A/N: Just figured I'd point out that most of what's happening to Kira right now is taking part around the same time as what happened in last chapter. I mean, I figured that should be self explanatory but sometimes people get confused. Near the end it fades to that night. Also, I really apologize for such a long delay in an update. Long of the short of it, I didn't have internet because, well, I didn't have anywhere to live until now.

Kira had decided early in the morning that he was going to spend the day with Athrun, something he couldn't say he remembered the last time of doing. In fact, the only issue with this was Kira's inability to find his best friend during most of the morning. He'd asked everyone he could find, but the realization that in fact most of his friends seemed to be missing in action on this day. He couldn't find Mwu or Murrue, Cagalli or Athrun. This was disheartening to say the very least, based on the fact that he was supposed to be here on Earth to get advice from his friends.

Shrugging his concerns away he rounded a corner just in time to see the kiss between Athrun and Cagalli. He told himself to look away, that it wasn't his business what was happening between his sister and best friend. He wasn't nosey by nature, either, so why couldn't he peel his eyes off of it? Soon after the exchange ended Cagalli seemed to leave in a bit of a huff while Athrun stood there seeming like quite the idiot. Once he knew he couldn't be accused of being a peeping tom or anything absurd of the sort Kira walked over to Athrun with a small smile on his lips as he did his best to hide the awkwardness of this situation from his facial features. "Hey, Athrun. Are you busy today?" Kira asked. "I figured maybe the two of us could hang out... you know, like old times." he mentioned, waving his hand a bit dismissively.

"Oh, Kira." Athrun seemed to wake from his stupor over the previous encounter with Cagalli when his friend spoke as he tried his best to find the correct words to convey what he was thinking. "I have to train some of the rookies for Orb's defense force today. You could always come help me with that though? Then we could go out and get some dinner." Athrun offered.

"That sounds good, actually. I've been meaning to check out how well you're teaching these kids in my absence." Kira joked, a big grin plastering his face. "Hopefully I won't have to point out all the things you're doing wrong." he teased, only to see a triumphant smile tracing Athrun's lips. "Oh boy, here it comes." Kira then added, folding his arms over his chest as he glanced to the raven haired man before him. "What is running around in that brain of your's?"

"Well since you're convinced I'm teaching them wrong you can find out that I'm not by helping me host a little tournament. Today, everything is going to be done with simulators. Simulators that I've told them are being run with the data of the top three pilots of Orb. Myself, Mwu-san, and of course, your data." Athrun added, and while he no longer had to further explain his plan to Kira he did anyway. "Well, Mwu-san is fairly busy, and I can't be in the simulator as I have to watch over them... but I think it'd be interesting to see them handle you actually fighting against them rather than simulated data."

Kira couldn't help but snicker at the idea. "It would be a good way to get some things off my mind, and I'd like to see how well you've taught them. You've got a deal, Athrun." Kira mentioned as his friend motioned to follow him to the simulator room. He knew the students likely weren't in yet, and if he were already in the simulator when they got there they'd just chalk it up to one student getting there earlier, so it would work out perfectly. Entering the room he walked to the simulator station all the way in the back, pulling on the visual's helmet before sitting down and turning the machine before him on. Scrolling through the different settings he picked the appropriate ones so that he'd be pitted against all other pilots once they logged on.

From there it was just the specifics of model number for his mobile suit. ZMGF-X20A, Strike Freedom Gundam." he mused aloud as he saw all the specifications setting up before going to a virtual reality simulation of Freedom's cockpit. He even heard a voice echoing through his helmet saying 'G.U.N.D.A.M. system online. So lost in the specifics of this he'd not noticed that the other students had activated their simulations. Now as it ran everything on the simulated sea of stars came to life as beside him he saw two familiar mobile suits. The Akatsuki complete with the Shiranui pack and Saviour Gundam. "Weird, maybe the kids are used to Infinite Justice's information so Athrun's trying to throw them for a loop." Kira soon after assessed, not concerning himself further with why Athrun had chosen that model over the more powerful and still actually intact Justice Gundam's information.

