Though the Heavens Fall
All Standard Disclaimers Apply: I do not own Gundam Seed/Gundam Seed: Destiny. They belong to their respective creators, owners, licensees.
He had disappeared in the middle of the night. No word of warning was given before hand and no well wishes for a safe journey given. When Shinn woke up the next morning, he was faced with the frustrating news; Lord Zala had gone to Orb.
All that the blue-haired nobleman had left behind was a brief note, assuring Shinn that he would return soon. The black-haired heir seated in the carriage scowled to himself. Clearly, he hand Athrun had completely different definitions of the word 'soon', as it had already been a month since Athrun's departure.
Not a single word had been sent back to the Zala Estate, aside from the confirmation that Athrun had arrived at his wife's Seray. That confirmation had come from Advisor La Flagga, along with an apology from Cagalli on her husband's sudden disappearance.
It was plainly obvious to those around them that Athrun and Cagalli's actual time together as a married couple had been quite short. After her welcome ball in Plants, an emergency that required her in Orb summoned her back. Athrun had been almost heart-broken the few days he remained in Plants before going after his wife.
He had gone about his usual business, without many words and carried a melancholy air around him. That was why when he left without a word, Shinn was upset, but did not complain. After all, perhaps Cagalli needed Athrun at her side just as much as Athrun needed her.
Days turned into weeks, and by the second week, Shinn was growing concerned. He was more than capable of taking care of the Zala Estate's day-to-day work, but there were things he needed guidance on that required Athrun's attention. He wanted to send a message, but Lady Joule had told him it was too soon and to wait another week.
The week came and went with no word from Athrun. Shinn was antsy and wanted to have the nobleman fetched. Lord Yzak Joule agreed that Athrun should return, as well. The new training season for the Red Knights would be upon them soon, and Athrun needed to do his part in preparation.
Still, Lady Joule, Lord Yzak's mother, had insisted that a month was needed for the two to 'enjoy their newlywed life'. Between mumblings of a honeymoon and quality time, the silver-haired captain had decided that Shinn would leave exactly one month after Athrun left in order to drag the nobleman back.
It had been the Captain of the Red Knights' order to 'bring that lovesick fool back'. Shinn was more than happy to take on the mission. Therefore, two days ago, in the pre-dawn hours, he had boarded a carriage to go to Orb. Normally, he would've gone alone on horseback, but Mayu insisted on going with him.
Unable to deny his little sister, he hesitantly had the carriage ready. Now, they were close to the border, just outside of the capital city. As they bounced along with each step the horses made, Shinn mentally prepared his speech to coax Athrun back to Plants. There were issues of responsibility of a Red Knight, duty to Plants, as well as the Zala family affairs.
As much as Shinn didn't want to admit it, if Athrun didn't want to go back, there was no making him. The man outranked him, bested him in everything from sword fighting to horseback riding to academics, and was the master of his house. Nothing short of an order from Cagalli herself would send the nobleman back, and Shinn doubted the blonde Haumea Elite would want to part with her husband after a mere month.
Tiredly, the red-eyed young man ran a pale hand down his face. He would have to talk to Cagalli. She was actually quite rational and duty oriented. Surely, she would understand if Athrun was needed back in Plants, wouldn't she?
"Shinn?" a voice asked from the bench across from him. Red eyes rose and settled on his younger sister, who was wrapped in a purple riding cloak.
"What is it, Mayu?" he asked, unable to stop the weariness from taking over his voice. He was unsure if it was the travel that was getting to him or the stress Athrun's absence had caused.
"Are we close to Onogoro?" she asked, hopefully.
Shinn glanced out the window. The sun had set a few hours earlier and nothing but countryside cloaked in darkness surrounded them. He could make out vague lights of farm houses dotting the landscape, but there was no sign of a seaside city with a towering white castle.
The carriage was ascending some small hills and as they moved, Shinn could start to smell it. The air was cooler, fresher having come from over the water. He leaned his head closer to the open window and inhaled deeply. A sea breeze.
"Almost," he told her. "We should get to the Rouge Seray tonight."
Mayu nodded and continued to look out a window. The carriage began to turn and head down the main road that lead into the plateau on which Onogoro city was located. A small, sharp tap on the roof of the carriage turned their attention to their driver.
"Is there a problem, Miguel?" Shinn asked as he turned his body and slid open a small window behind his head. He could see the blond man's head bobbing just outside.
"None at all, young master," Miguel replied happily. "I just wanted to give the young miss a warning. If she looks out her window after his bend, she'll see the city."
"Oh!" Mayu's eyes widened before she scampered across her bench seat to the window. She pulled the curtains back all the way and looked hopefully outside. She smiled as the cool sea breeze blew across her face and into the carriage.
Then, just as Miguel had said, they rounded the bend. From where they were, they could see all five Seray lining the main road that lead to the city by the shore. With lights shining against its alabaster face, the castle melted from a hilltop like a guardian beacon. The illuminated city just below it glistened welcomingly.
