AN: Thank you for all the support given for the last chapter. Each review is wholly appreciated and gave me the motivation to continue on with this story. The story alert notices I have recieved is astounding, as is the favorited alerts. Please, read and review, and I'm over and out.-ox, Airia


Chapter 9

The galactically renowned couturier arrived at the Chateau on Friday morning, complete with a model, a fitter, a seamstress and four large compartments of clothes. Cagalli was dumbstruck at being able to command such attention, though Delrino took her silence for sophistication.

"First I will show the Lady the collection I have brought with me," he said, and sat beside her in the salon as the model appeared in one outfit after another.

Within a short time, Cagalli had made clear her preference for style and color, and for the next hour, Delrino showed her only those of his clothes which met these requirements. With a total disregard for the cost, she ordered everything she liked. Had she still not been angry with Athrun, she would have behaved differently, but now she was determined to present him with the type of wife he deserved: a woman to whom the glittering panoply of wealth and rank was all-important. Normal emotions meant nothing to her; all that counted was her position in society and the covetous envy she could excite in others.

Once the collection had been shown, Delrino produced swatches of material and sketched out the additional clothes he thought she required.

"The Lady should set a style rather than follow one," he said. "With such glorious hair and exquisite features, you are unique."

She smiled away the compliment. "What style are you thinking of?"

"The Zala look." He clicked his fingers. "This is good, yes? It will be cool, sophisticated yet with a hint of innocent mischief."

"Me exactly," she said, straight-faced and watched as he resumed his sketching. To each completed design he pinned a snip of material, frequently asking Cagalli which color she preferred.

A servant came in to serve tea and lemon and Delrino sat back with satisfaction as Cagalli gave a final look at the clothes suggested for her. She failed to see herself in some of the more exotic creations but was willing to rely on the couturier's judgment.

"I will need accessories to go with all the clothes," she said. "To be honest, Mr. Delrino, I have little to my name."

"The past in unimportant, Lady Cagalli, and I will gladly see that your future places you among the top ten best-dressed women in the galaxy."

"It isn't the sort of position I particularly strive for," she confessed.

"If you will let me do the striving…" He glanced at his watch. "If I leave now I will get to Paris in time to take the shuttle back to Quintilis City. I will leave the seamstress and fitter here to alter the dresses you already chosen and I will be ready in ten days to fit the ones I am designing for you."

"You will come here, of course?" Cagalli said coolly.

"Of course. I am always at the Lady's service."

"At the service of Athrun's money," she amended silently, but gave him her hand and a charming smile as she bade him goodbye.

Because she had been with Delrino all day she had not seen Athrun, but knew from her secretary that he had gone to the Paris shuttle port to meet Lacus. When they had dined together the night before he had made no mention of it, nor had he referred to the fact that she had gone out with Kira. But his withdrawn manner had been a clear indication of his anger, and after a few abortive attempts to improve the conversation, she had lapsed into silence. What right did he have to criticize her behavior when he was behaving in way she could equally condemn? Or did he believe that because she had forced him into marriage he could still invite women friends to the Chateau as if he were still single? She knew she should not care how or with whom he spent his time, but she had learned lately that her emotions had little to do with logic. It was a disturbing realizations and one which she had shied away from inspecting too closely.

Although not overly anxious to look her best, she put on one of her new Delrino dresses just to spite Athrun and the hopeful dent she had made in his chequeing account. Very little alterations had been done to the clothes she had bought from the collection, and the Inner-Galactic designers lavish praise of her figure had given a fillip to her confidence which was further increased by the lavender silk jersey dress she had chosen to wear. In her hand it was a mere whisper of material, but around her body it clung to every curve. She decided on wearing make-up for once, accentuating her large amber eyes with earth-tone shadows and outlining the soft contours of her mouth with shimmering neutral colored gloss.

