Disclaimer: I own nothing of GS/GSD. R&R please.


A/N: Well, here's to the start of what will hopefully be as enjoyable as The Isle. I found myself really inspired by Maaya Sakamoto's Yubiwa, and I recommend listening to it (just search Youtube already!) and reading this at the same time. I hope you enjoy and look forward to more!

Newest: The Secrets Between fanart and poster can be found on the profile page!

PP


Chapter 1

Within the school grounds, there was a stretch of area that the teachers referred to as the playground. It was no such thing, of course. The youngest student here was thirteen, and the oldest sixteen. They were far too mature to want things like sandboxes, preferring instead to gossip, to play football, and to giggle and trade love letters if they were girls. That said, the students here did enjoy swinging from knobbly, thick ropes attached to a steel frame from time to time.

There was no clear divergence in the group present at the playground. Granted, some of the kids had incredibly beautiful, almost unnatural features with perfect smiles, bright hair and creamy skin, while some of the others looked far more normal and average. For most of the students, however, classifying them according to their genetic heritage was difficult. Nobody minded much if one was a Coordinator or Natural—everything was mishmashed these days, especially in Orb.

Almost as a tribute to that, the students mixed around, playing tag and all sorts of other things, shouting merrily and attacking their lunches with the kind of appetite and enthusiasm that was expected of hungry teenagers.

Moving from one group of friends to the other, it never struck the fourteen year old Kaye Humbert that for a long time, there had been bloodshed between Coordinators and Naturals. He was nearing fifteen this year, and he was not too young to not know, unlike some of the other children who'd been born after the war. His mother had always warned him of the past and how easily people tended to make mistakes they thought they'd never make again. She'd been afraid for him and sent him away. For that purpose, he'd learned how to defend himself by hurting others if need be.

Of course, that wasn't relevant anymore.

It was a new world here in Orb and the size and variety of life here had startled him. Frankly, it startled him even now, because he he'd never thought that he would have so many playmates and people of his age. The biggest concern for most of the boys was getting picked for teams or being rejected by their crushes, and for the girls, they were mostly caught up with appearances and gossip and things like that. There was homework and grades too, of course. But they didn't need to train or to keep secrets or things like that—they were careless and very happy.

He liked being one of them.

"Kaye!" Tia was calling to him. She looked pretty with her hair in a sprightly pony tail, and he found himself blushing when she smiled right at him. "Jerome wants to know if you're free to join the other student councilors this weekend."

He hurried over to them. Mr. Estragon would be here in Orb permanently, and he'd made plans to meet him and Cagalli over the weekend. "I don't think so…"

"Aww, Kaye, try and make it!" His friends were looking pleadingly at him.

Jerome slapped Kaye's back. "I'm cooking burgers—don't say you don't want them!"

"Eh—I have to meet Mr. Es—," He stopped himself. While Kaye knew that Rune Estragon was really just a name like Kaye Humbert for the real person, Kaye hadn't been able to get used to calling him by any other name. Besides, Kaye had learnt enough to know that revealing that he knew Athrun Zala wasn't allowed on the Isle or here in Orb. "I mean, I might have other plans."

Athrun and Cagalli couldn't meet Kaye openly. Still, over the last weekend, Athrun had managed to arrange for a car to fetch Kaye to a resort suite where Cagalli had been waiting. Kaye was planning to meet them both again.

"But it's a pot-luck!" Tia said insistently. "It won't be as fun if you don't come, Kaye. You have to bring Pepita too."

Pepita was now a full-grown, magnificent dog, despite how she was undeniably a mutt. She kept Kaye company, for which he was very grateful since he would have otherwise been living alone. There were calls now and then from Mr. Estragon and Epstein, but for most part, there was only Pepita.

Looking at his friends, Kaye shook his head. "I really can't. Sorry." He brightened up. "But we can go to the beach tomorrow, yes?"

