At Present Singing Small

"It's already being a week, but we still aren't seeing any appreciable progress," said the admiral. The surrounding boardroom, normally the meeting place of the Atlantic Federation policy board alone, today held all of the senior political and military officials of the Earth Alliance.

"But it has been only a week. And the new mobile suits have kept the losses even," retorted the Eurasian Federation chief-of-staff.

"We were told that the new mobile weapons would guarantee us rapid and complete victories," said the Atlantic president. "So far I'm not seeing much sign of that."

"North Africa is not a typical engagement," said the chief-of-staff, growing annoyed. "ZAFT has numerous redoubts and bases in the region. You can hardly expect frontal assaults against fortified positions to yield the same figures as normal combat."

"Gentlemen, this is all moot," said Muruta Azrael, cutting off further debate. "We are wasting our time and weapons in North Africa. If we are to win this fight, it will need to be in space."

"And how exactly to you expect us to get large numbers of mobile suits into space within any kind of reasonable time frame, Azrael?" said the Eurasian. "ZAFT strike against Porta Panama cut off the last of our mass drivers."

"Which is why we have to finish things up in Africa soon," said Azrael. "With the Victoria mass driver back in our hands, we could easily begin the reinforcement of our fleets."

"But that is going to take time, Azrael," said the admiral. "Time we might not have. ZAFT is sending lots of reserves to L2, and they may well drop on Africa soon, or attack the lunar fleets, for that matter."

"Well, we may not be able to get into space very readily," conceded Azrael with a smirk. "But things can come down from space quite easily. And one of my sleeper cell units has just reached the moon, and well be bringing down a very special addition to our arsenal."

"Dammit, Azrael, get to the point," grumped the chief of staff.

"Gentlemen, it is time to take your nuclear arsenals out of moth balls." Azrael raised a hand to quiet the shouts of derision. "Admiral, the intelligence brought back by your ensign was quite right. ZAFT has just begun to field nuclear powered mobile suits, thanks to a new technology called the N-Jammer Canceller. Granted, it has a confined range, but it's more than enough to let a reactor function or have a bomb reach criticality. And my sleeper cell is bringing the technical documentation in tonight. Research and Development on the Moon already confirms that it will only take a matter of days to replicate and produce in sufficient numbers. Then, we strike Africa."

"That's quite something, Azrael," said the president.

"And, I'll admit, it could work right into our timetable," said the chief of staff. "Those few days will allow us to disengage and withdraw our forces."

"No," said Azrael. "The idea is to eliminate as much of the ZAFT presence in Africa as we can. We have many mobile weapons and replacement soldiers. We'll simply leave the frontlines in place to continue to draw out the enemy, and have a strike team ready to capture the mass driver once the primary forces are eliminated."

"You… you can't be serious, Azrael," murmured the chief of staff. "The bulk of the Eurasian ground forces are engaged in Africa. They'll be wiped out right alongside the ZAFT troops."

"Regrettable, but necessary…" said Azrael with a grin. "For a Blue and Pure world."

"God damn you and your Blue Cosmos!" roared the officer, rising from his seat. "You cannot expect the Eurasian Federation to accept this! We will not!"

"I'm afraid we'll have to expect it," said Azrael, a facetious look of sadness on his face. "I take it you'll order the withdrawal anyways?"

"You're damned right I will!" continued the chief of staff. "You and your Atlantic Federation are trying to cripple us Eurasians. I will not stand for it!"

"I was afraid you were going to say that." Making a beckoning motion with his hand, Azrael stepped back with a smirk. "These gentlemen will just have to make sure you wont reveal anything then." The doors of the room slid open and a dozen men in suits walked in, all carrying handguns at the ready. The entire Eurasian delegation was forced up at gunpoint. The chief of staff, as he was led out of the room, only paused to glare at Azrael, condemning him with his eyes.

"Well, gentlemen," said Azrael as the doors shut behind the Eurasians. "I believe the time has come for the ascendancy of the Atlantic Federation. The time of our world is soon."

"How is she doing?"

Kira looked up in surprise. He hadn't realized how sleepy he had been, but he had evidently drifted off, as he had not heard the door opening to Lacus's quarters. Athrun stood there now, looking tired in his Red uniform.

