Though the Heavens May Fall

Chapter Thirteen

By: DamageCtrl

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

"They haven't moved," Natarle frowned as she lowered her binoculars from her face. She remained sitting tensely on her horse as she eyed the make-shift military camp just across their border. Beside her, Aisha's horse shifted and let out a snort. "You'd think that the Federation would try to look less threatening when their monarch is within Orb territory."

"But it is an unofficial trip, Natarle," Aisha reminded her calmly. "King Murata is only in the country for personal reasons. I wouldn't be surprised if only a few people in the Federation know that he is here."

"Regardless," Natarle insisted as she gripped the reins of her horse. "The camp hasn't moved for weeks."

"At least they have made no move to cross over or made any signs of aggression."

"Simply standing at our borders with weapons drawn is a sign of aggression," the younger captain insisted. She narrowed her eyes and turned her horse away from the sight. "I don't care that they haven't changed in size. It only means that they haven't lessened in size, either."

Aisha let out a heavy sigh and followed after the dark-haired Haumea Elite. They rode their horses down the hillside that over looked the greater valley that melted into Federation lands. Dotted along its expanse were various camps. Tents baring the Federation banner and the signals of different branches of the Federation's military had been set up months ago and had not been taken down.

Situated on the Orb side of the valley was one of Orb's military forts. Several lined the borders and after the threats from the Federation and the Alliance they belonged to, the fort was now the residence to at least a hundred Chartreuse Haumea Elites and a dozen or so Obsidian Haumea Elite.

They closest village was an hour's horse back ride south of the fort; further in Orb territory and within farming lands. While the Orb fort was well stocked and living in relative comfort, the Federation camp was not doing as well. According to Obsidian Seray gathered information, the closest Federation town was over a day and half ride away. The old town had fallen into disrepair after the drought that hit the area and wasn't functioning nearly as well as it could have.

Orb had stepped in after the first year of drought in the valley and had water funneled from rivers further in-land to the valley in order to keep the area functioning and fertile until the drought ended. Then the funneling stopped.

"I received word from our sisters further west of here," Natarle reported as they reached the main path that lead to the fort. "The military camps stationed along our borders that we have been tracking are the same. No movement has been made, no violent signs of aggressive or provoked skirmishes, but they haven't made any move to leave, either."

"After being stationed on the borders for so long without any additional orders, I can only imagine that the soldiers are growing weary of their situation," Aisha added. "There may be room for dissent within the ranks if they continue to be stationed there without additional orders or explanation. That could lead to trouble."

Natarle nodded in agreement. From what she had seen, the Federation soldiers had done nothing more than train while at the camp. They had been there for weeks, without returning home or being replaced, nor without any additional word from their superiors. If they remained that way longer, it would see as if the Federation simply abandoned them. Their unrest could spark aggression against Orb.

"I do wonder if Plants is having the same issue as we are having with the border military camps," Natarle said as they neared the fortress' main building.

"If they are, we would hear something from the Red Knights," Aisha assured her. "Andy has been keeping in close contact with their General regarding the situation and Athrun has assured his cooperation."

"Hmph…" Natarle frown. "They were our enemies just a few years ago."

"But things do change," Aisha reminded her. "While being cautious with their information is always advised, we cannot simply disregard what they tell us. We are allies now, and for Athrun, who is now married to one of our own, he has a family to protect in both countries."

Natarle nodded solemnly. Had it been another man who married into the Haumea Elite and simply for reasons that were political, she would have been more wary, but Captain Zala was an honorable man who would do whatever he could for his wife. He had her begrudging respect in that matter.

"Even if the Federation attacks first, Plants will have to deal with not only the Federation on one of their borders, but the rest of the Alliance on their northern one," Natarle mentioned.

"They are in an even more geographically precarious situation than we are," Aisha frowned. "Two countries that are part of the Alliance rest on their northern border and we, their only ally, are on their southern one. If the Alliance gets through Plants and her Red Knights are unable to stop them, then Orb is in serious trouble."

Natarle glanced over at the other captain with critical eyes. "What are you proposing?"

"Nothing, yet," Aisha assured her. "At least not until we receive more information." Natarle frowned.

"Do not do anything hasty," she told the woman firmly. Aisha smirked.

"A Chartreuse Elite? Doing something hasty?" she asked innocently. "Non-sense."

The corner of Natarle's lips curled into a small smirk and she looked back ahead of her as they entered the gates of the fort. Soldiers guarding the entrance gave them bows of their head. "I believe you consider it more 'going with your gut'."

Aisha chuckled. "Well, my gut is telling me that all this pressure will be somewhat of a damper on the Haumea Fete."

"I'm sure many of our sisters remaining here will be disappointed that they are unable to return for the event in a few nights," Natarle said. "But we cannot just send them back considering our current situation."

"They understand," Aisha replied. "If they did not, they would never have become Haumea Elite."

The two women reached the main building and two soldiers approached them to take their horses. As they dismounted, a purple suit clad Elite approached them.

"Captain Badgiruel, Captain Waltfeld," she saluted stiffly. "There is a messenger awaiting you in the western meeting room."

Natarle gave the young Elite an acknowledging bow. "Where are they from?" Aisha asked as she gave a nod of her head and began to pull off her riding gloves.

"Plants, Captain Waltfeld." The blue haired woman seemed to pause for just a moment in her step. She glanced back at Natarle and exchanged silent looks.

"I see," Aisha said. She turned back to the building and began climbing up the steps. "See to it that the messenger's horse is fed and rested. We shall speak to him immediately."

"Yes, Captain!" The Elite bowed her head as the two women entered the main building.

"A Plants messenger…" Natarle murmured as she walked alongside the other woman. Their boots thudded dully against the stone floor of the hall. "I didn't expect a response so soon."

"You requested something of them?" Aisha asked, somewhat surprised. "I thought they were just our enemies a few years ago."

"And I thought that things changed," Natarle counter calmly. "I had some correspondence with Captain Zala regarding the situation here and he said he would have his knights look into the border situation in Plants and report any abnormalities to me."

"Athrun is good with his word," Aisha mused. "Though, the fact that a messenger is here…"

"I agree," Natarle nodded as her eyes narrowed. "It is worrisome."

They reached a door and Aisha gave it a brief knock before turning the handle and pushing it open. Immediately, from one of the seats around the oval shaped table in the center of the room, a man in a red uniform stood up.

Natarle immediately frowned. It was one thing to receive word from a normal messenger, even a standard military one, but for a Red Knight to deliver a message was another. This was a serious matter.

"Captains." They were immediately greeted with a stiff, formal salute. "I am Rusty McKenzie of the Zala Division."

"Athrun sent you," Aisha smiled. "We assumed as much. Please have a seat, Sir McKenzie."

"We were told you have a message," Natarle added. They took two seats a few down from the man and watched as he sat down after they were seated.

"Yes, Captain," he told them. He placed a long, rolled up scroll on the table. "I was under strict orders to deliver this to no one other than a Haumea Elite Captain. I am only familiar with Lady Captain Zala, but both she and Young Mistress Stellar have briefed me on the other Haumea Elite Captains."

