Mobile Suit Gundam SEED DESTINY

Before we begin the final chapter here, I have a couple things to say…

I want to extend my thanks to the guys and gals at the Mecha Talk forums, for putting up with this thing from more-or-less-beginning to end. Their, ahem, diverse opinions provided the general slap upside the head I occasionally needed and couldn't get elsewhere. And they put up with me throughout most the creative process, so that alone should score them a collective Nobel Prize, if not an all-expense-paid cruise to Aruba.

My thanks also go out to my beta readers, few and far between but invaluable nonetheless, and the people who have stopped to extend their comments to me. Y'all know who you are—you're probably still going through therapy over it—and I appreciate the help. Feedback from other human beings is what made this story what it is.

And last, but quite far from least, I want to thank my friend harotype, or as some of you may know her, SoreDewa, for watching me nurture this idea from the harmless little seedling it was a couple of years ago into the remorseless gargantuan monster it is today. Every step of the way she was there, to serve as editor, confidant, and whatever-you-call-the-person-who-tells-you-you're-being-retarded. Without her, this story wouldn't be half of what it is now. Thanks, harotype—I love ya.

To address what will probably be a concern, yes, there will be a sequel. There will actually be a series of sequels, in a vein similar to the fanfic series that is ending here. However, don't go looking for them to be posted here anytime soon— I'll post them when they're ready, and they will be ready when they are ready. So in that sense, I am very faithful to my deadlines.

With that said, here we go with the last chapter. Enjoy!

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Phase 50 - Shangri La

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January 17th, CE 74 - ZAFT battleship Minerva, near the Moon

Gilbert Dullindal burst onto the Minerva's bridge like a tornado, a hideous scowl on his usually calm face.

"Take me to Solomon's Sword," he ordered, standing tall over the awed bridge crew. "The battle is turning against us. We must seize the opportunity to fire the Sword while it still ours for the taking."

"Chairman— " Talia began.

"Don't argue with me," Gilbert cut her off. "So long as I can rally what is left of our fleet, our cause is not lost. Take me to Solomon's Sword, and we will win this war yet."

Talia stood up, turning to face the Chairman, her eyes flashing.

"Chairman," she said, "why are you doing this?" She pointed vindictively at Solomon's Sword. "Why are you answering one massacre with another?! What kind of understanding world of Newtypes is built on bodies?! We've already lost everything— is that not enough?!"

Gilbert scowled, drew a gun from inside his coat, and wordlessly shot Talia through the heart.

The bridge went silent, staring in shock at their dead captain and man who had killed her. Gilbert calmly put his gun back in his coat.

"Vice Captain Trine," he said testily, "if you will be so kind— "

Arthur whirled around, pulling a pistol of his own from inside his uniform. Gilbert's eyes widened in surprise—

He had no chance to say anything before Arthur shot him in the head.

Arthur abandoned his gun, rushing to Talia side, but there was no pulse— her uniform was stained red, her chest still, her eyes lightless and lifeless. Arthur felt tears well up in his eyes, staring in horror at his dead captain.

"Vice Captain…" Malik began, struggling for words.

Arthur looked up, turning his angry eyes towards Solomon's Sword. "Get someone up here to man my console," he said furiously. "I'm taking command."

"What are we going to do…?" Burt asked.

Arthur pulled himself wearily into Talia's seat, clenching his fists over the armrests.

"We're going to destroy Solomon's Sword."

Burt, Malik, Chen, and Meyrin glanced at each other, and nodded.

The Minerva turned towards Solomon's Sword, and its engines came to life.

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Athrun narrowed his eyes as felt a strange approaching pressure— not as strong as Shinn or Lacus, but familiar. He magnified the image in the direction the pressure was coming from.

Up ahead, armored in its METEOR, the Strike Freedom Gundam came charging forward. Kira's eye flashed venomously— finally he would have his chance to destroy Athrun.

The Strike Freedom abandoned its METEOR, brandishing its beam rifles and storming forward. Athrun pulled back behind his beam shield as the Strike Freedom opened fire— the Infinite Justice ignited its array of beam sabers and charged back, trying to move in close.

"There you are!" Kira snapped, combining his rifles and firing a shimmering blast towards the Infinite Justice. "You have nowhere to hide now, Athrun! I'll finally take you down, and I'll finally set the world right!"

The beams flashed around the Infinite Justice, as Athrun ducked aside, returning fire with his beam rifle. "You're one to talk about peace!" Athrun shouted back, charging forward and igniting his boomerang blade. The blade came crashing down on the Strike Freedom's beam shield. "After you killed your own sister!"

"She was an obstacle to peace!" Kira shot back, the Strike Freedom surging forward and pushing the Infinite Justice back.

"She was an advocate of peace!" Athrun screamed, charging back with the full force of the Infinite Justice's engines and ramming the Strike Freedom in the chest. He threw the white mobile suit back, leveling off his beam rifle for a killing shot, but Kira rocketed aside at the last moment. "She wanted to build the kind of world you wanted! We were fighting for you! You were the one who wanted a world where you wouldn't have to fight!"

The Strike Freedom switched to its beam saber, slamming it down onto the Infinite Justice's boomerang blade with a shower of sparks. "That was what I thought Lacus could show me!" Kira cried. "But look at the way the world ended up! I fought and I suffered and I watched you kill Fllay, and for all that, look where we are now!" His eye flashed furiously. "For all that suffering, just look at me now! I'm not even human anymore! How am I supposed to smile and wait with you, and wait with Lacus, for a new world that will NEVER COME!?"

The Strike Freedom charged again— Athrun scowled, switching to his twin beam saber and deflecting the Strike Freedom's horizontal saber swipe. "Firing Solomon's Sword and killing us all isn't the answer either!" he yelled back, somersaulting over the Strike Freedom's head. Athrun whirled around, leg beam saber flashing to life— the Strike Freedom was there to stop it with a beam saber blow, the blades pressing uselessly against each other. "Does Rau have you that blind?! The answer to people dying IS NOT TO KILL MORE PEOPLE!"

"Then what IS the answer?!" Kira screamed back, kicking the Infinite Justice in the stomach and sending it reeling back. "You don't know the answer, or else we wouldn't even be fighting!" The Strike Freedom took off, saber pulled back for a finishing blow. "But I've found it, and I won't let you get in its way!"

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Orb Raiders dreadnaught Megami

"Is that the Freedom?!" Murrue exclaimed, staring in disbelief at the screen, watching the Infinite Justice and Strike Freedom do battle. "Kira…?!"

Lacus looked on grimly. He was there— she could feel his pressure, pulsing with hatred. But there was still a tiny flicker of the old, kind Kira that she had known and loved before…and that flicker could still be saved.

"Pull back!" Murrue ordered. "Go around them! We don't want to attract his attention!"

"And just leave Athrun to fend for himself?!" Miriallia exclaimed. Murrue looked at her in surprise. "He's still one of us!"

"Athrun is a superb pilot," Lacus put in, forcing her voice to be calm. "He can take care of himself. But this ship will be torn apart if Kira notices us and attacks us."

The Megami rumbled as the engines shifted. Lacus glanced over at Sai, and then returned her attention to the battle. She closed her eyes, feeling Kira's presence again. The flicker was still there.

"Sai," she said quietly, glancing over at him— he looked back in surprise. "It's time."

Sai nodded dourly, standing up.

"Captain," Lacus continued, rising to her feet. "Please call someone to take Sai's place on the bridge for the time being. I have something I must do, and I will need Sai to take the Strike to help me."

"What?!" Murrue exclaimed. "Lacus, wait, where are you— "

Lacus and Sai were already heading out the door.

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Shaking his head violently, Shinn looked up through cloudy, dull eyes at Solomon's Sword. Lunamaria had died to get him this far— he would not let that death be in vain.

A beam rifle shot came streaking towards him— the Destiny flashed aside, afterimages glowing, as Shinn scanned the skies for his attacker. A GuAIZ R came racing down, wielding its beam rifle— Shinn cut it down with a beam rifle shot and stormed forward.

