Title: Play of the Fates (17 of ?)

Author: Paola

Disclaimer: Play of the Fates is based on characters and situations that belong to Sotsu Agency, Bandai Studios, and TV Asashi (and other production affiliates that have the right of ownership). No money is being made, and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended. This fan fiction is solely for entertainment purposes.

Considerations: Similarities to other stories/events/passages and people, dead or alive, are purely coincidental unless otherwise cited. Characters not found on any official Gundam SEED/Gundam SEED Destiny character list belong to the author unless otherwise disclaimed. Citations and references will be found at the end of every chapter should they be made. Beliefs and points of view found in the story do not necessarily reflect those of the author's.

Historical figure/s, real company/ies, and other personality/ies used is/are for literary purposes only. Their use in this story should not be taken as facts.

The idea to make the chapter titles begin with "The One…" is from the TV show, F.R.I.E.N.D.S

This may, in all possible intent, be differently written compared to any of the author's previous literary ventures.

Rating: Rated M for language and adult situations. You have been warned.

Play of the Fates

Chapter Seventeen

Dearka stared at the flakes of Wheaties that were getting soggy in his bowl, then looked at Yzak who was almost finished with his. "Because it's just impossible for you to get Fruit Loops like us normal people, right?" He pushed the bowl away from him.

Yzak gave him an irritable look. "If you hadn't planned on eating then you shouldn't have made one for yourself."

"Why are you eating cereals anyway?" He glanced at the wall clock. "It's almost lunch."

"Yeah, so?"

Dearka sighed in a manner suggestive of a teacher about to preach to an ignorant child. "In the famous words of George Glenn, 'get a life.'" He waited for an explosive reaction but he only got a questioning stare, which was a tad disappointing but expected since he himself wasn't entirely sure George Glenn actually said those words; the pompous bastard probably was really too pompous to use street slang anyway. "I'm serious. It's the middle of the day — no self-respecting guy eats alone in his apartment even if he stayed up all night working. You're a model, don't you have women hanging off your arm?"

Yzak shook his head at Dearka's faulty logic, but before he could reply, a loud meow permeated the air.

Dearka leant to the right and looked in the direction of the hallway where the sound was coming from. Then a tabby slinked within his vision. He returned his attention to Yzak. "I thought you hate cats?"

The fairhead gave an annoyed sigh. "I also hate you, don't I, and you're still inside my apartment."

"Testy."

"It's not mine. It's Stella's."

"Stella?" Dearka's eyes widened just as he placed the name, then his lips curled into a slow, disrespectful grin. "As in Loussier? That new reality TV star?" His friend grunted. "You're dating Loussier? And I didn't know? And hey, isn't that statutory?"

"Fuck off. She's eighteen, not eight."

Dearka laughed, thoroughly amused. "Oh, this is rich. And you're already pet-sitting for her!"

"I'm not! And we aren't dating."

"Just sleeping together."

"We were dating, until she brought that fucking cat here."

"You're breaking up with her because of a cat? Harsh," Dearka didn't sound the least bit concerned and offended for the actress.

"Only people with insufficient personalities are fond of cats. I'm not fond of people with insufficient personalities."

"Again, harsh. Is that why she's not here right now? You kicked her out? How long have you been dating anyway?"

"A week, and I didn't kick her out. What do you think of me? We talked about the cat thing and she walked out. I haven't heard from her since last night, and if she doesn't call in the next hour, I'm letting her cat loose in the streets. And we haven't been dating. We dated. Weren't you listening?"

Dearka rolled his eyes. "And by 'talk' you meant ordered it to be taken away?" Yzak's antipathy towards cats ran deep, and if his memory served, it was because when Yzak was a kid, a stray cat had scratched him in the face and left an awful scar, forever traumatizing him. Dearka could remember laughing so hard when Yzak told him that, and since the moody Joule didn't take lightly to being teased about something he hated with a passion, Dearka had gotten a very ugly black eye the next day. He hadn't teased Yzak about cats since.