The line up Athrun had programmed for his students was far from impressive, of course. They were learning on grunt simulations, and while the Murasame's the children piloted might have looked like Gundams Kira knew better than to expect them to measure up. Saviour and Akatsuki moved forward before Kira did, each engaging the students one on one. It was now that Kira understood what the objective was here. There were six students total, and three Mobile suits designated as enemies, the Freedom, Saviour, and Akatsuki units. That meant that the students were to go two against one on the bosses to try and make up for the fact that they were fighting far more powerful prototype units as opposed to Orb mass production models.

That was when Kira's two opponents came at him, one of the Murasame's bearing a custom color scheme of blue and silver rather than the traditional white and red Murasame's came painted with. He assumed this meant this was the squad leader, and most likely his second in command that was coming for Kira. Smirking, Kira forced his controls to action. He didn't want to disappoint these kids who were being groomed on the legends of himself, Mwu and Athrun. Holstering Freedom's twin rifles to its hips he took out his beam sabers and linked them together before flying back down, heading first for the wingman.

Freedom spun on its pass, missing the swing of the grunt suit's saber and in return greeting it with a swing of its own saber, severing the lesser suit's left arm. "Not bad. The kid's know what they're doing... he moved at the right moment to sacrifice the arm rather than the entire lower body." Kira thought to himself, detaching the sabers so that his Gundam now held one in each hand. But before he could make his second pass beam rifle was coming from both the squad leader and his one armed wingman. Bringing up both beam shields that rested in Freedom's forearms Kira blocked the rifle fire until he was certain it had died down enough as he flew gracefully upwards. Again, his target remained the wingman as he swooped downward again and brought both sabers down in a slashing motion.

This time the wingman lost both legs and the head in a single movement, leaving the one armed torso floating there before the computer simulation removed it from the "game." Now Kira faced off against the squad leader who promptly retreated, as if accepting defeat. However, Kira knew it couldn't be that easy as he sheathed his suit's beam sabers away. "What's this person's plan?" Kira found himself wondering as he noticed Saviour and Akatsuki had been defeated. Kira smirked as he realized exactly what Athrun had done. He'd lowered the A.I. on Saviour and Akatsuki to see how the kids would respond against him in response. And in turn, the remaining five pilots all leveled off their beam rifles in their show of triumph.

The volley came flying at Kira, and effortlessly he released his D.R.A.G.O.O.N. wings as they fired inwards at one another and created a shield of beam weaponry in front of him large enough to block all five volleys without forcing Freedom to move. While he couldn't see their faces, the movements of their mobile suits betrayed the mood of the pilots as they clearly hadn't seen this maneuver from the Freedom simulation before. He also figured then that they'd yet to see this as he let all the remote wing units fire their own volley at the group while Kira rushed forward, linking his rifles together as he fired shot after shot for the suits, aiming for all their vital points. The massacre of limbs and heads flying through space was more than enough to prove Kira's superiority over the other pilots as the simulation shut off.

The mood of the six varied from humiliated to angered as they approached Athrun. The squad leader, a young man of stature taller than Athrun or Kira walked over to his instructor in an annoyed fashion. "You've never turned the simulation on that high a level! How are we supposed to learn when you turn down the A.I. on two units only to turn up the level on Freedom beyond even what Yamato would've been able to pilot!?" he asked, only to see Athrun smirk. "...what?"

"Well, Peter, I'd like you to meet the A.I. from that last simulation." Athrun spoke non-chalantly as Kira stood up out of the simulator, straighting the creases of his shirt. "Kira Yamato, meet my squad of rookies."

