"Aah—y-yes, dear. Of course it is." She looked nervously at her daughter and at Athrun and back at her daughter again. "We have to go now. Thank you for the flower, Mr. Zala. Now, Sophie. Come on. Hurry. You're going to be late." She walked away very fast for a plump woman in her forties, even half-dragging her daughter behind him.
"See you, Athrun-san!" Sophie waved again at him before she and her mother disappeared at the end of the street.
"Enjoy your day, Sophie!" he called back, deliberately ignorant of Mrs. Groenmeyer's disapproving look. He was used to that, really. And to this, he thought as he paid attention once more to what was once his beautiful garden. Last night he was spending his time in his bunker, updating his data with new information sent from all across the globe and PLANT; it was no wonder he did not hear anything happened above. Now he felt a bit regretful for not finishing his work earlier. "Now what should I do with you, huh?"
Six years down the road, he had grown to this kind of situation, really. His garden aside, he would not be surprised to find people like Mrs. Groenmeyer giving him the curious and then spiteful eye when he was doing his groceries or even sitting in his terrace for an evening reading. There were books written about him, too, and strangely he found that Lacus would always give the saddest and Young the angriest response.
Well, they can kiss your ass for all you care, man, Dearka commented. And his blonde former teammate, even with his brutal honesty, was not the only one who understood his sentiments, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with him in his pursuit of truth. Shinn and Lunamaria changed their unit to intelligence; consequently, he got a coded message from a world's end every now and then. He himself sometimes would relay the information to Hathaway and leave the rest to the authority. Yzak and his growing number of loyalists kept a sharp eye for any movement within ZAFT, and Athrun really could not ask for more than that—his rival would surely be the first to do the pre-emptive act should ZAFT showed any sign to take a wrong turn again. Young's working with a non-governmental organization also helped him to get the first notice when there was a rising number of grass-root conflict in a region.
Ah yes, speaking about Young, his former defender had joined a non-governmental organization not too long after his trial ended. Specializing in dealing with asylum seekers, ex-soldier survivors and refugees, the organization had since become one of the leading parties to promote better treatment for its main concern. Young himself was now well known as a vocal advocate of reformation in asylum-granting procedures. Our case lies in a good hand of a good man, Hathaway had once said.
One of the cases was his.
Once, his house—if he could call a cabin with one bedroom, a kitchen and a spare room that—had suffered the same, if not worse, vandalism that his garden got. By the time he got home—not that he could wander around the town freely, almost all windows were broken, his wall dirtied by obscene graffiti and his water tank pierced with numerous staplers. Well, at least they didn't burn my house, he commented as Kira worried and worried more about his safety.
He wondered if people were upset because he dragged Orb in this or because Orb's beloved living icon stood with him in this.
But, oh God, his heart always swelled every time he thought about her.
A year ago, Cagalli gave a speech regarding the result of the International War Tribunal. Accompanied by several executives from the Tribunal and leaders from countries around the world, she thanked the Tribunal for its work and also the people with no exception, Coordinators and Naturals, civilians and military members, for their acceptance and understanding. There was no large-scale conflict during the six years of the trial, but there were small riot between groups and factions everywhere. It's only humane for us to feel a different range of emotions about what our past has brought, she said. Yet a house divided is not a real house, and that's why only we could build our house together.
Later, she gave another speech to underline her stance regarding her stead as the Head Representative of the Emirate of Orb. Not a word about Kira Yamato, a mysterious former ace mobile suit pilot, was mentioned even though people had been—and would still be—wondering about said pilot's whereabouts. Let him disappear with the ghost of our nightmare, she said. She also said that she would step down after the building of Neo Heliopolis was completed. Not surprisingly, the most potential name to the succession belonged to retired Colonel Rene Hathaway, now fifty-four-year old, former Head of the National Domestic Security Affair Office.
However, the speech led to a public rumour and, later, suspicious accusation of her having an alleged relationship with Athrun Zala since she refused to give any comment on her constant contact with him. Her political opponents had since filed a lawsuit against her under the charge of public deceiving, thankfully to no avail. Still, it did not mean that the curiosity had been answered.
Speaking of which, in the last Orb National Day, Athrun got some kind of a gift. A TV station had asked random people about what they felt regarding Orb's current state. A university student who happened to be candidly interviewed said, It's a pity Cagalli-sama is going to say bye to the government, but it's even greater pity that she dumps her political career to the trash just for something most people couldn't help being angry about.