Yzak got up to retrieve a can of orange juice from the fridge. "Why are we talking about me? Aren't you here — again — to talk about you?" Popping the tab and stopping himself from kicking the cat that was weaving itself between his legs, he eyed Dearka suspiciously. "What have you done now?"

"I love how you make me sound like a sinner without even trying," Dearka replied drolly. "You should teach me how to do that one of these days."

"Four things you come here for: you want my applause or you want to aggravate me."

"Those are only two things," Dearka corrected, looking slightly offended.

"Seeking applause is one thing. Aggravating me is career in itself: whining, having me assess your recent stupid action, and simply being here without an invitation. Take my house key, why don't you?" Yzak punctuated his sarcasm with a jerk of his thumb to point at the keys hanging off a hook near the counter.

"If Ms. Loussier heard this, she might think you dumped her because you're into me. And I don't whine! Complain, yes, a little, maybe, but never whine. Men don't whine."

Yzak shrugged, ignoring the jab at his manhood. "Whatever makes you feel secure." He looked at the clock then fixed Dearka a steely gaze. "I have a lunch meeting with my agent in two hours and I still have to fix up. Either you tell me what you're here for or you make yourself disappear in five seconds."

Dearka stretched lazily. "Your agent is Lessiane," he said flatly, as if that alone was sufficient explanation. "She'd have a fit, probably chuck a plate at you, skin you alive, the works, but she won't dismiss you even if you're five hours late."

Yzak didn't think he was amusing. "Work ethic, ever heard of it?" Then sighing exasperatedly, he began his countdown, "One, two—"

"I thought I'd invite you to play golf."

Yzak arched a perfect eyebrow. "And you couldn't have done that over the phone?"

"No."

"I have work. Just because you're on vacation doesn't mean we all are." Yzak looked at him cagily, seemingly understanding something suddenly. "Wait, you know I have work. I always have work on weekdays. Just who else did you invite?"

"Cagalli."

Yzak almost winced at Dearka's answer. "I don't even know why I bother to listen."

"This is normal. If I stay away, I'm just going to think about it, and I'm not gonna stop."

"So by staying close to her, it'll help you get over it? Are you a fucking idiot? And she's with Zala, if you didn't notice."

The caustic pitch that rode the wave of Yzak's voice made Dearka lash out, "I know that! Do you think I'm blind? If it weren't for Athrun's strict sense of propriety, he'd have his tongue down her throat during that dinner!" He blew air through clenched teeth. "Besides, she's always gonna treat me as a friend. It's a reminder I need. A daily fucking reminder!"

Yzak was unfazed by his outburst. "See what I mean? Applause. You get an idea — a stupid one, again — and you bounce it off me until I tell you it's the right thing to do. It's like you're asking me for permission, which you will ignore anyway. I'm not your keeper, Elsman."

The silence that followed was momentary, but it was the most deafening Yzak had heard.

"No, but you're my friend."

Something in Dearka's tone sealed Yzak's mouth and the retort he'd formed died in his throat. They both stared at each other, unforgiving, unwilling to backtrack, and too proud to look away, until Dearka stood up and thanked the fairhead for the food he didn't even touch.

It was a good thing that Dearka left right away after thanking him as Yzak was suddenly overwhelmed by the urge to sock the living daylights out of the bastard for springing that line on him. If Dearka had not wanted to know what he thought, then the blonde shouldn't have come to his apartment.

Dammit, he was pissed. He was pissed at how stupid his friend was acting. But more than that, he was pissed at how Dearka had just implied he was a sorry excuse for a friend.

Yzak stalked towards his bathroom. If Dearka wanted to fuck up his own life, then Yzak wouldn't stop him. He wouldn't even watch from the sidelines — no he wouldn't, he convinced himself.

"Fuck that bastard!"

o-o

"So I told them that I won't tolerate even a margin of error. They've been in this job longer than I have, but if they think seniority can cover their asses, well, they've got another thing coming. We don't run a circus of incompetents," Cagalli finished, popping a slice of orange in her mouth.

"You're one hellcat in the boardroom, aren't you?"