The table's chatter grew once more. Kaye however, found himself preoccupied with the thought of his previous guardian and Cagalli. Cagalli was a friend, but not quite either. He wasn't sure what to think of her as, since plenty of things had changed. But she still felt familiar and he was overjoyed to discover that.

Kaye had been able to meet her personally for the first time that he'd been in Orb, and he had been so overjoyed that it never occurred to him that she was somehow not as tall as he'd remembered. She too, had been amazed at his growth spurt and how he nearly lifted her off the ground when he'd hug-slammed into her. His voice too, he was aware, was very different.

The three of them had spent a nice weekend together, and before he'd reluctantly left, she'd given him a number so that he could contact her.

"Call me at any time you wish." She'd said smilingly, hugging him once and then again. "If you need anything, don't hesitate."

Mr. Estragon, of course, had always been in contact with him, and when Kaye had mentioned this to allay her fears of him living all alone, she'd looked surprised even while Mr. Estragon had seemed a bit sheepish. She'd looked pointedly at Mr. Estragon, who'd then muttered an apology to her.

"Why did you have to hide Ko's presence in Orb from me?" She'd demanded.

"My mother was afraid to bother you." Kaye had informed her. He had felt a tug of familiarity with the name that she'd used, one that sent a strange feeling of loss through him. "It was a secret between Mr Estra—I mean, Athrun and me."

"You shouldn't have kept it a secret. You could never bother me." Cagalli had said stubbornly. "I'll speak to her about this as soon as I can. I'm sure she misses you too." She had taken Kaye into her arms once more, stroking his head in a way that struck him as being familiar and somehow comforting. It seemed that no matter how old he grew, she remained the same as he remembered.

Of course, Kaye knew better. He knew that the Orb Princess was busy, and that she couldn't meet him every weekend. She wasn't just the Cagalli who'd befriended him and had sparred with him those years ago when they'd first met—she was somebody who had duties and responsibilities in this place.

All the same, Kaye decided now, he had been very happy being with her on the Isle, and meeting her in Orb completed everything now.

Feeling contented, he looked back at his friends. Their conversation had moved on while he'd been daydreaming, but they weren't just talking. Amongst them, Tobias had produced the day's newspapers, and as Kaye looked at those, his eyes widened in shock.


In the Zaft Headquarters, the Head General's office was considered to be the most luxurious and spacious of those that existed. It was arguably so, and it was furnished to be presentable for meeting such as these.

At this point however, it was stuffy, crammed, and frankly too small even for the specific number admitted. Usually, the table was filled with files and things, but for this hour, it had been cleared.

"With all due respect sir, are you speaking as the Zaft Head or as a former comrade and close friend of Mr. Zala?"

Sitting behind his desk, Yzak Joule tried to keep his annoyance in check as he fielded the questions. Normally, he thought irately, he would have delegated this to a subordinate, but with the rate of things building up these days, it made more sense to take the bull by the horns directly. And in Yzak's trademark style, the bull would definitely fly in the face of the reporters at some point. That point was called the boiling point, and Yzak could feel himself coming very near to it.

"I have no authority to act outside my job in explaining Mr. Zala's current presence in Orb," Yzak clarified for the fifth time that day. "My answer is the same—I have agreed to the press' questions to make clear Zaft's decision to accept Mr. Zala's resignation letter and to confirm that he is no longer an Intelligencer for Zaft." He bit back a sigh. "As it is, the resignation was accepted more than a month ago, and he has been in Orb for nearly a month if I understand correctly."

"We understand that he was a former agent of the Internal Security and Intelligence Department," One reported called out. "Why would Zaft be willing to accept the resignation if he knows so many secrets?"

Yzak tried not to snap. These questions were so brainless that he felt almost insulted that they were being posed to him. "Firstly, every agent of Zaft or civil servant cannot breach security or obligations and definitely not confidence—regardless of whether their employment ends or not. Secondly, no employer can enforce an employee's contract if the latter chooses to terminate it. In his case, his resignation was given with the proper months of notice and there was no breach of contract."