"She's better," said Kira, standing. "The doctor said the majority of the wounds were purely superficial, and the only reason her body didn't repair them was because they were inflicted so regularly. As for her mental condition…"

Kira sighed and leaned back against the bulkhead, beside his friend.

"She's not like she was when we rescued her. I mean, she talks and is aware of what happened, but she's now just clammed up, as if its too much to deal with."

Athrun nodded.

"Her father meant the world to her. Losing him, combined with the physical trauma inflicted on her by the very people who were supposed to protect the people of the PLANTs…" Athrun grimaced. "She's tough, Kira. I'm sure you already know it, but I've been around her for a long time. She'll pull through. Just give her some time."

Athrun squeezed his friend's shoulder and then turned and left the dark quarters. Kira stared at Lacus's peacefully sleeping form for a while longer. Turning too, he left went into the hall, where Athrun was waiting for him.

"How's the feeling of command?" asked Kira, jokingly. Athrun, after the escape, had taken over responsibility for the Vesalius, as her bridge crew and senior leadership in general had either been killed or were now in lockdown.

"It sucks," said Athrun, massaging his temples as they made their way towards the lift. "I'm honest enough to admit that I'm still too inexperienced for this. But we're managing. We've had no problems with the crew and are on track to reach L4 within a day. The one problem we do have is with our former teammates."

"Oh?" said Kira. He hadn't thought about either Nicol or Dearka since they had come aboard five days before. His entire time had been occupied at Lacus's side, attending to her every need or simply watching her sleep.

"Well, I haven't exactly talked with them yet, but I'm anticipating that Dearka will resist all the way," said Athrun. "Nicol we can convince; I'm sure he already feels bad about what happened to the Clyne's. And at least we grabbed Dearka, not Yzak. That would be impossible to handle. But at any rate, I just wanted you along for some back up."

"Lead on," said Kira, gesturing forward as the lift doors opened. They rode in silence to the brig. Nicol and Dearka were being kept for the moment away from the rest of the crew loyal to Patrick Zala, but were still left in one cell.

"Look who it is," said Dearka derisively as they stopped outside of their cell. He continued laying back on his cot while Nicol stood and walked over to the bars.

"I'm sorry about this, you two," began Athrun.

"What is going on?" asked Nicol. "No one has explained anything."

"I imagine that you've got the general idea that we've left ZAFT," said Athrun sarcastically.

"Yeah. Got that one," muttered Dearka.

"Well, Kira and I have both seen, first hand, what my father is willing to do." Athrun sighed. "He is turning this into a war of extermination. He'll wipe out all of the naturals, if given the chance."

"And you betrayed him because of that?" asked Nicol in earnest.

"That and what happened to Lacus," said Kira quietly. "You must have seen her brought down from the truck."

Nicol lowered his head, ashamed by her treatment. But then he looked up again, meeting Athrun's eyes.

"What do you intend to do?" he asked.

"We've joined with a group of like minded individuals, from ZAFT, Orb, and the Earth Forces," Athrun replied. "We're going to try to force a piece, to stop this war from getting any worse."

"Is that actually possible?" said Nicol.

"Like hell it is," said Dearka.

"I believe it is," continued Athrun, ignoring Dearka's comment. "We have a chance to stop any worsening of the conflict, something that everyone wants, if they weren't so blinded by irrational hatred to miss it."

"So…" pondered Nicol. "Are you trying to recruit me?"

"To be honest, yes," admitted Athrun. "The addition of the Blitz would be valuable, and you're the best pilot for it. How about it?"

"We won't have to fight ZAFT will we?" said Nicol.

"Others can do that if you don't want to," said Athrun. "And Kira has shown that you can cripple the other side without killing them."

"I… I want the war to stop, Athrun," said Nicol, slowly. "I want to return home, to my family, to my piano. Will this work?"

Athrun reached through the bars, clasping his friend's arm.

"Only if we believe. I won't lie to you, this wont be easy. No one's pretending it will be. But this is a chance to set things right. To stop our people from committing an atrocity like Junius Seven."

"Then I'll join you, Athrun," said Nicol, with a small smile. "I want peace to come soon."

"And you Dearka?" asked Kira.