Cagalli cocked her head to the side, taking note of the distracted undercurrent in Dearka's answer — his usual sarcasm wasn't even sarcastic enough. Then she glanced at his untouched serving of strawberry napoleon. "Don't you like your dessert?"

Dearka's eyes moved from his food to her face with a disbelieving air. "Why wouldn't I like it? It's strawberries." As if to emphasize his point, he speared a halved berry and chewed on it with much gusto.

Cagalli didn't buy it.

Dearka was obsessed with strawberries as much as he was taken up in golf; he even wrote on strawberry-scented stationery when sending out thank you notes during the Christmas season. She used to tease him about it being a feminine fetish, but he would just wave her off or tell her that he was manly enough to ignore what other people thought. Weirdly enough, when he oh-so-insouciantly shared his preference for anything strawberry-related in an interview, his fans were all the more enamored of him because he was "confidently in touch with his feminine side." So for Dearka to neglect anything that had strawberries in it meant that something was not sitting well with him. Add the fact that she had been the only one starting and steering their conversations that she might as well have been monologuizing. If there was one thing Dearka was not, it was subdued.

There was another lull in the conversation, much like the previous ones in the car when he failed to reply. Cagalli sighed and looked around. They were in the club house of the newly opened golf course in the city. The course was not as big as Lesseps, but it was impressive in its own right. Because there was not much available natural land in the city, everything was brought in, from the soil to the grass, before the links course was sculpted to how it looked now. Looking out of the window, she could see the wire fences that enclosed the man-made course.

Cousteau Golf Club, as of its opening, was the only golf course in the city as other clubs were found on the outskirts of the metropolis, and to simulate the natural feel of the countryside, Cousteau was surrounded by high walls a quarter of a kilometer away from the wire fences with trees lining the cement to lend an even more out-of-the-city feel to the place.

Cagalli sighed and returned her attention to Dearka. Never one to enjoy the silence, she spoke up and went straight to the point, "Hey, anything the matter?"

Dearka waved off her concern before he realized what he was doing. He was here with Cagalli because he needed to feel that things were still running smoothly between them, that he could act like he didn't harbor feelings for her, and not because he was chasing after a dream, as Yzak was inclined to believe. What was Yzak thinking anyway? He wasn't begging for affection from Cagalli, and neither was he seeking applause from Yzak. He wasn't — Yzak was just delusional.

Realizing that he didn't want to be forced to talk about what was bothering him, he smiled and decided not to think about his problem. "The starving children in Africa. The people sick with swine flu. The worsening global economy. And all before I could change the channel to ESPN. I just had a difficult morning. Don't worry your pretty self over me."

Her forehead crinkled as she wasn't certain whether she should push for a better explanation, but his long-winded answer pulled her towards believing that he maybe hadn't been okay a while ago, but was definitely back to his slaphappy self. "Are you sure?"

"When am I not sure?" He gestured towards her oranges. "And what is that?"

"Italian poached oranges!" she replied with relish. "Want some?"

Dearka looked as though she was offering him poison, then signaled for a waiter and ordered a slice of strawberry cheesecake for her, but not before insulting the dessert Cagalli had chosen for herself — Sweetheart, oranges are when life screws you and decides you're not worth the lemons. She ignored him; she was only too happy to eat another sugary goodness.

Their conversation drifted from one topic to another, and Dearka found himself enjoying the day despite his earlier disagreement with Yzak. Normally, he wouldn't have lost his temper because Yzak was only acting like how he usually did, but because he considered the topic too sensitive to be dismissed as easily as the fairhead had, he'd gone on the defensive, something that rarely happened. Even though Yzak appeared not to genuinely care, Dearka knew better. They had known each other longer than they'd known the rest of their friends, and he respected Yzak's opinions and views, which were commonly irritatingly accurate when it came to how Dearka handled his affairs.

"Hey."

Cagalli's hand over his distracted him from his line of thought, but before he could put any meaning to it, his rational mind kicked in and he knew instantly how comfortable the gesture was because it was done with the confidence backed by a history of friendship. Just friendship, genuine and real, and he convinced himself he wasn't bitter. He was good at that.