"Sir," Another called out. Cameras were not allowed in this building, nor were recorders, and people were scribbling like mad in that room. "Can you comment on his recently-announced relationship with the Orb Princess?"

It hadn't been announced. More like exposed, Yzak thought dryly. Whoever who had leaked the Orb Council of Elders' internal correspondences and considerations of whether to approve of Cagalli Yula Atha's appeal to marry a former Zaft Intelligencer was surely facing hell back in Orb. Currently, investigations were underway, and the suspect was a personal assistant of one of the Elders. The assistant had probably leaked it to the media, who'd then gone right after the two and had been at it since then.

Not that it would be hidden forever of course, Yzak conceded. That silly arse must have taken to living with her in the Atha Estate for at least a week upon his arrival in Orb. The first photographs of Athrun Zala in Orb had been of him appearing at meetings and similar official events regarding his latest employment with the Tristernte Research conglomerate, but the subsequent ones had been of him stepping out of the Atha Estate's main gates and being met with mobs.

Hence, Yzak thought exasperatedly, the need for this press conference now. "No comment. Mr. Zala's personal life is not of interest to Zaft, his former—," He stressed the word 'former', "— employer. There was no conflict of interest or breach of duty, as was proven some years ago, and that is the position that Zaft refers to even now."

"Sir," There was yet another reporter asking, "Mr. Zala has admitted to the Orb Press that he will be marrying the Orb Princess. The wedding's slated to happen in two months. Will Zaft have any views on that?"

"What kind of question is that?" Yzak did snap now. "As a spokesperson for Zaft, am I supposed to answer that question?" He folded his hands to keep himself from shaking his fists at the media dogs. "I repeat that the purpose of this press conference is to clarify that Athrun Zala is no longer employed under Zaft. Zaft denies connection with his presence in Orb now, and Zaft denies that Athrun Zala is there for the purposes of acquiring information about the internal security of Orb to pass to the Plants."

The clicking of pens in the room suddenly stopped. He hadn't quite lost his ability to intimidate then, Yzak thought with a tiny bit of satisfaction. Even the subordinates around him looked rather nervous.

He looked around aggressively. "Are there anymore questions? If there are none, I'd like to end this press conference."

There were murmurs of protest, but Yzak glared in the general direction of people sitting across from his desk, and the room fell silent.

Satisfied, he gave the signal for them to leave.


Standing with a handful of ice wrapped in a handkerchief, the fifteen-year old Tobias glared at his classmate. "You're a looney!"

"I am not one." The student that had delivered the punch said in a low voice.

Outside the classroom, the other students were pressing their faces against the window. No doubt, the fight that had broken out in the middle of the recess had been unexpected and highly unpredictable. The parties involved too, came as a surprise. Tobias Martrol and Kaye Humbert, members of the same fencing club, had never fought before. In fact, they were friends and attended almost every class together.

"Silence," the teacher intervened. He shook his head exasperatedly, trying to make head and tail of the incident. On the table, the alleged trigger of the fight lay limply. Newspapers—some of it crumpled, and most of it intact for the teacher to read and to get even more confused about the turn of events. "Kaye, apologize to Tobias for hitting him. You're lucky that it isn't serious—I might have had to call both your parents."

"Don't bother sir," Kaye muttered. "I live alone."

The teacher seemed to recall this and frowned. "Well, apologise anyway. You too, Tobias. You don't have to call your classmate a looney even if you're mad at him."

"I will if he apologizes first!" Tobias, a tall lanky youth looked highly affronted at the effort at reconciliation.

Kaye looked up furiously too. How strange, the teacher thought, that the usually mild, acquiescent youngster was being so aggressive. "I won't apologise, sir. Tobias started the fight."

"You punched me first!" Tobias protested. "Just because you disagreed with what I said!" He rolled his eyes. "And over what, Kaye? I don't know why you turned all looney like that so suddenly!"

"I gave you a chance to take it back." Kaye said firmly. "But you didn't. I won't allow you to say such things without proof."