Aisha nodded as Natarle reached forward and took the scroll. As she untied the leather cords that kept it bound, Aisha mulled over the titles Cagalli and Stellar. She supposed it made sense that in Plants, Cagalli was referred to by her husband's name and Stellar, her sister, referred to as a young mistress. After all, in Orb, Athrun usually went by his military rank rather than his noble position's title.

"When was this compiled?" Natarle's cold voice cut through Aisha's thoughts and the blue-haired woman snapped her attention to her fellow captain. The Obsidian Captain was standing over the table with the map unraveled before her. Her hands were flat on the surface as sharp eyes scanned over the markings on the parchment.

"It was handed to me last night, Captain," Rusty replied. "Our military cartographer completed it just before sunset last night."

"Then this reflects as recent a movement as we can get," Natarle murmured. She lifted a hand and traced the various symbols. "The Atlantic Federation is here…" she said as she tapped a section of land separated by a mountain range that trickled into Northern Orb. "Eurasian Federation is here…and right beside them is the Republic…"

"Plants is mostly flat in the north," Aisha frowned. "Their bastions are stationed along their northern borders, but there are plenty of open spots in which to send an army through easily."

"Here," Natarle said as she pointed to a valley. "Here…and here…"

"Notice where the Republic's forces are," Aisha frowned. "They can cross over easily in those sections and the nearest Red Knights bases are over a day's travel away."

"The nearest city is Junius," Natarle added. She looked up at Aisha. "That's an agricultural hub."

"No food, no soldiers," Aisha murmured. She turned her attention to the knight that had remained silent. "Sir McKenzie, we may need your assistance for a return correspondence to your superiors."

Rusty nodded his head. They had merely glanced at the map and already they seemed to know where the flow of another country's military would go. So this was the strength of Orb's Haumea Elite.

"It's clear what is happening," Natarle frowned as she lifted her hands off the table.

"Very," Aisha nodded. "This needs to get to Onogoro, immediately. Miriallia and Cagalli need to see this, as well as Athrun and Yzak."

"I'll prepare immediately," Natarle said. "Until then, I will keep our sisters on alert."

"I will keep my Seray ready," Aisha replied as she stood up straight. "We may need to intervene in our ally country."

The Queen of Plants pulled away from him. Her hand slipped from his as she stepped away. Her usually clear blue eyes were diverted from his as he stood by the carriage. His fingers still tingled with the warmth from hers. Silently, she lowered her head and gave him a small bow, if only in gratitude for escorting her to the palace.

Then, without another look or a single word, Lacus turned around and proceeded up the steps.

Kira stared after her with purple eyes that were still glistening with tears. His heart twisted in his chest as the light colored dress that covered her disappeared into the hall. His eyes lowered to the ground.

They caught a damp, dark spot on his chest, where her face had been pressed against for what seemed like ages as they rode to the palace. Kira swallowed the lump in his throat. He had been useless in the carriage.

The moment Lacus began crying, he found that any explanation he could think of had vanished. All he had seen were tears streaming down her flushed cheeks and he had reached out to try and calm her. All he could do was hold on to her as she sobbed against him. He could still feel her slender fingers digging into his shirt as she shook.

She had told him that she would stop. She had choked out that she would keep her distance and had apologized for troubling him. Kira had only held on to her tighter. She had no reason to apologize for him. She was not troubling him. Being with her, seeing her smile…seeing her waiting for him when they reached land had taken his breath away and he had to hold himself back to keep from sweeping Lacus in his arms as Mwu did Murrue.

She had done nothing wrong and now, Kira couldn't help but hate himself for allowing her to believe that by keeping silent. He wasn't sure how to even explain his situation to the pink-haired monarch. While their positions were different, the situation between them was still similar to those of others.

Athrun had lost his wife in the war. Miriallia had lost her first love in the same way he did. Yet, both Athrun and Miriallia had allowed another person into their hearts, though unwillingly at first. They had gone through the emotional turmoil of feeling as if they betrayed the one who had left that world before them. It was guilt for loving someone else; guilt that came from love for another person.

Kira's hands clenched at his sides. His was not so pure a reason.

Falling in love with Lacus was easy. How could it not be? She was perfect. She was beautiful and kind. She warm and accepted him easy. Her arms brought comfort and her laugh elated him. It was not that he had steeled his heart against her and failed. It was that he had not and now there was no turning back.

He had not allowed the boundaries of country or status to affect his feelings for her beyond his initial shock. Athrun had been right; their situation wasn't completely unheard of and within their circle, no one would be against their union. In fact, it almost seemed encouraged. Kira knew Fllay well enough to know that had she been his position, she would've moved on and would want him to be happy.

Kira took in a deep breath. The only one standing in their way was himself. Not because of guilt, but because of fear.

He had already been forced to watch as someone he loved died in his arms. He was haunted by his failure for not being able to save her life or at the very least protect her. The pain had ripped at his soul and had been so agonizing, he was unsure he could survive if he was forced through it once more.

It was as if a piece of him had died with Fllay and it left him empty. His sisters and parents had worried for him. His friends were terrified that they would try to follow Fllay. He had secluded himself for days, sometimes weeks. He wasn't even sure that the day he met Lacus, if he was ready to rejoin the outside world as he once had. Kira had been caught unprepared for what would happen the moment he pulled her out of that river.

Now, a piece of him had grown with Lacus and if lost her like he lost Fllay…if he failed her like he failed Fllay…

"Kira," a voice said behind him. The brown-haired scholar lifted his head once more. A man was walking down the stairs of the palace with a frown marring his handsome face.

"Mwu," Kira stiffened. He too a step back and made a vague hand motion to the carriage. "I was just about to return to the temple." He began to turn around.

The blond-haired man eyed him as he reached the bottom step. "In a moment," he said, causing the younger man to pause in front of the door to the carriage. "Would you care to explain why Lacus' lovely face is marred into such a depressed look that can only come with heartbreak?"

Kira's hand tightened around the door handle. Mwu watched as his shoulders tensed. "Mwu, I really should get back," Kira said, refusing to turn around and face the other man. "Can this wait?"

Before the Queen's husband could reply, Kira pulled himself into the carriage. As he reached out for the door, Mwu took a step closer. "When you are ready to talk about it, I'll be waiting to hear you out. So will Lacus."

Kira lowered his eyes. "There isn't much to talk about," he murmured.

He began to pull the door closed and Mwu stopped him. The younger man looked up and met Mwu's graze. "It is cruel to love her and yet hold her at arms length, Kira," he told him sternly. "There is no neutral zone in love."

The scholar clenched his jaw. "Mwu-"

"Just a thought," the older man said as he stepped back and raised his hands in front of him. He then reached back into his back pocket and pulled out a letter. "I actually was about to leave to bring this to you and Cagalli. It's from Murata. He said it was in regards to family matters. I'll leave it with you to share with your sister."

Kira glanced from Mwu to the neatly folded letter and back. Hesitantly, he reached out and took it from the advisor's hand. "Thank you."

Mwu gave him a small nod of his head and took another step back. He reached for the door and closed it. "Take him to the Rouge Seray!" he ordered the driver.

"Yes, Advisor La Flagga," the driver nodded. There was a small snap and the carriage jerked forward. Mwu made sure the carriage was on its way for a moment longer before he turned around and ascended the steps.