Up ahead, a Laurasia-class frigate rose up in front of him, beam cannons blazing. A squadron of ZAFT mobile suits raged towards him, rifles blazing— Shinn's eyes flashed furiously.

"Stop fighting me!" he shouted, charging back. The mobile suits spread out around him— Shinn ducked around their shots, afterimages swirling around him and distracting the enemy shots. A GINN rushed towards him, sword upraised— Shinn took it down with a palm cannon blow to the chest. "Stop fighting like this!" The mobile suits continued to give chase— Shinn dove up towards the Laurasia, switching to his anti-ship sword. "STOP PROTECTING THIS THING!"

With a scream, Shinn slammed his sword into the Laurasia's bridge. As the crippled vessel spewed sparks, he pounded a beam cannon shot into the ship's exposed innards, ripping it apart. The ship's mobile suit protectors pulled back behind their shields— Shinn took off over the dying ship's fiery hull, switching back towards his beam rifle and pointing it at Solomon's Sword.

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"The Chairman is dead," Rau said with a chuckle, shutting off the screen. He swarmed the Providence Gundam's DRAGOONs around the surface of Solomon's Sword, picking off a battalion of incoming Alliance mobile suits. "You forgot, Gilbert, what happened to the last man who tried to turn us all into Newtypes."

ZAFT's attack on the Daedalus Crater base was already falling apart, but that did not mean that Rau could not have the last laugh. He switched on the ZAFT global frequency, opening a channel to every ZAFT ship and mobile suit still operating on the battlefield.

"This is Commander Rau Le Creuset of the FAITH detachment," he boomed. "Messiah and the Gondwana have both been destroyed, and Chairman Dullindal has been killed! I am taking command of the fleet!" He glanced around the battlefield— the ZAFT forces were falling back on all fronts. "Pull back around Solomon's Sword and defend it to the death, and even at this late and bleak hour, we shall claim victory!"

Rau smiled as the ZAFT fleet slowly began to tighten its formation around Solomon's Sword.

"Even in death," he chuckled, "you leave me a wonderful toy, Gilbert."

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The Moon

Stella stared up angrily at the imposing shape before her. It was another Destroy Gundam, the X4, in attack mode, all of its beam cannons blazing as it rumbled forward, smashing ZAFT and Alliance mobile suits alike.

"We're gonna stop this thing?" Auel asked, glancing over at Stella.

"They're gonna destroy everything at this rate," Sting put in. "Stella— "

Stella's eyes flashed. "We're gonna destroy it!" she shouted, taking off. Sting and Auel smirked, taking off after her.

The Destroy fired its circumference cannons, blowing away dozens of mobile suits at once. The Gaia plowed through one of the beams with its shield, charging up and opening fire with its rifle. The blasts struck the Destroy's positron shield harmlessly— the Destroy's two red eyes flashed menacingly, and the Destroy fired again, focusing its guns on the three attacking Gundams.

"Jesus!" Sting snapped, spiraling aside from the blasts and deploying his weapon pods "How many guns does this damn thing have?!"

"It can't be invincible!" Auel cried. The Abyss lunged up overhead, firing a volley of his own back down at the Destroy's armor. The shots bounced away— the Destroy returned fire with a storm of missiles. "What the— ?!"

The Gaia leapt up in front of the Abyss, firing a wave of CIWS fire into the missiles' ranks and blowing them apart.

"Get close!" Stella shouted. "It can deflect beams!"

"Wha— ?!" Auel began— the Gaia rocketed down towards the Destroy, drawing its saber. "Since when was Stella the strategist?!" exclaimed, glancing at Sting.

"Who cares?!" Sting shot back, charging down after her. The Destroy opened fire, forcing the Abyss aside. "Auel, you distract it from long range! I'll keep it busy with the weapon pods; Stella can get in close and take this fucking thing out!"

The Abyss opened fire again. "Works for me!" Auel exclaimed.

The Gaia spiraled through the Destroy's beam cannon volleys, deflecting shots with its shield. The Destroy fired another barrage of missiles— Stella ducked underneath them and let Sting and Auel shoot them down with their CIWS guns.

"You're not scary!" Stella shouted, somersaulting over another beam cannon volley. "I can beat you!"

With a final beam cannon barrage, the Destroy transformed. The Gaia rocketed back, dodging more beams, as the Destroy changed into a towering giant, glowering down at the diminutive-looking Gaia.

"He can't use those guns on the side anymore!" Sting yelled, charging with his weapon pods. The Destroy's eyes flashed— its arms lifted off with a burst of exhaust, taking off and attacking the Chaos and Abyss. "What the— ?!"

The Destroy opened fire with the beam cannons lining its backpack— Stella leapt up off the lunar surface as the beams seared across the ground, taking off again as the Destroy peppered the sky with green bolts.

"It has remote weapons too?!" Auel shouted, taking cover behind his shoulder shells as the Destroy's right arm showered him with beams. "What can't this damn thing do?!"

Stella rocketed up towards the Destroy, dodging beam fire from its backpack. A wave of red beams came blazing out from its chest— Stella leapt up over them, spiraling through the sky and dodging another blast from its mouth cannon. Another storm of beam shots came at her from the backpack, slamming into her shield and throwing her back.

"You…" she growled, diving through another wave of beams. "I…I won't let you win!"

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As the missiles came down around him, Dearka clenched his teeth, ducking down behind his beam shields to ride out the storm. He had the edge of maneuverability, but this damn Destroy, the X3, soaring over him, could cover every angle he could conceivably attack from.

Eight more beam shots slammed into the Destroy from above, bouncing uselessly off the positron reflector shield. Dearka looked up in surprise— the Calypso and Savior came down next to him with a crash.

"Yzak!" he exclaimed. "What's the red one doing here?!"

"Shiho's on our side now," Yzak explained testily. "What the hell are you doing over here?!"

The Destroy opened fire again, finger cannons blazing, forcing the three Gundams apart. Inside the Savior, Shiho scowled down at the monstrous machine.

"I can distract it!" she exclaimed, transforming the Savior into its mobile armor mode and taking off. The Destroy fired its mouth cannon up at her, tracing her movements in the sky— she spiraled around the blasts, rocketing away and leading the Destroy's shots after her. The Calypso roared in, drawing its beam sabers and bringing them down with a crash— the Destroy slammed Yzak back with its left arm.

"Yzak!" Dearka shouted, leaping down in front of him and pounding the Destroy's positron shield with a beam cannon volley of his own. The Savior transformed back into its mobile suit mode, storming down from above and behind the Destroy, beam saber raised. "Damn this thing!" growled Dearka, pulling back behind his beam shields as the Destroy returned his fire tenfold. "There has to be some way to damage it!"

"Get in close and use a saber!" Shiho exclaimed, charging down towards the Destroy's head. A blaze of beam shots from its backpack forced her aside. "The reflector can't block a saber at melee range!"

"Well, we have to get to melee range!" Yzak snarled, as the Destroy blocked his hyper impulse cannon shots with its positron shield.

"One of us will at some point!" Dearka cried, firing a beam cannon barrage of his own down at the Destroy, and dodging its return fire. "As long as we can kill this thing, that's all that matters!"

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The Infinite Justice shook as the Strike Freedom's saber slammed down onto its beam shield. Athrun scowled, throwing the Strike Freedom's arm aside and stabbing forward with his own saber. Kira deflected Athrun's saber with his own beam shield, charging forward and charging up his Callidus cannon.

"I've had enough of this!" Kira shouted. "Die already!"

Athrun somersaulted over the Strike Freedom's head as Kira fired his Callidus cannon, the red beam blazing down underneath the Infinite Justice's feet. Athrun whirled around, swinging his saber towards the Strike Freedom's back— Kira stopped it with his beam shield, surging forward and throwing the Infinite Justice back. He switched to his beam rifles, raising them towards the Infinite Justice—

Another mobile suit burst into his line of fire.

Kira's eye widened in disbelief as the Strike Gundam floated before him. It had no Striker pack, no shield, not even a beam rifle, but it was still floating defiantly between him and the Infinite Justice. He raised the Strike Freedom's right-hand beam rifle, pointing it at the Strike's cockpit. In the Infinite Justice, Athrun cursed under his breath and ignited the booster to move closer.