"Who died and made you a judge?" Tobias demanded. "And why do you care anyway?"

"Excuse me," The teacher said helplessly, gesturing to the newspapers, "What were you two fighting about again?"

Tobias shrugged. "I'm still trying to figure that out too, sir. Kaye just flew at me in a rage when I was telling Cera that the rumours were true." He cast a look at Kaye, looking puzzled. "I mean, why should you care? They probably are anyway."

"It's wrong to say things without proof!" Kaye nearly shouted. Like his friend, he had the gangly look of a child who had suddenly shot up very fast, but his face was strangely fierce. Looking at him, the teacher had always found him to be more mature than the other students, but now it seemed even more evident. "I'm sorry that I hit you when I lost my temper, but it's wrong to say things like that!"

Tobias, as stunned by the sudden apology as by the force of Kaye's declaration, stammered his own apology.

The teacher, still bewildered, made another effort. "Well, that's not so bad now, is it? He sighed, looking at his watch. "Now, you've got another ten minutes for recess, so shall we all clear out?"

"Alright." Tobias muttered. Still holding the ice gloomily to his cheek, he cast a puzzled look at his friend and began to plod out.

Kaye followed, though he cast his eyes down, trying to prevent tears from spilling.

On the teacher's table, there was a picture of the Orb Princess being shielded by a man in the newspapers. His face was turned to the side as if to block something, and there was a stain on his cheek and shoulder—a tomato, apparently.

The allegations that the Zaft Intelligencer Athrun Zala had plotted his way into Orb by manipulating the Orb Princess were printed in bold, black block letters, and those were splayed across the front page.


"The conclusion then, would be that these war criminals can never fit back. They can't integrate back into a society that has moved on since the days when wars were glorified."

The music played on. The laughter rose here and there, and the atmosphere was merry enough. But her hands were trembling and she felt a rush of rage swell into her, blocking every sound out.

Around her, the world continued, isolated from the spot she occupied at the table, colours chopping on with their hues and accompanied sounds, distant from the stark white cloth she gripped to keep herself steady. The guests sitting at this particular table were listening in interest, some even asking more questions and in the same pointed way as young Lord Lyadov had replied.

"And what about the Intelligencers in particular?" A lady on her right asked interestedly, as if her neighbor were invisible. "I understand that your sample size wasn't very large, but surely your thesis considered specific groups of war criminals?"

There was no doubt about the exact nature or degree of what she was feeling. She lowered her eyes, afraid to look up for fear that the anger would be present in them. She managed to take her hands away from the table cloth, slipping them lower to hide how they were clenched.

Surely, Cagalli Yula Atha tried to convince herself, what he'd said had been an unintended statement. Surely, the young Lord Lyadov hadn't meant any offence—he'd just returned from abroad. He wasn't aware of the old prejudices and the old grudges of the wars that had taken place in the past. He'd only been a child of ten at that time—surely, he didn't know much about anything. Why, surely he had said that only because he didn't know.

But then it struck her that it was precisely because he didn't know much about anything that he was being so hostile. Like the other Emirs and Orb nobles, he didn't know any better. They hadn't ostracized her openly, for sure, and she wasn't entirely out of the running either. Public opinions had been rather mixed and nobody knew for sure what to really feel. But that had been why their confusion had been directed into indignation and anger against somebody else.

Athrun didn't deserve all this, but he'd accepted it without complaint. He'd accepted it the evening when he'd returned to her and moved through that gate and door to take her by the hand.

The young Emir was still talking. "And generally, these Intelligencers have nowhere to go in the end. Of course, this is a general statement, but there are pretty solid case-studies and the numbers to back this up."

Frightened by the force of her emotions and unwilling to show the extent of this, Cagalli tucked her hands into her lap, glad that the table was high enough to mask her reaction. The candle-lighting wasn't too bright, and it made her glad that the unhappiness in her face would not be too apparent.