He had made it just past the first set of stairs that lead to one of the wings when he heard a small voice from the base of the stairs. He paused and glanced down the hall. A white-haired woman was standing at the foot of the grand staircase looking worriedly down at a younger pink-haired woman.

"Really, it is nothing," Lacus replied as confidently as she could. She even dared to offer Ezalia Joule a smile. "I'm just tired…Perhaps I was unable to get as much sleep as I thought."

The older woman furrowed her eyebrows. "Lacus…"

"I will retire to my room for the evening," the monarch cut her off. "Please inform our hosts that I will not be eating dinner. I'm going to go straight to bed." Before Ezalia could get another word in, Lacus was already walking up the stairs.

Mwu let out a heavy breath and continued on his way. His wife would not be pleased with this.

Mayu was sure that Mwu was a problem solver. If she had a grandfather or uncle who loved to spoil her, she imagined he would've been like Mwu. Her deduction came in the form of a large gray mare of the same breed as Gaia. Mwu had named her Skygrasper and had it brought over just before they had left for the island.

Skygrasper came about when Mwu saw Mayu waiting for a carriage to bring her back to the Rouge Seray from the Music Academy one day. He asked if she knew how to ride and she professed that she only knew a little and didn't have a horse; that was why she was waiting for a carriage to pick her up. From his expression, it was as if she had told him that she had lost a limb.

"I have just the thing!" Mwu had told her that day. "Don't worry, Mayu. I'll take care of it! None of my girls are going to be horse-less!"

Then he rushed off to do whatever it was that he did. The next morning, she had awoken to the sound of Athrun yelling at Mwu about how the horse was far too big for a novice like Mayu. Mwu insisted that it was fine, since Stellar did well with Gaia and that it would give the girl some independence.

Mayu had rushed down, still in her pajamas, and burst out of the front door. "A horse!" she had nearly screamed.

Her brother was standing beside Athrun, still also in his sleepwear. He looked up at the massive gray beast, somewhat stunned. How many of those monstrous horses did Mwu have?

"Her name is Skygrasper," Mwu had beamed as he walked right past Athrun and held out the reins to her. "And she's all yours. Now you can go to the city, school, and back home with no problem. She'll also be able to take you to Plants."

"Thank you, Mwu!" Mayu had jumped up and given him a hug and spent the entire day, after she ate breakfast and changed, out by the stables, being led around by Cagalli and Athrun. Shinn had been sent to do Red Knights work.

She felt that she had missed some necessary horse-rider bonding time after she had to go to the island. Now that she had returned, she was determined to spend as much time with her new horse as possible.

"I assume you're going to have someone at your side before you even mount her?" a deadpan voice asked behind her.

The brunette nearly jumped, her hands still clinging on to the leather reins. She whirled around, just outside of Skygrasper's stall. "Athrun!"

The blue-haired man crossed his arms over his chest and looked at her questioningly. "Mayu," he told her firmly. "We agreed that you can only practice when there is someone with you, just in case something happens."

"Well…um…" Mayu whimpered. She looked from her horse to Athrun. She didn't want to bother anyone and her brother had wandered off with Stellar somewhere earlier. She also felt that the Haumea Elite were not her personal servants and always felt awkward asking them for assistance. "I didn't want to bother anyone…they all seemed busy."

"Then can it wait until someone has free time to watch you?" Athrun asked. She grimaced.

"It's just for a little bit, Athrun," she told him.

"It's already dark," Athrun pointed out, motioning to the dimming light outside. He seemed on his way to get Akatsuki. Behind him, the golden horse's head nudged his shoulder impatiently.

Mayu narrowed her eyes. "Are you going out?" This was not fair; even if he was an experienced rider and soldier. The least her guardian could do was allow her to practice in the yard connected to the stable. It was fenced in and well lit.

The nobleman's arms flew down to his sides as he tensed. A red flush reached his cheeks as he shifted awkwardly. He supposed he wasn't being the best example. "Well…I thought tonight would be a nice night for a ride with Cagalli…"

"Oh…" Mayu sighed, disappointed. "I thought I could ask Cagalli…"

Athrun let out a heavy sigh. He felt Akatsuki nudge him again. "Wait here," he told the young woman. "Do not even try to mount Skygrasper until someone else is here, okay? I'll see if there is anyone who can watch you."

He was rewarded with a wide smile and Athrun smiled back. He unlatched the door to Akatsuki's stall and quickly prepared the bridle and reins. As he led the horse out, he repeated his instructions to Mayu. The girl nodded earnestly.

Athrun headed for the back of the Seray. He was sure that there were some Elites still inside the dining area, past the veranda. As he neared the elevated veranda, he caught sight of a familiar woman happily sitting on top of the stone railing, holding a bag of chocolate in her hand.

"Mmmm…" The flavor coated Cagalli's tongue and the blonde captain let out a blissful moan. She was sure when she returned that all her chocolate caches would be depleted, but instead, she was pleased to find that they had been left untouched.

"Cagalli," a voice said below her. She looked down, away from the sunset she had been admiring, to the ground below the veranda. Standing there was her husband. "Care for a ride?"

The amber-eyed woman narrowed her eyes slightly. Hadn't he monopolized her attention enough that afternoon? She looked from his green eyes to her bag of chocolate and then back to him.

"Athrun, I'm too tired to ride. I just want to rest and eat some chocolate," Cagalli told him as she brought another piece to her lips. "Maybe some other time."

She chose chocolate over him. That was a blow to his ego. The blue-haired noble wasn't discouraged. "It is a nice evening for a ride," he continued. "And Akatsuki is probably tired of her stall. Are you sure you don't want to join me? All you have to do is sit and relax."

She let out a tired sigh. "Athrun, I do need to be at the palace tomorrow to meet with Murata, along with Kira and Stellar…" She trailed off as she made the mistake of meeting his pleading green eyes.

"I missed you," he told her softly. "Even if it was only for a few days. The bed felt odd without you…and whenever I woke up and you weren't there. Is it so terrible that I want to spend a little time with you when you've finally returned?"

As he continued on, Cagalli could feel her face heating up. Had the man no shame? He was so openly expressing his love, it was embarrassing. She heard a few sighs behind her and looked over her shoulder. Her face paled. Several Elites were standing at the threshold of the veranda doors, looking thoughtful as Athrun's words carried into the house. Damn her charming husband.

Grimacing, Cagalli whirled back to Athrun. "Alright!" she hissed as she crinkled up her now empty bag of chocolate. She shoved it into her back pocket. "That's enough! I'll go with you!"

A pleased smile graced Athrun's face. She was so easily embarrassed that it was cute. "Wonderful, but first is there anyone who is free to watch Mayu and Skygrasper? The girl is waiting in the stables and I don't want her to practice without supervision."

"She must really want to ride Skygrasper soon," Cagalli sighed. "I remember my first horse. I was the same way." She swung her legs back over the veranda and called out into the house, asking if anyone would be interested.

"I can do it, Captain," Mayura assured her with a small salute.

"Thank you, Mayura," Cagalli smiled. "Please keep very simple. Do not let her do anything faster than walking, understood? Her current skill is beginner's, at best."

"Yes, Captain."

