Let Justice Be Done

Chapter Twenty

By: DamageCtrl

All Standard Disclaimers Apply: I do not own Gundam Seed/Gundam Seed: Destiny. They belong to their respective creators, owners, licensees.

A day earlier, at the Palace in Onogoro, Orb…

"She's where!?" For man who was typically so gentle and soft-spoken, Kira had a painfully loud voice when it came to his twin. "What…why…" he stuttered stupidly before pausing and straightening up. Darkened purple eyes turned back to the ever-smiling face of Advisor La Flagga. "When did this happen!?"

"Funny you should ask that, Kira," Mwu replied casually. "You see, the chocolate you had delivered a few days ago-"

"She left that long ago!?" Kira shrieked, horrified. "And…and…is this why Stellar missed our weekly lunch!?" he added, as if dealt another blow.

"Yes, and can you please keep it down," Mwu sighed tiredly. "The queen and the rest of the Haumea Elite Captains are currently in a meeting."

"Mwu, why didn't you tell me!?" Kira gasped, suddenly looking at the older man as if he were betrayed. "This is Cagalli! Cagalli! What if something happens to her? If something happens to her, something will happen to Stellar!"

The blond man let out a heavy sigh. "Kira, both your sisters are Haumea Elite. They can handle themselves fine," he assured the brunette.

"I was supposed to go with them," Kira frowned. "That was the plan! I had our route all planned; we were going to go through the shortest route, take a small detour to visit Lacus, and then go to Athrun's!"

Mwu raised an eyebrow questioningly. "Are you angry because she left without you, without telling you, or are you angry because you're not going to get to visit your lovely Plants Queen?"

To be honest, it was both, but Kira's blush only made the older man assume the latter. His eyes lowered, embarrassed as he shifted awkwardly in his place. "I am concerned about Cagalli. She's a Haumea Elite and even though she's a captain, she's still walking into the middle of a lion's den," Kira admitted with a frown. "And one elite, captain or not, doesn't stand a chance against dozens of Red Knights that were former enemies."

The older man's eyebrows creased into a concentrated expression. "That may be so, Kira, but do you not have faith that your old friend will take care of your sister? I was told that you approved of the marriage."

"I do approve of the marriage," Kira assured him. "It's just when I see my sister suffering because of Athrun, I get angry. She's a tough girl and isn't hurt so easily, so when I see it happen, I know must be bad. I just don't want to see her hurt."

"No one wants to see their loved ones hurt, Kira, that's perfectly understandable," Mwu agreed. "However, I am sure that Cagalli is completely safe at the Zala Estate. I am certain that Lord Zala, as well as Queen Lacus, would see to that."

"I just don't want my old friend breaking my sister's heart," Kira frowned. "Cagalli gave up her life plans to marry him. She even said that she cares for him. Cares for him, Mwu!" Kira sighed as he threw his arms into the air, exasperated. "Can you believe that?"

"I can and will," Mwu chuckled. He reached out and put a comforting hand on the younger man's shoulder. "Kira, Cagalli will be fine on her own. And if Athrun does break our little lioness' heart, we'll just hunt him down and make sure he never breaks it again."

Kira rolled his eyes childishly. "You make it sound so simple."

"Sometimes the simplest, most direct method is the best," Mwu told him. "It's best not to over think this, Kira. Rest assured that Cagalli will be fine."

Suddenly, a door was thrown open behind them. Both men stood up straight as Miriallia walked out of the room. "Mwu, Kira, good!" she said. She motioned for them to enter the meeting room. "We need to speak to you immediately."

"Both of us?" Mwu asked.

"Specifically Kira, but you can come, too," Aisha said as she looked out of the doorway. "Come on, we don't have all night!"

The two men were ushered into the meeting room. Queen Murrue was sitting at the head of the table, a frown across her face as Lieutenant Caldwell, representing Cagalli, was seated on her right. Captain Badriguel and Manna were also seated around the table. Miriallia motioned for the two men to take some of the vacant seats as she closed the door behind them.

"What is this all about?" Mwu asked, immediately noticing the tense atmosphere in the room.

"You are…aware of the messages we have received from the Federation?" Murrue asked as she lifted her eyes and settled them on her husband. Mwu nodded his head solemnly.

"They disagree with our treaty with Plants and the bonds we are forging with them," Mwu answered. "I can understand why they are a bit upset. During their war with Plants, we were neutral and during our war with Plants, we rejected their offers of aid. Now, we're siding with their former enemy despite once being Plants' enemy ourselves."

"A 'bit upset' isn't quite the feeling we're getting with these messages, Advisor La Flagga," Natarle frowned. She slid across a stack of scrolls that had been sealed with the Federation's marker. Silently, both Kira and Mwu looked over the scrolls.

"These aren't messages," Mwu stated blandly as his eyes darkened. He looked up from the scrolls. "These are threats."

"Precisely," Aisha nodded. "We've suddenly entered a dangerous situation with the Federation. They request to have meetings with our foreign representative immediately."

"With Cagalli?" Kira asked as he looked up from the scroll he was reading. "She's in Plants."

"But she is the only one who can handle this…or rather, she's the only one they're willing to speak with short of Queen Murrue herself," Miriallia added. "That is why he had summoned you here, Kira."

The brunette stiffened in his seat. "What do you need me to do?"

"You are the fastest rider we know of," Murrue explained. She held up a neatly folded letter that had been sealed with her personal stamp. "We need you to go to Plants and deliver this message this to Cagalli."

"Go through the north-western border and stop at the military garrison there," Aisha told him. "They will be waiting for you. Switch horses and keep going."

"This is an urgent and highly important matter, Kira," Murrue told the brown-haired man seriously. "Will you deliver the message to your sister?"

His hands wrapped around the sealed scroll and nodded. He stood up from his seat. "I'll only take a day, your majesty," Kira stated. "Rest assured that by tomorrow night, Cagalli will have this in her hand."

Zala Estate, Plants, Evening of Cagalli's Welcome Ball…

"Rusty!" A wide smile graced the blue-haired man's face as he extended his hand and shook that of the red head's. "Welcome back to Zaft!"

"Thank you for inviting me, my lord. I'm sorry I've arrived so early. My journey was shorter than expected," Rusty said as he bowed his head. He gave Athrun a smile before they gave each other a light embrace. "Also, congratulations on your marriage, Lord Zala. I was informed you married a woman from Orb."

"A Haumea Elite," Athrun almost bragged as he stepped back. "How was your journey here? Do you need anything? Something to eat? Drink? Perhaps you'd like to rest a bit before the celebration?"

Rusty chuckled a bit as he was motioned to take a seat across from Athrun in the garden. The noble had been spending the day nervously waiting for his old friend, and now fellow Red Knight, to arrive by wandering the sprawling gardens. Knowing that the fate of his wife lay with that of one man had haunted him all through the night and he had barely gotten any sleep.

In the morning, he had risen from bed, unable to take lying there any longer. He dove into the final preparations, trying to make himself too busy to concern himself with his guests. Whether or not they thought he was indisposed, neither Cagalli nor Stellar had crossed paths with him that day. Part of him was relieved as he didn't know what to say to or do around Cagalli if they had seen each other. The other part of him was disappointed simply because he hadn't seen her.

Now, just an hour or so before the sunset that would signal the slow and steady arrival of his guests for the evening, Athrun had found himself sitting out in the garden, looking blankly at the horizon, lost in thought. It was an unescorted Rusty who walked up the path, straight from the stables, to greet him and draw him out of his stupor.

"No, no, I'm fine," Rusty assured him as he took a seat. "I can wait until later this evening for some drinks, Lord Zala."

"If you are sure," Athrun nodded. "I am happy that you were able to make it to this celebration tonight."

"It is my pleasure, my lord," Rusty told him warmly. "It is an honor, as well, to be here to welcome the new Lady of Zala. I was just speaking to Miguel and he told me about your proposal. Honestly, in front of everyone?" he chuckled. "A bit much, don't you think? I was certain women preferred that sort of thing more…private."

"I'm sure someone found it romantic," Athrun smiled weakly as the mention of the driver's name suddenly quickened his heart rate. Rusty had spoken to Miguel? What exactly did Miguel tell him? The noble continued to smile. "What else did Miguel say?"

Rusty reached up and scratched the back of his neck, a bit confused. "He was quite vague, but was excited about the new lady. We didn't have much chance to speak, as I thought I should come and greet you first."

Athrun gave him a small bow of his head. "I appreciate that, Rusty," the blue-haired noble murmured. For a moment he felt a bit of relief – just a slight bit. The night was still young and Rusty still didn't know who exactly Athrun's new wife was. "He was…excited, you say?"

Rusty nodded as he leaned back against the chair. "He was eager that I meet her," the red head asserted. "Now, I'm a bit curious," he grinned. "I told Miguel I'd speak to him later about her."

Athrun kept his blank, pleasant smile on his face. "She is a Haumea Elite, there is a chance you might have met her on the battle field."

"My Lord, please trust that I would not do anything to unbalance the hard earned peace you and our lady queen have strived for," Rusty assured the other man. Athrun shook his head. "I will not do anything drastic. We are no longer enemies and I didn't see actual battle until the later months of the war. I don't believe I even crossed paths with a Haumea Elite. I harbor no ill will towards Orb, especially the Haumea Elite."

Green eyes narrowed suspiciously. That was an odd statement, considering what had happened three years earlier. Athrun's lips parted, about to bring up the past when, he shook his head and restrained himself. "I did not mean to imply that you would, Rusty," Athrun replied calmly. "I trust that you will not do anything unnecessary, though, should anything happen…I will understand."

"Of course, my lord. Thank you," Rusty gave the nobleman a bow of his head. "I am honored to meet your wife. Our of all the Haumea Elite, for you to have chosen this particular warrior to be your wife, she must be an amazing woman."

The corners of his lips tugged into a small smile. "She is…" Rusty tilted his head to the side, studying Athrun's thoughtful face and leaned back against his chair, pleased.

"I am happy for you, old friend," Rusty told him softly. "You are a lucky man. Don't let her go." Before Athrun could let Rusty's words sink in someone disrupted their conversation.

"Athrun!" a voice said behind them. The Red Knight Captain stood up as soon as he heard the female voice, having manners drilled into him since he was a child. "Athrun, Stellar think the guests are starting to arrive!"

Rusty also rose from his seat, his eyes widening slightly as the young woman in the soft pink gown rushed over. Golden hair had been pulled pinned back with matching barrettes on either side of her head as simple jewelry, most likely provided by the Zala family, graced pale skin. A wide smile greeted the two men as the young woman came rushing out.

The red-haired man turned and glanced at his former employer, concerned. "…Err…a bit…young, don't you think?"

"What?" Athrun snapped. He cringed, his face heating up with embarrassment as he realized what Rusty was implying. "No! Are you mad!? She's not my wife! She's my sister-in-law!"

"Athrun!" Stellar caught up to them and gave them a quick, informal bow. "Stellar saw carriages arriving at the front! Stellar!"

"Already?" Athrun sighed heavily. They weren't supposed to start arriving for at least another hour. Tiredly, he ran his hand through his thick hair. "I better go and get dressed…" he murmured as he walked past the young blonde. "Thank you, Stellar." He made it three steps past her before he turned around and gave them a flustered look. "I must be more worn than I thought…forgive the rudeness, Rusty. This is Stellar Loussier, my wife's younger sister. Stellar, this is Rusty, a fellow Red Knight and a former guard of mine."