The hatch opened, and everything stopped as Lacus Clyne stepped out in a pink ZAFT flight suit.

"Kira!" she shouted. "Kira, why are you doing this?! Why are you trying to destroy the world to ease your own pain?!"

Kira watched her carefully. Over her shoulder, he saw the pilot; he magnified the image through his mechanical eye, and saw Sai Argyle in the cockpit of the Strike.

"This isn't the way your wounds will ever be healed!" Lacus went on. "You've just fallen for an evil person's lies, and he's leading you down a path of misery! Stop this, Kira! This isn't the way to protect the world!" Kira narrowed his eye at her. "Didn't we learn from GENESIS?! We can't make a future world by destruction! Solomon's Sword isn't going to purify the world! You're not protecting anyone like this! Kira!"

"Lacus, get back in the Strike!" Athrun shouted. "Kira's going to—

Kira scowled, his eye flashing, his hands trembling.

"They lied to you," Valentine's echoing voice reminded him.

The Strike Freedom fired.

Lacus stared at the beam shot, unsure of what to think. Behind her, Sai stood up, turned her around, and hugged her.

"I'm sorry, Lacus," he said.

They both vanished in the Strike Freedom's shot; the blast slammed into the Strike's open cockpit, and a moment later, the Strike was gone in the flash of a fireball.

Athrun's eyes widened in disbelief.

"LACUS!"

The seed exploded in his mind's eye, and the Infinite Justice took off with a roar towards the Strike Freedom.

"WHY?!" Athrun demanded, bringing his saber down with a crash. "YOU EVEN HAD TO KILL LACUS! HOW MANY MORE OF US DO YOU HAVE TO KILL?!"

"You'll all just been getting in the way!" Kira growled.

The Infinite Justice rushed forward, slamming its saber down again on the Strike Freedom's. "I WILL KILL YOU, KIRA!" Athrun swore. "I PROMISE YOU, WHETHER IT'S ME OR SHINN, YOU WILL DIE FOR THIS!"

"You can't stop us now!" Kira shot back, the Strike Freedom rocketing away from the Infinite Justice. Athrun charged again, swinging his saber horizontally towards the Strike Freedom— Kira shoved him back with a point-blank railgun blast. "Whether or not I live is meaningless! You can't stop what we've started here!"

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The Moon

Dipping down underneath a shimmering beam cannon blast, the Minerva swung around, taking aim and firing back at the Destroy X5 with its Tristans. The shots slammed against the positron shield— the Destroy's eyes flashed furiously as it slowly turned to follow the winged warship.

"Our weapons can't break through that thing's shield!" Chen reported urgently from the weapons post. Arthur scowled at the towering foe.

"Then try something else! Neidhardt, Isolde, FIRE!"

The Minerva's Isolde boomed, but the shots once again had no effect. The Destroy ignited a massive beam saber on its right forearm, raising the shimmering blade high.

"It's going to chop us in two!" Malik shouted.

"Evade!" Arthur cried. The beam came down with a flash—

The Force Impulse was there to stop the blade with its shield.

"Aoma!" Meyrin exclaimed.

"Minerva, Meyrin," Aoma answered, a thin smile on her lips, "get the Sword Silhouette ready for me."

The Force Impulse charged, shoving the Destroy's beam saber back into the sky, and took off underneath its arm, opening fire with its beam rifle. The shots could not break through the positron shield— Aoma switched to her beam saber, dodging a wave of beam blasts and racing up towards the Destroy's cockpit. The mammoth machine ignited the beam saber on its left hand, bringing it down on the Impulse— Aoma stopped it with her shield, as it sent her reeling back.

"Aoma!" Meyrin exclaimed. "Captain, can't we help her?!"

"Distract that thing so she can get in close!" Arthur shouted. "All missile tubes, FIRE!"

A storm of missiles took off from the Minerva's hull, streaking in around the Destroy and pummeling its positron shield. The Destroy took a step back— Aoma charged back towards it, but the towering mobile suit drove her back with another beam cannon barrage.

"There has to be a way through that thing's defenses!" Arthur growled. "Charge the Tannhäuser! Aoma, we're counting on you to soften that thing up for us!"

Aoma grinned, even as she dodged a storm of beam fire. "Understood!"

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"She was the evangel of peace!" Athrun screamed, storming down towards the Strike Freedom with another saber blow. "She didn't lie to you!"

"LIAR!" Kira screamed, surging back up towards the Infinite Justice. Athrun opened fire with his beam cannons— the Strike Freedom plowed through the shots with its beam shield, ramming the Infinite Justice with its shoulder and throwing back. "I'LL KILL YOU!"

The Strike Freedom raised its rifles— before it could fire, the Infinite Justice took off.

"Kira!" a voice shouted. Kira glared angrily at his display— Rau stared back, calm and serious. "Retreat and help defend Solomon's Sword!"

"But Athrun— " Kira began.

Rau scowled. "That is an order!"

Kira growled angrily, deploying his DRAGOONs. The Infinite Justice came down with a saber swipe— Kira charged back, pushing it against the burning hulk of an Alliance battleship. He swarmed his DRAGOONs around the wreck, spearing it on beam shots and blowing it apart. Athrun grunted in frustration as the world shook around him.

Kira's eyes flashed, as he recalled his DRAGOONs and took off.

As the fireball faded, Athrun glared up at the retreating Strike Freedom. He glanced down towards the Moon— down below, a hulking Destroy was firing at a flashing golden mobile suit.

Athrun ground his teeth. Shinn would have to take care of Kira.

He took off towards the Destroy.

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The Moon

The remote turrets flashed over the lunar surface, spewing beams, but nothing could pierce the unstoppable Destroy X2's beam-deflecting hide. Mwu's eyes flashed furiously as the Akatsuki spiraled away from a barrage of missiles, letting the golden armor deflect the brunt of the Destroy's beam cannon volleys. The Akatsuki could deflect direct beam shots, but Mwu wasn't interested in seeing how much longer this ability would work.

The Destroy fired another barrage of missiles— Mwu scowled, pulling back with a burst of CIWS fire. The pilot had figured out his weakness already.

Three missiles escaped the inferno, streaking down towards the Akatsuki. Mwu's eyes widened in surprise—

A moment later, a beam shot down between the middle missile, blowing it apart and taking out the two flanking projectiles as well. The Infinite Justice dropped in before the Akatsuki, firing up at the Destroy.

"Athrun!" Mwu exclaimed, swarming his remote turrets to protect the Infinite Justice as the Destroy returned fire.

"Beams don't work on this thing?!" Athrun growled, as the beams slammed against the Akatsuki's defense screen. Mwu lunged up over the Infinite Justice, firing back with his beam rifle and turrets, but the Destroy shrugged off his barrage like nothing, blasting back with another beam cannon wave.

"How many guns can this thing fire!?" Mwu snapped, ducking aside and letting the errant shots dissipate against the Akatsuki's shining armor. "I thought you were fighting Kira!"

As Athrun spiraled through the beam barrages, returning fire with his rifle, struggling to get closer, his eyes darkened. "Kira retreated," he said grimly.

Mwu nodded, blocking another beam barrage with his shield. "We don't have time for this shit," he said. "I'll distract this damn thing, you get in close!"

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The Destiny rocketed towards the imposing shape of Solomon's Sword; inside, Shinn scowled at the dark form of the sinister superweapon. That thing could no longer exist. He had felt Lacus die— he had felt Athrun surge with fury. Now he had to end this war, before anyone else could die.

In front of Solomon's Sword, Rau Le Creuset looked up at a familiar sensation. Up ahead, he could see the familiar translucent beam wings of the Destiny Gundam.

"Kira," he said, as the Providence glanced at the Strike Freedom. Kira nodded; both machines launched their DRAGOONs with a flash and opened fire.

Shinn's eyes widened as a white bolt split the air before him, and the Destiny slalomed through a wave of beam fire with a blur of afterimages. The Providence squeezed off a handful of beam shots, as the Strike Freedom combined its rifles and fired. The Destiny dodged again and stormed forward; another blaze of DRAGOONs stopped it.