Kira bowed his head lightly, smiling as he looked to the group of six. The reaction was much the same, all of them delighted to meet him save for this squad leader who Athrun had introduced as Peter. Walking over to him, Kira held out a hand with a smile. "When you went to regroup with the others, while your strategy wasn't wrong it might've been better to let them fire on me while you tried to distract me. This way I would've been tied up, and forced to try and finish you with enough time to get away from the rifle volley." Kira offered politely. Peter however didn't take Kira's hand and walked off without another word. Glancing to Athrun the brunette blinked. "Reminds me of Shinn."

And to this, Athrun could only laugh, nodding a little. "He does. That aside, Kira this is Anna, Hiro, Ryou, Simon and Haruko." Athrun explained, pointing down the line to a dirty blonde girl, a dark haired young man, a green haired man, a short blonde haired man and finally a young woman with long red hair. "The angry one of course you know is Peter."

"It's a pleasure, all of you." Kira added with a smile. "I hope I didn't upset you guys too much with the simulation."

"Not at all!" Haruko quickly answered, blushing a crimson nearly as bright as her hair. "I... it was an honor to be able to fight against such a pro..." she added, quickly allowing Kira to realize this must have been the wingman he'd beaten first. "I look forward to getting the chance to redeem myself against you one day!" with that she walked off bashfully, while the rest of the squadron politely excused themselves.

"They're young." Kira mused, glancing to Athrun. "Same age we were when we had to start fighting, huh?" he inquired to which his friend merely nodded a little bit. Sighing deeply Kira let his hands fall into his pockets as he thought. "Even in peace times... kids are having to fight. Isn't this part of what we fought to prevent?" Kira wondered, mostly speaking aloud though knowing Athrun would hear and possibly weigh in on these thoughts.

"Better for them to learn to fight in times like this than the way we had to." Athrun simply added. "Come on, let's go get something to eat."

Kira however just shook his head. "No, that's okay. I'll catch up with you later, I want to go check on Freedom. Maybe take it out for a spin." Kira mentioned, smiling faintly as he walked off with a short wave in the direction of Athrun. The truth was, Kira wasn't much for eating right now... his simulation had proved only to get his mind off of things for the moment, and he was already too preoccupied in his thoughts once more. Whatever it took, keeping his mind off of Lacus was for the best wasn't it?

He paused for a moment, realizing he'd offered himself up a loaded question... did he really want to push Lacus out of his mind like that? What about just calling her and telling her what he was worried about? He figured that might be the better case... only his thoughts were pulled from his brain as he was forced back to reality by a tapping on his shoulder. "Mm?" Kira murmured, turning around to see Athrun. "What's up, Athrun? I'm still not feeling up to eating."

"No, uh, there's a call from Lacus on the line." Athrun explained, and from the look on his face he didn't seem to be offering Kira good news via this. Kira just nodded, following his friend to the nearest secure phone.

Once there, Athrun disappeared while Kira picked up the video phone, forcing a smile. "Hey, Lacus."

"Kira, how are you?" she asked, the line a little staticy, though that was to be expected from an Earth to the PLANTs line.

"I'm all right... but I have a feeling that's not why you called." he mused, and she half heartedly nodded, looking away. "Lacus... I want to know that we're all right..."

"...I'm sorry, Kira. It's just.. I don't know if I can keep doing this..." Lacus explained. Kira tightened his right fist around the phone as he listened, nodding weakly. "When you were here it was hard enough, for us to make things work... I've been thinking this for a while... and I just..." she paused again, and Kira could tell this was killing Lacus just as much as it was him... "I wish I could jerk my responsibilities and just be with you Kira... but..."

"ZAFT has already gone to hell thanks to two leaders who didn't care enough... just like when Cagalli stepped away from ORB, right?" he offered. He looked at the view screen, watching as Lacus wiped her tears and nodded. "The Coordinators need a strong leader to help them along... and make them realize that they're neither inferior or superior to Naturals. You're doing too good of a job with that to throw it away, right..?"