"Hello!" Stellar smiled brightly as she gave the red-head a wave. Rusty gave her a small bow of his head as he studied her.

"Stellar, do me a favor and lead Rusty to the great hall," Athrun said, distractedly, as he hurriedly headed up the path. He thought he had plenty of time to get ready, now he'd be late in greeting the newly arrived guests. That wasn't exactly the best way to start the evening where he would introduce his wife to Plants society. Rubbing his forehead, he waved his hand aimlessly. "Then find Shinn and bring him down to the foyer to begin greeting the guests. I will be there as soon as I wash up and change. It will not take long."

"Yes, Athrun," Stellar gave him one more bow of her head and watched as he headed into the house. She then turned around and extended her hand to the Red Knight. "Stellar welcomes Rusty to the Zala Estate!" she announced as a tentative hand was placed on hers before she shook them. "Follow Stellar, please!" she said as she released his hand and began walking up the path.

"Of course, Lady Loussier," Rusty nodded as he followed behind her.

"Athha," she corrected. Rusty's head snapped up as he froze in mid-step.

His eyes narrowed as he looked at her, wondering if he heard wrong. "Excuse me? Did you say something?"

Stellar looked over her shoulder and nodded. "Athha! Stellar's name is Stellar Loussier Athha."

"You look lovely, my lady," Lunamaria smiled as she looked down at the Haumea Elite seated in front of her. The blonde-haired woman stared blankly at her reflection in the vanity mirror before her, not really thinking about her appearance. What did it matter when her husband didn't care, anyway? There was no one else's attention she wanted.

"Thank you, Lunamaria," Cagalli replied tonelessly. Amber eyes lowered to the table in front of here, where various combs, brushes, hair and make-up accessories were strewn about. Her head felt heavy with the various gemstone laden metal pins that Lunamaria had stuck to keep her hair in a neat little up-do. "Will you please go and see if Stellar is ready now?"

The red-haired woman stepped back and gave her lady a bow of her head. "Of course, my Lady Zala." She gathered some of the things into a small box as Cagalli feigned interest in fumbling with the gemstone encrusted bracelet around her wrist. As Lunamaria bowed once more and made her way out the door, Cagalli's intrigued expression returned to that of her defeated one.

She had been presented with a vast array of jewelry that had belonged to previous women of the Zala House. Glittering stones, priceless necklaces, rings that would outshine the sun, and more were at her disposal. Stellar had awed at the sight, but to Cagallli, they only served to remind her of who she was and who had come before her.

What had Lady Meer worn? What had Lady Meer brought into the already impressive treasure? Cagalli herself had left her family's jewelry, including the items from the Athha family, back in Orb. She felt she had nothing to contribute and had initially withdrawn from wearing any of the presented items. Only Stellar's enthusiastic face was able to get her to put on a diamond necklace and matching earrings. It was Lunamaria's insistence that she include the matching bracelets that her wrists were adorned with now.

The only piece of jewelry that was hers, and only hers, was her wedding ring, and even that served to remind her of her new position. Silently, the elite captain closed her eyes and took a deep breath. It was too late to back out now. No matter how much she wanted to return to Orb and get away from everything that reminded her that her husband's heart still belonged to another, it was too late to run away.

Cagalli rested her hands on the hardwood of the table. She knew what she was getting herself into. She knew from the beginning who Athrun was, who he had been married to, and why he married her. It was for revenge, she was sure of it. Yet, there were times when she began to doubt her suspicions. There were even times where she gladly pretended that he didn't hate her.

In the end, this was a self imposed punishment. She had failed to protect innocent civilians, as was her duty as a Haumea Elite. Her guilt had always haunted her. It only intensified when she met Athrun and worsened when she fell in love with him. The only thing she could do now was take it upon herself to help him however way she could and when she had the chance, she would apologize. If marrying him was her penance, then she would gladly do it.

Only now, she wanted to put everything out in the open. No more pretending. The elite decided the night before to do so. Without further delay, as soon as she had a moment alone with the blue-haired noble, she would apologize for her failure. She wouldn't let him cut her off or interrupt. She would tell him what happened and then deal with whatever consequences came. It was the honorable thing to do.

Cagalli rose from her seat and a knock echoed from the door. She turned around. "Yes?" she asked as she walked forward. "Who is it?" She reached the door and placed her hand on the handle.

There was a pause. "Shinn, my lady," a hesitant voice replied from behind the wooden barrier. The older woman's eyes widened. She hadn't seen Shinn since breakfast and even then, he had avoided any eye contact with her.

"Shinn?" Cagalli pulled the door open to reveal the sharply dressed brunette standing in front of her. Dressed in his Red Knights uniform with his ceremonial saber at his side and unruly black hair sticking up in all directions, the Zala heir looked hesitant to be there. The red-eyed young man kept his eyes lowered and didn't say a word. "Shinn, what are you…" she trailed off and looked at him questioningly. "Is it time for me to go downstairs? Are the guests all here?" she assumed. Perhaps she had taken too long getting ready. The heir didn't move. He seemed to be lost in deep thought. Cagalli frowned. "Shinn?"

Slowly, the black-haired youth raised his head and met Cagalli's gaze. "May I speak to you, Captain Athha?" Shinn asked quietly.

Nodding slightly, Cagalli stepped back into the room. "Of course, Shinn," she said as she motioned for him to enter. "Please come in…" He gave her a small bow of his head in gratitude as he looked over his shoulder and then carefully stepped through the doorway. He wandered into the sitting area as Cagalli closed the door behind her. She turned around to look at him and waved her hand over to the cushioned seats for him to sit. Awkwardly, the young man shook his head and remained standing. "What is you wanted to speak to me about?"

"Lord Zala," Shinn replied quickly. "Athrun." Cagalli tensed. She hadn't even seen the man since the night before, when he was in the library speaking to the portrait of his dead wife. He wasn't at any of the meals and while she knew he was avoiding her, she honestly couldn't blame him.

Quickly composing herself, Cagalli kept her eyes on the younger man. "Yes…what about him?" The heir lapsed into a moment of silence once more. He seemed to hesitate as his eyes darted away and his hands fumbled with the hem of his jacket. "Shinn," Cagalli told him seriously. "What is this about?"

She could see the younger man's chest rise and fall as he mentally measured his words. "Why?" Shinn rasped out as he looked up at her. "Why did you marry him?"

She blinked. "It is my duty," she replied, almost automatically. "You know that, Shinn."

"I don't believe that," the heir replied coldly.

The golden-haired woman let out a little laugh of disbelief. "Shinn, why else-"

"I've seen you two before…alone," Shinn persisted. His eyes narrowed coldly. "Back in Onogoro. I saw you two in town, eating in front of a vendor's stall. I saw your hands clasped together."

A brief flicker of acknowledgement appeared in her eyes. She remembered that day fondly. They had walked around the town, stopping from place to place. They even shared their snacks as they held hands. It was as if they were a real couple, happily in love. It was only for a day, but she cherished it. The corner of her lip curled up into a small smile and Shinn couldn't help but feel hurt. She had sincerely enjoyed it, meaning that Athrun probably did as well.

"Your master," Cagalli tried to explain rationally. "Was merely accompanying me-"

Before she could complete her sentence, Shinn's arms rose and grasped the sides of his head, frustrated. "Stop it! Just stop!" he cried out angrily. Pained red eyes stared at Cagalli disbelievingly. "Don't lie to me!" he exclaimed. "Don't try to deny it! Don't try to play stupid! I know you're a Haumea Elite! I know you must've already figured it out!"

Cagalli took a wary step back. She knew Shinn could get rather moody, but she hadn't seen him explode like that before. Her eyebrows furrowed with worry as she studied the black-haired heir. "Shinn, I'm not trying to deny anything," she insisted calmly. "Athrun-"

"Is in love with you!" Shinn cut her off sharply. "Don't try to tell me otherwise! I'm not blind!"

Her first reaction was to deny the claim, just as she herself had been denying the very idea of it. She opened her mouth to assure him that wasn't the case, only to find no words were able to come out. There was some sort of mistake. She slowly shook her head. "Shinn," she began carefully. "I think you may have made a mistake-"

"He told me!" Shinn shouted. Cagalli's eyes widened as the young man raked his hands through his thick hair. He began to pace in front of her, unable to believe it had even escaped her.

"He…told you?" Cagalli asked hesitantly. Perhaps Shinn had misunderstood his master. There was no way Athrun could love her. She simply refused to believe it. "When?"

Red eyes turned to glare at her. "Does it matter?" he snapped. "You won."

Cagalli's eyes widened. "What?"

"You won!" Shinn stressed. "You turned Athrun into someone I don't even know any more! He's no longer the Athrun who took me in! All he thinks of now is you! You don't even deserve him!"

"I know," Cagalli admitted as her heart twisted in her chest. "I know I don't, Shinn…"

"Then why did you marry him!?" he demanded. "He would've chosen someone else! All you had to do was say no!"

Red eyes bore into her as she stood in place. Her gloved hands clenched at her sides. Did he really want to know? "Because I owe this to him," she replied quietly. "Because of me, he suffered…"

Shinn's eyes narrowed as her words sank in. "What do you mean?" he asked as he took a step forward.

Cagalli's eyes rose and met his. She had a glassy look to them and for a moment, he wondered if she were going to cry. "It's my fault he's a widow, Shinn," she rasped out in an unsteady voice. "Lady Meer died because of me."

Red eyes widened as a pale hand closed around the hilt of a sword. "You knew," Shinn hissed in a low voice as his fingers tightened around the cold metal. "You knew this entire time who he was!" he accused.

Cagalli tilted her head. Her eyes crinkled a bit as she looked at Shinn critically. She wasn't the only one who knew more than they let on. "And you knew who I was…" she deduced.

"That's not the issue here!" Shinn shouted. "Did you kill Lady Meer!?" His eye crinkled up as he suddenly found it difficult to breath. "And my parents," he choked out. "Did you kill my parents!?"

She remembered the older man and woman in the carriage. She remembered the empty look in their eyes and the blood splattered across their clothes as she reached over and closed their lids. They were more of her failures. Cagalli lowered her head shamefully. "It is my fault they were killed." Something inside the black-haired heir snapped.

She didn't hear his hate filled growl or the footsteps he made as he rushed towards her in an uncontrolled attempt at her life. All she heard was the familiar sound of a sword being unsheathed. Shinn stormed forward, sword drawn over head to strike her down. He had forgotten about Athrun, forgotten about the celebration that was starting downstairs. All he knew was he was now face to face with his parents' killer and he was damned if she was going to live a moment longer.

Blood was pounding in his ears, his heart was racing, his eyes glazed over with three years worth of barely controlled rage. He brought the sword down.

It never met flesh and bone. The blade collided with a sturdy metal hair pin. Red eyes went wide. He had forgotten what she was. "Forgive me, Shinn," Cagalli whispered as her hair began to fall from its disturbed bun. Amber eyes narrowed as she held the pin, with a sword embedded part way through it, up with ease. "You have every right to want to kill me, but I need to speak to Athrun first. He should hear what happened that night from me."