"Fighting us again, are you?" Rau asked with a chuckle as the Destiny swerved and dodged. "There's always someone to try to stop the inevitable!"

The Strike Freedom fired a full burst; Kira scowled at the twisting and turning Destiny. "Get out of our way!" he snapped.

The DRAGOONs flashed in again, and Shinn dove around them, watching the Providence and Strike Freedom carefully. The Strike Freedom opened fire with another full burst, as the DRAGOONs swarmed around the Destiny.

"What good can you do here?!" Rau cackled. "If you stop them here, they'll just come back!" The Providence fired its beam cannons, spearing the Destiny's beam rifle and knocking its shield off its arm. Shinn grunted in frustration, abandoning his beam rifle as it was torn apart by more DRAGOON fire.

The Strike Freedom swept in with another full burst. Shinn backpedaled against the attack and swerved to avoid a flashing net of beam fire. He grunted as beam blasts landed against the Destiny's beam shields.

Across the battlefield, on the Megami, Murrue looked over in surprise at Miriallia.

"Shinn is attacking the Sword?!" she echoed in disbelief. "Can you contact him?"

"There's too much interference!" Milly exclaimed.

Inside the Infinite Justice, Athrun looked on in disbelief at the wave of beam cannon blasts surrounding a cloud of the Destiny's afterimages.

The Providence lined up for a killing beam volley.

"Humanity will be punished!" Rau cried. "There will finally be meaning to our suffering! They brought themselves to this point— do not stand in the way of their own destruction!"

The Strike Freedom unleashed a full burst, as the Providence's DRAGOONs swarmed around the Destiny.

"Why do you keep fighting us?!" Kira exclaimed. "We will change the world and end your suffering!" His mismatched eyes flashed. "We'll give meaning to your suffering!"

The Destiny flashed to life— a blaze of beam wings wiped out four of the Providence's DRAGOONs, and Rau and Kira drew back in surprise.

"The world does not belong to you!" Shinn screamed. The Destiny darted forward, crushing two more DRAGOONs with its palm cannons. "Human beings are not your toys!" The Destiny charged, obliterating three more DRAGOONs with its beam wings, and lunged up into the Strike Freedom's face, destroying both its beam rifles with a savage twin palm cannon blow and knocking it back with a devastating kick to the chest. "You have no right to decide my fate for me!" Shinn cried, as the Destiny rocketed towards the Providence, slicing the last two DRAGOONs out of the sky with its anti-ship sword. Rau opened fire with the Providence's remaining weapons; the Destiny dove out of the way and roared toward him.

Shinn's eyes flashed.

"I WON'T LET YOU!"

The Destiny charged; Rau's eyes widened in disbelief, and the Providence lurched to the side—

With a shriek of twisting metal, the Destiny's anti-ship sword plunged into the Providence's chest.

Rau leapt out of the sparking cockpit, donning a jetpack, and took off as the Destiny yanked its sword out of the Providence's chest and slashed the mobile suit in half at the waist. The Providence exploded violently— Rau went tumbling down towards Solomon's Sword.

"Kira!" he shouted, as the Strike Freedom moved to protect him. "Defend the Sword! I will restart the charging sequence!"

The Strike Freedom put itself between the Destiny and Solomon's Sword. Kira glowered back at the Destiny.

"You…" he snarled. "Shinn…Asuka…"

Drawing a beam saber and activating its wings, the Strike Freedom charged. Shinn charged back with a scream, bringing his anti-ship sword down with a crash, and the two mobile suits slammed together, sparks ripping the sky around them.

On the surface of Solomon's Sword, Rau glanced back at the dueling Gundams, and with a smile, ducked inside an access hatch.

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The Moon

The beams seared the lunar surface, driving the Calypso back as missiles slammed into it, throwing it back further.

"Dammit!" he snarled. "What the hell can we do to this fucking thing?!"

"We have to get in close!" Shiho insisted, as the Savior spiraled by overhead, dodging a storm of beams. "We can puncture that thing with a beam saber!"

"Well, we have to get there!" Dearka snapped, firing off a flurry of missiles. They streaked up towards the Destroy X3, but could only raise a cloud of smoke as they slammed into the positron shield.

"How powerful is that shield?!" Yzak cried, lunging up to hurl both of his beam boomerangs at the Destroy. They streaked down towards the hulking machine, slashing over its armor— a beam cannon blast took them both out, and Yzak scowled as he noted only superficial damage to the monster's left arm and right leg.

"Not even the boomerangs could do any damage!" Shiho exclaimed. "Cover me, I'll go in with the saber!"

The Judicator opened fire with another barrage, adding its last railgun shells to the volley and taking off before the Destroy could return fire again. "Like hell you will!" Dearka snapped. "That thing will tear you apart if you get close!"

The Savior dove backwards as beams blocked the way. "Well someone has to!" Shiho shot back.

"I will!" Yzak shouted, drawing both of his beam sabers and roaring up towards the Destroy. "This fucking thing can't be invincible!"

A wave of beams came streaking down towards the Calypso— Yzak artfully dodged them, deflecting the rest with his beam shields and charging with a scream. The missiles came in next, slamming into the Calypso and forcing it back— Yzak squeezed his eyes shut as the explosions flashed around him. The Destroy ignited its left-hand beam saber and swung towards the stunned Calypso—

"Yzak!"

Yzak's eyes widened in disbelief as the Calypso shuddered violently, flying backward. He looked down, shocked—

…just in time to watch the Destroy's saber slice through the Judicator.

"DEARKA!" screamed Yzak. Inside the dying Judicator, Dearka smirked back.

"Tell Milly I'm sorry," he said, his voice broken by static, "but duty called!"

The Judicator exploded.

Yzak's eyes flashed in horror, watching his best friend die. He saw a seed burst before him— he turned his burning eyes up towards the hulking, triumphant Destroy.

"You BASTARD!"

The Calypso roared up towards the Destroy, brandishing its sabers— the Destroy fired back with its mouth cannon, forcing the Calypso back on the defensive. Yzak's eyes flickered furiously as the Calypso spiraled back under a hail of beam cannon shots.

"Yzak!" Shiho exclaimed, dropping in next to him and pounding a plasma cannon volley back at the unstoppable Destroy. "We have to try getting around it!"

Yzak scowled in rage, charging back up towards the Destroy.

"I WILL NEVER FORGIVE YOU!"

——————————————————————————————————————————

The Force Impulse shuddered as the beams slammed into its shield, driving it back. Aoma raised her beam rifle to fire back, but another beam shot pierced it— cursing under her breath, she hurled it up towards the Destroy X5, pulling back as her rifle exploded. The Destroy raised its right arm, activating its saber, and brought it down on the Impulse's shield with a crash.

"Dammit," she growled, "I can't take this thing on with just a beam saber!"

The Destroy opened fire— Aoma went sailing back behind her shield.

"Minerva," she shouted, "Sword Silhouette!"

On the Minerva, Meyrin glanced at Arthur— he nodded dourly. "Roger," she answered, "launching the Silhouette!"

"Fire every missile we've got!" cried Arthur. "Cover her while she swaps parts!"

The Minerva rumbled, as a hurricane of missiles came shrieking out of its hull, slamming into the Destroy with ruthless precision. Aoma abandoned the Force Silhouette, spiraling up with the bare Impulse and docking with the Sword Silhouette. The Phase Shift flashed back to life, a brilliant red— Aoma grinned as the Force Impulse became the Sword Impulse.

Drawing her anti-ship swords with a flash, she took off again. "This is more like it!" she exclaimed, combining her anti-ship swords. "Come on, you overgrown bastard, let's see you take me now!"

The Destroy swung its saber again— Aoma knocked it aside, putting all her force behind her dual sword and charging up towards the behemoth. It fired back with its mouth cannon— Aoma somersaulted over its shot and hurled both of her beam boomerangs at the monster, tearing into its left shoulder and its right arm. The monster fired back— Aoma ducked between its shots, and charged, blocking its saber blow with her swords.

"Hurry!" Arthur urged. "We don't have time for this thing!"