"Me?" said Dearka, with fake incredulity. "Why I'm just comfy in this cell, especially once this other traitor leaves. He will be leaving, right?"

"Don't be like this, Dearka," said Athrun. "You've seen first hand how my father is now. You saw what they did to Lacus."

Dearka's expression was pained, but he ignored them, rolling over to face the bulkhead. Athrun sighed and shook his head. As Nicol stepped out of the cell and they relocked the door, Kira turned back to Dearka.

"The offer will always stand."

Still receiving no reply, the three left Dearka to his own devices in the brig.

"It's good to see you two again," said Murrue, seating herself around the Vesalius's wardroom table.

"It's good to be back," said Athrun, with a smile. "This little operation was a little more stressful than I had expected."

"I'd believe it," said Mu with a grin, seated next to Murrue.

"And you Kira? You don't look to good," said Murrue.

"I'm fine. I'm just a little tired," Kira replied.

"Miss Clyne has been in bad shape and Kira has been looking out for her," explained Athrun.

"Well, every one of us from ZAFT appreciates it," said Andrew, with genuine warmth. "How is she?"

"The doctor has treated all of her physical injuries, which were mostly light in the first place," said Kira. "The only problem now is her emotional state. Athrun thinks she just needs some time to work through everything that has happened. We've been trying to give her that time."

"Good… Well," began Andrew. "What do we intend to do next?"

"Apparently, we were wrong about the rate of mobile suit production," said Cagalli, speaking up finally. "Now that we have the courier ship bringing us vital parts from Orb's resource satellites, our production rate has stepped up dramatically. We're going to have a lot of extra suits to stash as back-ups. But, at the same time, it appears that the Earth Alliance was concealing their production facilities. A few reports have trickled in about a massive offensive in Africa, led by new Earth mobile suits."

"That does change things," admitted Mu.

"And ZAFT has moved many of their reserves to L2," continued Cagalli. "Their proximity to the Moon has put the Earth Forces lunar fleets on alert. They are apparently holding in defensive positions for now, but if the offensive in Africa continues and ZAFT moves to drop in support of their forces, the fleets may move out to engage."

"That kind of engagement is still too big for us now," said Andrew. "Even with the addition of the Vesalius and the Blitz, and hopefully the Buster, we're still too out numbered."

"We'll always be outnumbered, whenever we engage," replied Athrun. "All we can count on are the two sides to be heavily engaged enough to distract them from our approach."

"Are you trying to suggest we just fling ourselves into the fray?" asked Cagalli sternly. "Orb is not one for suicide."

"No, of course not," Athrun retorted. "I'm simply saying we can't be too skittish because of numerical disadvantages."

"You're right Athrun," said Murrue. "The element of surprise is the only thing that would get us into such a battle, and we only get that chance once."

"Well then we obviously need to save that chance for the most critical moment," continued Mu.

"In this case, prudence and caution may be our best recourses," interjected Ledonir. "My pilots are steadily improving, but any extra time will help. Beyond that, if we reveal our position to ZAFT, or even the Earth Forces, we'll have crippled much of our ability to intervene later."

"I'm afraid you are right," said Athrun with a sigh. "The dramatic way in which we left, both times really, is sure to have my father enraged. If he doesn't have pickets out coming space for our location, then I don't know him."

"I think that settles it, then," said Murrue. "We need to sit tight for now. Let Orb's pilots get up to speed and our new recruits from ZAFT get integrated. We can revise our plan once the intelligence arrives with the Orb courier."

"Very well," said Andrew, rising. "Let's get back to our own ships."

The group broke up and drifted out of the room, eventually leaving only Kira and Athrun sitting, while Cagalli stood to leave.

"Kira, I've got an idea," Athrun muttered quickly. "Ms. Athha?" Cagalli stopped in her tracks. "I was wondering if we might borrow one of your crew."

"Whom are you referring to?" she asked.

"Kira's friend, Mir…. Miriallia, was it?" Athrun said.

"What for?" Cagalli said, terse as ever.

"There are a few personnel issues onboard the Vesalius, problems that a teenaged girl would be uniquely capable of solving."

"Nothing indecent, I hope," murmured Cagalli, quirking an eyebrow.

"Of course not!" said Athrun, blushing. "Miss Clyne might want some female companionship!"