Shinn watched his sister's expression. Her eyes were wide, reflecting the sight before her as her mouth remained open after her initial gasp. For a moment, she seemed to be trying to take it all in. Shinn chuckled to himself and looked out the window. He had to admit, it was a beautiful sight.
"It looks like we'll be there sooner than I thought," Shinn smiled softly.
Mayu never took her eyes off the city. "Is that it?" she asked wistfully. "Is that Onogoro?"
Shinn nodded. "Yes," he assured her. "We won't be going into the main city tonight, but I promise you'll get to explore it a bit before we leave."
"What's that past the city?" Mayu asked a she craned her neck. Her eyes squinted. "It goes dark all of a sudden."
Shinn smiled more so. "That's the ocean."
"The ocean!?" Mayu's eyes widened. "We'll get to go to the ocean!?"
"We might even get to ride on a boat out into the harbor," Shinn added. "Last time, Advisor La Flagga had taken us out on a tour. There are a lot of little islands out there, too."
"I want to go!" Mayu gushed. "Who can we ask? Can we ask Captain Athha? Will she be able to take us out there?"
Shinn cringed for a moment. He didn't know exactly what was going on in Orb, but considering that the new Madam of the Zala House had been forced to leave in such a rush, he doubted she would have time to take them around sight-seeing.
"We'll see," he managed to tell her. He leaned back against the carriage and crossed his arms over his chest. Every now and then, Mayu would point out things she saw out the window. Three of them were Seray gates that they passed. By the time Shinn finished explaining the branches of Orb's Haumea Elite, the carriage had stopped.
The red-eyed young man froze in his seat. He held up his hand to quiet his sister as he pulled aside some curtains. "I was not informed that you would be arriving this late, Sir Asuka," an amused voice asked outside the carriage doors. "Although Lord Zala did say to expect you sooner or later."
"Lt. Caldwell," Shinn sat up straight as he recognized the blonde woman in a red and brown training uniform. "Many apologies for our sudden arrival."
"No need, Sir Asuka," Lt. Caldwell assured him. "I was just closing the gate. If your driver will take you to the front steps, I will meet you there."
"Yes, lieutenant." Shinn gave her a small bow of his head before he lifted his hand and tapped the side of the wooden carriage. "Miguel! Take us to the front steps!"
The carriage jerked forward and the Haumea Elite stepped aside. She gave the passing vehicle a bow of her head before rounding it to close the iron gates of the Rouge Seray for the night. The carriage jerked along the path with Mayu leaning out the window, trying to make out the large house they were approaching.
As they rolled to a stop before the front steps of the house, a dark-haired woman with glasses greeted them with a bow. Miguel jumped from his seat to open the door.
"Sir Asuka, Young Miss Mayu," the woman said with a warm smile. "Welcome to the Rouge Seray."
"Second Lt. Wu Nien," Shinn bowed his head in response as he stepped on to the ground. He held up his hand to escort his sister. "Thank you for meeting us. Is my master in?"
"Lord Zala and Captain Athha have retired for the night," Juri explained. "As it is late, and we were instructed to escort you to your rooms on the third level, should you arrive this late."
"The third level?" Shinn asked as Mayu stood beside him, her eyes wandering up the side of the building. "I thought we were to have guest rooms on the first floor."
"You're family," a voice said behind them. Shinn looked over his shoulder to see Asagi reaching them after jogging from the gate. "Juri, see to it that Miguel gets help unloading their things and then bring him to his guest room."
"Yes, Lt. Caldwell," the blue-haired woman nodded. She moved to the side as Asagi began to climb up the steps.
"Please follow me," Asagi smiled as she motioned for them to join her. Mayu, still unable to stop smiling with excitement, lifted the bottoms of her shirt so she could run up the steps. Shinn followed swiftly behind them. "Since Lord Zala is considered your guardian and he is married to Captain Athha, you are considered family to the current Seray Captain," the blonde explained as they were led though the foyer. "Therefore, you are welcomed to have rooms up stairs."
"I see…" Shinn said.
"Is this really where Captain Athha lives?" Mayu asked as she followed the older woman up the stairs.
"It is," Asagi nodded. "This is where she lives and trains with her Seray. It is also where she was raised. Her mother was a Rouge Seray Captain at one time."
"What about Stellar?" Mayu asked. "Does Stellar live here, too?"
"I'm afraid she's officially moved into the Azure Seray as of her return," Asagi chuckled as she turned the corner. She missed the slight look of disappointment on Shinn's face. "It is tradition that she lives with her Seray, although the captain does keep her room here. Stellar does occasionally come to spend the night."
They trekked up to the third floor. "What about our things?" Mayu asked as she looked down at the stairs.
"Some of my sisters will bring them up," Asagi explained as they began to walk down a carpeted hall. "This first room belongs to Stellar. Sir Asuka, your room will be at the far end of the hall and Young Miss Mayu's will be in between your room and Stellar's," she was explaining as she walked down the hall.
Mayu was right behind her, nodding understandingly as she was told where things were located in the house. As they passed a set of heavy looking double doors, Shinn could pick up a faint voice within.
He glanced ahead of him to make sure Asagi and Mayu were preoccupied before stopping and leaning closer to the doors.