He wondered if people would never use his name directly just like it was in PLANT—where opinions about him were roughly divided into two opposing parties. In Orb, those who were most upset were so bitter about his hand in Cagalli's history that they even supported the idea to change Orb into a republic. (5) In PLANT, the only thing the residents agreed upon was that he helped to end both Wars, regardless of being a ZAFT traitor twice.
Here in PLANT they can't forget your accomplishments in the Wars, Yzak once said, and they still can't forgive the humiliation you brought for them either.
He knew that all just fine. Overthrowing officially legal leaders of a nation, no matter how flawed they were, was still a harsh blow to a nation's pride. Yet still, he longed to go home to PLANT even if it was only once before he died and be accepted in Orb for who he really was.
It was only ten minutes of crouching, but already his knee could not take it anymore. Wincing, he straightened up. Blood flowed more freely to his foot, relaxing it. Patting his knee twice, he doubted that it would recover like nothing had happened. It was his price, after all.
"Need a help with your garden?"
The one with power to make his heart swell just by thinking about was there, elbows propped up against his gate.
"Good morning, Your Excellency. To what do I owe such honour in the morning?"
She shrugged nonchalantly, a small smile on her lips. "All the things I know and all the things I don't know bring me here." With no trademark Athha black uniform and no guard tailing around, she looked like a common passer-by. What was she thinking coming incognito like this? Really, she never failed to hold his attention. "Perhaps this kind-hearted master gardener would not mind to have me for a lunch?"
"Why, this so-called master gardener is an unemployed host, Your Excellency. His status aside, he also has unhealthy obsession with coffee—no thanks to someone who makes him so, has injuries more than the numbers of his fingers, tends to keep his thoughts to himself, takes things to heart and does a lot of brooding. Perhaps Your Majesty will find it too much?"
"Well, I'm a Representative with crazy schedule, and it's been crazier since the rebuilding of Neo Heliopolis is nearing the end. Yet despite that, all I have is myself because I don't want to hog the properties belong to the Athhas. Even my mansion is halved with the orphanage that my brother runs. In two or three years, my term will end and I won't run for the office again, so I'm still not sure of how to afford my living expenses. I also have to deal with the accusation of evoking the discourse of changing Orb into a republic, a republic that doesn't have to depend on a leader-by-bloodline. In addition to that, I'll probably have to endure the rest of my term in jeers since I publicly announce I'm not an Athha by blood, keep in touch with a notorious crook and allegedly cover for a vagabond pilot." She tilted her head. "I guess that will make us a good match."
He opens the gate for her. "I believe it will—if Your Excellency finds that this humble host's cooking worthy of her presence."
The expression on her face was enough to tell him the answer. "It's a deal, then."
A soft smile lit his face, outdoing his weariness, as he reached out a hand to her. That was all he could offer her after all—himself. "If you will have me?"
She took his hand gently in hers, thumb rubbing against the marred skin on the back of his hand, undeniable proofs of the years of his still progressing struggles to make peace with himself. She knew, understood and accepted all of him that was hers to have.
He still could not see the end of his road, but he would. Definitely.
Junius 3, PLANT
'Different reactions occurred following the launching of William Herbert Young's debut novel, The Martyr, AP reported Sunday (19/4).
'Young, former defender of Athrun Zala, probably world's most infamous deserter, said that his novel was not a political novel. "Ever since the trial for Athrun Zala, we have a lot of heated discussions as well as learned debates about it. Also, many deserters and former military officers with MIA status from both ZAFT and the previous Earth Alliance have emerged to make themselves known," said Young. "Wars may have ended almost ten years ago, but it is still too early to say that everything is on the right track. With the end of the war, we're facing the post-war effects. Veterans and deserters are just a small part of the big legacy of wars that we inherit."
'Politics analyst Hamilton Acton said that Young's novel might become the second Uncle Tom's Cabin. "It's Mr. Young's personal experiences cleverly wrapped and handed over to readers," said Acton. Literature critic Emilliana Eco also said that the novel "won't be recommended a Nobel, but surely will be widely influential." Said Eco, "The Martyr will be noted for the controversial issues it brings up."
'On the other hand, The Martyr was also alerting. "For example, following the unexpected loss of political giant Dmitrij Feyedorov, Neo Eurasia is still on edge even until today. Being the biggest shelter country for Coordinators on Earth, a small clash will probably trigger a big conflict in the region," said sociologist Angela Mead. "Young's novel should be handled carefully, or else it will be that trigger." Mead also hoped that the bringing up of Athrun Zala's trial would not split the world into bipolar once again.