She wasn't sure what was the worst part of this evening. Having to come here and to be greeted fondly and warmly by the other guests while they'd cast Athrun Zala those strange, fascinated stares had been bad enough. Most of the guests had ignored him even if the more civil ones had congratulated them and acknowledged Athrun Zala's presence here tonight. But they'd moved off and left them both alone, which had felt strangely awful to Cagalli even when she would have preferred to be alone with Athrun on a normal day. To cap it all off, Lord Lyadov and some others had come to greet them personally and sat here saying what he just had. It didn't look like he would be pausing anytime soon.

Beside her, Athrun continued his meal as if he had not heard anything that the host had just said. He even paused to dab his mouth with the supplied napkin, as if he had merely contemplated something not worth saying at all. Cagalli glanced across to him, but he did not look at her and continued eating.

If one did not understand the context of the conversation or who the people at the table were, Athrun would have seemed to fit in with the guests her. He seemed to belong, what with his dinner suit and his fine manners. He blended in perfectly, Cagalli a saw that he looked like he was in a jovial mood and enjoying his meal immensely, which made her quite sure that he was not at all.

Before they'd left to come here, Cagalli had helped him with his cufflinks. "I feel like a stuffed animal." He'd told her, his voice mild even though they could sense his general nervousness. If she'd always assumed that he'd been very comfortable in starched collars and formal wear, she'd been only half right. He was good at acting like those things were comfortable.

She had smiled at him, pecking him on the cheek, and then resumed fiddling with the left cufflink. "I'll say. I'd be surprised if the females didn't swoon openly at you."

He had returned her cheerfulness with that stoic calmness—the very thing that she had always envied him for and hoped to imitate. Of course, he wasn't always like this—he tended to be extreme with his temper when it was provoked.

"Do we really have to go?" She'd pleaded with him. She looked hopefully at him. "We could stay here—,"

"You know what we've agreed on." He'd said gently.

"Are you ready?" He had studied her quietly.

Cagalli had tried to keep up with her bravado. "Of course."

He'd seen through it. If he hadn't, it would have been surprising, because she could never quite lie around him. When she'd finished his cufflinks, he'd gathered her in his arms, stroking her bared shoulders with her back pressed to him, their reflections combined in that one mirror before him.

For his sake, Cagalli reminded herself now, she would have to be strong.

So she waited until her breathing had steadied somewhat, and then forced a smile on her face and picked up her cutlery once more. The sounds of people eating and talking around them swelled into focus, but nothing could drown out what the young Lord Lyadov had said in her mind.

He was still looking at the man next to her with that slight distaste. ""All the same," The twenty-year old Emir said mildly, not noticing anything wrong with his guest's reaction, "Every country needs its intelligencers and people to do the dirty work for them."

Cagalli swallowed down the frustration that rose with her and said quietly, "I'd like to be excused." She forced a smile at her colleague. "I will be back shortly."

Both the host and Athrun stared at her, but she had already risen and moved off, shaking her head once. She did this almost imperceptibly, but Athrun caught the gesture and understood that she was very close to breaking point. He could not begrudge her that, even if he could ignore his pride.

Some Orb diplomat came by to take her seat, not quite noticing that it hadn't been vacated before this.

Brightly, the diplomat turned to Athrun and asked, "What was the conversation about before this?"

The host did not spare Athrun Zala a glance, proceeding to recapitulate . "Oh, about what I saw when I was studying abroad. I did a study on war criminals and their later careers—those who weren't pardoned, executed or imprisoned for life, anyway. It was a specialized criminology paper with a thesis on whether these former war criminals could readjust or integrate into society once again."

"Oh and what were those careers?" The diplomat asked interestedly. Both of them weren't looking at Athrun, but it was clear what they were referring to.

"The usual, as I was saying to the Orb Princess before this." The young Lord Lyadov announced. "If they weren't demoted, they became low-level spies or grunts or left their former employers."

"Left their former employers? Now why would a war-criminal dare to leave his employer? What would he be able to work as? What other social circle would take in a war-criminal?"