"Their demands are too much," a male voice was saying. "And you've been more than generous with your trade offers. I don't see what more they want."
Shinn's eyes widened. He recognized that voice easily. His eyes narrowed determinedly as he shot a glare at the door. He didn't travel days just to rest the first moment he could. He was sent to bring someone back and bring someone back he would.
Stepping back he lifted his hand and grabbed one of the door knobs. With a quick turn he pushed the door open and burst through. "Athrun!"
A cool breeze swept through the room and filed out into the hall as the black-haired Red Knight froze, just a step beyond the bedroom's threshold. Athrun was standing by the foot of the bed, a bathrobe on while he ran a towel through his hair. Wide green eyes were staring, surprised, at the young man who had burst through his door.
"Shinn?" Athrun asked, confused. "You're here already?"
"Wha…what do you mean 'already'!?" Shinn exclaimed. He took a daring step forward. "Do you know how long you've been gone-"
"Shinn!" another voice sounded.
The young man turned his head to the side to see Cagalli placing her violin by the balcony doors as she entered. The woman looked ready to for bed, dressed in comfortable sleep clothes.
"Captain Athha!" Shinn stood up straight and quickly gave her a respectful bow. "I apologize for coming unannounced."
"Don't worry about that," Cagalli chucked as she walked across the room with her arms out stretched. "Athrun said you would be coming sooner or later, so I had rooms prepared for you."
The black-haired man shifted uncomfortably in Cagalli's embrace before another voice broke through. "Captain Athha!"
"Mayu!?" Athrun gasped. He turned his head from the girl to her brother. "Shinn, did you bring Mayu all this way?" he asked with a disapproving frown.
"Welcome to Orb, Mayu," Cagalli beamed as she released Shinn and held her arms open for the girl to run in. "Did you have a good trip?"
Mayu nodded as she buried her head against Cagalli's shoulder. "Orb is very beautiful, Captain Athha," Mayu gushed. "We were coming down the mountains the city was lit up! Shinn says we can go exploring tomorrow!"
Cagalli chuckled as she released the girl. "I'll see if Kira can escort you around the city, then," she said as she lifted her hand and swept back the girl's bangs. She looked back at Shinn with a wide smile on her face. "Have you two eaten? Are you hungry? I can have someone prepare food-"
"No, we're fine, captain," Shinn told her. "We ate on the road."
"Are you tired from your trip?" Cagalli asked. She ushered Mayu out the door. "Come, let me take you to your rooms…" she trailed off as she disappeared in the hall with Mayu.
Athrun let out a heavy sigh and ran his hand down his face. He looked at Shinn wearily. "Did you come on your own or did Yzak send you?" he asked, seriously.
"I wanted to come and Lord Joule added an order to bring you back," Shinn admitted. Athrun sat down on the edge of the bed. He stared at the space in front of him for a moment, lost in thought, before looking back up at Shinn.
"Go to bed and get some rest tonight," the blue-haired nobleman told him. "We can talk in the morning."
Shinn hesitated. The thought that Athrun would run off to who-knew-where before day break crossed his mind for a brief moment, but the over all worn look on Athrun's face told him that Athrun would still be there in the morning.
"Fine," Shinn nodded. He gave the nobleman a bow of his head. "Goodnight, Athrun."
"Rest well, Shinn."
The clinks of glass where heard and the silver-haired nobleman continued to read the papers in front of him; his concentration unbroken. Two glasses of juice were placed on the table outside, on the veranda of his ancestral home, before a chair was pulled out beside him.
"Do you think they've gotten there, yet?" Dearka asked as he took a seat beside his friend.
"If they didn't late last night, they probably arrived this morning," Yzak replied as he blindly reached forward and miraculously got hold of one of the glasses. "They took their time, so they could rest at night, but a few days are more than enough to get to Onogoro."
"What do you think they'll find?" Dearka continued. His eyebrows furrowed together as Yzak drank his juice. "Do you think Athrun will want to stay?"
For a moment, the nobleman and Red Knights captain seemed to tense. His eyes narrowed as he gulped down the rest of his drink and firmly set the glass on the table.
"It would be in his best interest not to," Yzak scowled. "He already has some nerve! To just go off on a whim and leave all his responsibility behind, without another thought!"
Beside him, Dearka ginned. "Some would call that romantic."
"Then some people are fools!" Yzak raged. He pushed the papers he was reading forward and gritted his teeth. "Does he fail to grasp his position in this country? Not only is he a nobleman, he's also a Red Knight! On equal footing with me! Do you see me gallivanting around another country!? Especially so close to the beginning of a new training season!?"
There was a pause as the blond man mused over Yzak's rant. The corners of his lips tugged up into a slight smile. "Perhaps you should."
Blue eyes bore into him. "I hate you, Dearka."
The tan knight tossed his head back with a laugh as he leaned against his chair. "All I'm saying is that your turn is coming up next."
"I have a year," Yzak spat out, irritated, as he reached for his papers.