Cagalli gave her subordinate a small nod and watched as the orange-haired woman rushed off to the stables. Cagalli followed after, walking down the steps of the veranda to the dirt walkway where Athrun was waiting.

"What possessed you to want to go out riding now?" she asked as she mounted the horse. Athrun waited until she was situated comfortably before climbing on to the saddle after her.

"I thought it would be nice for an evening ride," Athrun shrugged as he gently turned the horse in the direction of the forest. "The weather is good, the sky is clear, and Kira isn't here to barge in on us…again."

"Well, the second time he was only delivering a message," Cagalli pointed out. "And we were just eating dinner."

Athrun let out a sigh. "Do you think something happened between him and Lacus?"

His wife leaned back against him and closed her eyes tiredly. "Yes, but nothing has been resolved. Otherwise, why did he return here?"

"I suppose so…" Athrun murmured. The couple fell into peaceful silence. Cagalli relished the moment with her eyes closed and her body slumped back against his. With the swaying movement of the horse, she found herself being lulled to sleep.

It wasn't until she heard Athrun's voice that she stirred and remembered that they were outside, on horseback. The blonde captain shifted against him and stifled a yawn. "I'm sorry, Athrun, what were you saying?"

"Children," Athrun told her, unabashed. "I was wondering what you think we should name ours?"

She was wide awake now. Her amber eyes had widened and in his arms, her body had tensed. Athrun glanced down at her quickly to assess the look on her face. She seemed neither angry nor elated, but rather, surprised that he had brought it up. Her eyebrows furrowed as she tilted her head up to meet his gaze.

"Children?" she asked. "Names?"

There was disbelief in her voice and for a moment, Athrun began to worry. They had already covered the legal aspects of any future children, but that had been when they were first married and finalizing the provisions to suit them. After that, they hadn't spoken about children at all; though he was sure it lingered in the back of her mind as it had in his.

"Yes," Athrun nodded, keeping a warm smile on his face. "Do you have any names you'd like?" He was careful to keep from sounding too eager. He didn't want to seem like he was pressuring her.

Cagalli shifted once more. Her eyes darted away nervously. "I haven't really thought about it," she admitted quietly. "Why do you ask?" Did he want children? Well, she knew that he did, but now? Did he want them now? Did he bring her out for a romantic horseback right by the sea in order to soften her up and then seduce her?

Behind her, Athrun shrugged casually. "I just had some time to think recently and I was thinking of naming children after some people who are important to us. That is, of course," he assured her. "If that is fine with you."

So, he was just playing with names. She wasn't sure if that meant he was already planning to have them or just randomly musing. She decided to stick with the later. She supposed thinking about children's names was normal for a married couple. Cagalli relaxed just a bit and offered him a small smile. "Well…who did you have in mind?"

"Perhaps something traditional, like naming our son after your father," Athrun smiled. "Or maybe after Mwu."

Cagalli let out a small snort. "Son? What makes you so sure our first will be a boy?" she told him proudly. "She could be a girl!"

"I've thought about that, too," Athrun told her confidently. "How do you feel about naming her after one of our mothers?"

Cagalli's nose wrinkled and she lifted a hand to her chin. She rubbed it thoughtfully. "Actually, I do like your mother's name," she told him quietly. "Lenore Athha-Zala…Lenore Athha Zala of the House of Zala…"

Behind her, Athrun chuckled. "That's a long name."

"You're one to talk," Cagalli smiled as she leaned back against him. "Lord Athrun Zala of the House of Zala." The blue-haired noble lowered his head and kissed the top of hers. Cagalli looked ahead of them tiredly. "But the way things are right now, Athrun…we probably won't have children for a while."

She felt him tense behind her. Athrun lowered his eyes and tried to contain the wave of disappointment that washed over him. "We're not ready, are we?" Perhaps he was thinking about children too soon. They had only been married for a few months and while they had spent weeks together at a time, he wouldn't mind simply having her all to himself for a while longer.

"I don't think the world is ready yet," Cagalli replied softly. His looked down at her and saw her far-away expression. "Orb may be on the verge of a war…and if that is the case, then so is Plants." Her hands clenched her shirt. "I don't want to bring my children into that sort of world, Athrun. I don't want them to be born into war."

His arms wrapped around her body while he held on to the reins. He pulled her back against his chest and buried his face against her hair.

"Then we will just have to work harder to make sure they are not," he whispered. "And even if they are, at least they will have a mother like you."

In front of him, the blonde captain lifted her head and looked at him critically. She was wrong. Athrun really had been thinking seriously about starting a family. Otherwise, how could he have had such an answer ready? Her heart tightened in her chest as some anxiety built up.

"What if we are not able to have children?" she asked quietly, almost hesitantly. She kept her eyes on his face, looking for any sign of disappointment. "What if we waited too long? Remember what we spoke about that night you had your first meal with my Seray? Haumea Elite usually don't plan on having children and it is rare that we actually do. Our careers practically take over our lives."

The soft, intent look didn't falter on Athrun's face. He remained smiling warmly and snuggled against her. "It doesn't matter, as long as you are happy," he told her comfortingly. His smile widened as he met her gaze. "You already have daughters that you see as your children and frankly, there couldn't be a more proud man or father at your side."

"But my Seray…my family here…" Cagalli began worriedly. "They cannot take the place of your heirs." Her eyes narrowed. "Are you willing to give up the Zala bloodline for me? I know you are the last blood member of the house, Athrun."

"Cagalli, wasn't your father, Uzumi, the last blood member of his house?" Athrun asked her softly, yet with a slight challenging tone. "And yet, his legacy lives on with you and Stellar. I don't feel I am giving up anything," he told her proudly. "And even if I had to give up the world for you, I would do so without hesitation."

She buried her face against his chest and he smiled once more. He pressed his lips against the top of her head and squeezed her hand.

"That is a far cry from what you thought when you first arrived," Cagalli whispered as she carefully lifted her head. "How the mighty have fallen." She smiled intently.

"Well," Athrun said as he lowered his head. "Love tends to do that."

His lips sealed over hers and Cagalli felt her eyes close. Her fingers untangled from his and rose to wrap around the back of his neck; securing him closer to her. Beneath them, Akatsuki had stopped and let out a little snort as the two riders seemed to forget all but each other.

She felt his hands slide up the side of her body; one still holding on to the leather reins. He relished the feeling of her fingers tugging at his hair as they parted for a breath. How had he ever lived without her?

Somewhere in the back of Cagalli's mind, an amused voice wondered if he really had brought her out to the cliffside in order to seduce her. If he had, he was obviously succeeding. As his hot breath seared the sensitive base of her neck; the exact same spot he had bruised months earlier in their sparring match, Cagalli shivered. Perhaps having children with this man so soon wasn't such a bad idea…

"Cagalli…" He bit the lobe of her ear gently. "I-"


Cagalli's half-lidded eyes flew open as her husband's voice was cut off by oddly familiar giggling. Athrun seemed to have heard it, as well, as he reluctantly pulled away from her and looked past her body. His lips tugged into a frown. There was someone else there. In their spot. Where he had been planning to take her.

Cagalli's arms slid from around his neck and she moved her hands gently against his chest to push him away. She craned her neck forward and listened carefully to try to confirm that there was another person, or other people, there. Then she heard the laughter once more and she easily placed it.