"Oh… that's sensible." Cagalli turned back to the hatch. "I'll have her sent over right away."

"Kira!" said Miriallia, bounding in through the door, followed closely by Athrun.

"Quiet," muttered Athrun. "Ms. Clyne might be sleeping right…"

Athrun's voice trailed off as he saw the bed before them. Lacus was certainly sleeping, and so was Kira. Kira had evidently been kneeling at the side of the bed when sleep had taken him, as he was slumped over, his head cradled on his arm and his face only inches from Lacus's.

"Well that is very cute," cooed Miriallia happily. "Anything going on there?"

"Let's just wake him," said Athrun, ignoring her comment. He tiptoed forward, stealthily, and poked Kira on the arm. "Kira! Kira!" he hissed, nearly silent. "Wake up!" Kira stirred and opened his eyes, only to find Lacus right before him. Blood rushing to his face, he darted back and lost balance, toppling back into Athrun. He regained his footing and stood, following Athrun and Miriallia back out of the room.

"Your girlfriend?" asked Miriallia, trying to get a rise out of her friend.

"Kira, you do look exhausted," said Athrun before he could reply. "I came to bring Miriallia to spell your relief. You need it."

"Mmm… I suppose you're right," said Kira. "It's not that big a deal though. I mean, if this inconveniences you, Milly."

"Absolutely not," she insisted. "All they've been having me do on the Kusanagi is gofer work anyways. This is a pleasant break."

"All right, then. If you're sure," said Kira, obviously unsure himself.

"100 percent," Miriallia said. "Now go off to bed." Yawning, Kira nodded his assent and stumbled off towards his own quarters.

"Actually, before I go, there is one other thing I was hoping you could do for me," said Athrun. "You know that we have another captured pilot in the brig? Well, he's a friend, and I was hoping that you could keep an eye on him. You know, bring him food. Talk to him. I think if he talks with someone besides me or Kira, especially if it's a pretty girl, he's much more likely to come around to our side of things."

"All right, as long as he doesn't try to hit on me," said Miriallia warily.

"No guarantees," said Athrun, already walking off towards the lift.

Lacus awoke, blinking the sleep form her eyes. The room was still dark, but she could tell something was different. She sat up a little, keeping the warm blankets pulled tight around her, and peered into the shadows while her eyes adjusted. She was surprised to find a girl in an Orb uniform staring back at her.

"Up already?" said the girl as she reached for the light controls. The dimmers activated and slowly increased the intensity of the light, with plenty of buffer room for Lacus's genetically engineered eyes to adapt.

"Where is Kira?" she asked, before blushing at her rudeness. "I'm sorry, you've been watching out for me, and I haven't even asked your name."

"I'm Miriallia. Miriallia Haw. You can call me Milly," the girl replied with a smile. "I'm a friend of Kira's from Heliopolis. I came up from Orb with Representative Athha. Athrun Zala asked me to take over watching you, Miss Clyne, because Kira was getting exhausted,"

"Oh goodness, I can't have you calling me Miss Clyne," said Lacus with a small grin. "Please do call me… Lac…us…" Her voice broke down as she realized that that was the first smile she had made since… since…

She closed her eyes, trying to stave off the tears, but to no avail. She felt Miriallia move forward to embrace her as she sobbed silently. After a moment, Lacus drew back form the girl and took a deep breath.

"Thank you," she said with a sad smile. "This is probably more than you were expecting."

"That you would be hurt after all that has happened to you?" said Miriallia. "I… I lost my boyfriend, my first love, when the Earth Forces flattened Orb. We had made it through the Battle of Heliopolis and the Battle of the Orbit and made it back to our home. Only for him… only for him to be killed because the shelter he was closest too closed its doors too quickly. So, I understand loss."

The two girls sat silently, thinking and feeling. Miriallia looked up first, her eyes bright.

"But I'm okay now. I won't forget, but I've come to terms with what happened." She smiled brightly at Lacus. "I'm not saying you need to deal with it right away, but I'm just telling you that it will hurt less in the future. And if you ever want to talk, find me."

Lacus nodded and looked down at her toes, her neck tingling with Miriallia's stare.

"Are you okay listening?' she asked, still staring down.

"Of course. But don't do it now, if you don't feel like it yet," replied Miriallia.