"I'm trying!" Aoma shot back. The Sword Impulse charged again, twirling its swords over its head, and stormed in to slam them against the Destroy's left-hand saber. "Dammit…this thing won't beat me here!"

——————————————————————————————————————————

"You…you are always in our way!" Kira shouted. The Strike Freedom surged, throwing the Destiny back. Kira fired a Callidus shot forward at the Destiny; Shinn narrowed his eyes, batting it aside with his beam shield. "I won't let you stand in our way any longer!" Kira cried, charging down towards the Destiny. "This world has to change! We can't let it go back to its old cycle of war and killing!" The two Gundams slammed together again, circling each other and darting apart from their momentum. "It's been like this for thousands of years! But no more! This is the war that will end that cycle forever!"

"Damn you...!" Shinn growled, ducking underneath a furious saber swipe. The Strike Freedom roared forward, saber upraised.

"That is the past that we always forget!" Kira screamed. "That is the past that I will show the world!" The Gundams crashed together again; Shinn ground his teeth, pressing his anti-ship sword up to block the Strike Freedom's saber. "I won't let it all happen again!" Kira shouted. "I won't let them die again! I WON'T LET FLLAY DIE AGAIN!"

The two machines jolted apart, and the Strike Freedom pointed its saber combatively at the Destiny. Shinn stared wide-eyed at his gleaming opponent.

"I protected her!" Kira shouted. "I fought for her! I loved her! But Athrun took her away from me! She died, on the battlefield; he shot her down! She died for nothing, but I won't let it be that way! I won't let her death be in vain!" The Strike Freedom charged. "I WON'T LET HER DIE AGAIN!"

The Strike Freedom lunged down towards the Destiny; Shinn snarled and took off, dodging three vicious saber swipes and swinging back horizontally with his sword. Screaming, Kira slammed his saber down against the sword's blade, stopping the blow and leaving the Gundams locked together.

"That is why I fight!" Kira screamed. "And that is why YOU WILL NOT STOP US!" The Strike Freedom roared forward, shoving the Destiny back; Shinn grunted angrily as the Destiny went hurtling away. "I will not let you stand in the way of a better world!"

"A better world?!" Shinn echoed.

The Strike Freedom fired its Callidus and railguns; Shinn skirted aside, firing back with his long cannon, but the Strike Freedom effortlessly danced around his shot and stormed back down towards him.

"This is the final war that will remake the world!" Kira shouted. The Gundams slammed together again; Kira forced them apart with a burst of thruster exhaust, and, eyes flashing, launched his DRAGOONs in a blaze of sapphire light. "Everyone will open their eyes! Everyone will see the blood they've spilled! Everyone will see the hatred in their hearts! And they will learn!"

The Strike Freedom charged again, brandishing its saber, as the DRAGOONs swarmed around the Destiny, firing a wave of blazing beam shots around it.

"I will show the world our pain!" he cried. "I will make them see our tears! And the world WILL CHANGE!"

"You fool!" Shinn shouted. "You can't break the cycle by killing everyone! You're just repeating it!"

The Strike Freedom roared down into the Destiny's face; the sword and beam saber clashed in a shower of sparks, the Gundams' eyes flashing.

"You don't know anything!" Kira screamed.

"Of course I don't know!" Shinn shot back. "I'm only a human! And you're no different!"

"What?!" Kira exclaimed, his eye widening— with a crash, Shinn delivered a punishing kick to the Strike Freedom's chest, sending it reeling back. He raised his anti-ship sword, taking off after the careening Strike Freedom; Kira shook his head violently and took off over the Destiny's head, Shinn in hot pursuit, dodging DRAGOON fire.

"You think you're the only one who suffered?!" Shinn screamed. "What about all the people you've killed?!" The Destiny lunged up above the Strike Freedom and came down with a relentless sword stroke; the Strike Freedom swung its saber horizontally to block it. "Mayu! Kika! Lacus! You killed them all! Don't tell me that you're going to make the world understand your pain to bring us peace! You've been shoving it back on everyone else!" The Destiny swung its sword downward, sending the Strike Freedom careening back; Shinn gave chase with a scream. "You're not going to save the world! You're going to make everyone suffer with you! You goddamned MONSTER!"

——————————————————————————————————————————

Athrun grimaced as the Infinite Justice spiraled out of harm's way, a typhoon of missiles slamming into the lunar surface behind him. He whirled around to return fire, but another wave of beams forced him back again.

"This thing doesn't stop!" he breathed, taking cover behind his beam shield. "There has to be an angle we can attack it from!"

The Akatsuki's remote turrets flashed around the battlefield, pounding the Destroy X2's positron shield with beam shots. "Any angle we fire from will still have that shield in the way!" Mwu answered, diving up to avoid another wave of beams. "We have to get in close with beam sabers!"

Athrun paused to open fire, but his shots landed ineffectually against the Destroy's positron shield. He scowled as the Destroy turned its guns back on him, taking off as the shots followed him through the sky. "Then I'll cover you! You can get through with the Akatsuki's coating!"

"Sounds good to me!" Mwu shouted, switching to the Akatsuki's dual saber and charging through the face of a murderous beam bombardment. The Infinite Justice swept in behind it, spewing beam fire back at the Destroy and drawing its fire.

A wave of missiles came streaking up towards the Akatsuki— Mwu's eyes widened, and he threw up his shield, but too late— the missiles slammed into the Akatsuki's golden armor, blowing off the Shiranui pack, the right leg, and the left arm, punching a hole in the cockpit. Mwu ground his teeth as he was sprayed with shrapnel, the Akatsuki slamming down into the Destroy's outstretched left arm. Mwu looked up, finding another missile streaking towards the open cockpit.

"Too late!" he roared— the Akatsuki plunged its saber down into the Destroy's arm.

The missile slammed into the Akatsuki's cockpit as the Destroy's arm exploded, and a moment later, the golden mobile suit vanished in a blazing fireball.

Athrun's eyes widened in horror. "MWU!"

The Destroy staggered back, glowering down at the smoldering stump that had once been its left arm. Athrun's eyes flashed, his blood boiling. If he had been the one to close in instead of Mwu—

The Destroy opened fire with its remaining guns, forcing Athrun back on the defensive.

"You goddamned monster," Athrun growled. "I'LL KILL YOU!"

——————————————————————————————————————————

With acrobatic elegance, the Gaia dodged a chest cannon barrage from the hulking Destroy X4. Stella glowered up at her towering foe, ducking aside from another beam blaze and charging down close. The Destroy ignited its right hand saber— Stella gracefully somersaulted over the blade and stabbed her own saber down into the Destroy's arm, just behind its wrist. The Destroy lurched back as its arm exploded.

"Stella!" Auel shouted. "Get out of the way!"

The Gaia backflipped up over the Abyss's head as Auel fired off another punishing shell cannon volley, smashing the mouth cannon on the stunned Destroy's head. It glowered back with its one remaining eye, returning fire— the Abyss ducked aside behind its shoulder shells, as missiles from the Chaos's weapon pods came streaking down to crater the Destroy's armor, and beam shots slammed against the positron reflector.

"This thing isn't invincible!" Sting shouted. "Stella, go!"

The Gaia took off again, charging towards the Destroy as it staggered back. The backpack came to life with a withering beam barrage— Stella vaulted over it and slashed both of the Destroy's long backpack cannons in two, blowing them apart and forcing the Destroy to stumble forward under the force of the blast.

"Now take THIS!" Auel screamed— the Abyss streaked in, smashing its beam lance into the Destroy's chest cannons and crushing all three of them. The Destroy swiped down at the Abyss with its left-hand saber— Auel ducked aside from the blow and crushed the Destroy's chest cannons with another shell cannon blow.

"We can beat this thing!" Sting cried— the Chaos lunged up in front of the Destroy, ripping its cockpit open with a beam claw-assisted kick. The Destroy opened fire again before he could follow it up, forcing him back on the defensive. "I got the cockpit open! Someone just needs to get one more shot in!"

Stella scowled, arcing around the Destroy, and glared up as its one burning eye stared back.