"I'm... so sorry, Kira..." was all she could say. He smiled weakly, shaking his head. "You know I'll... always.."

"Me too." he answered her, just smiling still. "Still... friends then, right?" he nearly choked on his own words as he realized just what kind of volume they really held to them. "I... think I want to stay here, for a while I mean. With ORB again. Do you want me to bring Freedom back? It is your mobil--" he didn't get to finish.

"Just because... something changed, doesn't mean everything did. That Gundam was built with only you in mind. No one else could pilot it even if you brought it back, Kira. It's your's." Lacus assured him.

"Lacus... is there any chance we..." he cut himself off. He couldn't bring up those words. They hurt just thinking. "I hope I can see you soon. Stay well." he whispered, smiling weakly.

"Kira... I hope you stay well. You've... worked so hard for the peace we have right now, you deserve to be happy." she murmured, tears rolling freely down Lacus' cheeks now. "They're... calling me. I guess they need me to look over some paperwork..."

"I'll talk to you soon." his words were softer than before, devoid of feeling. She only nodded before the communication ended and just as if she'd never been on the screen Lacus was gone. "...damn it..." Kira whispered, gritting his teeth before leaving the room. Athrun was standing outside waiting for Kira, hoping clearly for good news but quickly realized from his friend's face that such was not the case. "I'm going to go take Freedom for a spin... if anyone asks for me, I'll have the comm. link open." the brunette mused before walking past his friend.

"Kira, you need to talk about-" Athrun's words were cut off as Kira spun around.

"Not yet. I need to clear my head." and before any other words exchanged between the two Kira let himself fade into the shadows of the corridor as he headed for his mobile suit.

Standing ever majestic over the mobile suit deck Strike Freedom rested, the gray hues of the suit giving off a faint silver glow from the pale moon's light as Kira ascended into the cockpit. Before Kira really rationalized anything his hands were upon the controls and all systems were operational. A soft humming filled the cockpit and the LEDs on the panels in front of him flickered in a dance of rhythm that would hypnotize even the most reserved person. But none of this seemed to matter as Kira merely brought Freedom skyward and took it out over the ocean.

Out over the waters Kira found his tranquility as he tried to find a way to deal with his emotions. He'd lost... for the first time since Shinn defeated him, he'd lost a battle. But unlike that last fight he'd lost something far more important than Freedom Gundam... he'd lost Lacus. Gripping his controls tighter Kira held back his desire to scream, cry, and anything else pent up in him. For now, just being out here would be enough... he'd just let himself take it all in. At least, that was what he'd hoped to do... the soft humming of a radar alert awoke him from his state of calm. "...Three mobile suits. Odd." Kira mused, his eyes scanning the view screen ahead of him. They were out of view, but closing in fast.

Instinctively Kira moved into defensive mode as he had Freedom grasp its beam sabers, one in each hand as the Gundam awaited its incoming potential foes. But instead the three figures flew right past, just long enough for Kira to get a good view on one of them before taking off in the opposite direction far faster than Freedom could've hoped to follow. "...What were those things?" Kira asked of himself, clicking a comm. line to ORB. "ORB, this is Kira. Please confirm three mobile suit signatures heading east."

"Admiral Yamato." it felt odd to hear his old title, but Kira ignored it for now. "Signatures confirmed. Can you tell us what they are? They're already off the radar, we only picked them up for a few moments."

"...one of them was a Gundam." he whispered over the mic. "I could only make out one, it passed close enough for me to see it. They moved faster than any mobile suit I've ever seen before. I'm returning... alert Captain La Flaga, Captain Zala, and anyone else that's up right now."

"Should we inform lady Cagalli as well?"

Kira sighed. Cagalli. Should he worry his sister with this? And with everything else that was on his mind as well..? "...I'll tell my sister myself." he then answered, forcing Freedom's thrusters to go full power as he headed back to the base. Those things might've gone off in the other direction for now... but if they were hostile ORB was the most likely target.