A second later, the young man found himself falling backwards and landing against a soft, overstuffed chair in the waiting area. He looked up, as the woman stood in front of him. He lifted his hand, only to find that the force that had pushed him back had knocked the sword from his hand. Darkened eyes flashed upwards as he looked at her spitefully. He should've known she wouldn't go do without a fight.

"You murderer," he spat out, disgusted. "How dare you try to pass yourself off as a saint after you killed my parents in cold blood!"

"I wasn't trying to pass myself off as anything," Cagalli stated as she looked at him with saddened eyes. "Shinn, I am sorry about your parents."

He let out a scoff. "You think an apology will suffice!?" he asked bitterly. "You killed my parents! An apology won't bring them back!" he snarled.

Pain twisted in her heart. "I know," she whispered. "I regret my actions," she told him numbly. "Had I arrived sooner…had I not told them of that other passage…they would not have been attacked."

Shinn stared at her, slowly becoming confused as she spoke. "What do you mean arrived sooner? What other passage?"

"Your sister, Mayu," Cagalli said as she looked at him seriously. "Did she not tell you? Or the guard and the driver?" Shinn continued to stare at her as if she had grown another head. Cagalli frowned. "The reason they were attacked by bandits was because I had told them of two passages. For some reason, probably because we were enemies at the time, they went against my advice and took a shorter path to Plants that was littered with bandits. By the time I arrived, the carriage had already been attacked." She gritted her teeth and clenched her hands once more. "Had I said nothing about that path…Had I only arrived sooner…" she hissed bitterly. "I could've saved them."

Shinn sat numbly on the seat. She had to be lying. She couldn't possibly be telling him the truth. Why would she, after he attempted to kill her? "You…" he whispered roughly. His voice had suddenly gone dry. "You lie…" He was a weak allegation, but at the same time, the woman before him was not one to openly lie.

Cagalli closed her eyes. "I am sorry, Shinn. I-"

"Cagalli!?" The door creaked open and another blonde peeked into the room. A wide smile graced Stellar's face as she stepped in. "Cagalli! Wow, you look so pretty!"

"Stellar," Cagalli whirled around quickly, surprised. "You're ready?"

"Yes!" Stellar smiled widely as she entered the room. She was about to spin around so her sister could look at her dress, when she saw Shinn sitting on the chair, a stunned expression against his face. "Shinn?" she asked as her smile began to fall. He looked as if someone had just crushed his world. She looked at Cagalli with uncertainty. "Is Shinn okay?"

The older blonde didn't know what to say. She had absolutely no idea what was going through the heir's mind. Cagalli looked over her shoulder and back at the young man. "I…"

"I'm fine," Shinn stated quietly. His eyes looked away from the women as he stood up. Shaking legs brought him over to his discarded sword. Across from him, Stellar watched him worriedly.

"Shinn doesn't look fine," she whispered softly.

The sword was returned to its sheath. As his back remained turned to them, Shinn called out over his shoulder. "I will…leave the two of you alone," he said as calmly as he could. He lifted his chin up and turned towards the door. He avoided eye contact as best he could as he walked past them, his eyes glazed over as his thoughts were clouded.

"Ah, Shinn!" Stellar called out just before he reached the them. She extended her hand to stop him as he passed. The young man paused in mid step. "Athrun said to tell Shinn to go downstairs and start greeting the guests!"

He took a deep breath. "Thank you, Stellar…" he murmured quietly. He quickly walked out the door, leaving a confused looking Stellar and a silent Cagalli.

The younger blonde looked towards her older sibling. "Is everything okay?" she asked worriedly.

Cagalli closed her eyes tightly and bit her lip. "No, Stellar," she murmured sadly, her own thoughts elsewhere. She could almost sense Stellar's panic and inwardly winced. "I mean…" she stammered. She quickly offered her sister a weak smile. She motioned towards the tangled mess of golden hair around her face. "My hair needs to be re-done. Care to help me?"

"Thank you for coming, Lord Durandal, Lady Durandal," Shinn bowed his head to the newly arrived couple. The dark-haired man and his lovely wife greeted him with a small bow of their own heads. Rey grinned as he appeared behind the two older nobles.

"Aren't you forgetting someone?" he asked cheekily.

Shinn resisted the urge to roll his eyes while in a room filled with nobility and Plants elite. "Let me think," he mused to himself. "No."

"You wound me," Rey pretended to choke out before grinning once more. The two chuckled amiably as they shook hands. "Where is your master?" Rey asked as he looked around the area.

"I believe he is still getting ready upstairs," Shinn replied. He looked to Lord and Lady Durandal. "I assure you, he will be down in a moment to properly greet everyone."

"There is no rush, we are early," Lady Durandal assured him. "And he should take his time, especially since he's getting ready for his wife," she added knowingly.

"Ah, yes…Where is the lovely Lady Zala?" her husband asked curiously.

The corner of Shinn's eye twitched, but otherwise he remained composed. "She is getting ready with her sister, Lord Durdandal."

"It is a wonderful night for a celebration, Shinn. It is a shame Mayu could not make it," Lady Durandal added. Shinn composure broke for a split second as he wondered if Mayu knew. Before he could think too much into it, the older woman continued. "We have brought a welcome gift for Lady Zala. Where would we put it?"

"A welcome gift?" a half amused, half honored voice asked from the stairway. The attention of several newly arrived nobles looked up as Athrun descended the stairs. A proud smile, almost enlightened smile was on his face as he reached the foyer and began to greet whoever he passed. As he reached the Durandals, he extended his hand and shook Gilbert's. "Thank you for coming, and really, it isn't necessary. You already gave us a wedding present."

"That was different," Lady Durandal said as Athrun greeted her with a kiss on the back of her hand. "That was a wedding present. This is a welcome to Plants present."

Athrun chuckled and thanked them. As he called over a servant to assist with the gift, Shinn studied his master. As usual, the older man looked composed and mature, not showing a hint of the bumbling wreck he was when he was thinking about Captain Athha. For a moment, Shinn wondered if Athrun knew the truth. The brunette scowled at himself.

It wasn't 'the truth' just yet. He wouldn't buy the woman's words so easily. She may have sounded like she meant it, but he couldn't be sure. She also admitted that it was her fault. His eyes narrowed. Her words didn't add up and contradicted each other. Yes, it was her fault that someone had died, but bandits had been the ones to actually attack the carriage? He was confused.

He was relieved. When Stellar entered, happy and warm, as always, his numbness momentarily gave way to relief. The usual guilt of secretly loathing Stellar's sister was no longer there and for a just a moment, he had hoped that Captain Athha was innocent. That thought struck him. How could he ever wish that for her?

"Shinn?" a voice said beside him. The red-eyed young man snapped his head into attention as he looked up at Athrun. The older man raised his eyebrow curiously. "Are you all right?"

Shinn opened his mouth, but no words came out. He quickly closed it as he mulled over his thoughts. He couldn't just ask Athrun. Not now, of all places. "Yes," he asserted quietly. "Everything is fine…" He needed confirmation. He needed to ask someone else, someone who was a witness… His eyes widened. "Er…Lord Zala, may I be excused to the hall?"

"Hmm? Oh, yes, of course," Athrun nodded distractedly as he greeted another noble family at entered. "Make sure the musicians are playing and if you can find Lunamaria, tell her to begin serving the hor devours. It's early and they may not all be ready yet, so just have her sent out the ones that are ready."

Shinn was already walking away as soon as the word 'yes' had come out of Athrun's mouth. The heir asserted himself before disappearing into the hall. As he emerged into the tastefully decorated room, his eyes scanned it for two particular figures. Miguel and Rusty were in attendance tonight. They were there the night it happened and would be able to validate, or invalidate, he reminded himself, Athha's claims.

He hadn't made it far into the room before Lunamaria appeared at his side. "Shinn! There you are? Do you know if Lord Zala is?" she asked, dressed in a simple dark red ball gown that matched the color of his uniform. "I have an urgent message from Meyrin."

"He's out in the foyer greeting guests-Meyrin?" he cut himself off. Shinn tensed as he turned to look at Lunamaria. "Meyrin is at the Durandal Estate…" he trailed off. His lips tightened into a line. "Is this about Mayu?"

The woman shook her head. She held up a small, tightly wrapped scroll. "It came in just moments ago from a messenger hawk."

"Let me see it," Shinn said as he extended his hand. Lunamaria stepped back and held the paper away from him. "Luna!"

"Sorry, but it says to Lord Zala, not Shinn," she told him firmly. "I'm sure if it's something, he'll tell you."

His expression turned cold for a moment before he drew his hand back. "So be it," he frowned, unable to contain the sudden bitterness. As of lately, he had become sick of waiting to be told of the goings-on around him. Grumbling to himself, he turned around and continued to stalk into the room. The woman raised an eyebrow curiously, but quickly returned to her main objective. Shinn's eyes scanned the ball room, hoping to find any sign of the blond and red-haired males.

His search paid off as he found the two men standing a few paces from the piano, where one of the musicians was playing. Shinn walked over quickly. Rusty caught sight of him first and raised his glass. "Shinn! Just the man we wanted to see," Rusty said as the brunette approached. "Do you know if your sister is coming back for this evening's festivities?"

"For tonight?" Shinn mumbled. He shook his head. "No, Athrun wanted her to stay at the Durandals…" he trailed off. "To practice her piano playing," he added.

"That's too bad," Miguel mused as he rubbed his chin. "I was hoping she'd be here. She hasn't has yet to see Captain Athha again."

"I wonder if she kept her cloak" Rusty added thoughtfully.

Shinn's eyes furrowed. "What cloak? And what do you mean again?" he scowled.

"Ah…" the two men seemed to hesitate, as if automatically knowing it was a touchy subject for the heir. "Actually, Shinn…it's quite a long story…"

"You're talking about Captain Athha's cloak, aren't you?" Shinn demanded, trying to keep from screaming out his accusation. The two men exchanged glances.

"Yes," Rusty nodded. "Have you seen it? Or what remains of it?"

Shinn's eyes were now narrowed red slits. "How do you know about the cloak?" he insisted.

Rusty looked at Miguel. "Did you ever tell him?" he asked quietly. Miguel shook his head.

"Tell me what!?" Shinn nearly shouted. He grimaced at the sound of his own voice as he looked over his shoulder. He half expected Athrun to appear and scold him for raising his voice during the event. When the blue-haired noble was no where in sight, he returned to the other two men.

"Shinn," Rusty said as he ushered the young man to the side. As they passed one of the tables, he placed his now empty wine glass on top. In a secluded corner of the room, Rusty explained himself in a quiet voice. "Captain Athha saved our lives."

"Left…right…left…?" the stable boy looked frantically from one fork in the road to the other as he sat on top of the horse. Behind him, a silent young woman frowned as he struggled to make his decision. She glared at the back of the stable boy's head. Hadn't he assured her he knew where he was going?

Now, instead of nearing the Zala Estate, they were in the middle of no where, in the dark, unsure of where to go. She suddenly wanted to kick the young man in front of her. "I'm sorry, Miss Asuka," he told her pitifully. "I could've sworn it was left, but now I'm not so sure!"

The teen girl gritted her teeth. Perhaps they should just take the left, anyway. They had already been riding for thirty minutes. If it the estate didn't come into view after several minutes of galloping, they could just turn around and go the other way. She was just about to point to one direction when the sound of horse's feet sounded far behind them.