——————————————————————————————————————————

The Moon

Lurching through the Destroy X5's desperate firepower, Aoma's eyes flashed as she brought her sword to bear. The Destroy slammed back with both of its beam sabers, shattering one end of the Sword Impulse's dual anti-ship sword. Aoma pulled back, brandishing the remaining sword, and slashed off the Destroy's left arm between the elbow and wrist, blasting the entire arm apart with a thunderous explosion.

"I've got it weakened!" Aoma shouted, drawing back and charging again, sword extended. "Let me just aim for the cockpit!"

The Destroy hacked its way out of the smoke, opening fire with its remaining beam cannons. Aoma's eyes widened— the cannons tore her mobile suit apart, ripping the Chest Flyer to pieces, sending the Silhouette spiraling away, tearing the Leg Flyer apart. The shredded remains of the Impulse exploded behind her— Aoma's eyes flashed as she extended the Impulse's remaining arm, pointing the sword forward.

"I'm not done yet!" she shouted.

The Sword Impulse slammed its sword into the Destroy's cockpit. Aoma ejected the Core Splendor a split second before the Impulse's remains met a fiery end on the Destroy's armor, and took off towards the Minerva.

"We can't hesitate!" Arthur cried. "Tannhäuser, FIRE!"

The Minerva's main cannon fired— a shimmering red beam tore forward towards the crippled Destroy, slamming into it head-on and drilling through its armored hide. With a deafening blast, the Destroy exploded, and finally died.

The Minerva turned towards Solomon's Sword.

——————————————————————————————————————————

The Destroy X4 quaked as the Chaos's weapon pods blazed around it, slamming it with beam cannon shots and a storm of missiles. Down below, the Abyss squeezed off another shell cannon burst, pounding the shots in around the Destroy's damaged cockpit.

"Dammit!" Auel snapped, taking off to avoid another beam cannon blaze. "Hold still!"

The Gaia rocketed forward, brandishing its saber, ducking through a tangle of beam cannon blasts.

"Stella!" Sting shouted, leveling off his beam rifle and firing. "We'll cover you!"

The Abyss fired down another beam cannon barrage, pounding into the Destroy's remaining arm— the Chaos lunged up and slammed both of its beam claws through the arm, wiping it out in a thunderous blaze. The Destroy staggered back, exposing its open cockpit— Stella charged in with a scream— the Destroy angled its beam cannons towards her—

With a shriek of twisting metal, Stella plunged her saber into the Destroy's cockpit and ripped its armor open. She kicked off the sparking machine's surface— Auel and Sting lined up and opened fire, blasting a wave of beams into the Destroy's wound.

A moment later, the Destroy vanished in a towering fireball.

"Suck on that!" Auel said triumphantly. Sting glanced over at Stella, and followed her gaze towards Solomon's Sword.

"We still have to take care of that," he said ominously.

Auel grinned. "Then let's go!"

The three Gundams took off with a flash.

——————————————————————————————————————————

Outside, the DRAGOONs flashed around the Destiny again; Shinn slipped by them with a trail of blinding afterimages, rocketing up towards the Strike Freedom.

"You…" Kira began, his hands trembling. "Only you!"

The Strike Freedom fired its Callidus down at the Destiny; Shinn skirted aside, but a moment later, the DRAGOONs were upon him again, firing around him and forcing him back. He growled angrily, retracting his sword and returning it to its backpack rack, to activate his palm cannons and charge back up at the Strike Freedom.

Inside the Strike Freedom, Kira narrowed his eye at the charging Destiny, as its palms flashed with white light.

"I WILL NOT LET YOU MAKE FLLAY DIE AGAIN!"

The Strike Freedom sent the Destiny reeling back with a scything kick to the face, and followed up with a jarring second blow to the stomach. The Destiny went careening back; Kira drew back his saber and charged for the finishing blow.

——————————————————————————————————————————

Orb Raiders dreadnaught Megami

"Keep pressing forward!" Murrue cried. "Get as close as you can and hit this thing at point-blank range!"

The Megami tore forward, guns blazing, even as its Murasame contingent dwindled and mobile suits and warships pounded its laminated hull with beams and missiles. Murrue narrowed her eyes as Solomon's Sword approached. Lacus had died to get them here— there could be no failure.

"The Destiny is still engaging the Freedom!" Miriallia reported.

"Can we communicate?!" Murrue asked.

"No ma'am! There's too much interference!"

Murrue's eyes darkened. "We have to keep going!" she shouted. "For the sake of everyone who has died here already, we cannot give up until that thing is scrap metal!"

The crew nodded enthusiastically.

"Yes ma'am!"

——————————————————————————————————————————

Inside the Destiny, Shinn felt the world fade away. The Strike Freedom before him, a dark apparition with blazing blue wings, slowly vanished. He saw the shape closing the distance between them, driving its saber into the Destiny's cockpit, killing him…and he could not move.

His senses flashed to life; he felt a presence behind him; no, two— he looked down, feeling hands over his own.

"You won't have to face him alone," someone said. "You'll never have to fight alone."

"We'll give you our strength," added another, "so that you can be with Stella again."

Shinn's eyes widened in disbelief.

"Kika…Mayu…!" he exclaimed, looking down, finding their hands over his, gently pressing them over the Destiny's controls. He felt strength surge through him. "I…"

White Newtype energy ripped the air around him. Shinn's eyes darkened with a flash as he looked up at the charging Strike Freedom.

"I can see!"

The Destiny fired its booster, balling its right fist and charging with a furious scream from Shinn; Kira's eye widened in disbelief, and a moment later, the Strike Freedom was sent reeling back from a powerful punch to the face. The Destiny backed away, its beam wings shimmering brightly, its eyes blazing menacingly.

"I can see him…" Shinn murmured. "And…and I'll kill him!"

The Destiny drew its anti-ship sword with a flash and charged towards the Strike Freedom, bringing it down with a crash. Kira grunted angrily, backing away and swarming the DRAGOONs around the Destiny; Shinn skirted their shots effortlessly, charging back up and stabbing forward with his sword.

"Rey was right about you!" Shinn screamed. "Your existence cannot be forgiven!"
"Neither can yours!" Kira shouted back. Shinn scowled as the Strike Freedom tried to fence him in with another DRAGOON volley; Kira fired another Callidus shot, but Shinn spiraled over it and came storming up into the Strike Freedom's face again. "You have such power, you can understand anyone, you can protect anyone, but you don't use them for the greater good!" The Strike Freedom fired back with its DRAGOONs, forcing the Destiny back behind its beam shields. "You don't deserve to have those powers!" The DRAGOONs fired; the beams blazed towards the Destiny; Shinn's eyes flashed furiously—

The Destiny leapt through the blazing web of beam shots and brought its sword down onto the Strike Freedom's saber with a harrowing crash. Kira's eye widened in disbelief.

"You don't have the right to tell me that!" Shinn shrieked, surging forward and throwing Kira back. The Strike Freedom fired back with a Callidus shot, mustering its DRAGOONs around the Destiny— Shinn easily dodged the blast and stormed ahead of the DRAGOONs, swinging horizontally at the Strike Freedom's waist, and Kira barely caught the blow with his saber. "You don't have the right to decide life and death!" The Destiny kicked the Strike Freedom in the face; again Kira managed to recover just in time to block a second sword stroke. "YOU DON'T EVEN UNDERSTAND WHAT THEY ARE!"

"You're wrong!" Kira shouted. The Strike Freedom tried to swing back with its saber; Shinn blocked Kira's blow with his beam shield and surged forward, as the DRAGOONs opened fire again.

"I'll show you 'wrong!'" Shinn snarled. "I'll show you YOURSELF!"

The Destiny sent the Strike Freedom reeling backward with another kick to the stomach, and charged after it. Kira grunted, firing a Callidus shot up towards the Destiny— screaming, Shinn smacked it aside with his beam shield and plowed forward, bringing his sword back down violently onto the Strike Freedom's saber.

"You'll repeat the same mistakes again!" Kira cried. "Open your eyes!"

"I won't let them see the same world you want to create!" Shinn screamed back.