"It's never too early to start looking, you know," the male secretary assured him. The blonde's eyes turned towards the opened glass double doors of the veranda as another red uniformed figure marched out. Dearka glanced back at his friend and then back at the woman approaching them. "Or to at the very least, open your eyes."
Yzak tensed for just a moment, just as his eyes glanced over the top of his papers. "Shiho…" he murmured. He quickly sat up straight and lowered the papers. "Good morning, Sir Hahnenfuss," Yzak said, full of authority as he rose from his seat to greet her.
"My lord," Shiho bowed her head curtly as she stopped by their table. "I've come to report that I have completed my scheduled tasks regarding the reassignment of knights along our borders and completed additional orders to beginning the preparations for the incoming knights."
Yzak turned and gave a slight, smug look to Dearka. The blond Red Knight had been assigned the same duties, but most likely, wouldn't get them done until the night before they were due.
"I see I at least made one correct decision promoting someone to my secretarial position," he snapped. Dearka just stood in his spot and rolled his eyes. Yzak turned back to Shiho and nodded. "Excellent work, Sir Hahnenfuss," he said as he began to return to his seat. "Since Sir Elsman hasn't yet touched his paperwork, would you be so kind as to-"
"Lord Joule, I would like to request a leave of absence."
The two men who had been returning to their seats froze halfway there. At the same time, both their heads shot up; their eyes staring at the usually work-oriented knight with surprise.
"I…Repeat that?" Yzak said as he gave her a questioning look.
Shiho seemed to stand up even straighter as she lifted her chin. "I would like to request a leave of absence for approximately one month, Lord Joule."
Yzak's lips turned down into a frown as he slowly sank into his seat. "A month is quite a long time, especially considering the busy season we're about to have with the Red Knights," he stated solemnly as he looked up at her. "May I ask for the reason why you are requesting a full month's leave?"
The brown-haired woman took a deep breath. "I have finished all my assigned duties up to when I return-"
"That is not the answer to my question," Yzak cut her off sharply. Beside him, Dearka raised an eyebrow. It wasn't shocking that he cut Shiho, of all people off; however, he rarely used such a displeased tone with her. The male secretary's eyes wandered back to his female counter part.
"It is a personal issue, Lord Joule," Shiho began. "I am going to Orb to complete my application for dual citizenship in order to inherit the ancestral land my grandmother left to me."
Dearka looked back at Yzak, silently reading the man's barely composed expression. Several seconds passed as the nobleman remained in his seat, wordlessly mulling over her request and her reasons. Finally, he lowered his eyes and returned to the paperwork still on the table.
"I will need to review the work you have completed to make sure it is sufficient for the time of leave you have requested," Yzak told her coldly. Dearka raised an eyebrow beside him. "I'll review it once I finish with these upper level re-assignments. I will have your answer by this afternoon."
Shiho bowed her head and nodded. "Thank you, my lord. I will await your decision this afternoon."
The brown-haired knight turned around and headed back into the sprawling mansion, leaving her superior and fellow secretary on the veranda. As soon as her body disappeared through the glass doors and down the hall, Dearka turned to Yzak and crossed his arms over his chest.
"Review her work?" he spat out with disbelief. "When was the last time you actually reviewed Shiho's work?"
"What are you talking about? I review her work all the time," Yzak snapped as he tried to focus on his work.
Dearka let out a little snort. "No, you check my work and then scream at me for having had Shiho do it for me."
"I wouldn't yell at you if you weren't ignoring your work all this time and having to depend on someone else to make sure it gets done!" Yzak growled.
"You don't have to defend yourself; I know why you're angry," Dearka grinned knowingly. "You don't want her to leave you for so long."
Yzak shot up from his chair and slammed his papers on the table. "You really want a larger work load, don't you, Elsman!?" Yzak roared as he glared at the blond. "As you know, I only have one – one – competent secretary to help me run my half of the Red Knights! Even if she does do all her work, there are still emergencies that spring up every now and then that you, who will be too busy trying to get your work done at last minute, will not be able to assist with!"
Dearka merely stared back up at him. "So…you'll miss her," he concluded.
Yzak's pale hands clenched at his sides. "Stop procrastinating and get to work, Elsman!" he screamed before turning on his heel and storming back into his house. The silver-haired nobleman was seething as he marched through the threshold and down the hall.
Didn't Dearka realize just how valuable Shiho was? When she was there, a good portion of stress had been taken off his back. She easily carried her work load, part of Yzak's and would probably carry Dearka's, too, if need be. Of course he would miss her! She was an excellent, efficient knight! Why else would he miss her? Even as he asked himself that question, he knew the answer.
"Ridiculous…I know what that idiot was implying…" Yzak grumbled to himself as he walked down the marble floors of the main hall. "Miss her…do I look like Zala?"
He swept past a set of towering, double oak doors and could make out some figures inside. They were messengers, from what he could tell from their uniforms. "All of these, Sir Hahnenfuss?"
"Yes, immediately," the woman told them as she stood in front of a table. Stacks of various books, scrolls, and neatly wrapped papers towered around her 'office' within the Joule Family Library. "If you return and I have already left, send my family's response to Onogoro, in Orb. I have been invited to stay at the Azure Seray by their Captain as a family guest."