"You called me out to play golf, and your time's nearly over. I can't keep shuffling my schedule for you, buster." Cagalli had agreed to meet with Dearka because she wanted to ask him something about a certain someone, but now that she was given the opportunity, she couldn't think of how to broach the topic. It wasn't as though she could just outright ask about what happened to Nicol Amalfi, firstly because Dearka didn't know she knew of him, and secondly, she really didn't have anything to do with the pianist.

Now that she thought about it, maybe Athrun wasn't acting weirdly that time in her apartment. Maybe it was just a natural reaction towards the subject of a friend's death. Maybe. Except she couldn't shake off the feeling that it was more than that.

Cagalli almost snorted at herself. She was being nosy, and no matter how she justified her curiosity, it couldn't be doubted that it all came down to her prying into someone else's business.

Dearka leant back and made himself even more comfortable in his seat. "Still want to hit the course?"

"Didn't you?"

"I did. I don't anymore; I'm comfy already. Do you?"

"I don't like golf to begin with. And I don't think there's enough time."

Dearka dramatically placed a hand over his heart, as though wounded by her confession. "Babe, sweetheart, love of my life, how can you dislike something I'm very good at?"

Cagalli rolled her eyes, more to calm her guilty conscience by offering a response expected of her than to actually react to Dearka's affectations, which, now that she noted their relaxed exchange, easily breezed through her, so used as she was to his theatrics.

This was her chance. Dearka was acting like himself and they were casually talking — he surely would answer her inquiry regarding a certain pianist just as frankly as he would questions about golf. Besides, he had no way of knowing that she hadn't stumbled upon the connection by accident. She could fake her interest, fake even a few little details on how she knew, so he wouldn't be wary of talking about the topic. Easy as pie.

"Hey, Dearka."

"Yes, love?"

"Remember" — when you told me about this talented musician friend of yours? I never did get to meet him, she could start, lie about her facts, and convince him that he did mention Nicol once even if he hadn't and say that he must have just forgotten — "when I said I had a busy schedule?" God, she could cry in frustration. She couldn't do it. No matter how much she wanted to know, she couldn't do it. Her scruples were too ingrained for her to chuck away, and going behind Athrun's back to know something he himself hadn't felt like telling her was against most of what she stood for. They might not entirely have the healthiest relationship, but as a friend — she resolved not to think about how exactly they were "friends" — she supposed she owed him this kind of respect.

Dearka looked at her weirdly, and she smirked at him. "I wasn't kidding." She checked her watch.

Dearka shook his head and laughed. "Okay, okay, I get it, I get the hint." Standing up, he brushed imaginary lint off his pants then offered her his hand. "Come on, I'll bring you back to your office." When she placed her hand in his, he gave it a gentle squeeze. "Why am I surrounded by such workaholics?"

It was with a mocking grin that she walked out of the clubhouse with Dearka, and it didn't take more than thirty minutes for her to be back to the busy working environment of Akatsuki Insurance, where, haunted by unwanted questions about Nicol Amalfi's death, she grudgingly went about her day's work.

o-o

In the late afternoon, Cagalli found herself in front of an old cake shop, hesitating to enter and eternally glad that there were only a few patrons entering and exiting for it would have been embarrassing for her to be just standing there by the door like an awkward teenager meeting up with a boy. Of course, the thought alone almost lifted her hesitancy because the person she would be meeting up with was nowhere close to being the one she had her eyes on. If anything, he was someone she wanted very much to be rid of.

When an elderly man excused himself, Cagalli popped out of her reverie and smiled apologetically for blocking the entrance. She offered a small smile and got the door for him, entering the establishment after him.

Upon entering, she wasn't surprised that there wasn't a wave of memories assaulting her. This cake shop used to be her and her ex-boyfriend's favorite spot, and until today it remained precious to her, but not because it reminded her of their time together. The cake shop was simply a nice, cozy place with owners very friendly towards their customers.