The Destiny vaulted up over the Strike Freedom, its sword crashing down again. Kira jetted backward, swarming the DRAGOONs around the Destiny— Shinn effortlessly dodged their shots, sending the blasts streaking harmlessly through shimmering afterimages. The Destiny roared back up into the Strike Freedom's face with another sword blow.

"This kind of fighting…!" Kira growled. "Why?!"

Shinn's eyes flashed. "The future does not belong to you!"

——————————————————————————————————————————

The Moon

The Savior landed with a crash, pausing to squeeze off another plasma cannon burst at the towering Destroy X3, and then leap back up to dodge a follow-up salvo. Nearby, in the Calypso, Yzak glanced urgently over his shoulder. There was another Destroy— another Destroy— fighting with the Infinite Justice.

"If we can turn these things against each other," Yzak grunted, "we might be able to hit them while they're distracted!"

"Just lure this one closer to the other one!" Shiho said. "I'll cover you!" The Savior lunged up in front of the Calypso, firing off its plasma cannons and pounding shots against the Destroy's positron shield.

Yzak squeezed off a hyper impulse cannon blast, landing it on the Destroy's shoulder. A swarm of missiles came slamming down into him, forcing him back behind his beam shields. He looked up in surprise— a red blast came storming towards him—

And then the Savior was there, speared through the chest by the Destroy's mouth cannon shot.

"This is the best I could do, Yzak," he heard Shiho's voice say. "Take care of this thing for me!"

The Savior vanished in a ball of fire.

"SHIHO!" Yzak screamed, as the blast threw him back. Up above, the Destroy stomped after him, beam cannons blazing. Yzak took off over the lunar surface, lunging up and latching onto the Destroy X2's backpack. He whirled around to face the X3— a storm of beam blasts came streaking towards him.

Yzak's eyes flashed.

"I'LL SEE YOU IN HELL YOU BASTARD!"

The blasts ripped through the Calypso, tearing through the Destroy from behind. Yzak felt everything melt away, and as the world dimmed, he closed his eyes.

"Zala," he murmured, "I'll leave everything to you…"

——————————————————————————————————————————

The Destroy X2 erupted into a blaze of fire as beam shots pierced its armor. Athrun stared in disbelief, taking cover behind his beam shield, as the X2 was blown apart. He stared through the smoke, as a voice echoed through his head.

"Zala…I'll leave everything to you…"

Athrun realized in horror that Yzak was dead.

Up ahead, the Destroy X3 loomed in surprise, staring at the wreckage of its comrade. Athrun's eyes flashed.

"You MONSTERS!" he screamed, rocketing forward. The Destroy paused for a moment before opening fire— Athrun slipped easily through the barrage, instinct and fury guiding him. "You've taken EVERYTHING!" The Destroy's fire grew more desperate. "I WON'T LET YOU KILL ANYONE ELSE!"

Athrun raised his beam carry shield, firing the Grapple Stinger forward. It bit down into the Destroy's cockpit hatch— Athrun roared forward, retracting the line and streaking in, igniting his beam boomerang blade. The Destroy angled its guns to fire—

With a scream, Athrun drove the boomerang blade into the Destroy's cockpit; still screaming, he slashed the cockpit open, forced the sides of the wound apart with the Infinite Justice's legs, and pumped beam rifle shots into the open cockpit. The Destroy's wound sparked ominously— Athrun pulled back behind his beam shield.

At last, the Destroy collapsed to its knees and exploded.

Athrun watched it die, tears in his eyes.

——————————————————————————————————————————

Solomon's Sword

Smiling, Rau threw the final switch, watching gleefully as the charge indicator finally reached 100 percent. Solomon's Sword was finally ready— all that remained was to aim. Everything would be ended— everything would be punished. His suffering would finally end.

He drifted over to the main control panel, setting to work.

——————————————————————————————————————————

The two Gundams met with a crash, sparks flying, as the Strike Freedom and Destiny clashed. The Strike Freedom's DRAGOONs flashed around the Destiny, firing through blazing afterimages as the Destiny brought its sword down onto the Strike Freedom's saber.

"It doesn't matter what you do!" Kira exclaimed. "We'll change the world! You can't stop us!"

"Like hell you will!" Shinn shot back, charging. "You have no right to decide my life!"

The Destiny squeezed off a long cannon shot— the Strike Freedom somersaulted over it, returning fire with its Callidus. Shinn ducked aside and charged up towards Kira, brandishing his sword— Kira brought his saber down, Shinn blocking it with his sword's blade.

"I will not let you tell me that I have to suffer again!" Kira screamed. The Strike Freedom threw the Destiny back with a forceful saber swing, swarming its DRAGOONs around the floundering Destiny. Shinn scowled, drawing back behind his beam shield and letting his afterimages draw the DRAGOONs' fire. "I will not let you tell me that a world full of war is the only way we can have it!" The Strike Freedom swung its saber again— Shinn blocked it with his beam shield. "I WILL NOT LET YOU TELL ME THAT I CAN'T USE MY POWER!"

"YOU'RE JUST USING IT TO KILL!" Shinn screamed back— the Destiny surged, putting its force behind its sword and throwing the Strike Freedom back. Kira growled, moving his DRAGOONs in— Shinn rocketed up towards the Strike Freedom, kicking it in the face and sending it back. "Whoever you are…" The Strike Freedom swung up with its saber, blocking the Destiny's follow-up sword blow. "Whatever you're trying to do…" The Destiny kicked the Strike Freedom in the stomach, throwing it back again. Shinn's eyes flashed. "

"I WILL NOT LET YOU HURT STELLA!"

A wave of beam blasts lashed through space between the two Gundams, sending them reeling away from each other. Kira blinked in surprise as they slammed against Solomon's Sword, ripping pieces of it apart. He turned in horror, finding himself facing down a Destroy Gundam as it inexorably advanced towards Solomon's Sword.

"No!" he screamed, turning to face the Destroy.

"Kira!" Valentine's voice shouted. Kira glanced in surprise at Messiah, spewing smoke, and realized in agony that it was retreating. "Get back to Messiah! We're pulling out!"

"What?!" Kira screamed. "But the Sword— "

"It's too late to save the Sword!" Valentine shouted. "Retreat, and live to fight another day— and I promise you, we will not fail again!"

Kira looked back at the Sword in fury. Once again, Fllay's death would be meaningless.

Bitterly, he recalled his DRAGOONs and took off.

On the Megami, Murrue watched in disbelief as the world turned white and everything disappeared. The ship began to shake— the ship began to break apart.

As it did, she closed her eyes.

Inside the Destiny Gundam, Shinn desperately deployed his beam shields as Solomon's Sword began to explode. Chaos, pain, and death surrounded him, crushing him, as the world disappeared in a terrible white light.

He screamed, and everything was gone.

——————————————————————————————————————————

Everything was dark again, but this time, Shinn could feel nothing around him. There was a great black void where there had once been teeming life.

"What are you still doing here, Shinn…?"

Shinn looked up painfully, as Kika's voice echoed around him.

"…am I…dead?" he murmured.

He looked around, hearing Kika giggle at him, but saw nothing.

"That depends," she answered. "Do you want to be?"

Shinn blinked for a moment. "…no," he said.

"Then you aren't dead," Kika said— Shinn imagined her smile. "Stella is coming. You two will be together again."

Shinn looked around for Kika again. "I'm sorry…" he said, closing his eyes. "I couldn't protect you…or…anyone…" He glanced over to the side, in the direction of that great, sickening void. "Not even the Earth…"

He felt hands over his own, but saw nothing. "I don't hold it against you," Kika said soothingly. "It was a risk we had all prepared for."

"But you died," Shinn protested. "With so much unsaid…"

"I gave to you everything you needed," Kika's voice replied. "You've become a fine young man, and I can always say that I helped make you who you are. I wouldn't have it any other way."

Shinn shook his head, squeezing tears from his eyes. "I…just wanted to protect you," he murmured. "I didn't mean for you to die like that…"

"Maybe we made mistakes when we were together," she admitted, "but I can still say that I love you, Shinn." The hands left his. "But I'm not the only one," she went on. "Now Stella is coming back, and you still have her by your side in this world, whatever it may be."