'Despite the poles-apart reactions, The Martyr had gained a big number of readers. There was a long queuing line in front of the bookstore where Young held his launching. Online bookstores such as The Papyrus and Amazon Book reported that they had had the novel ordered since a month ago.
'The novel itself follows the life of its protagonist, Arlutha Naz, a Coordinator deserter-by-will who is struggling to find his place in a changing world. "We tend to forget people like Arlutha Naz, and The Martyr is supposed to remind us of it all. My novel is simply a story about people who lost—who were forced to lose," said Young, a law practitioner-turn-to-human rights activist.'
Sighing, Meyrin put the morning newspaper on the coffee table. All's well with the world, I guess, she thought. A second ring from her front door prevented her from thinking further about the article she had just read. Realizing who her guest would be, she got up to open her door.
Dietmar grinned at her the moment she saw his face. "Ready, Meyrin-san?"
She smiled. "Shouldn't you say 'good morning' first?"
He bent to land a soft kiss on her cheek. "Good morning," he said as he straightened. "Where are your suitcases? I'll put them in the car."
She raised her eyebrows. "Where's your driver?"
Dietmar had suddenly just found the time to look sheepish. "I haven't forgotten to tell you, have I? I've got my driving license last month. Yzak-san isn't too pleased to let me drive on my own, saying there are a lot of chauffeurs in the Jule Household ready to drive me anywhere. But," he grinned wider, "where's the fun in letting a chauffeur drive your one hell of a car?"
"Good for Yzak-san, then." She patted him on the back. "You really need to spoil him more. After all, the oh-so mighty Major General does need to have some fun."
He entered the house and disappeared into the guest room. He appeared again with two large suitcases in both hands. Half complaining of what Meyrin could have packed into the suitcases, he brought and put them in the baggage of his car, a luxurious, cool car just like Dietmar always dreamed his first car to be. Oh the joy of hedonistic life, Shinn once commented, sarcastic as he always was, about Dietmar's taste in vehicle.
Dietmar sat on the driver seat and fastened his seatbelt. He scowled a little as his forehead struck the roof of the car. Standing tall at 5.83ft had its disadvantage sometimes, he grunted, annoyed. But it was not enough to erase the brightness in Dietmar's eyes, the joyful light of being someone who was finally able to return to a place that had always been home to him. She understood, and she knew that Dietmar, too, had grown to understand it himself.
"And now off we go, Meyrin-san," Dietmar said softly. "We're going home."
(1) See Chapter 7.
(2) See Chapter 6, where Athrun came across Miriallia.
(3) Infinite Justice vs. Destiny, remember? The one with Athrun still all bandaged that he loses consciousness and reopens his wounds right afterward.
(4) See Chapter 9, where Athrun and Dearka got a detention.
(5) See Chapter 5, where Athrun first began to think that Feyedorov nosed around too much in Orb's domestic business
Afterword: On a Fic Titled Being Athrun Zala
I want to say I'm so thankful to be able to hold on this far. Uh~ alright. Pardon the inappropriate opening.
First of all, a huge THANK YOU to beloved Fledgling, the ever supportive, benevolent beta and critic. Straightforwardly, there's no BAZ without her. We've even once got trapped in an argument regarding the scene where Athrun and Cagalli mentions the Pandora Jar (I used the term 'jar' because it is what is drawn in classic Greek illustrations). Another time we're arguing over why Lacus is allowed to be a member of PLANT Supreme Council. (Borrowing Fledgling's words, it's because she's pink. And can sing. So yeah. XD) Then about Athrun's un-Athrun-ness concerning Dietmar. Then about the rate of Athrun's violence towards his closest people. Oh well. All in all, just accept it, Fled-love: you're simply the bestest. Would you like me to bear your children? :)
Please pardon our expression of domestic love. :3
Another gigantic THANK YOU also to allreaders, who have walked the line with me and supported BAZ. I kept your reviews and reread them when I didn't feel like writing or simply was too lazy to even move a finger. And I'm very moved by what you've written, oh I really am. Some are very detailed; some are short but equally supportive. All of them are wonderful, so THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!