For a moment, Yzak was irritated. He hadn't given her permission to leave yet. Did she plan to defy is orders if he denied her? His eyes narrowed. Or was she simply confident that he couldn't deny her? Before he could stomp into the room and vocalize his displeasure, his sharp eyes caught the stack of books on the table.
Old, leather bound books that would take several men to move were mixed in with the usual work on the table. By the seals on their spine, they were from the Azure and Rouge Seray in Orb. Shiho was looking into her citizenship rights. He glanced back into the room, from the hall.
Once Shiho had her mind set on something, her determination and sheer will power to achieve it would get her to her goal. That was one of the things he loved about her.
He instantly grimaced at his choice in words. "Admire…" he corrected quietly as he turned around and looked away from the library. "Admire about her…"
"Lord Joule," a voice said behind him. He stiffened in place as he cursed his drop in guard.
"Yes, Sir Hahnenfuss," he said sternly as he turned around to face her. She stood at the door way.
"If you are ready to review my work, it is here in the library."
Yzak remained standing stiffly in the middle of the hallway. "I..." He choked out, his mind momentarily going blank. "I'll review them later."
She eyed him expressionlessly for a moment longer before nodding her head. "Yes, my lord." She slipped back into the library and Yzak released a heavy breath. He lifted his hand and ran it through his shoulder length hair before turning around and heading back down the hall.
He had known Shiho for years. He had trained with her, worked with her, and lived under the same roof as her for years. She never once complained. She never once lost her temper with him when everyone else would. She always calmed him. She always listened to him and gave him valuable advice. Over the years, he had come to depend on her. Perhaps, too much.
"Damn it, Shiho…" he grumbled as he stood at the foot of the stairs. He put his hand on the bottom banister and lowered his head. "You know I can't deny you such a request."
Ahead of them, up the path, they could see Mayu sitting on the grass at the end of the training field, watching earnestly as she watched her new found 'older sisters' and 'aunts' train. Wonder-filled brown orbs were locked on to the Rouge Haumea Elite as down the path behind her, her older brother and the master of their house sat beneath a gazebo, over the remnants of their lunch.
Under the sound of the yells, grunts, and various weapons clashing, Athrun leaned back against his chair and explained Orb's current situation to his heir. Quietly, Shinn found himself trying to absorb problems that even most Orb citizens didn't know about.
"I don't understand," Shinn said as he turned to look at Athrun, who was seated across from him. "If Orb is being threatened by the Federation, why don't they ask for help from Plants? We're allies now."
"It's not that simple," Athrun sighed. "Asking for aid from Plants would instigate the war. It would be as if Orb was already getting allies for a war and the main goal right now is to try to reason with the Federation and prevent a war all together."
"Isn't there something we can do? What about Queen Lacus?"
"She has declared a position of neutrality," Athrun explained. Shinn sat up straight in his chair and Athrun motioned for him to settle down. "That is her official stance. It was made for the sake of Plants and to make sure that the Federation doesn't think we will take Orb's side. Even though both Orb and Plants are fresh out of a war, we are both strong military powers. Plants' army is strong; the Federation knows that already."
"What about Orb? The Haumea Elite lead the army, don't they?" Shinn asked. "If that's the case, the Federation would have too much to fight."
"Technically, no, the Haumea Elite do not lead the army. They are a separate independent branch, like the Red Knights. It is their navy that should be feared," Athrun explained. "Currently, the Federation and its 'Alliance' have been coming dangerously close to Orb waters. Their fisherman have been daring and crossing over the international boundaries; fishing where they should not be fishing. You know that Orb keeps strict regulations on fishing."
Shinn nodded. "It's from their sea-going heritage, Stellar said."
"Right," Athrun said. "It's also for tourism. People from all over have been coming to Orb to see its natural beaches and swim in its crystal clear waters for centuries. They're a symbol of national pride, as well as the economy, and livelihood of thousands of Orb families along the coasts. In order to make sure that Orb waters stay Orb waters, they have an amazing navy. I never realized until I went with General Kisaka to the Athha Estate on one of the islands."
Shinn jerked his head back. "So…the navy is protecting the waters?"
"Right now, they're patrolling the borders. Several Federation fisherman have already been caught in Orb waters and their explanations are all the same; they received word that they have been allowed to trespass into Orb waters. Such an allocation was never given by Orb," Athrun frowned. "Cagalli has been trying to deal with such things for days now."
"But it's just a few fisherman," Shinn replied. "All they have to do is move them out."
"It's not the fisherman, but their belief that Orb territory is now accessible to them that is the problem. Don't you see, Shinn?" Athrun asked as he leaned forward across the table. "This is exactly what Le Cruset did in the north. He sent Plants citizens to populate it and then drove the natives out. Orb is terrified that something like that will happen again, only along the coasts."
"What is Captain Athha doing about it?" Shinn asked quietly. "She's in charge of international relations, isn't she?"