"Kika…!" Shinn exclaimed, grasping forward, towards her presence.

"I won't be gone forever, Shinn," she said— Shinn saw her smile again. "As long as you remember me, as long as you keep living in spite of the world, as long as you keep these powers and cherish them for their gifts, I won't be gone forever."

Everything began to fade away— Shinn opened his mouth, but could not find the words to speak.

——————————————————————————————————————————

Atlantic Federation Daedalus Crater lunar base, the Moon

"What's going on out there!?" Lord Djibril barked.

He surveyed the scene on the control room's sweeping monitors. The ZAFT fleet was clawing for distance, around the maimed form of their precious headquarters, Messiah. Their superweapon had exploded— the Destroy Gundam had been critically damaged in the blast. But was this the end?

"The ZAFT fleet is in full retreat, sir!" one of the deckhands answered. "Solomon's Sword has been destroyed! Destroy Unit X1 is reporting massive damage!"

"Get me the President!" Djibril roared.

"Impossible, sir!" another man answered. "President Copland has gone missing!"

Djibril scowled. "Our victory is being tainted," he snarled. "Send our fleet to destroy the ZAFT forces before they can escape!"

"But sir, our fleet has sustained 40 casualties!" another soldier responded.

Djibril crossed his arms and fumed. "We have won only one battle," he growled to himself. "And they will return."

Furiously, he stalked out of the control room.

——————————————————————————————————————————

ZAFT battleship Minerva

Arthur had left the bridge as soon as Solomon's Sword was destroyed. But that was not typical— the Minerva had not yet left combat, and so it was against protocol for the captain to leave the bridge. But Malik had taken command temporarily, and Burt was guiding Aoma's battered Core Splendor back into the hangar.

To that end, Meyrin found herself drifting numbly down the halls to the Vice Captain's bunk, hoping to retrieve the ship's new commander. Her surroundings hardly registered— everyone had died. There was nothing left inside her— the PLANTs were gone, her sister was gone, even her captain was gone. And ZAFT's last gambit had failed…and even then, she could not explain why she had thrown herself into the fight to stop Solomon's Sword.

She paused at the door of Arthur's room. He was their leader now.

She opened the door, and felt the blood drain from her face. She looked around urgently, finding a handful of tired crewmembers in the halls. "Help!" she screamed; they looked at her in surprise, rushing over to her. "Get help! A doctor! Get the doctor!"

The crewmembers rushed off towards the infirmary, as Meyrin looked back at Arthur's bloody body, the gun still in his hand.

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The battle was over; the battlefield was silent as Athrun Zala rode the Infinite Justice back to the Megami. There were tears in his eyes, but he could no longer feel them.

He looked up ahead, at a strange field of wreckage. He reached out with his senses, struggling to find something familiar, and in a flash of pain, he realized that the wreckage before him was that of the Megami.

He bowed his head and wept.

As they cruised away from the Moon, Sting glanced over his shoulder, back at what was left of the Daedalus Crater base. He glanced over at Auel— they both nodded grimly. The Chaos and Abyss turned to face the Moon, their cockpit hatches opening. Sting and Auel stepped out, straightened up, and saluted the cloud of smoke that still hung over the remains of the Girty Lue.

Stella scanned the black skies. "Shinn…" she murmured. "Where's Shinn?"

Sting and Auel hopped back into their machines. "He isn't around here?" Sting asked quietly.

"Stella has to find Shinn…!" Stella insisted. The Gaia took off— Sting and Auel glanced at each other, taking off after her.

Nearby, Athrun blinked in surprise, his eyes still filled with tears, as Stella's insistent face appeared on his screen.

"Shinn!" she exclaimed. "Where's Shinn?!"

"I don't know," Athrun answered, a terrible feeling welling up inside of him. "I didn't see where he was." The Infinite Justice peeled off, moving up near the Gaia, Chaos, and Abyss.

Stella looked around frantically, her eyes wide, as she worked at the Gaia's sensors, trying to find Shinn. He couldn't be gone; not after all they had been through. He had promised to live, to protect her. She was going to take him to the sea.

"Shinn…"

She looked up at the debris-choked space before her; a familiar sensation pricked at her senses, a white bolt of energy cut the air in front of her, and she looked up ahead, eyes wide.

"Shinn?!"

The Destiny Gundam drifted up ahead among the wreckage of Solomon's Sword, pitted, battered, and scarred…but still whole. Shinn drifted in front of its open cockpit, staring blankly at the Earth. He blinked and looked down at the sparkles of light in front of him. "...my...tears...?" He looked back at the Earth.

The Destiny's sensors beeped; Shinn blinked in surprise and glanced to his left. The Gaia was coming towards him; behind it were the Chaos, the Abyss, and the Infinite Justice, and behind them was the dim, battle-scarred form of the Minerva.

"Stella...?"

The Gaia's cockpit hatch opened; Stella jumped out and pushed off towards off towards Shinn, her arms wide open, smiling brightly.

Shinn took her in his arms; she smiled and hugged him, and Shinn looked up at the Earth.

"Is it over, Shinn…?" Stella asked quietly.

Shinn turned his gaze back towards Stella, safe in his arms, and smiled.

"Yeah, Stella…it's over."

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ZAFT mobile space fortress Messiah, en route to Lagrange Point 5

As Kira helped pull another sobbing recruit from his battered mobile suit, he wondered if this was really the way it was supposed to happen.

He handed the young man off to his comrades, swarmed around the cockpit of the maimed GuAIZ R, to let them all sob out the pain of defeat, of sacrifice in vain. He glanced towards his own machine, standing in the corner of one of Messiah's dozens of hangars. The Strike Freedom Gundam bore the scars of battle, but its job was done. It could rest; it could forget.

Kira Yamato could not.

Tiredly, he returned to Messiah's auxiliary command center. The primary one had been destroyed in the fighting, so the new leader of ZAFT was holed up there.

The soldiers in the hallways moved like automatons, and Kira thought back bitterly to the day he had arrived on the Pythagoras in CE 71, a lifetime ago. Everything had been taken from them, and now they had to square themselves with the painful realization that they hadn't even won their final battle.

Kira emerged into the cramped auxiliary command center. At the front of the room, Valentine Sunogachi turned to face him.

"Kira," she said, seeming somewhat surprised. "We're evacuating every inhabitant of what's left of the PLANTs and we're heading for Mars." She glanced darkly at the images of the Earth emblazoned on several of the room's screens. "Even in our darkest hour, not all is lost. We will evacuate the Earth Sphere and take refuge at Mars."

Kira looked past her, at the Earth. "We're going to be exiles?"

Valentine turned back towards the screen, her eyes alight with quiet fury. "No," she said. "We will be back."

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January 18th, CE 74 - Ex-ZAFT battleship Minerva, Earth orbit

"I started out here…and I ended here."

Shinn Asuka reflected bitterly on the irony of it all. The Minerva had been the only ship left to go to— as if he was going to go to an Alliance ship— and nobody seemed to care anymore anyway. The Minerva's remaining Impulse Gundam unit had taken off not long after Shinn had landed, with Stella, Sting, Auel, and Athrun in tow, and Shinn had arrived to find no one in command.

Ultimately, they had pressed Meyrin into the role, because Malik's skills at the helm were apparently too valuable to be sacrificed in the captain's chair. Shinn had a hard time seeing Meyrin as the commander of anything, but the Minerva was still in one piece, and— although she was relying very heavily on the advice of others— she had seen the wisdom of retreating as far from the Moon as possible.

Floating lifelessly in the familiar setting of the observation deck, Shinn stared wearily at the stars. Lord Djibril was setting up his "temporary expansion of the Earth Alliance's administrative authority," and ZAFT had all but disappeared. But what did that mean? Surely Lord Djibril would not relinquish his dizzying perch atop the world, nor would the hounds of Blue Cosmos fail to notice the thousands, if not millions of Coordinators still left in the Earth Sphere.

So what had all those sacrifices been for?

Shinn felt Stella's presence on the other side of the door, and smiled.

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End