She hadn't been by for a while, not since the break-up a year and a half ago, and as she surveyed the surroundings, she noted nothing much had changed except for the north wall on which paintwork was being done. By the counter was a tall man wearing worker's overalls splattered with paint, currently speaking with the owner while gesturing towards the unfinished wall.

Breathing deeply, she called out when it seemed that the two men had finished their conversation, "Santi?"

At the sound of his name, Santi turned around, unsurprised to see her. "Cagalli." He gestured towards an empty booth, putting away his paintbrushes before joining her. "Want anything?"

Cagalli shook her head. Santi, like that day in the park, seemed to be a different man from the one who had troubled her by being constantly on her tail. But before she could ponder the difference, she remembered how he really was when they first met.

Santi was a level-headed person, cool and collected, and now that she thought about it, a little on the boring side when he wasn't in one of his artist moods. It was her who had suggested the break-up, and it really took her by surprise when he appeared to have taken a 180-degree turn and began stalking her, getting under her skin and irritating her to the extent that had he showed his face every day and everywhere, she'd have filed for a restraining order without hesitation.

"The owner commissioned me to paint a mural along the length of this wall," he volunteered by way of starting a conversation, motioning towards the unfinished painting.

Cagalli gazed at the mix of blues that made up the sky, offering a polite compliment. Santi had always been good at his chosen profession and had twice held an exhibit in his name, but she hadn't agreed to come to talk about his art.

"Santi, I'm not going to lie and say I'm enjoying this small talk." Her tone very much told him that he should just get to the point.

Sighing but not arguing with her, he spoke, "I know I was aggravating, what with all that stalking. I can't even imagine how irritated you probably were. I have to say, I was left bitter, and I don't know what came over me. It just…sort of happened." He looked away, as if to collect his thoughts. "I'll usually chuck my behavior up to an artist's dramatics, but I know you won't buy that."

Cagalli rolled her eyes quite rudely. "You know why we broke up, Santi. We were never really good for each other." Their disagreements were particularly nasty, what with her ingrained stubbornness and his artistic whims and moods. "And God, Santi, you drove me up the wall when you started acting like a terrible puppy after that!"

Santi almost winced at her words. "For all it's worth, I'm sorry. Sorry for driving you crazy, and not even in that good way men drive women crazy."

Cagalli, despite her sense of humor, didn't think it was very appropriate to make that kind of joke given their situation, and her laughter rang a little hollow. "Why now? I mean, I'm grateful you're growing up, but why just now you decide to leave me alone?" she asked, studying the man before her with the eyes of a casual observer instead of a lover. There wasn't a deep interest when her gaze swept over the slant of his eyes, the hollow in his high cheekbones, the tilt of his nose, and the curve of his thin mouth. He wasn't handsome in the way that Athrun was: Santi had always had pointy features, angles that sloped and dipped almost too harshly to be called enchanting, but they worked on his face, somehow creating a sharpness that was attractive in its own right; she was telling the truth when she told Athrun that her ex-boyfriend wasn't as cute as a puppy because his features were too sharp for that certain adjective.

Santi was a little pale, too, but in a way that emphasized that where Athrun was reasonably and fetchingly sun-dappled, Santi was unfortunately a little too moon-kissed. His head of white-blonde hair, which was now longer than how he usually wore it and limper than what was generally attractive, highlighted the grey of his eyes; Cagalli was secretly still very fond of his eyes — they had always been her favorite.

Santi opened his mouth to speak, only to close it again. And then he tried a dismissive wave, but it fell short of the desired effect. "You were my muse, Cagalli. The rollercoaster that was our relationship was a source of inspiration. I know, that sounds insane, but it's true. You're right, we weren't in a healthy relationship, and I fed off the foolishness that followed us. Shit, I lost my head completely when we broke up!"

Santi, Cagalli thought not too fondly, would forever be the artist that couldn't separate his work from his personal life. Their relationship hadn't always been bad; it had its good points, too, but it would be a stretch to say that she'd been madly in love with him then. There was a little something between them, but it wasn't enough to hold their relationship together.