Athrun let out a heavy sigh and leaned back against his chair, tiredly. He lifted his hand and ran it down his face. "They have rejected all her offers, and they were more than just generous, Shinn. The Federation is trying to take advantage of the fact that Orb does not want another war. They want more."
"More what?" Shinn frowned. Part of him already knew what the answer was.
"More of everything," a voice said in front of them. The two men snapped their heads to the walk way, where Kira was approaching. He was waving at Mayu, who was still watching the warriors practice, as he walked up the steps. The two Red Knights stood to greet him. "Good afternoon, Athrun. Shinn, Cagalli said you and your sister had finally arrived. I brought chocolates for you two."
"Oh…thank you, Kira," Shinn said as he bowed his head and then stood up straight to accept the paper wrapped package.
"Do you want something to drink?" Athrun asked as he moved over a seat so Kira could take his.
"I saw Juri in the hall. She's already getting me some tea," Kira assured him. He took a seat as the other two men took theirs. "We received confirmation today from Chartreuse Haumea Elite on the border," he began as he looked over at Athrun. "They're approaching."
"You can't be serious," Athrun said as his eyes widened. He sat up straight in his chair and shook his head. "No, that can't be right. War hasn't been declared and negotiations haven't failed, yet!"
"If we do not agree to their demands, they will start a war and are preparing. Captain Waltfeld insists that it's all for show, but they will be ready at a moment's notice to respond," Kira explained.
"What were their demands?" Shinn piped as he sat across the table. Kira looked over at him and paused. He glanced over at Athrun, unsurely.
"He is my heir and came all this way to get me," Athrun told the brown-haired scholar. "It would not be fair for me to withhold information from him regarding why I choose to stay for so long."
Kira let out a heavy breath. "I suppose you're right," he agreed reluctantly. He looked over at Shinn. "The Federation wants exclusive trade with Orb. Fabric, pottery, and natural resources, especially food. They also want access to out waters, including rivers and lakes. Those are sources of livelihood for our people and their way would life would be disrupted."
"Why do they want fabric and pottery?" Shinn continued.
"There are things in Orb that cannot be found anywhere else in the world," Athrun sighed. "Particular fabrics, silks, and fibers from trees that only grow in tropical regions. Pottery that is made from earth mined from around the out laying volcanic islands. Those are all highly valued around the world. As a result, monopolizing trade with Orb would control the flow of export."
"They think we're still weak from the war and won't be able to fend off an attack. The Federation would not be too much of an issue, but with their alliance with countries from the north, there could be a problem," Kira explained. "And we want to minimize the loss of life as much as possible or avoid it all together."
"You can imagine how much this is wearing down Cagalli," Athrun lamented, worriedly. "She hardly has time to eat or sleep. She's always working or running off to meetings…" He trailed off and looked at Shinn. "I'm sorry, Shinn, but I can't leave her side right now. I can't leave her when she needs me."
The red-eyed young man could feel his heart twisting. He understood the situation much better now, but at the same time, he still had a duty to Plants and the Red Knights. He looked across the table at Athrun's worn face and bit his lower lip. On the other hand, Cagalli seemed to need him there.
"Lord Zala!!" a voice screamed from the veranda across the yard. The entire training grounds seemed to freeze the moment Asagi's voice cut across. "Kira! Lord Zala!" The blonde woman was running frantically down the stairs. Immediately, the men had risen from their chairs and rushed off to meet her down the path.
"Lt. Caldwell," Athrun called out as he ran up the path. "What's going on-"
"The Captain!" Asagi panted as she skidded to a stop in front of them. "The Captain collapsed! Stellar and Mana just brought her back from the palace! She's-"
She didn't even need to finish her sentence. Athrun and Kira were tearing through the training grounds, screaming her name as they raced into the house. Their footsteps could be heard echoing across the halls as they headed towards the stairs. Voices could be heard coming from the third floor as they reached the top step. The doors to Athrun and Cagalli's bedroom were open as the two men burst through.
"Cagalli!?" Kira gasped as he stumbled to the stop at the doorway.
Athrun swept past him, not pausing for a moment before he rushed over to his wife's bedside. "Cagalli?" he whispered as he sat down beside the bed, not evening noticing that Advisor Waltfeld, Stellar, and Mana were all in the room with them. "Cagalli…?"
Why wasn't she answering him? Shaking hands reached down and stroked pale hair from an even paler face. Wide, green eyes began to water as the unmoving Haumea Elite lay across their bed. For a moment, he could feel the world fading away around him.
It was happening all over again. His wife was leaving him behind. She would slip from his fingers, just like Meer did before her. Terror shot through him as he desperately sought a hand to clutch against him. "Cagalli…"
"She'll be fine, Athrun," Mana whispered gently above him. "She just needs to rest. It was all the stress…"
"Why isn't she waking up?" Athrun's voice was shaking as he squeezed Cagalli's hand. He never once took his eyes off of her. "Why isn't she answering me?"