Anne-Marie was regretful that they had not arranged for a hairdresser to visit them from Paris, but volunteered the fact that she had once worked for the great Antoine himself. This was enough for Cagalli to tell her to get to work, and the result was a transformation. Together they decided to keep the golden-gilt tresses long enough to be worn loose if desired, yet sufficiently short to be arranged in waves or curls for the evening. Tonight Anne-Marie styled it into a Regency look, allowing a few fronds to curl on Cagalli's temples and sweeping the rest away from her face into a smooth roll around her head with a bunch of short bouncing curls on the crown. It drew attention to the lovely curve of Cagalli's neck and the charmingly titled nose. All that was lacking was suitable jewelry, and deciding that none was better than anything artificial, she did not even wear the single row of pearls which was alls he had left to remind of her of the mother she had never known.

"You must ask the Chairman to give you your jewelry," Anne-Marie said.

"I'll make note of it," Cagalli promised, and went out quickly before nervousness overcame her and decided to have dinner in her room.

She was halfway down the stairs when she became aware she was being watched, and from the doorway of the main salon, Athrun emerged. The light of the wall sconce turned his hair a deep, midnight blue. He wore a conventional dinner jacket and the stark black highlighted his pale skin. What magnificently fair coloring he had inherited from his mother, combined with the dark sensuality of his father's blood. Conscious of the narrowed gaze, she glided down the rest of the stairs to his side. Silently he stepped back to let her precede him and she walked the forty-foot length of the salon where a slight figure was seat amidst the brocade of cushions on one of the settees.

Lacus Clyne was different from what Cagalli had imaged. She was small, pale-skinned and petite, with wide, kind, innocent looking eyes that somehow held a fierce determination behind the pale violet coloring. Her hair was strikingly attractive, a long mass of pink held coltishly back by a single gold barrette, and by the unnatural, but certainly not unpleasing coloring, Cagalli was sure she was a Coordinator. Her face was a classic heart-shape with features to match, though her serene smile was a tad unsettling. Still, it curved in a friendly manner to show small pearly white teeth and equally pleasing cheekbones that made her look youthful and rather beautiful, all at the same time. She wore a pale, perfectly designed pink dress, which while simple, was elegant and accented her obvious style.

"I can see why Athrun was lured from his bachelor state," she said in a delightfully kind and soprano voice. She rose politely and offered Cagalli and even greater smile.

Her friendliness was disarming and continued throughout the evening. She refused to let Athrun talk of any subject in which they could not all share, and when they returned to the salon for coffee, she settled beside Cagalli and spoke to her almost exclusively. Cagalli judged her to younger then Athrun, perhaps even her own age, if not a bit older, and noted how child-like and naïve she too seemed.

"It's nice of Athrun to let me stay here," she remarked altruistically, adding cream to her tea. "I know I must be imposing, and I'm truly sorry for the inconvenience. Please Cagalli, forgive me for interrupting your honeymoon."

"Nonsense," Athrun said, interrupting their conversation smoothly. "You shall never impose upon anyone here at the Chateau, Lacus. I have already told you to regard this as your home for as long as you wish." His voice was unbelievably kind.

"I'm sure you felt that way when you were single," Lacus smiled. "But Cagalli might not feel the same way. If I'm too much trouble," she said to her female counterpart, "I can simply return to Aprilius City-,"

"I assure you she does," Athrun replied quickly, "so please don't worry about staying here. You are free to come and go as you please."

"Thank-you, Athrun," she said with in a quiet tone.

Using the silence that now slipped between the three, Cagalli used this as an opportunity to learn more about Lacus.

"You said you have a home in Aprilius City?" Cagalli asked.

"Oh yes," Lacus said brightly, her voice once again up-beat and unsettling. "My father had it built shortly after Aprilius was built. However, I find it strange to live there ever since his passing and for a short while, I was living in Orb."

Cagalli's attention piqued as this and she showed her great interest.

"Did you like it there?" she demurely asked.

"Oh yes, quite so," she said with a far off look settling on her dreamy face. "I resided on the Marshall Islands shortly after both the wars. The people were always friendly and the atmosphere had so much less political tension then the PLANTs. It was a relief to get away for while. Me and—,"—her face seemed to pale and suddenly she looked rather uncomfortable with the situation and subject matter. Deftly, she gave a soft laugh as if she was reminiscent of something. "Well anyways, it doesn't matter. I'm here now, surrounded by good friends." She smiled brightly and instantly changed the subject.