"No, I feel like speaking now," said Lacus, shaking her head. "It's mostly my father. I lost my mother when I was young. I hardly even remember her, but my father had always been with me. He supported me every step of the way, when I entered school, when I began singing, he was always there for me. But now…" Tears broke out again, spilling onto her cheeks. "Now he's gone. And only because he was trying to protect me and everyone else. He was murdered for trying to be good." She sniffed and wiped her eyes, while Miriallia gripped her leg. "Even the physical pain wasn't that bad while in prison. Knowing that they had killed him first… The pain just let me divorce myself from reality."

"But it was pretty brutal, too, wasn't it?" asked Miriallia. "Are you sure it's not a problem?"

"Yes, I'm sure," said Lacus, confidently. "Because Kira came to get me." She smiled a little bit. "I was still lost then, but I remember him coming in and taking care of me. And then, here in this room, whenever I would wake up, he would be there, ready to get me anything."

"Yeah, he's a good guy, isn't he?" said Miriallia with a knowing smile.

"He certainly is," agreed Lacus, perhaps a little too vigorously.

"And he'll never figure out that you like him in a million years."

"W-what?!" Lacus said, whipping her head around in horror while blushing beet red.

"It's really, extremely obvious," replied Miriallia. "To other people, it's really clear. Come on, you can't have been oblivious to this."

"No…" conceded Lacus, blushing again when she remembered one conversation with Athrun. It had been only a little less than two months ago that she had been at her estate with Kira and Athrun, but it seemed like ages in the past. So much had happened since…

"But you know he like's you too, right?" said Miriallia, interrupting her thoughts.

"What?" said Lacus, looking up in surprise. "I mean, he does? But… He couldn't possibly…"

"Well, he is a really nice guy, but I've seen the way he looks at you, even when you're sleeping, maybe especially then," said Miriallia, shrugging. "He thinks he's being secretive about it, but it is really obvious."

Lacus opened her mouth, about to disagree with all her might, when the door chime rang. It slid open and Athrun stepped in, carrying a tray loaded with breakfast offerings.

"Am I interrupting anything?" he asked, noticing the two girls' positions and proximity.

"N-nothing at all!" squeaked Lacus.

"Are you all right, Lacus? You seem-"

"Commander Zala to the bridge. Commander Zala to the bridge. Priority message inbound."

Athrun sighed and turned, glancing over his shoulder before leaving.

"I'll be back soon. Kira might be back then," he said. "He's still sleeping pretty soundly."

The door slid shut in time to hide Lacus's massive blush from Athrun's retreating back.

"Commander Waltfeld, what seems to be the problem?" said Athrun. He still felt uncomfortable about taking the command chair himself, so he stood beside it, looking up at the communications screen.

"I was just relayed this message from the Orb ships. Apparently, their courier just arrived and transmitted the latest intelligence to them." Andrew sighed and cocked his head. "This is bad, Athrun. This will change everything."

"What is it?" said Athrun, frowning now, worried at the pained expression on the older man's face.

"Earth Alliance forces have taken the Victoria mass driver unopposed because the entirety of the ZAFT and Earth Forces frontline units were wiped out in a massive nuclear bombardment," said Andrew. "And the Eurasian Federation capital, Brussels, was wiped out as well."

Athrun sat, stunned.

"There is going to be hell to pay for this," said Andrew, looking grim. "And god knows where it will stop."

A/N: Alright, to wrap up some questions from the comments, it should be quite clear that Lacus is not going to be permanently out of it, but she will have some long term problems. More importantly, a Lacus and Kira moment just became inevitable. And stand by for Dearka and Miriallia, and maybe a little Athrun and Cagalli. We'll have to see how it plays out. After all, having taken the suggestions of the few who responded, I'm now planning the plot for the sequel arc, so if there are things you find are left out of this story, just wait for round 2. Also, I'd like to thank those of you have already commented. It's nice to see some of my old readers back, even after the delay. I've experienced the annoyance of a slow-to-update writer, and appreciated every one of you has stuck with this story. I'd like to think that my current prolific writing is making up for the pause a bit. In fact, this chapter would have been posted last night, had not the login/submission feature of the site not been down. Once again, more to come soon.