"Because I'm trying to sleep…" a low voice grumbled weakly beneath him. His eyes widened as he watched amber eyes slowly open. "I blacked out for a moment and they insisted on bringing me home…"
"Cagalli didn't black out! Cagalli was yelling and then all of a sudden, Cagalli fell!" Stellar cried out from the other side of the bed. Athrun and Kira looked towards the other blonde Elite as she rubbed her eyes. "Then Cagalli didn't wake up until Mana was checking Cagalli in the carriage!"
"Stellar," Advisor Waltfeld said as he stood by the doorway. "Stay with your sister. We need a moment alone to speak to your brothers alone."
Stellar nodded her head tearfully. From the door way, Advisor Walfeld motioned for Kira to move outside. Shinn and Mayu and several high ranking members of the Rouge Seray were peering through the doors, from the hallway.
"Athrun," Mana said quietly. "Athrun, we need to speak to you."
"I know…" he murmured as he stroked the side of Cagalli's face comfortingly. "I'll be back in a moment…" he promised her intently.
If she had the strength to roll her eyes, she would have. "I'm not a baby."
His lips tugged into a small smile. "You're still very precious to me," he insisted. He leaned down and kissed her softly. Reluctantly, he pulled away from her. He glanced at his sister-in-law. "Stellar, come get us if anything happens."
"Okay…" Stellar nodded. He smiled softly and gently patted Stellar's head before leaving the room.
He looked back over his shoulder as he closed the door behind him. He turned back to the solemn group waiting for him out in the sitting area, just outside of their doors.
"Have a seat," Mana told him as she remained standing. Unable to refuse the older captain, Athrun took a seat on the couch, beside Shinn. Kira was leaning against the door to the bedroom, his arms crossed over his chest. "You know, Athrun, Cagalli can't go on like this."
"I know," he said softly as his hands clenched over the arm of the couch. "I already know that."
"She spent the entire day arguing with Federation representatives who wouldn't accept our more recent offers for a peaceful resolution," Advisor Waltfeld told him. "Even if Cagalli is a Haumea Elite Captain, she is still one woman. She has been pushing herself too much for the sake of the nation that we fear we will lose her before the first sword is even drawn-"
"Can you not talk like she's dying?" Kira snapped from where he stood. "Cagalli isn't a weak person! She's stronger than any of us!"
"We know, Kira," the older man appeased. "It's just that we are all concerned about Cagalli's health. Both you and Athrun have been the most vocal about her well-being, but you know we cannot just simply ask Cagalli to take a break. All she'll do is fight back and work anyway."
"We'd have to come nothing short of locking her in a cell to get her to rest and even then, she may spend the entire time trying to escape just so she can do more work," Mana frowned. "As the Alabaster Seray Captain, it is my duty to oversee the health of all the Haumea Elite. So, I have approached Queen Murrue about discharging Cagalli from the Rouge Seray."
"What!?" Kira shot forward from his spot as Athrun rose from his seat. "You can't do that!"
"It's not a complete discharge. It's for a mandatory leave of absence," Mana explained. "I have the authority to request it, providing serious health issues are at stake and with Cagalli's health deteriorating, she is in no place to carry on with her duties like this."
"So, you're telling us that you're going to temporarily ban Cagalli from the Haumea Elite?" Athrun scowled. "Mana, you know this is her life!"
"We have never temporarily discharged a captain before," Mana assured him. "Simply because of the fact that the Haumea Elite is their life; however, Athrun, you are her husband. You are her life now, too…"
The blue-haired man narrowed his eyes. "What are you saying?"
"Lord Zala," Advisor Waltfeld stood up from his seat and reached into his coat pocket. He took out a small scroll bearing the Queen's seal, as well as the stamps of four of the five Seray. "All we ask for is a month."
"A month?" Athrun nearly snatched the scroll from the advisor's hand before ripping it open and unraveling it to read its contents. His eyes widened. "You want me to take her to Plants so she can recover?"
"Cagalli will not go if she feels too strongly obligated to stay here," Mana explained. "Her duties will be covered by Lt. Caldwell and Captain Haww, so they are in good hands."
"I've already accepted the propose position," Asagi said as she stood by the couch. "The entire Seray has been worried about the Captain and, she made us swear not to tell you, this isn't the first time she's collapsed."
"Why have I not been informed when she has!?" Athrun raged. "She's my wife! If something is wrong, I should know!"
"She didn't want to worry you, Lord Zala," Asagi said. "Please talk her into going with you back to Plants."
The green-eyed nobleman stood frozen in his spot. Several pairs of eyes were focused on him. Silently, he looked towards the doors, towards where Kira stood somberly. He studied the brunette's face, trying to find a sign of Kira's approval or disapproval.
"She's been losing weight," Kira murmured quietly. "She barely has time to eat…she almost fell off of Strike twice last week…Everyone is worried that if this keeps up…"
Athrun approached his friend. "Kira…?"
The purple-eyed man lifted his head and met Athrun's eyes. "Take her to Plants." The Athrun closed his eyes and let out a small breath of relief.
"Thank you," he whispered. He reached forward and embraced his friend, thankfully. Kira nodded and patted his back. "I will make sure she rests." He turned around and faced the others. "I will have Stellar pack her things and tell her the decision. Please take care of everything else."
