Disclaimer: I don't own Gundam SEED or any of its characters. If I did, it might have ended like this...

Part 5: Saying What Matters

Three days had passed, and the Archangel was almost home. In another twenty-four hours they would dock at Orb, and the crew and passengers would get some much-needed rest.

Well, Cagalli thought to herself, that's the idea, anyway. Kira didn't seem to be resting.

At first, when he had found out that the girl, Fllay, was alive, he'd seemed both relieved and happy. It was as though a missing piece of him had returned with her. Cagalli wasn't sure exactly why her brother was so attached to the redhead, as her own memories of Fllay weren't that pleasant; the girl had broken up rather angrily with someone else to be with Kira, and had seemed a bit possessive of him. Of course, Cagalli had to admit, some of her feelings were due to the fact that, before she had known Kira was her brother, she had thought he was kind of cute and had been a little jealous of Fllay. Not that Kira was ever going to find that out. He'd never stop teasing her.

Regardless of her past opinions, if this girl made Kira happy, Cagalli wasn't going to stand in their way.

But that was just it: Kira didn't seem that happy today. Cagalli had come to the observation deck to look out at the Earth for a while and relax, but when she came in she discovered her brother sitting in a corner, not looking out through the windows but staring at something in his hand. Cagalli took a few steps forward, and realized that Kira was holding a silver ring. He took the tiny object from his palm and held it between his thumb and forefinger, not so much looking at it as looking through it, as though the ring were a magic mirror from which he sought an answer.

"Alright," Cagalli said, breaking the silence. "What's bothering you?" Kira looked up and then indicated the ring.

"Lacus gave me this before the battle," he said. Cagalli nodded slowly. She hadn't actually seen Lacus giving him the ring, so it could mean anything, but the pink-haired singer had been giving off some not-so-subtle hints that she saw Kira as more than just a friend. "She asked me to bring it back to her," he said softly. Cagalli walked over and sat down beside Kira.

"There's more to it than just the ring," she said. It wasn't a question. Kira looked over at her.

"I kissed her," he said. "And now I don't know whether it was a mistake." Cagalli was getting a little frustrated.

"What do you mean you don't know if it was a mistake?" Her tone of voice was a little harsher than she'd meant for it to be, and Cagalli had to remind herself that her brother could get upset easily. "I just mean…well…how do you feel about her?" Kira took a deep breath before speaking.

"She helped me," he said. "After Athrun and I almost killed each other, she took me in and cared for me. I was so confused, about the war, who I should be fighting; about everything, really." Kira paused for a moment, deep in thought. "Lacus helped me put myself back together, and I'll always be grateful to her for that. But Fllay and I…" Kira stopped, still staring at the ring, and then shook his head in confusion. "I've always wanted to be together with Fllay, ever since I met her back at school, although I was always too shy to say anything to her." Cagalli laughed a little.

"Well, you obviously got over that," she said with a smile. Kira smiled a little in return, but it faded and his gaze turned wistful when he started talking again.

"Actually, Fllay helped me too. When we first landed in the desert, I…a lot of people had been killed, and I was in a bad place. Fllay was there for me, and…I don't know. Things happened kind of fast between us." Cagalli didn't say anything, but she had a pretty good idea as to what "things happened kind of fast" meant. If she had only been able to go on what Kira had just told her, Cagalli would probably have said that a crush followed by a one-night stand was not the basis of a real relationship, but the hours her brother spent in the infirmary with Fllay, gently stroking her hair while she slept, indicated that things between them had gone way past that point.

"I think I see your problem," she said, and Kira sighed.

"I'm just tired of hurting people." Cagalli nodded.

"Why don't you talk to Lacus about this?" When Kira gave her a puzzled look, she pointed out the observatory windows. Following his sister's pointing finger, Kira saw the Eternal looming just outside.

Perhaps ten minutes later, a small shuttle from the pink ship entered the Archangel's hangar. The hatch slid open and Lacus Clyne, pink princess of the PLANTs, emerged, her white dress and the way she hovered for a moment in the low-gravity environment lending her an angelic presence. One of Murdoch's men stretched out a hand and helped Lacus down to the floor. She nodded and smiled in thanks, but then she saw Kira entering the hangar, and her baby blue eyes seemed to shine even brighter.

"Kira!" She smiled and ran over to him, wrapping the brunette in a tight embrace. He hugged her in return, but pulled away after a moment.