Athrun sat stiffly behind Cagalli, his jaw clenched with irritation. There was clearly another party in their private spot and that thwarted his plans for the night. They were so close to their favorite cliff, with the soft grass and the breath-taking view that could melt anyone's heart. It would've been the perfect place to-

"Stellar and Shinn," Cagalli whispered softly as she leaned upwards. "We should go."

For a moment, Athrun wanted to protest. Why did they have to go? That was their spot! Did his beloved wife not remember all the times they were there? They had bonded on that cliff. They had shared chocolate and confessed to each other on that cliff. That was where she decided she would marry him. That was their cliff!

Cagalli rolled her eyes. Her husband didn't seem to want to move. Instead, his green orbs were fixed on the hidden area ahead of them, glaring. "Athrun," Cagalli sighed. She lifted her hand and cupped his cheek. She gently turned his head down to meet hers. She gave him a firm look, as if telling him to leave the two alone, and he hesitantly conceded with a nod.

He turned Akatsuki away from the cliff and left the young Haumea Elite and Red Knight alone.

Past the trees and nestled comfortably on a blanket, overlooking the dark waters and the illuminated palace further away, Stellar clutched her stomach to try to control her laughter.

Beside her, Shinn leaned back, propped up by his arms, as he smiled. "She was so angry," he continued. "That as soon as Athrun disappeared from the window, she made a run for the stables. Athrun came running out after her."

Stellar's smile was wide as she lay down on the blanket beside him. "Cagalli doesn't like to sit around and do nothing for so long. Did Cagalli make it?"

"Yeah," Shinn confirmed. "They went into the forest to feed the deer, but Athrun was still worried." He looked over at his companion, who was resting on her side and looking up at him with happy, maroon eyes. "What about you? How was your trip to the Federation? I haven't had a chance to ask you yet."

The young woman's wide smile faltered. "Stellar...liked it…" she told him carefully. "The trip was different. The Federation is different." Her eyes moved away from his and Shinn shifted in his seat. He sat up straight and turned his body to face her.

"They asked you to be their Princess," Shinn told her carefully. He kept his voice quiet and sympathetic, so as not to make her feel uncomfortable. "Will you take your place as their's?"

Her hands gripped the fabric of her dress as her jaw clenched. She had asked herself that more than anyone else had. No one in the Federation or Orb wondered that more than her and in all that time…

"Stellar doesn't know," she whispered in a hollow voice. Her large eyes crinkled as she fixed her gaze out into the dark sea beyond the cliff's edge. "Murata wants Stellar to be the princess, but Kira and Cagalli would rather Stellar stay in Orb."

Shinn leaned a bit closer and moved his head down so that it obscured her view of the ocean and forced her to meet his gaze. "But what do you want?" he asked firmly. "What does Stellar want?"

Her eyes widened for a moment as his red eyes peered into hers, as if looking for an answer in her silence. What did she want?

She wanted to her family to be happy. She wanted to see Cagalli and Kira whenever she wanted, but she didn't want to abandon Murata. She wanted to protect the family and the country that took her in. She wanted to remain loyal Queen Murrue, Mwu, Miriallia, all the other captains, the Haumea Elite, and Orb. She wanted to go feed deer at the back of the Zala Estate with Mayu and Shinn. She wanted Shinn.

Her breath caught in her throat. Yet all those things; happiness and peace; they only came when the country was not at war. Her entire family was connected to some sort of military and government; if their countries were drawn into the war, so easily would her family and friends be, as well.

Shinn watched as Stellar seemed to lose herself in her thoughts. Panic could be seen in her eyes before fear took over, then concern and regret. Her eyes began to cloud over as they moistened.

"If Stellar is a Princess, Stellar can make a difference," she told him in a low whisper. Her eyes focused on his face. "Between all the nations…Stellar would be in a better position to help, right?"

He could see where she was going and his chest began to ache. "This isn't about Orb or the Federation, Stellar. This is about you."

"No, Shinn," Stellar shook her head solemnly. "Stellar is Haumea Elite. This is about Orb."

His eyes narrowed as he looked at her incredulously. Surely, she wasn't implying what he thought she was. "Stellar…"

"Orb comes before self," Stellar recited clearly. She moved into a sitting position and faced Shinn. "Strong of body. Strong of mind. Strong of heart….The credo of the Haumea Elite."

"Yes, I understand that," Shinn nodded, starting to get frustrated. The words were emblazoned on the main entry ways of all the Seray and on the seals on their iron gates.

"The Haumea Elite must be strong for the sake of others," Stellar stressed.

"But that doesn't mean you have to sacrifice yourself!" Shinn frowned. "If you don't want to leave Orb, if you don't want to be a princess, you don't have to!" he told her as his hands reached forward and grabbed on to hers.

"Stellar is a Haumea Elite," she frowned as she pulled her hands away from him. "Duty is what Elites dedicate their lives to. Doesn't Shinn understand?"

"I understand that you think that by taking your place as a princess in the Federation, you'll save the world, but reality isn't that simple, Stellar," Shinn told her seriously. He turned his head away and pushed himself up. "Just because you become a princess doesn't mean that the Federation will back down. It doesn't mean that everything will be peaceful and that everyone will have a happy ending!" he exclaimed as he paced the blanket in front of her.

Stellar watched him walk back and forth with sad eyes. "Stellar understood from the beginning that as a Haumea Elite, it is Stellar's duty to take the mantle of a princess. As a princess, Stellar may be able to protect Orb best, even if it means deflecting."

He stopped his pacing and looked down at her with a pained expression on his face. "Stellar," he said in with a heavy breath. "There is no dual citizenship in the Federation, especially for royalty. It means that you can no longer be a Haumea Elite." Tiredly, the black-haired heir fell to his knees before her and reached for her hands. "Wasn't that what you always wanted? It was one of the first things you told me when we met by the river. You wanted to be a Haumea Elite."

Her eyes dropped as his warm hands wrapped around hers. It had always been her dream to become like her sister. Her fingers curled around his and she slowly brought her face back to meet him. "What does Shinn want Stellar to do?"

The question caught him by surprise. If she had asked Cagalli or Kira, he would've understood, but for her to ask him…? He wasn't sure he was worthy of giving an answer.

"Right now," he began dumbly. "I like you where you are…as you are. Just as Stellar."

She seemed to mull over his words a bit longer. She swallowed a lump in her throat and narrowed her eyes. "And what would Shinn do," she began carefully. "If he were in Stellar's position?"

It was the worst question she could ever ask him. He would rather she had ordered him to explain his feelings towards her in detail than to ask him what he would do in her place. As he stared at her, he understood that she asked because she already knew the answer.

Both of them had been taken into powerful families. Both of them had become strong warriors, following the footsteps of their idolized sister and guardian respectively. And both of them had strong loyalties to their home countries.

She could feel his hands begin to shake. "Do not make me answer," he pleaded softly as his eyes bore into hers. "Please…" he choked out. He would not encourage her to leave. He could not. If Stellar became a princess, then what fledging relationship they had was for nothing. As a Princess, she would be highly sought after. She would have her own worries to deal with. She would have to deal with her country, which was on bad terms with both Orb and Plants.