"Now tell me Cagalli, how is Athrun behaving to you?" She sounded like a tutting mother, gentle, but not without the desire for a little family gossip. Cagalli had the suspicion she might be scandalized if either of them indicated their marriage was a sham, and possibly grow irritatingly angry with Athrun if she told the kind girl about all the fighting that occurred between them.

With meaning, Athrun suavely responded: "That's a leading question that only my wife can answer." Cagalli, adept and thinking she was ready to lie was about to tell Lacus that that things between her and Athrun were fine, found herself unable to. Seeing her hesitation, he quickly spoke before Cagalli could do so. "Don't tease my wife, Lacus, she doesn't have your sophistication. She isn't used to this life-style yet and is only a child." The familiarity in his voice was unmistakable and the two old friends began to laugh as if they were sharing some nostalgic inside joke. Cagalli, for the first time since Lacus's arrival, felt rather out of the loop.

"Don't worry Cagalli," Lacus said turning her attention back to the flaxen haired girl. "Men like to believe their women are weak and trusting, and women like to believe their men are strong and protective and will take care of them forever. But I don't think you're a child and you hardly look like one. Between us women, we shall certainly have to keep Athrun in line."

Cagalli thought about this, and thought of the many women she knew who would never consider a marriage where one partner thought themselves superior to the other. But did Athrun like the women in his life to look up to him? He was content with having weaker, less defined women milling around in his life? She looked at him now and saw that without a doubt, he was immaculately groomed. Even on a desert island he would looked well groomed. She knew an urge to ruffle his composure; to make him aware of her as a person in her own right and not as a the evil creature he imaged her to be. Yet how did he imagine her? To Lacus, he had referred to her as a child, but to her own face he had declare her to be revengeful and ambitious. She bit her lip. It did not matter what he thought of her. It was her own feelings that counted; her own bitterness that had to be assuaged. And when it was? Again, she was faced with a question she could not answer, and as always she pushed it aside.

"Do you also own a home her in France?" Cagalli asked covertly. She no longer wanted to talk about the relationship between her and Athrun. It was too confusing.

Lacus seemed delighted that she was taking a personal interesting in getting to know her and clapped her hands.

"Oh yes. It's a wonderful little manor with beautiful gardens. Years ago, Athrun had the roses planted for me in all shades of pinks and reds and whites. It's quite charming."

Athrun, sensing where Cagalli intended to lead this conversation smoothly cut in.

"However," he said smiling at her. "Lacus is far too kind and currently has tenements living in her manor. She finds herself unable to live there herself, but I'm sure she would love to if she had the chance. She finds our own gardens rather lacking when it comes to roses."

"Then we shall have to plant some," Cagalli proposed, seeing through his white lie. A women such as Lacus would never have a need for tenements living in any of her houses, anywhere, even if she was kindly and with a huge-heart. Still, Lacus seemed pleased with this suggestion, and with child-like vigor was up at the large cathedral windows, staring out over the black, vast gardens envisioning rows upon rows of pink roses. She returned to the conversation moments later and asked an innocent question.

"Cagalli, if you don't mind me asking, and not find it too rude, how old are you?"

"Twenty-one," she replied evenly and without a hitch. Not the child Athrun would have you believe me be."

"Why Athrun," she tutted. "You behaved like Cagalli was a girl of fifteen when you spoke of her. You yourself are only twenty-six next month, are you not?"

"Regretfully, yes."

Wanly, she smiled.

"We all have regrets." But Cagalli could sense she wasn't talking about Athrun's age. "With the past wars," Lacus said in strangely purposeful voice, "I think none of us have found themselves without regret."

"Cagalli did not participate in the wars," Athrun said stiffly.

"Then maybe Athrun was right in calling you a child, Cagalli," Lacus said thoughtfully. "You are still young and lucky enough to have no regrets involving the tragedies of our past." She had one, Cagalli thought bitterly. Allowing her father to die at the hands of Chairman Zala! If there had been no accusations, then there would have been no assassination…Cagalli, although sensing Lacus meant no offense in her comment couldn't help but feel tight lipped. Deliberately, as if to askew her real feelings, she looked at Athrun.