"Lacus," he said reluctantly. "Can we talk for a moment?" The pink-haired coordinator's expression shifted as she quickly realized something was bothering Kira. She gently took his hand and led him out of the hangar; Lacus had been on the Archangel a few times before, and she knew that Kira liked to go to the observation deck when he was troubled. She held his hand as they walked down the corridors deep within the ship, neither of them saying a word until they reached the room they sought. When they finally arrived, they spent a moment looking out through the windows, admiring the Earth, which now filled most of the view; very few stars remained visible beyond the curve of the planet. It was odd to be in the same room he had just been talking to his sister in, but it was the one place on the ship other than his quarters where he felt like he was away from the war.

"What did you need to talk to me about?" At Lacus' question, Kira finally shifted his gaze away from the windows and turned to face her.

"Well, it's about Fllay," he said. Lacus nodded.

"I heard she was alive. How is she?" Kira smiled a little.

"She's doing well, considering what happened to her." He paused for a moment, thinking before continuing. "I was thinking about when you gave me your ring, and about how I kissed you." Lacus blushed slightly at the memory. It had just been a kiss on the cheek, but nevertheless, it was probably the most overt gesture of affection Kira had ever shown to her. But Lacus remembered that he had said that this was about Fllay, and she could infer what he was trying to say by bringing up the time she gave him her ring.

"Do you love her?" she asked gently. Kira opened his mouth to answer, but shut it again, afraid of saying the wrong thing. Lacus continued with what she had started to say. "If you do love her, then you need to stay with her. If I remember correctly, she doesn't have any family left, and she's going to need someone to be there, to help her get better."

"But, Lacus," Kira wasn't used to talking about things like this. "I do care about you, a lot." Lacus' smile was gentle, yet at the same time it held such sadness.

"But it's not the same as the way you care about Fllay," she said softly. Kira hesitated for a moment, but finally nodded.

"It's just that I don't want to hurt you either," he said, and he wasn't just trying to be nice. Lacus had suffered just as much as Fllay had. She had lost her father, had been hunted like a criminal by ZAFT forces, and had been pushed into battle, the very thing she hated most. The thought of causing her more pain was what had made Kira so reluctant to have this conversation in the first place.

"Kira, it would hurt so much more if you stayed with me just to be polite," she said. "But I love that you care." He managed a smile, and Lacus pressed a tender kiss against his forehead. "Just remember that if you ever need anyone, I'll be here."

"I will," Kira said, and for the first time that day, he smiled warmly.

Kira spent some time with Lacus, Cagalli, Athrun and Captain Ramius, discussing possibilities for post-war relations between the Earth Alliance and ZAFT. Politics, however, was not something Kira was particularly fond of, and he eventually found his way back to the infirmary. The young coordinator's arrival, however, did not go unnoticed.

"The day of reckoning is coming," Roger stated, nodding confidently. "You just wait and see." Kira looked at the Earth Forces pilot for a moment. Ever since finding out that Kira was the one who had disabled his mobile suit, Roger had been promising payback every time he saw him.

"Should I be worried about any of these threats?" The Dagger pilot put on a thoughtful expression for a moment.

"No," he said decisively. "But I plan to complain about this as long as I have the excuse of being bedridden, because as soon as this cast comes off I'll have to actually back up the trash-talking I do, and my success rate with that is kind of mixed."

"Okay," Kira said quickly, turning from Roger and heading into the left wing of the infirmary. Most of the beds were empty now, their inhabitants having recovered enough to return to their quarters, and the remaining patients were asleep, allowing Kira a measure of privacy as he found his way to the now familiar bedside. Fllay was looking up at the ceiling, lost in thought, but she turned her head to look at Kira when he sat down beside her. "Hi, Fllay." She smiled faintly, and then gave Kira a pleasant surprise.

"Hi, Kira," she said. It had been a long while since he'd heard her voice, and the welcome sound made Kira's heart beat faster. After a moment, however, he realized that Fllay wasn't smiling. In fact, she looked very worried.

"What's the matter?" he asked, reaching out and touching her cheek. Fllay had been looking into Kira's eyes, but she turned her gaze away when he touched her, and Kira could see tears beginning to form at the affectionate gesture. She didn't look back at him when she spoke again.

"Kira, when you broke up with me, was it because you didn't care for me?" Kira leaned forward, trying to make eye contact with her again.

"No," he said. "I just thought you were mad at me." He said the last bit in a tone that suggested he thought the notion ridiculous, but Fllay cringed at the statement, and the tears that had been gathering in her eyes began to run down her cheeks.

"I was," she said ever so softly. "I was so angry at you, just like after my dad died."