It would mean that, even if it was for a while, they would be at odds. Did she understand that?

Her eyes moved past him and looked back towards the ocean. "Stellar has decided." Shinn wanted to leave. He didn't want to hear her explain why she chose the path that would distance her from him. "Stellar wants to stay a Haumea Elite in Orb. If Stellar stays in Orb," she smiled sadly as she looked over at him. "Then Stellar can be with Shinn."

His heart nearly burst from his chest at those words. A wry smile tugged at his lips, though part of him warned him from getting too excited. "Don't make such a decision because of me…" he found himself saying, even though his heart and mind said otherwise.

Stellar nodded as tears collected in her eyes. "Stellar knows…" she told him. Her voice was beginning to shake. "But Stellar has made her decision. Stellar doesn't want to be an enemy, but...."

He reacted quickly; partly to keep her from finishing and partly to keep her from crying. He tasted salty tears as he kissed her and he could feel her shaking against him; trying to hold back her sobs as she struggled to kiss him back. They fell back against the blanket and he lay above her for a moment, taking in the sight of her face.

His eyes looked down at her tear-streaked cheeks and her swollen lips. "I will never be your enemy, Stellar. Neither will Cagalli and Kira."

She shook her head, disbelieving. "Shinn cannot promise that," she told him as she smiled sadly. Her hand rose and stroked the side of his face gingerly. "But thank you." His eyes softened as he wrapped his arms around her and allowed her to bury her face in his shoulder. He could feel her smaller hands clinging on to the back of his shirt.

He closed his eyes and gritted his teeth. He knew that in the upcoming days, she would probably cry even more, as there were those more important that she had yet to inform of her decision.

The only time he really enjoyed Orb's outdoor weather was in the morning, before it became too hot and humid and when there was a cool morning breeze. He enjoyed the bright sky littered with clouds and the faint scent of ocean salt in the air. There was something calming about the rhythm of the waves crashing against the rocks below the garden. He closed his eyes and took all of that in.

Inside the palace behind him, his mother looked on worriedly. Yzak remained in the white iron chair, facing the sea as his hand cupped the tea cup on the table beside him. He was quiet and it unnerved her greatly, as her son had never been the kind who could contain his fury without an outburst for long.

"My Lady," a voice said behind her. Ezalia Joule turned around quickly and saw Dearka bowing respectfully at her. Athrun gave her a bow of his head. Both were dressed in civilian Orb clothes and looked as if they had just arrived. "You summoned me?"

"Yes, Dearka," Ezalia let out a heavy breath. "Good morning, Athrun. I was unaware that Dearka called for you, as well."

"Actually, Lady Joule, I ran into Dearka upon arriving. I'm here with my wife and family," Athrun explained. "They had a meeting with King Murata today and I thought I should come along, in case I was needed."

Ezalia nodded. "It is a good thing you did," she told him. She stepped aside and motioned a hand towards her son, sitting alone out in the garden. "He hasn't spoken to me since he arrived, Athrun. Not once."

The blue-haired noble looked out towards the garden. Yzak hadn't moved from his spot and remained sitting there, looking out towards the ocean in silence. "When did he arrive?"

Ezalia's sad eyes remained on her son. "Three days ago."

Dearka took in a sharp breath. "And not a word?"

"Not to me," Ezalia admitted. "He has been cordial to the others, but has gone out of his way to remain alone. Whenever I tried to approach him, he would simply leave the room without hearing me out."

Athrun nodded understandingly as Dearka bit her lower lip. "I expected at least an outburst from him."

"I would've preferred that he yelled at me," Ezalia whispered in a pained voice. She turned to the two other knights beseechingly. "As his two closest friends, I ask that you please speak to him. If he will not speak to me, perhaps he will speak to you."

Dearka nodded his head. "We will try, My Lady."

Athrun took a deep breath and stepped outside. Dearka followed silently, leaving the white-haired woman staring at their backs. Quietly, the two approached the lone man in the garden. Without a word, they reached out and dragged the iron chairs across the pale colored gravel over which Yzak sat. They took their seats.

"You're both here early," the white-haired captain said solemnly. "Surprising. I was under the impression that you were both off duty for a while longer."

"Officially perhaps," Athrun answered. "Though as Red Knights, that seems just a technicality."

"You didn't send us word that you arrived," Dearka began as he leaned back against his chair and crossed his arms over his chest.

"Did that woman summon you?" Yzak asked, his voice cold as his referred to his mother. The other two men exchanged looks.

"I'm here because my wife had a meeting and crossed paths with Dearka on the way," Athrun replied swiftly. Across from them, Yzak remained in his seat, nearly unmoving except for his hand and arm that held the tea cup. He brought the porcelain cup to his lips, but didn't drink the contents. Instead, he seemed to inhale the scent.

His pale face was taunt with dark circles that had appeared around his eyes. Odd, as Yzak had always been one for having such an impeccable appearance. It was clear that he had not slept well since he had arrived and the reason was clear, or rather, not present.

"You saw Shiho," Athrun dared bring up. Dearka seemed to grimace at the woman's name; unsure of how his captain would react to it. Both kept their eyes on Yzak.

There was no outburst. His face had not turned red and his hands had not shaken in fury. He merely brought the tea cup back to his lips and took a sip. "She made it clear that she wanted to stay," he told them as he lowered his hand. His eyes remained looking vacantly out at the water. "She insisted that I go through with my duty."

Dearka's eyes widened. "Yzak-" He opened his mouth and was silenced by Yzak's hand. The white-haired noble turned in his seat to finally face them.

"I will not throw her sacrifice away so easily," he told them in a resigned, yet proud voice. "She made her decision. She had thought it out. I must respect it, even if I do not agree with it."

The two other men lapsed into silence. Dearka lowered his head and shook his slightly. He wasn't sure if he was more disappointed or angered by their duty bound codes. Athrun took a deep breath and released it slowly.

"Does she at least know?" he asked as he lifted his head. To someone who had been standing by, knowing nothing about the men, it would have sounded like an incomplete question. To Yzak, it was straight forward with no room for misinterpretation. The question was did Shiho know that he loved her.

Yzak's eyes lowered to the table. "She does," he answered, his voice withdrawn. His hand tightened around the tea cup's small handle. "We both do."

From behind tall glass windows, Cagalli leaned against a column and watched her husband lean across the table and pour Lord Joule another cup of tea. From the dreadful looks on their faces, it was appeared that in some way, they had lost a battle. Yzak seemed to be missing something and Dearka looked irritated.

Shiho must've told Yzak that she wanted to remain in Orb. That she needed to remain in Orb. When Cagalli had visited the brunette, she had asked if she was sure this was what she wanted. Shiho had assured her that it was. Cagalli could only oblige and do as her friend requested.

As she wrapped her arms around herself, a voice spoke up behind her. "Are you worried?" Kira asked.

Cagalli turned around and faced her twin. The purple-eyed man was sitting on one of the chairs that surrounded the meeting table. His fingers were knotted together nervously on his lap. That morning, they had gone to pick up Kira on their way to the palace. Queen Murrue had graciously allowed them the use of one of the meeting rooms to deal with the issues of their family.