"Oh, you know, most find work. It's the usual, of course. Factory-workers, butchers, minimum-wage earners. But based on the statistics, loads of them actually went back to being criminals—usually even after they'd migrated elsewhere. They'd bide their time but then their natures would become difficult to disguise. Loads of them harmed others because they couldn't fit back into society—if they'd even fitted in the first place."

The host looked directly at the man sitting silently and opposite him."It happens almost without an exception."


When she laid with him that night, her frustration was very clear. She could not quite verbalize the desperation in her, but became impatient and forceful—aggressive even. And yet, Cagalli had not meant to be.

When he'd finished his bath and she hers, she'd meant to check on his existing wound and then have an early night as they'd planned. She'd been very careful to check the bandages. While it wasn't a very serious cut, it hurt her to see him taking on the burden of being here with her. Her fingers had skimmed the area lightly as she'd knelt behind him. "Does it still hurt?"

"No." He'd said lightly—almost too easily, she had thought. She hadn't been able to see his expression with how his back was facing her, but she wasn't sure he would have shown any in the first place. "It's much better."

"I see."

The weekend had begun, but so had her exhaustion. They'd both had a trying evening from sitting there and taking in the thinly-veiled comments. Those had surely eaten away at their appetites and humour. And so, she had meant to be attentive and gentle towards him when she'd asked him to take off the bathrobe and let her check the wound. It was a gash that he couldn't get at, one that she could see and sense the pain of. She'd wanted to comfort him and to let him know that it did not matter.

"You looked good tonight." He'd said offhandedly, both of them tiptoeing around the elephant in the room.

She had forced a laugh in return, thinking of how strange the expressions of the well-wishers had been when they'd congratulated her and remarked what a fine couple they'd looked. "Is that so?"

"Everybody I spoke to said so."

Had anyone really said so? Had anyone actually spoken to him as he'd sat there in his solitary corner, present but somehow invisible and despised or worse— feared?

"Is that so?" Her voice had become quiet. She had changed out since then and taken off all the sparkling jewels. Her hair had been unpinned since then, becoming slightly unruly because of how she'd washed it and had dried it impatiently with a towel.

"I think so." He'd replied. He'd taken her hand in his and turned his head slightly to look at her. "And that's what counts."

Even as she'd wondered if they were fools for choosing to go through this, she found herself famished for contact with him, wanting control and dominance over their situations. As she'd traced the periphery of the wound carefully, checking that the flesh was healing well, he'd been silent. Even when she'd hugged him from behind, childish in her inability to voice her concern, he'd brought her into his arms and never blamed her for her helplessness.

And then she'd undressed him completely, not caring that she had been supposed to be delicate and careful with them—not caring that she was being so brazen and forward and rash. He'd watched her quietly, without protest. He did not say anything throughout, but matched her force with his own, countering her aggression with his own, steadying her by venting himself even while she did the same to him.

Her breaths had been shaky, alternating with his own strained breathing. Truthfully, the pleasure of contact and physical exertion seemed to have distracted them both sufficiently, but the nagging thought of the evening lingered in her mind still. Even as she had knelt over their bed, her cries seeping into the air, she wondered if she could ever do enough for him.

The bed that she'd never slept in before he'd knocked on her door on that evening was the only one that she could bear to be in now. It was a cramped, somewhat insufficient space that had once been good enough for a lowly bodyguard that had left and vacated this room for a long time. Her original room had been vacated in favour of this one. Now, their bedroom was one of their own making and it was a room that had developed its own character in scarcely more than a week.

He had groaned, covering her in his whispered worship. But for all his consideration, he was harsh and demanding against her as he rode her hard, pressing her forwards until her face was nearly smothered in the sheets. The scent of clean sweat had been imprinted in the sheets by then, and the tanginess of the midnight rain in the air tingled. Even though she lay still against him now, just minutes ago, the sound of him had been enough to send her flesh into twitches of uncontrollable sensation.