She turned around and squinted into the darkness. She could make out the darkened outline of a figure rushing towards them. Someone was on a horse. The shape of a billowing riding cloak was behind them. Carefully, the stable boy led the horse to the side, to give the other rider a clear path.

Mayu watched as the lithe horse and the covered rider swept past them. "Wait! Sir!" the stable boy shouted suddenly. Mayu looked over at the rider in front of her. Without warning, the horse they were on jerked forward. The teenager grasped the rider in front of her as they stormed after the other rider. "Wait! Sir! We're lost! Sir!" the stable boy yelled out after the other rider.

At first, Mayu wasn't sure if he would turn around or not. She found herself surprised when the other rider, who seemed to have been in quite a rush, pulled back on his reins. His horse skidded to a stop before he turned around. "What are you looking for?" he shouted as Mayu and the stable boy reached him.

"The Zala Estate!" the stable boy asked, almost out of breath. Mayu looked up at the other rider. Gloved hands pulled back his riding cloak to reveal disheveled brown hair and large, thoughtful purple eyes.

"The Zala Estate…" he murmured to himself. "My map told me this way. Come on!" He said. He grabbed his reins once more and motioned for them to follow.

"Thank you, sir!" the stable boy gasped as he let out a breath of relief. "Are you a guest at tonight's event?" he shouted innocently over the sounds of hooves against the compacted dirt beneath them.

"No!" he shouted over his shoulder. "I'm a messenger from Orb! I must speak to Lady Zala at once!"

"A bit much, don't you think?" Dearka asked as he stood beside Yzak and a potted plant against the wall. His eyes looked over the grand hall. Many people had already arrived and even a few couples were dancing. Most people, however, lined the area surrounding the dance floor, talking amongst each other.

Mingled amongst them were Red Knights dressed in suits and gowns rather than uniforms. They drifted around the area, easily fitting in. Yzak lifted up his glass and took a small sip. "I'm not taking any chances. I want to make sure he doesn't do anything stupid."

Dearka raised an eyebrow as he glanced back at the other man. "I thought you said that he loves her and wouldn't go through with whatever he has planned."

"I'm talking about Shinn, you idiot," Yzak frowned. "I doubt that he knows what really happened that night and if his master won't do anything, Shinn might. He always was a hot head."

"Fine," Dearka sighed as he ran a hand through his hair. "Though, did you have to call in half of your local division?"

"I don't want him to know that he's being followed. He may be brash, but he's not stupid. He'll realize someone is watching him if I just sent out some knights to follow him around. It's easier if they're planted in the room. Wherever it happens, someone will be there," Yzak asserted. Dearka shook his head.

"You act as if you're expecting a riot…" he mumbled under his breath. "Is Athrun in, yet? I'm sure the Captain…er…Lady Zala," he corrected himself with a grin. "Will be gracing us with her presence soon."

"I believe he's still waiting for Lacus to arrive," Yzak replied off handedly. "The other half of my local division went to grounds security. We can't be too careful when our queen is in the building."

"Her Majesty, Queen Lacus," a voice announced at the door. The crowds within the room turned around at the sound of the name and bowed as an elegantly dressed pink-haired woman stepped into the hall.

Athrun escorted her in politely before meeting the gazes of Dearka and Yzak. "There's my cue," Dearka said. He took one last sip of his drink and placed it on the table beside him before stepping forward. He would act as Lacus' bodyguard and escort for the rest of the night. "I'll see you later."

"Guard her well," Yzak acknowledged. He watched as the blond male made his way and greeted their old friend and sovereign before allowing his eyes to drift elsewhere. A tight lipped frown appeared over his face. Where had Shiho gone? She had arrived with them, in a dress as his mother insisted, and now she had vanished?

He placed his glass on the table and began to maneuver through the room in search of the woman. He didn't have to get far. Before he even crossed the room, Shiho appeared before him and was motioning for him to come forward. "My lord," she greeted him with a subtle bow of her head. "I'm afraid we have a slight problem."

"And that is?" Yzak frowned.

"I've just been informed at Miss Asuka is missing," Shiho explained. "Can you dispatch some of your men to search for her?"

"Miss Asuka…you mean Mayu?" Yzak's eyebrows furrowed. "She's missing from the Durandal Estate?" he asked in a low voice.

"Yes, apparently, a message came in from Meyrin at the Durandal Estate. She can't find Mayu and thinks she may have taken a horse to come here," Shiho elaborated. "Lord Zala didn't want her to come, but she had apparently expressed interest in attending." Yzak's lips remained a frown.

"Very well, go out and send our best riders. Have them focus on the area close to the Durandal Estate," Yzak ordered. Shiho bowed her head and scurried off quickly to give the order. The silver-haired man lifted his hand and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. Could it be that Mayu wanted to see Cagalli? His eyes drifted to two men standing by the balcony.

Miguel and Rusty seemed to look somewhat saddened as they emerged from the open doors. They were talking quietly amongst themselves and didn't seem to notice anyone else in the room until Athrun approached them. "Shinn?" Miguel said. "He's out on the balcony..."

"Thank you," Athrun gave them a bow of his head and directed them to the table lined with food, encouraging them to eat before he set out for the balcony.

Outside, leaning against the stone railing, the red-eyed heir kept his eyes tightly closed to keep from crying. It seemed too much to take in one evening. He had thought he finally had some sort of closure knowing who killed his parents. He thought that punishment would have been delivered swiftly as her guilt was revealed, but now, after being told a truth part of him wasn't sure he wanted to believe, everything seemed out of his hands.

He felt helpless once more. He felt weak and foolish. To think he had lunged, sword in hand, at the woman who had saved his sister's life! To make things worse, he didn't stand a chance against a seasoned warrior like Cagalli. After Miguel and Rusty told him, he wasn't sure if he should be happy that the real murderers had already received their just punishment or angry that the two had lead them down that path to begin with. They had apologized, but even their heart felt sincerity, Shinn knew, would not ease the torment in his heart nor would they bring his parents back.

He could, he realized, blame Athha once more for informing them of the path, but the woman had saved their lives. She had turned them back, given them a way out of the war zone, and even come to try to rescue them. She never had any intention of malice. Knowing that, Shinn couldn't help but feel ashamed for his thoughts and actions. She was a murderer, yes, but so was he. So was Athrun. The war they fought in left no one pure.

At the thought of the man who took him in, his heart twisted. One thing was certain: Athrun didn't know what had actually happened that night in the disputed region. That entire time, Athrun was planning revenge on a woman who was innocent. And Shinn had done nothing but encourage it. Disgusted with him self, the black-haired heir pushed himself off the railing and turned around.

Athrun took him in when his parents were killed. Athrun took his sister in. He treated them like family, mentored Shinn, encouraged Mayu, not to mention make Shinn his heir. And Shinn had never done anything in return. The man needed to know what happened.

"Shinn, there you are." The heir's blood nearly froze in his veins as his movements came to a sudden stop. Shinn found himself pressing further back against the railing as Athrun stepped out into the balcony. "May I speak to you for a moment?"

Suddenly, the younger man found himself speechless. Yes, they had to talk, but Shinn didn't know where to begin. Stupidly, the brunette nodded his head. Athrun looked over his shoulder briefly and then stepped out into the balcony with his heir. He motioned the younger man to follow him further away from the door, away from prying ears and eyes.

Silently, the black-haired young man followed. His legs wobbled beneath him as he tried to focus. Should he let Athrun speak first or tell him what actually happened? What exactly should he say? Worst of all, with Athrun even believe him? It was hard enough for Shinn to believe, even with hearing it from two eye witnesses and Captain Athha herself.

He probably wouldn't have believed them if it didn't explain why Mayu was so attached to the cloak. Rusty had told him that the Haumea Elite had wrapped strips of her cloak around Lady Meer's wound in an effort to start the bleeding and had asked Mayu to keep pressure on it. By the time they reached the hospital for aid, the majority of the cloak had been reduced to bloodied strips, leaving only the collar and hood left in Mayu's stained hands. The girl would not let go of the remains.

While some doubt lingered in his mind, he still owed it to the other man to tell him. "Athrun," Shinn croaked out, wincing as his master's name scraped out of his mouth.

"I've made you suffer over this, haven't I?" Athrun asked quietly. The red-eyed youth looked up unsurely. Athrun was leaning back against the far railing, a worn, bitter-sweet smile on his face. "I made you face her when I shouldn't have. I should never have brought you into my affairs, Shinn."

For a moment, Shinn wondered if Athrun was going to strip him of his status as heir. "But you said I had to…so I could learn," he argued, weaker than normal.

"I know," Athrun nodded. "But I also promised your parents I would take care of you if anything should happen to them. And when the time came to do so, I troubled you with my own problems. You were right…you trusted me and I hesitated…I went in circles trying to decide what I should do," he took a deep breath. "I can't do it any more…I wanted to make my decision before tonight. Before I came down the stairs…"

The younger man's heart stopped. "You're…going to go through with it?" his voice was weak now. He could see the pain clearly etched in Athrun's face. "You said you loved her…"

"Shinn," Athrun began as he lifted his head and met red eyes. "I thought about this…about everything. I've come to a final decision, one I knew for some time now, but refused to accept. I haven't informed Rusty, yet, as I wanted to tell you first. You seemed to have bared the blunt of my burden and…issues these last few days. I am sorry."

Shinn swallowed the lump in his throat. Slowly he began to shake his head. He took a step forward. "Athrun, you need to know something. I was talking to Rusty and Miguel and-"

"Do they know?" Athrun asked as his eyes widened. "Or rather, Rusty…does he know about Cagalli?" he said as he stood up straight. Worry was evident in his eyes.

Shinn nodded once more. "He knows…"

The blue-haired nobleman's jaw stiffened. Pale fingers that had been resting against the top of the stone railing curled and clawed into the smooth surface as best as they could. "I see…" Athrun began carefully. "Was he…angry?"

Shinn bit his lower lip and shook his head. "How could he?"

Athrun's eyebrows furrowed. "Shinn-"

"Lord Zala!" Lunamaria burst into the balcony, her hair slightly out of place as she turned her head to find the Zala House's master. She found him standing at the far end of the balcony and bowed her head. "Lord Zala, forgive my intrusion, however, another message has just received from Meyrin. One horse is not accounted for at the Durandal Estate and-Shinn!" Her eyes widened as they settled on the younger man she had completely neglected to notice.

Shinn's eyes were wide as Athrun frowned at the disruption. "What is this about Meyrin?" Shinn's lips curled downwards into a frown. He knew it had to do with Mayu if Meyrin was involved. "And what about that horse?"

"I…" Lunamaria stammered as she lifted her hands over her mouth. She glanced from Athrun to Shinn, unsure of what to say. Athrun had specifically told her not to let Shinn find out, lest he do something irrational.

"Athrun!?" Shinn whirled around, blazing red eyes meeting Athrun's gaze, his earlier resolve momentarily forgotten as fear for his sister swept through him. "What's going on!?"

Athrun sent a stern glare at Lunamaria. "I had informed Shiho and she has had Yzak dispatch some of his men. See if there is any word from her," he ordered sternly. The red-head nodded and rushed back into the ballroom. Athrun turned back to Shinn. "Meyrin thinks Mayu has snuck out."