Stellar had gone to fetch Murata and left her twin siblings alone in the meeting room. For a while, Kira had paced, making the room echo with his footsteps. Cagalli finally hissed that he needed to sit down, as his pacing as bothering her. Not wanting to argue, the male twin took a seat and let his sister remain at her post near the window. Half of the meeting's members had yet to arrive and already the tension in the room was high.

"I've already come to terms with whatever Stellar will choose," she told her brother firmly. "If I could be selfish, I would like her to remain here in Orb; however, if Stellar wishes to take her place in the Federation, then there is nothing I can do and I will not push her away simply because I disagree."

Kira lowered his eyes to his hands and nodded slightly. "I see…"

"What about you?" Cagalli asked as she pushed herself away from the column she had been leaning against. Her brother shook his head miserably.

"I think I can only take it as it comes," he admitted. Before he could say anything more, the door creaked open and Stellar entered. Murata followed behind her, looking nervous; as if he were about to meet his fate.

Kira rose from his seat. "Good morning."

"Good morning," Murata replied with an earnest nod. "Please, have a seat."

Kira nodded and took his seat as Cagalli and the others did the same. The twins sat two chairs down from each other on one side while Stellar sat across from Kira and Murata across from Cagalli. The unease in the air was almost suffocating and Stellar couldn't help but glance from one sibling to the next.

Murata looked at a loss. Kira looked worried and Cagalli was growing irritated at the prolonged silence. The part of her that was the Rouge Seray's Captain finally emerged. She sat up straight in her chair and took a deep breath.

"It is imperative that we deal with this issue immediately," she began in a strong, cool voice. "As we all know, this matter may be focused on our family, but it is not only about us. This could potentially affect the relations between the nations; not just Plants and Orb."

"I agree," Murata wheezed out, both relieved that someone had begun and terrified that it had started. "I believe I should be the one to start as I was the one who requested everyone here today."

Cagalli gave him a curt nod of her head, as if to tell him that he had their attention. The blond-haired ruler took a deep breath.

"I am well aware that Stellar would like to remain in Orb and I know that my request for her to return to the Federation as princess is a difficult request to make, especially considering all our circumstances, but I am not merely making the request for personal reasons," Murata explained. "Stellar is my sister and I do care for her dearly, but I am also asking her to return on behalf of the Atlantic Federation.

"Right now, we are in a difficult position. The Alliance, which we have been loyal to and under for decades, has its eyes set on Orb. It wants what Orb has: lucrative trade, fertile land, and numerous luxurious goods. The Federation is the only one of the Alliance that borders Orb and thus we are under immense pressure to instigate a war in order to justify invading Orb."

At this Cagalli had stiffened. She knew it. She and the others had been correct; the Federation didn't care about a peaceful treaty; they wanted war! Her eyes narrowed as she opened her mouth to speak.

"Cagalli," Kira cut her off. He gave her a stern look as he reached for her and grasped her arm. "Let him finish." The older blonde grit her teeth and looked from Kira to Stellar and back.

"Fine…" She slowly returned to her seat and Kira lifted his hand from her arm.

"The…The Alliance is far stronger than they appear to be," Murata stammered. "They faired far better that the Federation did alone. Some of the countries have long healed economically after the war and have even experienced a period stability in which their military forces have improved. Due to their recent improvements, they are confident that they can overtake Orb.

"The Federation is the middle of it all. If we do not do what the rest of the Alliance wishes, then the Alliance will simply absorb the Federation. We cannot defend ourselves from such an outcome. We were unable to recover well after the war with Plants and our trade has steadily declined, even amongst the Alliance. Our once seemingly endless coastal resources that had historically been important to our trade had been nearly depleted and I have been forced to restrict fishing and logging. This has not settled well with our coastal citizens whose lives depended on those industries.

"The drought also struck at the worst possible time and though now, the land is fertile again, few are willing to return to our farming regions. The Alliance has given us aid in the form of economic help by placing jobs within the country, but now a good percentage of Federation citizen's livelihoods depend on another nation. Without the Alliance's jobs, those lives depending on them would be crippled and thus, they are strong supporters of war."

"Are they so blind as to forget that war requires money? Money which the monarchy receives from taxes?" Cagalli spat out angrily. "The Federation and her people are already in dire straights. A war with Orb would mean additional taxes, as well as the lives of men and women, to support it!"

"I understand that," Murata sighed heavily. "But the Alliance has planned their game well. The jobs they provide my country are manufacturing jobs that produce weapons for various military branches of several Alliance countries. The people know that a war means a need for weapons, meaning more manufacturing and more jobs. If the Federation resists, not only will we have to deal with external problems with the Alliance, but internal problems with our citizens' discontent."

"There must be another way to deal with this," Kira frowned as he leaned forward. "The entire country cannot possibly be controlled by the Alliance's economic hold."

"Perhaps not the entire country, but the nobles that represent many of them are staunch supporters," Murata admitted. "There are many regions that have powerful noble families who are supporters of the Alliance. Their regions are provided with jobs and with jobs are taxable incomes. They cannot afford to lose that."

"Then to put is simply, you are trapped between a rock and hard place," Cagalli frowned. Murata nodded.

"There are still some families that are loyal to the monarchy and wish to become more independent from the Alliance, but even among them there is dissent as to what exactly should be done," Murata explained. "While I have their loyalty, they know that I am in precarious situation. Aside from Stellar, there are no other remaining blood members to the royal family."

Several pairs of eyes darted over to the youngest blonde, who had remained in her seat quietly. "You want to bring Stellar to the Federation to help secure some sort of blood lineage," Cagalli concluded. Her eyes narrowed. "That is odd. Most would have chosen to marry and pass their kingdom on to their child rather than sibling."

"That is the last problem," Murata told her. "I am unable to have children."

"What?" Cagalli asked at the same time that Stellar sucked in a sharp breath. Both women stared at him, surprised.

"There was an accident when I was a child and I have since been unable to have children," Murata explained, sounding pained as he told them. "Very few people know about my inability to produce an heir. Djibril, the family doctor…that is why Stellar is of a huge importance to the Federation."

Kira turned to their youngest sister. Her maroon eyes were wide with shock. It was clearly the first time she had heard the news and it was already taking its toll on her. He could see the pressure mounting on her shoulders as she understood that if Murata could not have children, then she was the only one left to carry on the royal line.

"That's not fair!" Cagalli slammed her hands on the table as she shot up from her seat. "You cannot put that kind of pressure on Stellar!"

"I did not mean to put such a burden our sister!" Murata countered.

"Did you think that she was simply going to throw away the life she has built here in Orb so easily? No matter what her reasons to leave are, it's not a simple choice for her and this," she yelled as she waved her arms in the air. "Is not going to make it easier for her!"

"I don't want to force Stellar!" Murata insisted. "If I could have children, if I could secure the lineage myself, then I would! However, I cannot have heirs and without a stable monarchy, the nobles will no longer support me! The alliance my father secured for my country is merely using us as a tool! No people should be manipulated as mindless tools for the benefit of others, but without the help and support of the nobles, I cannot secede and the Federation will not be able to survive!"

"So you plan on using Stellar to secure the monarchy?" Kira frowned. "If Stellar is there and she can have children, the monarch is secure and the nobility will be more supportive, is that your plan?" He narrowed his eyes and sent a cold glare to Murata. "Are you forgetting that once you bring Stellar into your world, then she will have the burden of your country on her shoulders, as well?"