"I followed you around because I couldn't paint."

Cagalli understood what remained unsaid: There was a part of him that enjoyed getting her harried because Santi was vindictive like that; it was a petty childishness she didn't use to mind. Then and there, Cagalli was assured that her inadequate love for him had been mutual; he hadn't loved her more than she loved him, and she found now that she wasn't in the least bit offended.

"But as you can see now, I can pick up a paintbrush and do work. Again."

"I see," she agreed indifferently. "This is finally goodbye, isn't it?" she asked, and when he nodded, she could barely suppress her sigh of relief. "I just have to ask: You've found your new muse, haven't you? That's why you're back to being how I knew you?" Her question implied as well that what he'd found was also the reason he hadn't popped out of nowhere recently.

Santi peered at her from beneath his bangs, which had gotten too long that they almost obscured his eyes from view. "Not quite, but she's something else."

Cagalli nodded, more as an automatic response than approval. Desultorily, she surveyed the shop, testing another question in her head before returning her attention to him. "Same time, same place," she echoed what he'd said in the park, "it's really because you're recently always here due to work than anything else, right? There's no meaning behind it, is there? No special dedication to our past?"

Santi cocked his head to the side, and the look he leveled her with was almost calculating. "I'm laying the cards down as they are," he said, setting the premise of his answer.

"I know."

"No, there isn't any special meaning to it, but even if I had no job here, you'd have still found me — same time, same place. Here. If only because I had to apologize."

His answer settled well with her. They'd split up months ago, and as he regarded their past relationship with nothing but a cool, impersonal acceptance, she found she wasn't disturbed by it. She knew that he knew they weren't for each other, and there was no love lost between them.

Cagalli smiled, this time genuinely, because he'd done more than just apologize, and he'd admitted more to her in the span of a few minutes than in the months they'd been together.

Having settled what she came to the shop for, she stood up and thrust her hand towards him. He didn't hesitate to shake it. "If I see you again, Santi, it's because it's an accident. It's never going to be by design."

Santi understood the order that oozed out of her words, and although he didn't like that she was dictating the terms, he knew he deserved being talked to like that and was quite amenable to the condition. "Of course." Then he pulled her closer, dropping a swift kiss on her mouth in that familiar manner that wasn't quite allowed between them anymore, and then he was grinning at her nonplussed look. He deserved being talked down, but that didn't mean he'd take it very graciously.

"Good bye, babe. It was interesting while it lasted."

As she slid out the booth, frowning at his actions, she called, "Santi?"

"Yeah?"

"I'd get back at you if it didn't mean I'd have to stay in your presence longer."

He laughed. "I know."

o-o

Athrun shook hands with Uzumi as the latter saw him out of his office. Following the bursting of the housing bubble and the advent of the financial crisis, he'd had to attend to the change in insurance agencies because the original agency covering their employees was undergoing liquidation threats as the mother company in the United States was suffering heavily from the worsening economy. The blow to Genesis Motors was manageable and need not be attended to by him, but given his connection with Uzumi Athha, the president of Akatsuki Insurance, he had offered to undertake the initial work to expedite the process. So here he was, just finished meeting with Uzumi as Genesis Motors had decided to seek coverage from Akatsuki Insurance, which, according to the news, was very much unaffected by the crisis in the West.

As he rode the lift to the lobby, he checked the messages in his Blackberry, noting to return his secretary's call and trying not to be surprised to see another message from his father. His father rarely contacted him, and when he did, it was almost always about business. It had always been like that, every opportunity for communication was set by his father, and not once did he feel happy about it — he and his father just didn't have the easy camaraderie of a normal father and son, at least, not since his mother died.

Pocketing his Blackberry, he dismissed his thoughts before he could go further down that unpleasant lane, and with the action, he ignored calling back his father right that instant. He'd deal with him some other time.

The elevator dinged.