"What!?" Shinn asked with disbelief. She shook his head from side to side. "No…no, Mayu wouldn't do that!"

"A horse is missing and no one can find her," Athrun frowned. "It's possible she snuck out of the Durandal Estate to come here. Red Knights are already on her trail, Shinn-"

"I have to find her," Shinn cut him off. He whirled around and rushed towards the doors. Athrun darted after him.

"Shinn!" Athrun called out. He reached out and grabbed the younger man's wrist to pull him back. "Now is not the time to panic! You'll alarm everyone in the room!"

"My sister is missing!" Shinn hissed as he twisted his arm away. "She is the only family I have left, or have you forgotten that!?" he growled angrily. Athrun drew his hand back. "We need to find her!"

"I've already had some knights sent-"

"Some knights isn't good enough!" Shinn insisted desperately. "I'll go! I'll…I'll get Stellar to come or…" His eyes widened as he remembered something. "Captain Athha! Stellar said she was one of the best at tracking!" he rambled.

"Shinn, have you gone insane!?" Athrun growled as he grabbed his heir's shoulder and physically whirled him around to face him. "Why do you want to expose your sister to Cagalli!? You know what happened!"

"No!" Shinn yelled as he shoved Athrun away frantically. "You don't understand what happened!"

Before Athrun could open his mouth to question the heir, Shinn darted through the doors and into the hall. Swearing silently, to himself, Athrun took off after him. Shinn wouldn't get far once the order was given to restrain him. The nobleman made it two steps into the room when the introduce sounded and made the entire world stop.

"Presenting the Madam of the Zala Noble House, Lady Cagalli Yula Athha of Zala," a voice rang out into the hall. The music had died down and Athrun felt the blood drain from his face. Impossible. He was supposed to escort Cagalli down and he was supposed to do it in another fifteen minutes! Had he miscalculated the time? His heart began to race as green eyes darted around the room. He hadn't even spoken to Rusty, yet!

Panic swelled up within in. What would Rusty say? What would he do? Would he reveal Cagalli? Torn between going after Shinn and finding Rusty, the blue-haired man remained unmoving in his spot.

"Athrun," a strong hand placed itself on his shoulder. It would've kept him rooted to the ground, had the nobleman already found himself frozen and helpless where he stood. Athrun's horrified face turned to the side and met Yzak's commanding presence. "What have you decided?"

Shinn, who had been a few steps away, turned around. He had been caught up in the sight in front of him as Lady Zala entered the hall wearing soft, white flowers in her hair. She carried a proud stance, hiding her nervousness well, as she wore a long, soft looking gown of pale green.

Silence had nearly overtaken the room as everyone's eyes focused on the lovely new matriarch of the Zala House. Shinn would have remained gawking at her impressive countenance had he not heard Yzak's voice. On instinct, he turned around and cast a hopeful look at Athrun.

The older man was looking at Yzak, determination written all over his eyes. "She is my wife," he whispered in a low, pleading voice. "I married her not for Plants or Orb…not even for Meer's death," Athrun admitted, almost painfully. "My decision, despite what I have been trying to fool myself and everyone else into believing, was made before I even asked her to marry me."

Yzak held on to Athrun's shoulder for a moment longer and then finally released him, seemingly satisfied with the answer. "I know," Yzak admitted. "But knowing you, Zala, one can never be too careful."

Athrun closed his eyes and let out a heavy breath. That was what he had wanted to tell Shinn. He wanted to apologize for he would wrong his trusted heir one final time by sparing the life of his wife. "I need to find Rusty," Athrun breathed as he stood up straight. A sudden, yet not unwelcomed feeling swept over him now that his decision was out in the open. He no longer felt as constricted, though lingering coils of guilt and worry remained.

Yzak raised an eyebrow and waved one hand casually towards the center of the room. The silver-haired man smirked. "He's right over there."

Athrun followed Yzak's extended hand and felt his heart stop. Standing in front of his new wife was the man she had crossed paths with years ago.

"There you go, Cagalli!" Stellar had stepped aside as she finished weaving the white flowers into Cagalli's hair. Lunamaria's earlier up-do had fallen apart and rather than attempt to salvage it, Stellar completely unraveled her sister's golden locks and began gathering them back into a different style entirely. At first glance, Cagalli's hair looked tussled. At second glance, it looked utterly fitting on her.

The amber-eyed captain studied her sister's handiwork carefully in the mirror. The white blossoms that accented her hair were placed against the base of the hair tie that held her hair back. The majority of her bangs had been pulled back out of her eyes. She gave a small nod. "It's lovely, Stellar. Thank you."

Behind her, the younger blonde smiled widely. "Stellar has been practicing!" she beamed.

Cagalli smiled soft and gave her a small questioning look. "Practicing on who?"

"Natarle," Stellar smiled. Cagalli chuckled softly and slowly stood up. "Is it time to go downstairs?"

"I'm not sure," Cagalli admitted. "I was told that someone would come to get me when it was time," she said as she ran her hands down the front of her dress, as if to straighten its already smooth surface. "I suppose we've been up here long enough. We should go downstairs. You said that the guests were already arriving?"

Stellar nodded enthusiastically. "Stellar saw the guests enter. The guests are very well dressed. Does Cagalli think Stellar's dress is good enough?"

Cagalli cupped her little sister's face in her hands and smiled warmly. "Stellar will look better than anyone else down there." The younger blonde smiled sheepishly.

"Do you think Shinn will want to dance with Stellar?" A flicker of sadness flashed across Cagalli's eyes, but her smile remained in place. Stellar's lips turned into a small frown. "Cagalli?"

"Shinn will want to dance with you," the older sibling assured the younger one. "Don't worry." She clasped her sister's hand in hers and led her to the door. "Come on, the entirety of Plants' Noble Houses have come to welcome their newest addition. We shouldn't keep them waiting."

Stellar nodded once more and happily followed behind her sister. Cagalli closed the door behind them as they entered the hallway. From there, the two walked down the corridor, following the sound of music that reached their ears from the celebration below. A few servants moving through the house bowed to their new lady as she descended the stairs. As she reached the bottom floor, the new noblewoman took a deep breath.

"Is Cagalli alright?" Stellar asked behind her. The older woman looked over her shoulder and smiled warmly.

"I'm fine, Stellar," she assured her sister. "I just…need to talk to Athrun a bit."

Cagalli tilted her head to the side curiously. "About Lady Meer and Shinn's parents?" The Haumea Elite captain froze for a moment. Slowly, she turned around, surprised eyes looking at her sister.

"Stellar, how did you know about that?" she asked. Her mind ran through all the possible people who could tell her. Kira was first on the list, however, it was a well known fact that he wouldn't tell Stellar anything that would disturb her unless absolutely necessary. Miriallia, who was also there that night, didn't know of the severity of the situation Cagalli found herself in.

"Rusty told Stellar," the younger blonde replied thoughtfully. "Rusty came to the ball and Stellar lead Rusty into the room. Rusty told Stellar all about how brave Stellar's sister is," she added with a proud smile.

Cagalli stood in her place, a bit stunned. Athrun had invited Rusty? The red-haired guard from that night? Her eyes crinkled up. Then…did Athrun know about everything? She felt her throat go dry as Stellar chuckled and took her sister's hand, leading her towards the entryway into the ballroom.

"Wait, Stellar," Cagalli stumbled behind the energetic young blonde. "Perhaps, I should wait for Athrun to have someone come and fetch me-" she rushed anxiously.

"But Stellar and Cagalli are already here!" the younger elite protested. She was already walking towards one of the servants standing by the door. "Stellar Loussier and Lady Zala!"

"Of course, Miss Loussier," the servant gave her a small bow and turned to announce her to the room.

"Stellar!" Cagalli gasped. She rushed forward to try to stop her sister, but Stellar's name was announced and the doors were held open for her. Smiling brightly, the Azure elite walked into the room. Cagalli bit her lower lip. She was next. She was next and suddenly, she didn't want to go inside and face her husband. If he knew, did he blame her? Did he hate her even more? Less? Her stomach began to twist.

"My lady," a guard gently tapped her bare shoulder and the captain snapped out of her daze. "You are about to be announced."

Amber eyes widened with protest. She rushed forward in vain to try to stop the servant from announcing her, but it was too late. "Presenting the new Madam of the Zala Noble House, Lady Cagalli Yula Athha of Zala,"

Cagalli found herself at the doorway to the grand hall, facing dozens of curious faces trying to get a glimpse of the new Lady Zala. Her entire body immediately stiffened under their gaze. On instinct, she reverted to the dignified posture she had been taught since youth to carry. Shoulders back, back straight, head held high, yet at the same time seemingly relaxed and natural to the untrained eye.

With all the dignity she could muster under the increasingly uncomfortable gaze of Plants nobility, she descended the few steps into the ballroom. Even as she struggled to keep herself poised and not humiliate Orb, her mind called out for one person to be at her side and offer her some comfort. Where was Athrun? Was he even in the room? She resisted the urge to look around and it took all the strength she had not to.

The heavy silence that lingered in the air only served to make everyone's critical gaze seem stronger. There she was; the newest addition to Plants' noble houses. Cagalli swallowed the lump in her throat. Just like at her own wedding, she felt inadequate. She knew she wasn't the great beauty like the first Lady Zala. She wasn't from a strong noble lineage. She wasn't dainty and gentle. She was sturdy and rough.

She knew she wasn't good enough for Athrun and under normal circumstances, she doubted he would give her a second look.

"Captain Athha," a voice said in front of her. She blinked and drew herself out of her thoughts. She saw a smiling red-haired man in front of her dressed in a Red Knights uniform. He had a familiar face, one that had aged a bit, but she could still remember it. "Perhaps you do not remember me."

"You are the guard," Cagalli said as a wry, tired smile graced her lips. She gave him a small bow of her head.

"My lady," Rusty said as he extended his hand to keep her from bowing further. She lifted her head just as Rusty knelt down before her. "It is I who should bow to you, Captain Athha of the Haumea Elite," he insisted as he lowered his head humbly before her. "You saved our lives."

"Er…sir…" Cagalli stammered. "Please stand," she pleaded quietly as her cheeks flooded with warmth. Everyone was watching and no doubt, everyone wanted to know. "It is not necessary-"

"But it is, Captain Athha," another voice added. Cagalli looked up to see the blond driver approach them. He gave her a deep bow. "All of Plants should know what you have done for one of their own."

Cagalli shook her head. No, not here. Please not here. It was my failure! Do not tell the world of my failure! She silently begged.

"Sir Mackenzie, Miguel," a voice said off to the side. Cagalli snapped her head to the left. Lacus was in attendance? "Please inform the guests of what Lady Zala has done, as a Haumea Elite, for Plants."

"It is not necessary-" Cagalli argued, only to be cut off by Rusty's agreement.

"Yes, my queen," he answered dutifully. He lifted his head, still kneeling before the blonde noblewoman. "There years ago, on a journey to deliver aid to border villages, the carriage, driven by Miguel and guarded by myself, carrying the late Lady Meer and Master and Madam Asuka had trespassed into the disputed territory in Orb. Lost, we were given safe passage by Captain Athha back to Plants."