"How can you put her in that situation?" Cagalli hissed.

"I do not plan on leaving her side once she is crowned!" Murata insisted. Perhaps this was a mistake. Perhaps he never should've spoken to them.

"Then what will you do if the issues with the Alliance are not resolved and we end up in war?" Cagalli demanded furiously. "Would you make us an enemy of our sister?"

Her words shot chills down their spins as Murata shook his head desperately. "That is not my intention-"

"Clearly, your intention is not to allow Stellar to remain with her family," Cagalli spat out.

Murata shot up from his chair. "I am her family, too!"

"Enough!" Stellar's cry echoed through the meeting room and reminded her three older siblings that she was present. Tears were already streaming down her eyes as she rose from her seat. She looked over each of their faces as she tried to calm herself. Cagalli lowered her hands and Murata looked away guiltily. Kira's eyes saddened. "Stellar doesn't want to be Cagalli or Kira's enemy. Stellar doesn't want to be Mura's enemy or Athrun's or Shinn's…"

Her voice was trembling as she trailed off. Kira's face softened. "Stellar…"

She shook her head. "Stellar understands the problems everyone is facing," she told them clearly. "If Stellar could, Stellar would stay in Orb and remain in the Haumea Elite. It has always been Stellar's dream to be an Elite like Cagalli, but now that Stellar is one, Stellar cannot afford to be so selfish."

Cagalli could feel the blood draining from her face. "No…" she whispered as she shook her head. She knew what was coming. She had it engrained her: duty. She knew Stellar lived for it as much as she or any of their sisters did and she knew that Stellar had the will to act for it. By being a Haumea Elite, Stellar had sealed her fate to one day leave it for the sake of the duty she felt.

"Stellar is your sister and an Elite and a princess," the younger blonde told them. "Stellar has obligations to family and to both countries and if Stellar abandons them…"

She trailed off, but they understood. Cagalli could not abandon her country. Kira could not abandon his family. Murata would not abandon his nation. Stellar was just like them. Kira swallowed the lump in his throat as he felt tears tugging at his eyes. "Then, what is your decision, Stellar?" he asked in a trembling voice.

Stellar bit her lower lip. "Stellar doesn't mind being a political pawn," she told him as she offered them an optimistic smile. "So long as it is for everyone."

Kira collapsed in his seat and covered his face with his hand. Murata closed his eyes, suddenly feeling as if Stellar had made the wrong decision. Across from him, Cagalli shook her head in disbelief.

"No," she choked out. "Orb doesn't want you to be her pawn!"

"It isn't just for Orb," Stellar assured her. "It is for Cagalli and Kira and everyone." She looked at her sister with hope in her eyes. "If Cagalli can help with negotiations between the two countries, Stellar will do what Stellar can as Princess to insure a peaceful resolution."

Murata stared at his sister. Part of him couldn't help but be ashamed for bringing her into such a situation, but at the same, he felt joy and pride at her decision. She was not a selfish woman and she would give her all for both Orb and the Federation.

Cagalli's hands clenched at her sides. She bit her lower lip as she took low, even breaths. Perhaps she had already known that Stellar would make this decision the moment she received the letter Stellar left behind when she went to the Federation. Perhaps Cagalli already knew, but hearing it from Stellar herself and confirming what had only been a theory was world shaking. For her little sister, Cagalli felt her heart break.

"If that is your decision, then there is nothing I can do to change it," she said in a low voice. Kira looked at his twin worriedly. That was not the tone of someone accepting of the situation.

"Cagalli…" She turned away from him. Kira's eyes widened as she rounded the table swiftly and headed for the door. "Cagalli!" He shot up from his chair as the Haumea Elite stormed from the room.

Stellar felt her heart drop. Her eyes stung with tears as the door was flung open and the female captain exited the room in silence. She scrambled around Murata, screaming her sister's name as she ran after Cagalli and Kira.

Murata stared down at the table. His legs suddenly gave way beneath him and fell back against his chair. Cagalli's infuriated words echoed in his ears.

"Did you think that she was simply going to throw away the life she has built here in Orb so easily? No matter what her reasons to leave are, it's not a simple choice for her!"

He closed his eyes tightly as he leaned forward and covered his face with his hands. He may have just severed the tie between Stellar and her beloved sister.

She really didn't know why it was always her Seray that ended up being the location for the Haumea Fete. Part of her didn't think it was fair, but she supposed there was no better choice. At least she had a clean-up plan.

"Captain, the drinks have arrived!" one of her subordinates shouted.

"Excellent!" Miriallia yelled. "Bring them to the cold room to keep them reasonably chilled!"

"Yes, Captain!" Miriallia watched as several Elites from different Seray all began carrying things into the Azure Seray. She looked towards the well decorated gates for any sign of the delivery of food from the city, as they were scheduled to arrive around the same time.

Instead, a familiar figure in a purple suit entered the iron gates on horseback. Black hair bounced around her stern face as Miriallia lowered the planning papers in her hands. A small smile tugged at her lips as she stood up and gave a subtle, respectful bow to her fellow captain.

"Captain Badgiruel," Miriallia greeted as the older woman reached her. "Welcome back."

"Captain Haww," Natarle said as she returned the bow and dismounted.

Miriallia tilted her head to the side questioningly. "Where is Captain Waltfeld?"

"Duty at the border," Natarle replied simply. Miriallia's eyes narrowed. The other captain gave her a knowing nod. "May be we speak inside?"

"Of course," Miriallia nodded. She motioned for the other woman to follow her as they handed the tired horse off to one of the Seray members. They slipped into the war room nearly undetected by the bustling Haumea Elite around them. "What happened?" the brown-haired captain asked as the door locked behind her.

"This," Natarle said as she held up a map. She placed it on the table and unraveled it. "What do you think of it?"

Miriallia looked at her suspiciously, but stepped forward and looked down at the map. The land presented before her was not Orb. "Where did you get this?"

"Connections with the Red Knights," Natarle explained.

"I see…" Miriallia murmured. Her hand traced the northern borders of Plants. "These are clearly plans for war. From the placement of the Alliance troops, they have done their research. They've pinpointed all the weak spots in Plants' northern borders." Her hand paused over a particular area and frowned. "This is civilian land…if this was attacked, it would take at least a day for the Plants' troops to mobilize and the Red Knights to be deployed."

"If they're lucky," Natarle frowned. "Do you think the Alliance will attack?"

"This information leaves little room for something else." Miriallia lifted her head and met the other captain's gaze. "We must bring this to the palace and inform Athrun and Lord Joule."

Natarle nodded in agreement. "I thought you'd say that. I only wish I had arrived with better news, especially on the night of the Fete."

Miriallia shook her head dismissingly as she rolled up the map. "We are Haumea Elite," she said. "We must always be ready for anything."

A.N. – First - Thank you all for reading! Second – A bit late, but my love and prayers to all those suffering in the aftermath of Typhoon Ondoy/Ketsana. My family there are lucky as they are far from the disaster area, but unfortunately, that is not the case for everyone. Much love to those, as my family puts it, 'back home'.