Akatsuki Insurance's lobby was an expansive floor area of polished marble made to look even bigger by the wall-to-ceiling mirror off to the right. The middle was occupied by the reception desk, by the mirror was a set of black-leather armchairs and loveseats, and to the left was a line of ATM machines. It was currently filled with people hurrying to get out of the office and go home, and when he chanced a look out the glass doors, he could see how dark it had gotten. It was past office hours, and it was only because he personally knew Uzumi that he had gotten an appointment this late in the day.

As he left the lift, he recognized the person standing in front of the reception desk: Cagalli was receiving a sealed envelope from the woman behind the counter, and then handing over a different manila envelope and offering instructions that the receptionist jotted down on a piece of paper. Just the person he wanted to see. There was something in the way she behaved that was always soothing somehow, something elementary, something uncomplicated and just completely natural that put him at ease.

"Cagalli," he called out.

At the sound of her name, Cagalli looked up and saw Athrun ambling towards her, automatically feeling guilty. She returned to the office after meeting with Santi because she'd forgotten to leave her business with the receptionist, and she didn't expect she'd be seeing Athrun here. She hadn't wanted to see him because she'd known that meeting up with Santi would make her feel guilty since, although she hadn't expressly told Athrun she'd stay away from her ex-boyfriend, she'd given him the impression that she would do so at his request. She wasn't obligated to tell him who she met up with, and the guilt she was feeling set her teeth on edge.

Schooling her expression, she met him halfway and extended her hand. He looked at it strangely for a moment before chuckling and taking it, fortunately understanding her gesture as they were in her office and their closeness was not something to be broadcasted, especially given how office rumors were quick to circulate.

"What brought you here?"

"I asked your father for your hand in marriage."

She arched an eyebrow. "So I can add to your collection of fiancées? No thanks," she retorted, to which Athrun laughed.

They began to exit the building together when she offered that she had no more business in the office. "Dinner?"

"Date?"

"What?"

"Sex?"

"What?"

"Chinese?"

Cagalli glared, but Athrun was so honestly amused that she deflated. Where Dearka was openly aware of how his attitude and behavior affected other people and consequently didn't care much if he annoyed them, Athrun seemed to be just testing how far he could take things before he had to stop because it wasn't in his nature to be abrasively irritating. It was almost an endearing comparison, but something she thought was better left unexplored.

"Well, okay. I'm kind of tired, so maybe we can get take-out and camp out in my kitchen," she agreed.

o-o

An hour and a half later, Cagalli's kitchen table was as clean as it could be while her coffee table in the living room was a mess of polystyrene containers, boxes of rice, and cans of soda. She was lying on her side on the couch, tugging listlessly at Athrun's hair while he sat on the floor, leaning on the couch and tilting his head until it was resting on the sofa.

"You know," Cagalli started, "we should have dinner with my father." She paused, almost dramatically. "I make myself cringe sometimes," she laughed at her own joke, that drowsy laugh Athrun was now familiar with when Cagalli was barely keeping herself awake.

"You get weirder every time. If you get any more mental, you'd be asking where the Batman is."

He laughed when she bopped him on the head. "But you're right. Maybe we should."

"God, I hope we're still kidding."

Athrun shifted from his position to look at her. "No, I'm serious." Sliding his hand under her head, he lifted himself up to the couch, adjusting her so she was half-sprawling on him. "I mean, I've already done the most crucial part anyway."

Cagalli tilted her head to look at him, slightly alarmed. "What crucial part?"

He gestured vaguely with his free hand. "You know, asking for your hand in marriage."

"You tosser!" She flicked his nose hard, earning herself a surprised yelp and a hearty chuckle. For a moment, Cagalli had the crazy notion that he wasn't playing around, and she almost felt guilty at how relieved she was when it became obvious that he was only pulling her leg.

"I resent that. And here in Orb, we call them 'idiots.' Tosser's for vulgar Britons, not for an Orb lady who's about to be kissed senseless. Or has Dearka's English jig converted you to preferring being snogged silly?"