Murmurs swept through the crowded hall and Cagalli felt herself start to shake. Her eyes frantically darted through the room, trying to find an exit. Instead they landed on a pair of green eyes looking at her from just before the balcony doors. The world suddenly seemed to consist only of him and fear became evident in her face. Her heart stopped. This was not the way she wanted him to find out.

"Through our negligence, we were attacked by bandits. Master and Madam Asuka, and the late Lady Meer were fatally wounded," Miguel concluded solemnly. "Captain Athha had rushed after us. She single handedly defeated the bandits and saved my life, Rusty's life, and the life of Young Miss Mayu Asuka."

Cagalli's eyes began to rim with tears. Why were they omitting the most obvious part? She had failed to save three other lives! She had told them of the dangerous path!

"Lord Zala," Rusty said as he looked over his shoulder. "Had it not been for Lady Cagalli, Lady Meer would never have been able to see you one last time."

Green eyes were staring at the figure in the light green gown. He saw past the people around them, past the men kneeling before her, and straight at the woman. His mind momentarily shut down. It was difficult to believe, especially after all those years of hating her, of wanting her dead. After all those years of believing something else…And all those weeks they were together…she never said a word.

"Cagalli," he said in a low voice. His eyes crinkled as they searched hers. "Why did you not tell me?"

Tears rimmed her eyes. "I…"

"Captain…" another voice broke through the stunned silence of the hall. This one was forced, sounding strained from years of disuse. The blonde woman turned her head and a movement caught her eye. Making her way through the crowds was a young teenage girl with windblown brown hair and large eyes. She still wore a riding cloak around her shoulders and in her pale, shaking hands was a worn piece of purple cloth. "Captain…Athha?"

"Mayu!" Shinn's voice cut through the crowds. His eyes widened as he rushed forward, almost shoving people out of the way as he rushed towards his sister. "Mayu, where have you been-"

"Captain!" Mayu croaked as her eyes began to well up with tears. Shinn skidded to a stop. It suddenly hit him that his sister was speaking.

"Mayu…" he gasped out, almost choking on his own words. A shaky smile tugged at his lips. "Mayu, you're talking!"

The teenager ignored her brother. She continued to make her way forward as she stared at the woman captain with awe. She sniffed back her tears as she clutched the cloth against her chest. "Captain Athha…" she murmured once more, her voice still painfully hoarse.

Cagalli's eyebrows knitted together. "Mayu…" she whispered. Her eyes saddened. "Mayu, forgive me-"

"I'm sorry!" The girl's cry echoed through the silenced hall as she ran forward and slammed herself against the older female's body. Broken sobs wracked her small frame as she clung on to Cagalli. Choked apologizes struggled to escape her lips as tears ran down her face. "I tried!" Mayu sobbed. "I tried, Captain Athha!"

For a moment, Cagalli stood there stunned, unsure of what to do. Then, she did what came naturally. "Shh…shh…" Cagalli whispered as she drew the girl against her and gently soothed back her hair, just as she did when Stellar ran to her in tears. "Breathe, Mayu…breathe…"

The teenager struggled to hold her tears back long enough. "I failed you, Captain Athha…"

"What?" Cagalli's eyes widened, genuinely surprised. "What do you mean…? Mayu, you haven't done anything to me!"

"You told me to try to stop the bleeding," Mayu cried. "You told me to put pressure on the wound. I tried! I really did! I ripped apart your cloak to try to stop Lady Meer's bleeding…but there was too much blood! It wouldn't stop! I tried to stop it, but I couldn't!"

Regret flooded Cagalli as clear drops slid down her cheeks. How could she have given such a responsibility to a little girl? "You have nothing to apologize for," Cagalli whispered as she leaned forward and pressed her head against Mayu's. "You were only a child…I never should've given such a task to you…it wasn't your fault, Mayu. You tried to save her. That's all we could've asked of you."

"Cagalli is right, Mayu," a voice said behind her. The brunette looked over her shoulder hesitantly. Her eyes widened before she lowered her head in shame. "Mayu…"

"Forgive me, Lord Zala," Mayu choked back another sob. "I tried to save her."

"Mayu…" Athrun said in a pained voice. "Is this…is this the reason you couldn't bring yourself to speak? You blamed yourself for Meer's death?" Silently, the girl nodded her head. "No…" Athrun choked out. He reached forward and gathered the girl in his arms. He pressed her head against his shoulder as he hugged her fiercely. Had he known, he would've reassured her. Instead, he had remained ignorant and allowed someone precious to him to blame them self. "No, Mayu, it was never your fault. I never blamed you!" he assured her as he stroked the back of her head. "I never blamed you, Mayu... You are not at fault!"

"The fault lies with us, Lord Zala," Miguel said shamefully as he lowered his head. "It was us who made the decision to take that path. It was us who got lost in the first place."

"If anyone was to blame for the tragedy of that night, it is us, my lord." Rusty added.

Athrun looked over at them and shook his head. "You…I do not hold you at fault."

"But my lord-"

"I do have some questions of my own," Athrun told them in a shaken voice. "If you do not mind…" The two men bowed their heads once more.

"Of course not, my lord," they chorused. Athrun's eyes drifted over to his teary-eyed wife. While still standing straight, looking proud and elegant, he could still make out the silent tears streaming down her face and the redness of her eyes. Despite the enormous importance of what he had just been told, he still felt a heavy weight on his shoulders.

Before the silence could drag on further, Lacus' cheerful voice was heard above the crowd. "Wonderful!" the queen smiled warmly. "My cousin would be most pleased! Musicians!" She ordered, waving one hand towards them as a signal to continue. The director nodded and turned to the musicians in the corner. As the music filled the air once more, Lacus looked out the crowd and began to expertly defuse the situation.

Before long, Cagalli was surrounded by various nobleman and women to greet her, and some to express their thankfulness. Lady Durandal smiled as she gently took her handkerchief and dried the tears from the younger woman's eyes.

"Lady Zala," a voice said behind her. The blonde turned around. Dearka grinned and gave her a small bow of his head. "You have a guest waiting for you in the parlor."

Cagalli tilted her head to the side. "Thank you…but I am not expecting anyone…"

Dearka's smile faltered a bit. "It is Kira, my lady."

"Oh!" Lacus, who had over heard, clapped her hands together. "How wonderful! He was able to make it after all!"

Cagalli bit her lip and looked over her shoulder. Athrun was no where to be seen. "I will see him," she told the Red Knight. "Lead the way."

Even the wine was mocking him. Athrun's green eyes glared at the clear liquor left in his glass. Of course they had to be the same shade as Cagalli's eyes. Cagalli's clear, beautiful eyes. After one last glare at the offending liquid, he brought the cup to his lips and drank down the remains. He wasn't typically one to drink, but after that night, he felt he needed it.

Everything had gone smoothly after the initial scene just after Cagalli entered. Her heroics had been the talk of the evening. Nobles and fellow Red Knights had come to congratulation him on not only having a beautiful wife, but also a strong one. Various guests had expressed how romantic it seemed to all be. Athrun himself couldn't believe it was actually happening the way it was.

Lacus had stepped in to draw attention away from the couple and get the gala back on track, for which Athrun was eternally grateful for. He honestly had no idea where to go after he assured Miguel and Rusty that they were not at fault. He would've remained standing there, like an idiot, staring at Cagalli the entire time. After Lacus' intervention, he told Rusty and Miguel to meet him in his study and as discreetly as he could, snuck out of the hall to speak to them.

It was in that wood paneled room where everything came out, in detail. Where they were lost, what they saw, what Cagalli had said…everything, including former Lord General Le Creuset's vindictive orders to withhold information from Athrun. Angrily, he had cursed the former general. If Le Creuset had been alive, he would've gone after him immediately. Repercussions be damned.

Rather than return to the ball after he dismissed the two other men, Athrun had remained in his study, wallowing in his frustration. How could he have been so blind and foolish to simply take Le Creuset's reports for face value? Especially after he was deemed a traitor! He should've asked Miguel and Rusty. He had plenty of chances to, but he had been hesitant. His life – the lives of Shinn and Mayu - were now paying the price for his ignorance.

Yzak and Dearka had briefly joined him in the room to try to coax him back out. Dearka had asked if Athrun regretted marrying Cagalli. Athrun shook his head. He would never regret marrying her. What he regretted was marrying her and making her suffer. After their fruitless attempt to have Athrun return with them, the two left the man alone again. Athrun lapsed into the decision he had made just before he left his room. He was going to spare her. It was a needlessly agonizing decision to make, which frustrated him.

It was only when Shinn and Mayu crept in minutes later that he finally was drawn back out to face the crowds. He needed to do his own damage control, after all. Questions would be asked and it wouldn't do for him to hide from them. Shinn apologized for his reactions and admitted he had been caught up in his own beliefs and emotions that he had irrationalized Athrun's. After everything the man had done for the, Shinn had so easily dismissed the older man's wants. He then shamefully admitted he had drawn his sword against Cagalli, which earned him a disapproving frown from Athrun.

Mayu frowned at him and Athrun, though irritated with Shinn's hasty actions, told him it wasn't he Shinn should be asking forgiveness from. Shinn nodded and said he would speak to Lady Zala later. Mayu then approached Athrun and placed the cloth in front of him and smiled encouragingly.

His pale fingers stroked the fabric once more. He looked down at the embroidered initials and smiled slightly. After Mayu left him and Shinn alone, the heir looked back at his master. "Athrun…would you have gone through with it?" he asked quietly. "Even if she was guilty?"

The blue-haired man remained staring at the cloth. "No…" It was so much easier to say once he had accepted it. Now, as he remained leaning against the balcony, an escape from several hours of dealing with his guests, Athrun dwelled on how everything would've gone had he found out for himself earlier. Would the he and Cagalli been closer? Without anything between them?

"The last of the guests have left," a voice said behind him. Immediately, the nobleman tensed at the sound of the woman's voice. "Er…Queen Lacus is staying the night."

His hand tightened around the glass stem as Cagalli spoke behind him, as casually as she could. "Yes, I've had a suite prepared for her."

The blonde woman nodded. She stood at the threshold for a moment longer, trying to think of what else to say. She had purposely seen out the last of the guests and excused the servants for the night, opting to inform their master that the celebration had ended personally. She had something to tell him and many things to discuss, but now didn't seem like the right time to.

He remained standing with his back to her, his eyes focused elsewhere. It had been a long night for him as well and the breath of fresh air the balcony provided was needed to help him sort his thoughts. She would have to speak to him another time.

"Well…good night, Lord Zala." She gave him a small bow of her head and turned to leave.

"Cagalli," he called out quietly behind her. She froze in midstep and heard the rustling of his clothes as he turned around to face her. "Why didn't you tell me?"

Her eyes lowered to the marble floor within the hall. Biting her lip, she took a deep breath and slowly turned around. "I wanted to," she told him quietly. "Numerous times, even back in Onogoro," she admitted. "But I couldn't bring myself to or it wasn't the right moment."

His eyes crinkled up and Cagalli stared at his face. He seemed tired and she couldn't blame him after all the attention he had to deal with that night. After everything he had to deal with that night. "Did you think I was going to hate you?" he asked softly. "Cagalli, I could never hate you."

"You've hated me before," Cagalli reminded him as she crossed the balcony and joined him at his side. She leaned over the railing and looked out towards the garden. "Before you even met me, you knew my name and you hated me. I don't blame you…you believed I killed your wife in cold blood."