"We will," Mana assured him. Kira stepped aside as Athrun reached for the door knob and opened the door.
He peeked inside and slowly slipped into the room. "Stellar, they'd like to talk to you outside," he told the Azure Elite. The younger blonde stood up from her seat and nodded. Athrun held the door open as she walked outside and then closed it behind her.
"Athrun…?" Cagalli's tired voice came from the bed.
"I'm right here, Cagalli," he told her intently. "Do you need anything?"
"I have some scrolls I'd like to go over…they're in the library…can you have someone get them?" she asked. Athrun walked around the bed and lay down on the other side. He carefully maneuvered his way over to her and lay on his side, next to her.
"Later," he said as he reached over her body and gingerly adjusted the blankets that had been pulled up to her chin. "Just get some sleep first," he ordered quietly. His hand rose and moved some bangs out of her face.
"Fine…" the stubborn blonde murmured. "I'll get them myself later…" Her voice trailed off as her body relaxed and she lost herself into the pits of sleep. Beside her, Athrun looked down at her sleeping face and worn lines across it and the bags beneath her eyes.
Her heavy breathing filled the room and he rested one arm over her body and pressed his face against her golden hair. "Let me take you away from here, Cagalli," he whispered against her head. "Even if it's just for a little while."
He stood in front of the closed door, still dressed in his day-to-day Red Knights uniform. His back was rigid and straight, his chin held up proudly. Not a strand of silver hair was out of place. He lifted his hand to the wood panel of the door and paused just before it could make contact.
For the tenth time, his hand lowered hesitantly. Mentally he berated himself. He told her he would give her his answer by late afternoon and now it was evening. Actually, it was past evening. The sun had long since set and if he didn't knock soon, his female secretary would go to sleep.
What was he so afraid of? All he had to do was give her his answer. It wasn't like she would stop him for some random small talk. She wasn't that type of person. She would get her answer and then bid him a good night before going to bed herself. She was straight to the point; yet another reason he liked – no, admired her.
Yzak took a deep breath and lifted his hand once more. Before he even got halfway up, the door swung open unexpectedly.
"Lord Joule, you have been standing at my door for a few moments now. Is there something you need?" Shiho asked as she stood on the other side of the threshold, her hand still on the doorknob.
Yzak was frozen in his position, his hand still half raised as he stood in front of her. For a moment, he had to let the fact that she had actually known the entire time that he was standing there like a fool sink in. He quickly lowered his hand and let out a cough.
"If you knew I was here, why didn't you open it earlier?" he scowled as he narrowed his eyes.
"I expected you to knock, my lord," Shiho replied calmly. "Had I known that you wished for me to merely open the door for you, I would have. I will make a note of it in the future."
Yzak briefly wondered how big of an idiot he looked. "No matter," he said quickly. "I came to give you my answer to your request. I apologize for taking so long; I had been indisposed of most of the afternoon," he added. "It was an unforeseen issue I had to deal with." He had been upstairs in his room, pacing and trying to figure out what to say.
"It is quite all right, my lord," she assured him. She knew he never reviewed her work. When she had gone to check on them, they hadn't moved from their spot. "And my request?"
"Your request," he began carefully. "As been granted." His chest tightened. "I wish you a safe journey and I hope that the issues regarding your grandmother's properties are worked out in your favor, Sir Hahnenfuss."
She was visibly relieved. She was not out rightly obvious, but he could tell. It was in the slight widening of her eyes, the suddenly relaxation of her shoulders, and the corners of her mouth tugging into a small, almost unseen smile. "Thank you, my lord."
He gave her a small bow of her head. "Of course. Should anything arise, I will have Sir Elsman take care of it. I appreciate your foresight to finish all your pending work ahead of time."
Shiho bowed her head respectfully. "Thank you, my lord."
"I will have a carriage prepared for you for your travels," he told her. "You may take mine."
For a moment, the woman was taken aback. "That is not necessary, my lord. I will be fine riding my own horse, as usual."
"I insist," Yzak assured her. "Besides, it is a rather long trip."
She hesitated. "If you insist, my lord."
"Good," Yzak said with a nod. The two of them remained standing there, silently. One of Shiho's eyebrows slowly rose as she realized her superior didn't seem to be leaving any time soon.
"My lord," she began carefully. "Is there something else I can help you with?"
"What are you-?" Yzak narrowed his eyes. Suddenly, the idiocy of the situation dawned on him and he let out a sharp gasp. "Oh…no, no, that was all, Sir Hahnenfuss. Have a good evening!" he said loudly.
"The same to you, my lord." Shiho lowered her head as she stepped back into her room and bowed before closing the door.
Yzak took back a step and let out a low sigh before turning around and heading towards the main hall. Odd how she hadn't even left yet and already he was regretting his decision to let her go.
A.N. – I am so, so sorry. It's been 4 months since the date I originally planned to start this sequel and I apologize profusely for making you wait. It's just that so many things have been happening and I haven't had time to write this. I set a goal to start this month and start I have! Thank you very much for your patience and for reading! (More notes on the profile, as usual.)