Before she could reply, he'd already pulled her down to seal her lips over his, a consuming kiss that more than rendered her senseless. There was something about being kissed as thoroughly as she was now that set free a thousand butterflies in her stomach and turned her legs into jelly; it was a good thing she was lying down or she'd have collapsed on the floor.

When he pulled back, Cagalli was certain that the glazed look in his eyes was reflected in hers as well.

"If that was being kissed senseless, I'd take that over being snogged silly any day."

He grinned almost wolfishly. "Why don't we try getting you snogged silly and see if it compares?"

Cagalli laughed, planting her hands on his chest and pushing herself up, ending up straddling him.

"Next week we've got ourselves a long weekend. This is what you actually call a three-day grace." Athrun chuckled at his own joke.

Cagalli smiled then offered him a confused look. "Long weekend?"

"Friday's a holiday, then Saturday and Sunday."

"Oh yeah, I've forgotten about that." She cocked her head to the side. "Do you have plans? Do we have plans?"

"I have business in Onogoro, and the crew's thinking of making a trip out of it."

"The crew?"

Athrun looked at her strangely. "Yes, Kira and the rest."

"You call them the 'crew'?" She couldn't help it: She burst out laughing. Athrun just didn't seem like someone who used "crew" to refer to his group of friends, and the idea was just too ridiculous for her that it was difficult to let the moment pass.

"What, pray tell, is so funny?"

"You! You and you're crew! That's a laugh and a half! What, having them call you boss man or captain or something?"

"Or something. Dearka had us call him captain once," Athrun replied seriously, although a smile was tugging at the corner of his mouth at her obvious enjoyment.

Her laughter abruptly died. "No kidding?"

He shook his head. "Kira said 'gang' was for bikers, which we apparently aren't. Yzak was of the opinion that 'group' is too passé — don't ask me. Dearka suggested crew, and it stuck. Don't ask either how we got to talking about that. We just did, and that was that."

Cagalli nearly pouted before she realized what she was about to do and then proceeded to frown instead. "That's anti-climactic."

Athrun grinned at her put-off expression. "I could tell you a story about a boy who has a scar on his forehead and sails the galaxy far, far away to retrieve the key to Davey Jones' locker, but that's really beside the point, and I don't think I have my facts right." He traced her lower lip, and Cagalli felt a shiver run down her spine. "Anyway, Onogoro, so that's my plan for the long weekend. What do you say about making it our plan?"

"I don't know. What will I get out of it?"

Athrun shifted their positions in one liquid motion and grinned quite mischievously, making Cagalli's breath catch in her throat — he was just too painfully good-looking. His hand swept the hair away from her eyes, sliding down her throat where his thumb skimmed over the pulse that jumped when she saw his tongue wet his lower lip. Then he dipped his head so that when he talked, his mouth brushed hers. "What do you think?"

Her mind worked to say something, but when he captured her lips in another devouring kiss that spoke of desires designed for tonight, Cagalli irrevocably became incapable of thinking.

xxxxx

My darling readers, I really wonder what steamy scenes your minds are plying you with right now upon reading "desires designed for tonight." ;p

Citation/s:

"People with insufficient personalities are fond of cats." – Henry Morgan

Reference/s:

Dearka's strawberry obsession is an idea borrowed from SlvrSoleAlchmst1, chapter 9 of Strawberry Deluge: The Never Ending Blaze specifically for strawberry-scented paper. The idea will be disclaimed under "Considerations" in future chapters it will be used.

Cousteau Golf Club is named after one of ZAFT's Vosgulov-class submarines, Cousteau. ()

"…oranges are when life screws you and decides you're not worth the lemons." – Derived from "… have you ever heard the expression, 'When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, and then throw it in the face of the person who gave you the lemons until they give you the oranges you originally asked for?'" – Bill McNeal on NewsRadio, Season 3 Episode 17: Airport

Santi's physical description (mainly tall, pale, pointy-faced, white-blond-haired, and grey-eyed) is based on the description of Draco Malfoy, a character from the Harry Potter series. (Whether the description is strictly canon or not, I'm sorry, I don't quite remember. A mix of fanon and canon perhaps.)