Athrun closed his eyes. So many years spent hating an innocent woman…years he would never get back. "You knew that I knew?"

"It didn't take much, Athrun," Cagalli said, smiling weakly. "The reports, your wife's name…the ring on your finger," she said glancing down at his hand. Her eyebrows furrowed as her wry smile fell. "Where is your ring?"

"Hmm?" Athrun looked down at his bare hand and lifted it up for her to see. "I took it off."

"Why?" Cagalli asked. "It is your signet ring."

Athrun merely looked away shyly. "It was my wedding ring," he told her quietly. His eyes rose to meet hers. "But I'm married to you now," he reminded her. He lifted his hand and dug past his loosened collar. His fingers pulled out a black cord with a red pendant. "All I need is this."

She pursed her lips as the red pendant swung in the breeze. "You wear it?"

"Every day," he asserted. He lowered his hand and let the pendant fall across his chest. "Cagalli, if you knew who I was…who I was married to, why did you marry me? Anyone would've been suspicious at my motives."

"I wasn't suspicious," Cagalli asserted. "I knew. I knew from the beginning that revenge was on your mind. It was odd how you singled me out amongst my sisters. For a man like you, it didn't seem normal. Normally, you would've stuck to the volunteers, but you went out of your way to be with me. I knew there was something you wanted and figured it was revenge."

"Then why?" Athrun stressed as he took a step closer. "Why did you put yourself on the line?"

"I took away your wife," Cagalli told him as she turned her head to look at him. Amber eyes were wet with unshed tears. "I took away the woman you were to spend the rest of your life with."

"So you married me to replace her?" Athrun spat out, unsure of how to feel.

"No!" Cagalli cried out. "I married you because I hurt you! I couldn't allow myself to go on knowing I failed to save a lives – to save the life of someone precious to someone I care about! I owe you my apologies, Athrun. This is my penance! You were hurting and I wanted to care for you! I caused all of this! If it wasn't for me-"

"That's enough!" Athrun growled as he slammed his fist against the railing. "Meer's death isn't your fault!"

"I led them astray-" Cagalli insisted.

"You tried to save them!" Athrun argued. He took a deep breath and stood up straight. "Cagalli, don't do this to yourself," he pleaded painfully. "Mayu…Mayu silenced herself because she thought it was her fault Meer bled to death. Miguel and Rusty blamed themselves for the Asukas and Meer's death when all that happened was an honest mistake! It was an accident, Cagalli! You are not held liable for things beyond your control!"

The blonde stood there in stunned silence. Her husband stared at her beseeching. "Why are you accepting this so easily?" she whispered. "Three years you have harbored ill feelings towards me…why do you so easily accept this?"

"Why did you marry me when you knew I wanted revenge?" Athrun countered. He reached out and stroked the side of her face gently.

Cagalli's eyes watered. "I was ready to accept whatever you planned for me as punishment for my failure."

"And did you think I would really kill you?" he asked seriously. Cagalli was silent for a moment before answering.

"No," she admitted. "Not on purpose…"

Athrun held her gaze. "Why?"

"When we were fighting," Cagalli said softly. "Back in the Rouge Seray and you flipped me. I was beneath you and you bruised my neck. You regretted it deeply. Sincerely…I could see it in your eyes. No man can emulate that emotion in their eyes, Athrun. As much as you may have wanted to and as ready as I was to accept it, I knew deep down that you couldn't kill me."

His emerald gaze flickered down. "Do you hate me?" he asked. "For harboring such anger towards you?"

"No," Cagalli told him. "It hurt, Athrun, but I understand your reasons. I cannot hate you…I harbored the same loathing for myself…"

"Do you forgive me?" he continued.

Cagalli's lips tugged into a small smile. "Forgiveness is something that cannot be given because it is owed. You do not forgive someone to gain something in return, favor or otherwise. You forgive because you love. To do so otherwise is meaningless and shallow."

Athrun mulled over her words. "Then…do you love me?" he asked suddenly. Cagalli drew her head back slightly. The man across from her lifted his head and met her eyes once more.

"Cagalli!" a voice called from within the hall. The two adults turned their heads towards the door. Past it, they could see Mayu waving her hand in the air, smiling brightly.

Athrun's eyes softened. "It has been so long since I saw her smile…" he said wistfully. Cagalli smiled softly.

"I will be right there, Mayu," Cagalli said as she waved at the girl. "She wanted to play a piano piece for me before she retired for the night," she told the man beside her as the brunette nodded and ran back out the hall to prepare the music room.

"Then, you are in for a pleasant surprise," Athrun assured her. "Our Mayu is the best pianist in Zaft, I'm sure of it."

Cagalli chuckled and nodded. She glanced back at Athrun, who was still looking in at the now empty hall. Silently, her hand slid down and grasped his. His head turned to look at her. "It is getting late and I should retire soon, as well," she told him. Athrun smiled weakly, getting the hint that their conversation was over. Her hand squeezed his gently. "Get some sleep."

Her fingers untangled themselves from his as she stepped back. Athrun watched in silence as she headed back through the doors. "Cagalli," he said once more. "What happens now?"

She turned around as she paused by the threshold. "The air is clear between us…" she said simply. "But…things are still complicated…I don't expect things to change overnight, Athrun."

The blue-haired man nodded solemnly. "Then, have a good night's rest, my lady. I will see you in the morning."

A small, sad smile graced Cagalli's face. "Good night, Lord Zala."

He gave her a small nod of his head before turning back out towards the garden. His gaze settled on the stone rooftop in the distance, almost calling out to him from the dark. After a few moments, his eyes narrowed. Without really thinking, he turned around and walked through the ballroom and into the hall. After a brief walk, he found himself outside, heading towards the outer gardens. The darkness didn't bother him much as he easily made his way through the familiar grounds. Before long, he was standing in front of the mausoleum.

"Meer…" he whispered in the darkness. "I misunderstood you, didn't I, Meer?" he asked the monument in front of him. "The day you left me…you told me to end the war. Was it because of Cagalli?" His eyes watered. "I'm sorry if I didn't do what you wanted me to do. I'm sorry for carrying around this anger. I know you never wanted me to burden myself…but it's all right now, isn't it?" He asked, almost desperately as he pressed his hand against the cold stone. Tears slid down his face for the first time that night. "I can be with her?" He choked back the pain in his heart as he stared at the name. "Thank you."

"Ready the horses before the dawn breaks," Cagalli told Kira as she leaned against the side of her door. She rubbed the bridge of her nose tiredly. It had been a long night, only made longer by her meeting with her brother. "This needs to be dealt with immediately."

Her brother looked concerned as he stood just outside her door. "Are you sure you want to leave now? Your week here is not yet complete."

"We can complete it some other time during the year, Kira," Cagalli stated firmly. "I need to get back to Orb and deal with the Federation's threats."

Kira nodded his head solemnly. He knew that as well, but after what he had seen happen in the ballroom that evening, he knew full well that Cagalli needed to speak to her husband in order to put her mind at ease. "It is your decision. Have you informed Athrun?" She tensed and Kira crossed his arms over his chest. "You haven't."

"I'll send him a note," Cagalli assured her brother. "It's too late to wake him now and he needs his rest."

Kira looked at his sister worried, but gave her a small nod. "Fine," he agreed. "He's your husband."

"I'll see you in a few hours, Kira," Cagalli told him solemnly. Her brother gave her a pat on the shoulder, as if to comfort her, and then turned around to head back to his guest room. Cagalli slipped back into her bedroom suite and closed the door behind her. She headed for her bathroom, tiredly peeling off the dress she hadn't had time to remove.

She allowed herself to relax in the steaming hot shower until her fingertips grew wrinkled. She then wrapped herself in a plush white towel before rubbing another through her drenched hair. As she wandered out into the bedroom to gather her simple nightwear, a knock echoed through the room.

Lifting her head she let out a heavy sigh. All she wanted to do was crawl into the nice comfortable bed and allowed herself some well deserved sleep. Tightening the towel around her body and tossing the damp towel that had been run through her hair aside, she padded barefoot across the floor, to the door. She reached out and unlocked it, pulling it open.

A sharp gasp escaped her lips as she jerked her head back. "Athrun...?"

"Sorry," he murmured. "I know it's late…" he said. Cagalli's eyes widened as she looked down at him. He was still wearing the wrinkled remains of his clothes from that evening. His hair was ruffled and falling over his eyes, which were almost swollen and still red.

"Athrun…" she whispered as she lowered her arms. "Are you all right?"

"You…" he stammered stupidly. "You never answered my question."

She frowned and crossed her arms over her chest. "You came all this way this late at night to have your question answered? Couldn't it wait?"

"No, it couldn't," Athrun told her sternly. He took a step into her room and on instinct, Cagalli took a step back to let him through. "Cagalli…" he began desperately. "Just answer my question."

Cagalli stared at him as if he had lost his mind. Was he still hung up on that? Didn't he already know? After all her actions, didn't he understand? He had no reason to doubt how she felt for him, did he? "You know I didn't simply marry you for Orb."

"You said it was because you wanted to help me…because you owed this to me…" Athrun persisted. "Is that true? Is that all there is?"

No… Cagalli narrowed her eyes. "I married a man I knew had a vendetta against me. I willingly allowed myself to fall into what was possibly a trap," she frowned as she threw her arms to the side. "I gladly gave up what was my life, my freedom, to join in marriage with you – what other answer do you need!?"

He was silent for a moment. "I need to hear you say yes."

Cagalli's arms fell limply to her sides as she looked at him with disbelief. Was that all? "Yes."

He sprung forward, wrapping his arms around her and gathering her face against his. Stunned, the woman stumbled back, held up only by Athrun's arms as his lips pressed hard against hers.

Her mind whirled. Now was not the time. He had only found out the truth hours ago and she had yet to fully accept that she was not responsible for the loss of innocent lives; that it was an accident that was out of her hands. Not only that, but she had to leave in the morning, before the sun even rose. Her country was depending on her.

He stroked her wet hair back as he looked down at her flushed faced. He smiled intently at her as unspeakable joy filled his eyes. "Cagalli…" A warm feeling coursed through her.

It was odd, how just the other day, she had told him that she didn't feel as if he were her husband, but now, he wasn't anything but hers. It happened so quickly, it was hard to believe. Perhaps he had always been hers and she just needed to realize that. Or perhaps she had to wake up from a dream.

Unsurely, her arms rose and crept between their bodies. As one hand held her towel closed, she pushed him away with the other one. His eyes saddened as his face fell. He stepped back, his arms loosening from around her body as she stepped away from him.

Was she rejecting him? She had every right to after what he put her through, but he had stilled hoped. Perhaps she wasn't ready yet and needed more time. She walked around him and silently closed the door. As it clicked to a close behind her, she looked up at her husband.

"Athrun…" she began carefully. She took a step forward. "I should tell you-"

"Cagalli, can it wait?" he asked tiredly. He walked forward and slumped forward against her. He rested his head against her shoulder and closed his eyes. "So much has happened…I…I just want to be with my wife right now."