"I will leave you to answer that for me," she said.

He gave a shrug, and inhaled silently on his cigarette. Beside her, Lacus yawned and gracefully rose.

"The excitement of being here again has tired me. If you will both forgive me, I will retire to my room. Thank-you for your company."

"I'll take you there," Athrun moved to her side, looking exceptionally tall alongside the pink-haired songstress, whose head barely reached his shoulder.

Left alone, Cagalli wandered over to the window. The terrace was lit by lanterns but the rest of the grounds were in darkness, though in the distance she glimpsed the occasional flash of car's headlights. Offhandedly, she wondered if any of them were Kira. She made a mental note to call him the next day to see how he was doing. She would also have to mention that Lacus was staying here. Perhaps he would be more willing to talk of his "mysterious" women if Cagalli got her identity out in the open. Her thoughts drifted. Next week the Chateau would be full of people and for a month after that she would not have a moment to call her own. But then what? What pattern would her life take on when the wine season was over and she and Athrun returned to December City on the PLANTs? Here at least he could avoid her all day and retire to his library in the evening. But on December City, their social life would be more exigent and if he would not allow her to accompany him, it would make nonsense of his repeated statements that he wanted his marriage to appear normal. Would he have her simply sit in his mansion all day while he ran about running the head of ZAFT, shuttling between the PLANTs and playing his role as the Chairman? She hoped not. However if he changed his mind about this, then their paths would take different ways. They would each life their own life though continuing to come together under the same roof at night. In all honesty, it would be more then a sham then ever. Faced with such a future she was not sure how long she would be able to continue with it.

She should never have married Athun. Nothing she did to him could eradicate the past. Indeed by forcing herself into his life she had merely entrenched the past more securely. Sighing, she turned back to the centre of the room. The gilt and enamel clock on the mantelshelf chimed, and she saw with surprised that it was one o'clock. Athrun had been gone more than an hour. Had he decided not to come back to the salon but go directly to his own room?

Annoyed that he should have done so without saying goodnight to her, she went up to the next floor, pausing at the turn of the stairs to admire the sweep of the banisters and to think again what a lovely home this would if only their was some children in it to make it alive again. However the idea of her and Athrun having children together was down right laughable as was the idea of Athrun in father-figure role. She walked down the corridor towards her bedroom. Anne-Marie no longer remained in the ironing room until she retired, for after what she now thought of as the dress incident, she had insisted that the women go to bed at a reasonable hour.

Yet tonight she would have welcomed the women's fussy comfort. Lacus's admiration and compliments had rung an uneasy tune in her ears. Admittedly, she was a nice girl, a paragon of virtues and undeniably sweet and gentile. However, after a few days of imaging this horrible girl who she believed was here to steal Athrun away from her right under her nose, she found it easier to cope with her through dislike, rather then the stark opposite of which she had met tonight. There was no denying it. Cagalli had been wrong about the visitor of whom she had been expecting. Why did Lacus have to be so friendly? Was she truly genuine, or was all of this simply a ploy to throw her off balance?

As she passed the narrow hall that led to the linen cupboards and ironing room, she saw Athrun's valet.

"I thought you'd gone to bed, Gaston."

"The Chairman hasn't rung yet."

Cagalli walked on, but as she reached her suite, she stopped. Could Athrun still be with Lacus? He had said he was going to take her to her room, but she had not assumed he had meant to stay there. Anger rose and she tried to fight it down. Not Lacus. She was terribly nice and as hard as Cagalli tried, she simply couldn't help but like her. But this…surely Athrun had discretion not to carry on with an affair in his own home? If either Lacus or Athrun were consummating an affair, she would find with perfect simplicity the means to hate both of them equally. A step behind her made her turn and she saw Athrun coming towards her.

"I thought you had gone to bed." She was surprised at how breathless her voice sounded and hoped he had not noticed it.

"I was with Lacus."

"For so long?"

"We had much to catch up upon." Still, one eyebrow rose. "Were you timing me?"

"Not intentionally. It wasn't until I saw Gaston just now that I realized you weren't in your room."