Even if he was touching her cheek gently now, she could remember what he'd been like. The rough strokes of his flesh and hands against and in her had made her feel as if she was fraying and being torn apart, and she knew that she'd found her release simply because he'd found his with her.

Only when they'd spent themselves had he brought her into the routine of having her lie next to him, his arm pillowing her and her face turned towards his. Perhaps, they would have slipped into a slumber and forgotten, but in this moment, her unhappiness gnawed at her and she knew that she could not keep silent.

"I hate myself sometimes." Cagalli told him suddenly. She could not help thinking of the entire evening despite how sluggish and satisfied the rest of her felt, and the net combination made her even less willing to pretend that she had been entirely comforted. As dizzying as the heights of their exercise had been, she was now sinking back into the painful normalcy of what they'd chosen for themselves.

"How could you?" He said. He seemed bewildered, and filled with wonder, he stroked her cheek with his hand. "Nobody could hate you if even they wanted to—and you certainly shouldn't."

"It's not like that." She shook her head. She'd been long accustomed to his ways to know that it wasn't really in him to flatter, particularly since he'd never had to resort to tricks to ensnare. The gallant courtesy he treated people with was the same, standard politeness that didn't differ, whether he was dealing with superiors, subordinates, men, women or children. "I hated myself this evening. I left you there, by yourself."

"Ah." He looked at her and then smiled lightly, imperceptibly even. It appeared more in his eyes than on his lips, particularly since those were occupied with her ear. "I'll tell you the truth, shall I?"

"Yes." She looked at him firmly. She didn't want secrets between them—not when they'd struggled with their own for years.

"I didn't really mind that they didn't like me." Athrun said simply. "It's not a new feeling, Cagalli. I'm used to it, even if I don't particularly enjoy being disliked."

"I shouldn't have left you there. But I was afraid that I'd throw something at young Lord Lyadov." She looked ruefully at him. "I should have said something. I could have done something."

He caressed her shoulders carefully, his breathing steady and slower now. "Don't think too much about it." Athrun's voice was soft and tired, and she looked at his shoulder blade, inspecting the incompletely-healed slash wound. He noted her looking at the wound with her furrowed brow, and he smiled to assure her. "Or about this. It's doing fine." His smile grew a little more. "You were very considerate the whole time."

She coloured, sensing the suggestion in his teasing tone and what he was really referring to. "I'm not sure that hasn't fully recovered— you seemed quite capable of using your brute force."

"You do inspire it." He replied wryly. "I've said it before—it's quite hard to control myself when you get involved."

"Enough of that." She kissed his lips gently, although it was more to comfort herself than him. "You've been here for less than two months now, and all you've gotten are bruises and cuts and insults." Cagalli's guilt was clear in her voice. "I wish I could stop it."

He hugged her securely, sighing once. "I'm sure you would if you could. But you're doing all you can." He looked at her in the eye. "Things will change. It just needs time."

"Ever since the Elders agreed to let me marry you," Cagalli said in a small voice, "You've been suffering even more." She wasn't just referring to the most recent wound that he'd sustained when he'd been attacked while he'd been at work and surveying a mining site near Morgenroete. "I don't know how the news leaked. But it has, and you've been paying for it." Cagalli frowned. "I wish they'd stop targeting you—I'm the one who insisted on having you here with me. If people want to attack anyone, whether in the news or physically, it should be me."

"That's impossible—they respect you too much to ever think of you as the culpable one." He laughed once, humorlessly. "Besides, I didn't come back to Orb to have to meet you in secret." Athrun ran his fingers through her hair. "It's just as well that the news of your decision was leaked prematurely—it was a matter of sooner or later."

She shook her head. "But there wasn't enough time to prepare the world for the news. Hell, I don't think the Council of Elders had really decided how to best announce it when the explosion came."