And a special bear hug as I promised for mehj, who got my question right. Yep, darling, Neftali Basoalto is part of Pablo Neruda's real name—Ricardo Eliecer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto. He's one of my favourite poets, and without his poem Walking Around and The Saddest Poem, I wouldn't be able to write BAZ's Athrun. Read them, will you? They're good for your health. :)
The throb to write BAZ emerged when I was reading one of my old fic, Selfishness. Some said it's too sad that the Athrun in Selfishness never got a chance to tell Cagalli that he just couldn't stop. Couldn't stop wanting to better the world. Couldn't stop wanting to be freed of the burden forced onto him. Couldn't stop being bitter and justice-driven as he was. And most of all, couldn't stop wanting to be with Cagalli sans the name and the eye people gave him. (Put him in Cagalli's shoes, and you'll get a perfect disastrous leader.) Then I thought, Hey, why don't I write a fic about that kind of Athrun? So I surrender to what the throb's said and voila! You got BAZ served on a silver platter. And speaking of which, I tip my hat off to ghikiJ, who wrapped up the character that is BAZ's Athrun very accurately even before this fic ends—let me quote: "...an individual atoning for his sins and past mistakes, and as someone who, after all the complexities of war, do not know where to turn and what to do ... lost and still indecisive ... in his search for justice, he lost his sense of self." Bravo!
I have to admit sometimes during writing I imagined if I were in Athrun's shoes. Personally, I think he's a right man in the wrong place and wrong time. He should have never joined up ZAFT; it's not his place. He's a romantic humanist (pardon the untimely intrusion of typical post-war Japanese humanist in anime), a lost boy and an idealist much, much more than Kira is. Over and over during GSD I want to bonk him on the head and say, 'Athrun, you're not Patrick!'
Now, to the questions concerning of BAZ itself...
One, I inserted a lot of factual and historical references in BAZ. Let's face it: politics stinks, but it'll never disappear from Earth. It means for the good of the people if put and executed correctly by non-Machiavellian zoon politicon. My references are mostly backdated, so I hope I didn't turn you off along the way.
The internal conflicts in PLANT/ZAFT are more or less inspired by the main report in the March 2003 edition of Newsweek. Somehow I end up writing a non-existent Slobodan Milosevic, a martyred Zoran Djinjic and a not-quite-there-but-indeed-haunting presence of Legija and the Legionnaire in BAZ. I'm not going to talk about that further, though. The rest was—well—you know what's going on there in Iraq, Afghanistan, Myanmar and other regions still plagued by conflicts and dehumanisations.
And my favourite ZAFT soldier, Yzak, plays General George Patton here in BAZ, hehe...
Two, on naming the original characters. Let's see... Dietmar and Elaine just popped up out of nowhere. I just like the name Dietmar. Rene Hathaway, well, if you're a classic Gundam fans, you would've known already from whom I took that name. I made up Young's name to suit his initial WHY, because until the end I never give a clear line of his reason protecting Athrun. (And it's not because Athrun is pretty :D) Next to Young's WHY, Walter's HOW explains how Operation Monitor and String Poor Athrun Zala is executed. In short, HOW is the practice department, WHY the theory department. I use them both to direct to Feyedorov a.k.a. Heimlich. If you think Heimlich's revelation is kinda abrupt, hey, I've mentioned his brother Heine since Chapter 7. Oh, and don't ask me about the Neo Equator terrorist Nkono. God knows how I could make his name up.
Say, have you noticed anything about the name of the protagonist in Young's novel, Arlutha Naz? ;3
Three, my Seed materials. A friend asked me why I didn't take much account from the Special Edition. Well, while the Special Edition gives us a lot of fan-joy, it screws my logic. I can't even understand why they put Kira in a ZAFT uniform, considering how reluctant he is to get involved in wars first and foremost. And how can the government of Orb allow a former ZAFT soldier, much less the only son of their nemesis's patriarch, to become an admiral in its military? And don't start on Lacus if you're trying to go logical. XP So yes, I only use the TV series and Kuori Chimaki's GSD The Edge. Why, yes, I'm always eager to repeat my proclamation of how much I love, love, love The Edge? :
Four, will there be a continuation? Well, BAZ is one hell of a headache already, and I know when enough is enough. If there is one, it'll be on a lighter tone.
We've come to the end of the rainbow. If you first read BAZ wanting to get the mush or the sap, I'm sure by now you are disappointed. I'm sorry if you are, but I'm not sorry for putting BAZ's end the way it is. For those who manage to read even to this uber-boring self-advertising, I hope you enjoy your reading, and you know for that reason alone I'm still writing fanfictions.
Until we meet again!