"I don't think I have to account to you where I spend my time."

"There's no need to be rude to me, Athrun."

"It is rude to be truthful?"

"How truthful have you been about Lacus?" she asked. "Is she really a family friend, or are you simply doing this to make Kira jealous?" The words slipped out of her mouth before she could even think about what she was saying. In all honesty, she really hadn't a clue if this Lacus was the same one as Kira's, however, all the information added up. Obviously, the two had had a fight, and Cagalli now understood completely why Lacus would never throw Kira out of her own home, hence the reason why he still stayed at her manor. The girl, like Athrun said, was far too nice.

"Is that why you think I have invited her here to stay?" he asked coldly. "To resume an affair in order to exact revenge on a former friend?"

With those words, Cagalli's suspicions were confirmed. The two Lacus's were indeed one in the same.

"Yes," Cagalli answered spitefully, although she knew it couldn't be true.

Swiftly, he reached for her arm and pulled her into her room. He stepped inside with her and closed the door. Fear flickered through her, but she fought not to show it.

"Why do you care what I think?" she demanded haughtily.

"Because Lacus will be staying her for several weeks—possibly longer—and I will not allow you to embarrass her with your stupid accusations. What has happened between her and Kira is private."

"I haven't accused her of anything. And the only one it's seems private to is me! I'm the only one around this house who doesn't seem to know what's going on!"

"You have accused me instead," he conceded, ignoring her last remarks, "but knowing you as I do, I feel you are quite likely to make your opinions clear to her by the way you behave."

"You don't know me at all," she shot back cattily. "And I didn't think you care enough about any woman, let alone Lacus!"

"I do not regard Lacus as 'any women'. We were childhood playmates. She was—,"

"Like a sister to you!" Cagalli cut in, mocking him. "Well, I can tell she doesn't see you as a brother." But even Cagalli knew that statement was farthest from the truth as it could get. Lacus had looked at Athrun with nothing but loving, sisterly eyes the whole evening. Still, Cagalli let her anger succeed her and she continued, trying her best to hurt Athrun.

"You are being hysterical." It was an age-old taunt of all angry men to all women. "There is no point continuing this discussion until you are in a more reasonable frame of mind."

"I am perfectly reasonable," Cagalli lied. Jealously was flaring in her stomach in the most painful of ways. "By all means let her stay here—if that's what you want—but don't cheapen yourself by spending an hour in her bedroom, unless you don't care what the servants think."

"Are you suggesting I was…" His void faded as it was engulfed by fury. "My morals may not be pure at all times, but I would never demean my name by making love to another women with my wife a few doors away! Even if she is not a wife of my own choosing!"

"Do you expect me to believe that?" Cagalli spat.

"I not only expect it—I insist!" Too angry to control himself, he caught her viciously by the shoulders. For a moment, she thought he was going to hit her. "How dare you question my honor? If I wanted to make love to Lacus, I would never have brought her here. But I would never do that to her to begin with. Lacus is like a sister to me, a dear friend and there is bond between us that you can't possibly begin to understand. You weren't there in the wars, nor were you part of PLANT politics. And I say this not because I give one damn about you, but because I have my own sense of right and wrong!"

She knew he spoke the truth, yet she would not admit it; it was as if she had to continued taunting him. She was very tempted to tell him that her absences from the wars was not of her own making, but of his fathers, but held her tongue. Instead she said:

"Your honor is the only thing you worry about. Nothing relates unless it relates to you. You are selfish and pig-headed. That's why you hate Kira. You don't care about what ever happened and didn't happen between him and Meer. You were only angry because you found out and because Kira was too foolish not to be found out. And that made you look like a fool, didn't it?"

In reality, she hadn't a clue what she was talking about. She knew nothing of what had happened between Kira and Meer, and was only going on pieced together speculation. Still, it was enough to be right, for it brought Athrun into a right rage.

"You are talking about things you don't understand. I refuse to discuss this with you!"

"Only because you refuse to see the truth. Meer slept with lots of men. Why only center out Kira?"