"But you apologized for what you said then…" Kira began, but Fllay didn't let him finish.

"But I wasn't really sorry," she said, looking at him now and crying openly. "I was still so mad at you; I heard you were best friends with one of the enemy pilots and I thought you let my father die because of that." She squeezed her eyes shut for a few seconds, perhaps trying to regain control of herself, but when she opened them again, it was clear that she was just as upset as ever. "I thought the only way I could forgive you was if you were dead, if you died protecting me." Kira was shocked at how deep Fllay's anger had gone, but at the same time, he felt that he understood it better than she knew.

"I was wrong," she hastened to say, doing her best to speak clearly through her tears. "You didn't need to be forgiven, because you didn't do anything wrong. It just took me a long time to realize that." Fllay was shaking now, her body wracked with shudders as she cried. "I'm sorry," she choked out. "I'm so sorry, Kira." She couldn't speak anymore, so Kira wrapped his arms around her, being careful of her injuries, and held her while she cried.

She's going to need someone to be there, to help her get better. Lacus had been absolutely right, although not in the way Kira had originally thought. He didn't like the memory he was about to bring up, but he felt it was something Fllay needed to hear.

"Did they ever tell you what happened when I went MIA?" At Kira's words, Fllay lifted her tear-streaked face to look at him. She shook her head. "Athrun and I were fighting," he continued. "I had killed one of his friends, and he had killed Tolle. We were both beyond angry at that point." He paused. "As much as I hate to admit it, I wanted to kill Athrun back then, and I think he felt the same way." He refocused on Fllay. "We've all done bad things. What matters is that we recognize our mistakes and try to make things right." Kira reached out and gently brushed away Fllay's tears. "You did that, and whatever you did in the past, I won't hold it against you." Fllay took a few more shaky breaths as she smiled at Kira and rubbed her eyes with her free hand. Then she leaned against him, resting her head on his shoulder. They stayed that way for several minutes before Fllay spoke.

"I love you, Kira," she said against his shoulder, her voice so quiet it was almost a whisper. She moved in his arms, bringing her head up and looking into his eyes. "I really love you." She couldn't speak the question that went with those words, but her eyes asked it for her.

Do you love me back? Can you love me after all that's happened?

Kira looked away from her, and Fllay felt a piece of her heart begin to collapse. For so long now, she had lived in a dark place, and Kira had been the light at the end of the tunnel. But if Kira didn't love her in return, if the light went out…

"I thought about you while you were gone," he said, bringing his eyes to meet hers again. "I felt awful when I lost you at Mendel; I was so upset that when I looked at Lacus I saw you instead. I was so worried that you would get hurt, and when I thought you had died out there, I...well, I felt like I wanted to die too." Kira blushed slightly, and Fllay realized that it must be hard for him to talk openly about things like this. She remembered that he had always been shy at school, hurriedly looking away when she caught him stealing glances at her. She smiled at the memory, and at the realization of what Kira was trying to say.

Just as she had been unable to ask whether he loved her, Kira wasn't ready to speak aloud how he felt. It didn't matter, though, because Fllay could see it in the warmth of his eyes, and when she leaned in and covered his mouth with hers, she could feel it in the way his lips moved against her own. Kira did love her.

In the weeks and months to come, there would be much to do. The Blue Cosmos members infesting the Earth Alliance would have to be tracked down and arrested, wherever they had gone to hide. A new ZAFT chairman would need to step into office, and Orb would need to start rebuilding itself.

But for Kira and Fllay, those things mattered little. Despite personal mistakes, anger and the horrors of war, they were together again, and they would have another chance at happiness.

As Fllay buried her head against Kira's chest, she found that she was crying again. But now, for the first time in a very long time, there was not a trace of sadness in her tears.

The End

Author's Note: This last chapter was the most difficult for me to write, but it was also probably the most rewarding, and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.

Lacus features in this chapter, and it was difficult for me to write her, for fear of presenting her as too perfect. I tried to show that she does feel sadness and that she is human, and I hope I did her justice.

Kira's inability to say that he loves Fllay is not meant to indicate that he doesn't love her. It just seemed to me from watching the shows that he kept things pretty close to the vest in terms of romance. I just figured he's really not used to talking about things like this. On a related note, I hope Kira doesn't come off as emotionally weak in this chapter. I was trying to show that he is genuinely confused and conflicted about his feelings toward Lacus and Fllay.

Finally, thanks go out to all my reviewers. I can honestly say that I wouldn't have been able to finish this story without you.