The Haumea Elite stood stiffly in place as Athrun leaned heavily against her. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders and slowly caressed the back of his head. She pressed her lips against his head and whispered as she closed her eyes. "It can wait…"

A quiet knock sounded at her door and the blonde woman silently turned her head towards it. Was it time already? She had barely gotten any sleep. Another knock came from the door and she looked down at the man sprawled across her body. Bare arms were resting limply at her sides. His head was resting against her shoulder and, to her amusement, he was practically drooling in his sleep.

Holding back her chuckle, she gingerly maneuvered the blue-haired man off of her and on to the soft folds of the bed before sliding off the bed. As she stood up, she looked back over her shoulder to make sure she didn't wake up. Athrun seemed to be sleeping soundly, a small smile across his parted lips.

Cagalli smiled warmly and resisted the urge to return to his side. She rounded the massive bed and gathered the clothes hanging over one of her chairs. She quickly pulled on her garments before heading towards the door. She opened it, making sure to wedge herself between the opening and the view of her occupied bed.

"Cagalli," Kira whispered in a quiet voice. "The horses are ready," he told her as he stood in front of her. Cagalli nodded.

"Where is Stellar?" she asked.

"She went to wake up Shinn and tell him good-bye," Kira winced at the thought. "I tried to stop her, but you know how she is."

Cagalli nodded. "Let me gather my things and I'll be downstairs as soon as I can," she told him. Kira gave her a small nod.

"Don't take too long. We need to get going."

"I know," Cagalli watched as her brother turned around and walked down the hall. She then turned around and went to pack the remainder of her things. She was carrying her bag towards the door when the man on the bed began to stir. Immediately, she froze in her spot, wondering if she was caught.

"Cagalli?" a tired voice asked.

She glanced out the door and then back towards the bed. Biting her lip, she slid her bag on the floor quietly and crossed the room. "I'm right here," she whispered as she reached over the edge of the bed and stroked the side of her half-asleep husband's bed. "Go back to sleep…"

"What are you doing up…?" Athrun asked in his sleep filled daze.

"Working," Cagalli answered truthfully. "I'll be back soon, okay?" she told him affectionately. "Can you wait?" He smiled as his face turned towards the warmth of her hand.

"I can wait…" he murmured dumbly. Cagalli smiled softly, wondering if he'd even remember that in the morning. "I love you…"

She bit her lip to keep from chuckling. "I know…"

"Cagalli?" a voice asked from the partially opened door. The blonde looked over her shoulder and saw Stellar standing there, waiting. Cagalli lifted her free hand.

"I'll be right there," she whispered. She looked back at Athrun and lowered her head, grazing his lips lightly with hers. "Just wait," she breathed against his ear. "I'll be back soon," she promised.

He had already returned to sleep and Cagalli pulled away. As she stood up and headed out the door, she glanced over her shoulder several more times. Stellar was holding Cagalli's bag in her arms as she stood out in the hall. "Ready?" the younger woman asked. Cagalli nodded. She closed the door behind her.

"Yes…" she said as she unraveled the travel cloak that had been hanging over the couch. "Let's go home."

Athrun rolled over in the bed, one arm blindly searching for the warm body he was sure he was supposed to be next to. However, the body he longed for was no longer there. Green eyes slowly opened. "Cagalli?" he asked tentatively. As he realized she wasn't there with him, he sat up straight. "Cagalli!?"

He scanned the room and frowned. Her things were gone. His eyes widened. "No…" Throwing off the bed sheets around him, he scrambled off the bed and tore through the room. She wasn't in the bathroom, her clothes were all gone. All that was left were a few discarded towels. Swearing to himself, he swept up his clothes and pulled them on before bursting out the door.

Storming through the hall and down the stairs, he rushed to the dining area. "Cagalli!?" he called as he ran through the door. Mayu and Shinn looked up from where they were eating breakfast with Lacus. "Good morning, Lord Zala!" Mayu smiled.

"Athrun, good morning," Lacus added cheerfully. Shinn merely gave him a nod of his head.

The older man returned their greetings with a nod of his own head as he stumbled in the room and looked around. "Good morning…have you seen Cagalli?" he asked.

"They left early this morning," Shinn said as he looked up from his meal. Athrun froze. He immediately turned to look at the younger man.

"What do you mean this morning?" he asked, almost frantically. "They left!? Why?"

"Stellar said there was an urgent message," Shinn told him. "That was why Kira was here."

The nobleman's eyes crinkled up. He had seen Kira at the ball last night, but aside from the initial greetings, they two were unable to talk. Kira had ridden non-stop from Orb and Cagalli had sent him to rest shortly after she met with him. Athrun had assumed Kira came to check up on them.

"Didn't Cagalli tell you?" Lacus asked as she looked up at the seemingly drained nobleman. "She was needed immediately at Onogoro and had to leave."

For a moment, Athrun gritted his teeth. No, Cagalli hadn't told him…he narrowed his eyes. At least, he didn't think she did. He vaguely remembered her hovering over him the night before, stroking his face as she told him she would return soon.

"Captain Athha is coming back, right?" Mayu asked her brother and Lacus. "Her week here is not over."

"She'll be back, Mayu," Lacus assured her softly. "It was just an emergency she had to go deal with."

"Athrun," Shinn said as he looked back at the nobleman. "Do you…" he began tentatively. "Do you want to go after her?"

Lacus and Mayu looked at him expectantly. The blue-haired man swallowed the lump in his throat and fell back against his seat at the head of the table. "No," he told them tiredly. "I can wait."


"You look horrible," the brown-haired man beside her commented as he walked beside her.

"Shut up, Kira," Cagalli grumbled as she trudged her way through the corridors of the palace. Her shoulders were slumped forward as she tiredly made her way to the front of the palace. "I don't have the strength to argue with you."

"You've been up for two days straight and going back and forth from your Seray to the palace. Are you sure you don't want to take up Queen Murrue's offer and stay here for the night?" Kira asked worriedly.

It had been over a month since they returned from Plants and Cagalli had drowned herself in international affairs. Messages to and from the Federation came and went. All talks of peace and strengthening ties were going nowhere. As the woman in charge of dealing with foreign countries, the stress of it all was weighing Cagalli down.

Meals and sleep were skipped in favor of shifting through records, maps, various correspondence and other documents that possibly would aid in the relations. Little by little, the blonde woman was taking on more and more. Simply working under her, Kira himself was stressed. Her entire Seray was. All the Haumea Elite were on alert now, after reports of military activity near their border with the Federation reached them.

Orb did not want another war. Especially not so soon after their last one ended. They were tired and still recovering. Even with Plants as an ally, they did not want to engage in another several year long fight. Cagalli knew this better than most.

"I just want to go to sleep in my bed, in my Seray," Cagalli answered.

Kira frowned worried. "Tomorrow is a day of rest. You will take it," he stated firmly.

"You can't give me orders. I out rank you," she retorted proudly.

"I'm giving you orders as your brother," he asserted. "You need to get some sleep and if I don't force you, you'll end up at the palace archives, working all day tomorrow."

"I can handle it," Cagalli argued.

"It's wearing you down," Kira frowned. "You will get some rest."

"Fine…" she grumbled, if only to appease him. As they emerged through the front door, Miriallia stood beside her carriage, seemingly waiting for them. "Mir?"

"Get in the carriage," the Azure captain said sternly. Cagalli drew her head back and Miriallia frown. "Don't give me that look, Cagalli. You're so tired; you'll fall off your horse on the way home."

"I will not," she protested weakly.

"She's not getting into the carriage, Kira." Miriallia frowned.

"I can take care of that!" Suddenly, strong arms were around Cagalli's frame and the worn captain barely had time to react. Mwu wrapped her in what appeared to be a blanket before picking her up and carrying her into the carriage.

"Mwu!" Cagalli was screeching from within. Before she could untangle herself from the blanket, the door slammed shut. Amber eyes widened as she flew towards the door.

"Go! Now!" Miriallia ordered her driver. A snap was heard a moment later, the carriage was speedily leaving the palace behind.

"Miriallia! Mwu! Kira!" Cagalli screamed as she stuck her head out the window.

"Don't worry!" Mwu assured her cheekily. "We'll take care of Strike!" They ignored the Rouge Captain's curses they faded away.

"its tough love," Kira asserted to himself as he watched his sister go. "She will get some rest if I we have to lock her in her room."

"I've already taken the liberty of assigning someone to make sure our dear Captain Athha gets some well deserved rest," Mwu assured them. "Worry not, Kira. I have it all under control."

Back in the carriage, the entire ride seemed to be a blur. One moment she was screaming at those who had forcibly shoved her into a carriage. The next moment, Cagalli found herself waking up as it came to a stop. She opened her eyes and she was slumped down against the soft cushions of the carriage. The blanket Mwu had wrapped around her to keep her from flailing at him was over her. "Captain Athha," a voice said outside. "Captain Athha, you've arrived."

Warily, the blonde woman sat up straight and rubbed her eyes. She looked out the window. She was, indeed, stopped in front of her Seray. The door opened and Asagi greeted her. "Asagi…" Cagalli murmured.

"Everything has been prepared, captain," Asagi told her dutifully. "A hot bath has been drawn for you and your meals will be served to your room."

As much as she didn't want to admit it, a hot bath sounded painfully good. Nodding slightly, Cagalli slowly climbed out of the carriage. She stretched tiredly as she walked up the steps to the house. "Thank you, Asagi…"

"If you need anything, please tell us, captain." Asagi bowed. Cagalli lazily climbed the stairs to her third floor living quarters. Each step made her legs feel heavier and heavier. She couldn't wait to lie in a tub of bubble lined hot water. She only hoped she wouldn't fall asleep and drown, which at this point, was a likely possibility.

She reached the third floor, now fully aware of just how tired her body was. Her mind was close to breaking down from everything she had been going through the last month. Her body had been stressed beyond belief and, to make things worse, she missed Athrun.

She missed the sound of his voice, the odd calmness his presence lulled her into. She missed the scent of his hair against her pillows and the comfort of his arms. She missed his blue hair and green eyes and…him. She just missed him. Grimacing, she chided herself for not even contacting him since she arrived having buried herself in work. Cagalli bit her lower lip and wondered if he even missed her.

As she came to the door to her suite, she pushed it open and automatically stripped herself of her maroon uniform coat and kicked off her shoes. It wasn't until she had finished unbuttoning the front of her white shirt that she noticed someone standing in her balcony, looking through the doors with an amused and curious expression on his face.

She let out a sharp gasp as she tugged her shirt closed and stared at the intruder. "Athrun!?" she choked out. She was dreaming. Or rather hallucinating. She was tired enough for that. The dark haired man smiled warmly as he slipped into the room and quick strode across the floor. Her eyes glanced to the side. Several bags were in the middle of being unpacked. A pair of shoes, which didn't belong to her, was placed by the door. "I...I thought you said you'd-"

"Cagalli…" Her head was tilted upwards. Gentle hands reached up and cupped her stunned face before a soft kiss grazed her lips. Her eyes widened. This was no hallucination. He pulled his lips from hers, he smiled once more. "I couldn't wait."

A.N. – It's DONE!! 42 pages! As the last scene implies, Athrun has no patience. Thank you all very, very much for your patience and giving me your time to read this. I appreciate it very much, as well as the reviews you have left me. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns on the fic, please feel free to PM me or visit my LJ to ask questions. I'll answer them there. Thank you again and take care!