"Because he was my friend!" he cried out angrily. "Because he should have known and seen the differences between Meer and Lacus! He said he loved Lacus, but when he slept with Meer, I couldn't ever understand how she ever forgave him. I never did. But Lacus is far too kind and far too forgiving. Even now, Kira hurts her in ways far too complicated."

Cagalli was confused.

"I don't—,"

"What?" Athrun furled. "Understand? Of course you don't. You don't understand anything. I told you this!" He grabbed her wrist and dragged her across the room bring her to the vanity stand. He searched through a pile of magazines in the basket next to the floor and flippantly picked up a rather thick one. After a few moments he came to a page and stopped.

"Look at this photo," he gritted.

Cagalli was mystified.

"Why that's Lacus," she responded, dumbstruck. However, the title of the article was misgiving, as it was speculative review on the dead Zala heiress in the aftermath.

"No," he snarled. "That's Meer."

Cagalli's face dropped.

"She looks—,"

"Identical?" Athrun cut in fiercely. "They were, in everyway. The only difference was their personalities, of which Lacus in all humanely ways possible was blessed with better virtues."

"Then it isn't Kira's fault!" Cagalli cried angrily. "You can't blame him for this! This girl is an imposter," she sputtered. "You married-, you married an imposter, a look-a-like! Do you really love Lacus so much that you were willing to settle for second place?"

Athrun was furious, his green eyes ablaze.

"This has nothing to do with Lacus and everything to do with Kira," he seethed. "He came into my house as member of my family, a brother, a comrade, a childhood friend, and then used his position to—,"

"To mistakenly make love to a woman whom he obviously thought was his lover!" Cagalli cried. "Do you think he came in with a malicious purpose to entice your 'innocent' wife?" she snapped. "If you believe that, then you'll believe anything!"

"I don't believe in you," he cried, and before she knew what was happening, he pulled her against him.

His mouth clamped upon hers like a vice, stifling the words in her throat. His last statement had been puzzling, but she had no time to think about it. She struggled to free herself, but his grip around her tightened, his fingers digger into her flesh. This was the first close physical contact they had, and as she fought to be free of him she was conscious of his obviously superior strength. It was like fighting a battering ram. He pushed back and she felt the edge of the settee behind her, then the softness of the cushions as he flung her upon it. The weight of his body pinned her there and her anger was replaced by fear. Her struggles grew fiercer, but so did his hold on her, making it impossible for her to move her body. She tried to turn her face aside, but his mouth clung to hers, held there by a mounting passion that threatened to overwhelm her own control.

Willing herself to be calm, she went supine, hoping that if relaxed he would come to his senses. But he went on kissing her and as her struggles ceased, his hands lessened their painful grip on her shoulders and slid down her back. His fingers caressed her spin and each single vertebra tingled at his touch and sent shivers through her body. She was experiencing sensations unknown before; drowning in a depth of emotion she had not known she possessed. To fight it was like fighting oneself. She wanted to give in; wanted to respond; wanted to be absorbed by him.

"Cagalli," he said his voice a rigged edge of steel, and he half raised himself away from her.

She saw his face above her, so near that the skin had discernible texture. There was a flush on the high cheekbones and a glitter of passion in his narrowed eyes. Those same eyes which had gazed with passion at so many women, all of whom had been unimportant when the passion was over. Sickened by her thoughts, she pushed him violently away and rolled out from beneath him. At once she put the distance of the room between them and came to rest by the window.

"Get out before I do something I regret," she spat violently. She was not beyond screaming at this point, a call for anything, a call for help.

"I have already done something I regret." The coolness of his voice flicked her like a knife and she marveled that he could speak with such control when only a short while ago he had been totally devoid of it.

"Forgive me, Cagalli. Next time we fight, I suggest we do it in a less intimate place than your bedroom." However, by the tone in his voice, she could clearly see he was not sorry at all.

"I hadn't realized you were so lacking in control," she spat bitterly.

"Blame it on your artistic creator," he said mockingly. "The credit goes to Delrino rather than to you."

It was the most hurtful thing he could have said and tears gushed into her eyes. Frightened in case he saw them, she turned away and did not see hi m go, though she heard his step on the carpet and the soft click of the closing door.