Athrun shrugged. "I doubt anyone could be eased into the idea of my relationship with you—or how I've been living with you for slightly more than a month now. From their point of view, they must think that I somehow seduced you when I was working for Zaft as an Intelligencer and you were under my charge. They probably also think that I've resigned from Zaft and come to Orb with new connections because I want to gain more power. They think that you were fooled into falling for some scumbag and lavishing favour on him."

"Aaron suggested blocking tabloids from publishing anything about you and me." Cagalli admitted. "I've told you about this before. Why don't you agree to it?"

"That would only fuel more suspicion towards me." Athrun told her. "You understand, don't you?"

"Of course." Her voice was sad. She gazed at his hand that rested protectively on her belly. How could she want a child that would be brought into a world where his or her father was scorned in this way? Each time she found herself looking at Leon and wanting her own child, she was reminded of her own position. She wasn't like Lacus—Kira had gone through his own struggle to be with Lacus, but Cagalli didn't have as much freedom to choose. Nor did Athrun have the benefit of doubt unlike Kira, because his heritage and past was far too coloured. She began to say something, then fell quiet, unable to voice her thoughts.

He however, caught on quickly enough.

"Tell me what you're thinking." Athrun said quietly. "You promised."

She shook her head unhappily. "I don't even know how to say it, Athrun."

"Try." He insisted. "We promised—remember?"

They'd promised that evening when he'd come back to her. She hadn't been expecting him, to say the least, nor had she been expecting to have him propose to her without a ring this time. Of course, she'd accepted, nonetheless. And with that acceptance, she'd promised to be truthful and to be brave with him, as he with her.

"I want people to accept you without being coloured by the untruths." The words wouldn't stop spilling now. "I know nobody can ever be accepted by everybody in the world, but if it's you, I want them to see who you really are."

"I know." Athrun said firmly. "I intend to make them see." Her eyes were worried still. "But the wedding's in two months." She shook her head, feeling insecure despite being exactly where she was most comfortable. "Maybe it's too rushed—maybe this is all going too fast—,"

He raised a brow humorously, forcing her to look back at him. "So you'd rather spend a lifetime in sin?" He gestured smilingly to how they were lying in little but the sheets. "Would you prefer that?"

She laughed, despite herself. "That's not what I meant!" She shook her head. "Although you are right." She placed her head in the crook of his shoulder. "Maybe this wedding will be the first step to getting there. But the thought of having to double the security at my own wedding—,"

"It's not abnormal," Athrun said calmly. "It would have happened, whether it was me or anyone else as the groom. Besides, you were snatched away at your first wedding." His eyes twinkled in the semi-darkness. "I won't allow that to happen to me—one mobile suit or ten."

She chuckled. "On my part, I assure you it won't happen—one Kira or ten." Then Cagalli sobered a bit. "Either way, it's going to be a fight uphill for the wedding and what happens thereafter. Maybe you shouldn't have—,"

She caught her words before those were uttered. His expression darkened a little, and she knew that he didn't require her to articulate her doubts to know the exact nature of those. His voice was steady, however. "Don't ever tell me that I shouldn't have come back here, Cagalli." He stroked her trembling lip quietly. "The day you tell me that is the day that you think that what we have now is a mistake."

"That's not what I meant," Cagalli protested, although it came out as a muffle. Already, he was depositing kisses on her neck and moving his way up to his lips. "I just want you to know that—," She paused. "If you ever feel like this is a mistake, or if it becomes too difficult and you want to leave, I would never blame you."

He chuckled once, although his eyes were very serious. "I better make myself clear, Cagalli." He sifted a hand through her hair, looking at her intently. "I'm a bit of a perfectionist, if you haven't already realized that. I don't start on things that I can't finish— I don't start when I consider giving up at some point."

Somehow relieved even though she hadn't been expecting it, she stroked his face. "It will be difficult."

"I know, and I don't care." He rolled above her, kissing her deeply. His gaze was fiercely tender now, and his hands forced her to look at him. There would be no skirting away now and no more hesitation—he didn't want any from her and she was aware that none of them could afford it because of what they'd decided together. "You hear me, Cagalli? I don't care."