"Mmm... you won't believe how good this is!" Cagalli shoved another heaping spoonful of the vile-looking food into her mouth, appearing rather blissful as she chewed. "Try it!" She nudged the dish on the table towards him.
"That's fine," Athrun declined politely. "I'll take your word for it."
"It's really good!" She promised enthusiastically, leaning forward in emphasis. "I swear it's nothing like the chicken feet you tried the other time!"
He glanced at the plate of food in question. White lumps of some kind of mystery meat smothered in fiery-red oil and peppered with obscene amounts of chilies and little, round beads. If anything, it looked worse than the chicken feet. Athrun fought down the urge to flee from the restaurant.
"No really, you can have more of it," he said chivalrously, pushing the plate back in her direction.
"I don't mind sharing it with you."
"I'm really not hungry."
"Just taste a little!"
"Maybe next time."
"No - "
His emphatic refusal was abruptly cut short by the spoonful of food Cagalli crammed unceremoniously into his mouth. He hadn't even seen her move!
"Is it good? Do you like it?" Cagalli placed her hands onto the table and leaned forward in eager anticipation.
He struggled to speak while trying to chew and swallow the food as quickly as possible so that he could give her a piece of his mind on her terrible table manners.
"Isn't it good?" She repeated gleefully, already ready with a second spoonful.
He chewed, and he chewed, and he chewed. Finally swallowing it, Athrun re-opened his mouth. It really wasn't half bad at all.
He had grown up on a diet of rice, oatmeal, vacuum-sealed chicken and nutritious blends of pureed vegetables imported from Earth at great cost. In C.E. 69, when he was fourteen, Athrun tasted his first fresh orange. He would never forget the strong citrus fragrance as his nail dug into the peel. The slightly tart juice that exploded in his mouth. The sweet stickiness that coated his fingers after he had finished the fruit. That year, his mother made him daily feasts of pies, tarts and stews from the fresh produce that came from the PLANTs' new agricultural colonies. In C.E. 70, Lenore Zala died and he enlisted in the army. His military rations consisted of high-calorie squares of granola, beef jerky, juices and a variety of vitamins. In C.E. 71, when he was sixteen, Athrun first landed on Earth. In the midst of war, he ate when he remembered to, a steady diet of ZAFT rations.
C.E. 72, at seventeen, Athrun first realized that he liked spicy foods.
"Athrun, don't you think this is beautiful?" Cagalli said, holding up a photo of large stone cliffs rising majestically into the sky amid an expanse of blue sea.
He looked at it for a moment, trying to place where he had seen it before. "Crete, Greece?"
She seemed so pleased that he knew where it was he didn't have the heart to tell her he had known it from his military texts on the famous Battle of Crete.
"What do you think if we go there for a holiday?" Cagalli asked.
Athrun raised an eyebrow. He knew her schedule as well as his own; they were almost one and the same. She didn't have any vacation planned for the next year. But he only said, "Sure, if you'd like to."
"What about you, Athrun? Where would you like to go for a holiday?"
He was momentarily stumped. It wasn't a question he had ever considered. "I don't really mind, anywhere that you like is fine."
"That's not what I asked." Her features furrowed into a scowl and she scrambled into a sitting position from where she had been previously sprawled lazily across the carpet. "I asked where would YOU like to go for a holiday." She spoke slowly, enunciating each syllable as though speaking to a particularly slow child.
"… I really don't have a preference."
She heaved a long-suffering sigh and began rummaging through the old box of photographs that she had unearthed amongst her father's belongings. "Well, what about this?"
She held up a photo of a tropical island ringed with palm trees and little straw-covered houses. The sand was crystal white and even from the old, yellowed photo; he could see the faint outline of coral reefs near the shore. He supposed it was pretty enough.
"That's where they used to have those dodo birds!" She dissolved into mirth at the thought of the large, unwieldy beasts that couldn't fly.
He cracked a small smile at her merry laughter. "Mauritius would be interesting, I guess," he said, even though it was not so far from where they had battled for the Habilis mass driver at Victoria Base.
Her frown deepened and she tossed the photo aside in exasperation.
"What about this?"
"Peru, South America? But Machu Picchu was destroyed during the U.S.S.A rebellion."
"Ok, I forgot about that. Never mind about it." She tossed the photo aside hastily.
"What about this?" She held up another photo of a river of the most vivid blue arcing across a tundra of solid ice.
"No? Well, what about -" She made to toss it off onto the growing pile of discarded photographs but Athrun was quicker and took hold of her wrist before she could.
"Where's this place?
She flipped the picture over and looked at it more closely. "Greenland. But there's nothing there; it's really remote, undeveloped, bitterly cold and -"
"I think that's where I'd like to go for a holiday someday." He smiled at her, genuine and unreserved.
"Really?" She looked doubtfully at him.
"Yes, with you."
The first space colonists envisioned the PLANTs as an improved version of Earth; sensibly organized, efficiently run and above all, comfortable. At first, they sought to emulate life on earth by constructing vast expanses of oceans and land. But fish did not populate the seas and vegetation did not grow on the earth, unless artificially planted. Subsequent generations of space inhabitants saw no further need in fabricating the icy wastelands of the Artic and Antarctica. Climate was highly controlled in the hourglasses of the PLANTs. After all, it was commonly thought and widely agreed that a temperature of seventeen to twenty-five degrees and a humidity level of forty to fifty percent were most ideal. Anything lower or higher would lead to a chill or excessive perspiration. In the space colonies, there was no place for snow and ice.
At the age of six, Athrun took his first space shuttle to the city of Copernicus on the Moon. That was the furthest he had ever been away from December City. Ten years later, he landed in the ZAFT military base of Carpentaria along the northern coast of the Oceania Union. It was the first time he had ever seen a real ocean and he had been endlessly fascinated by the unpredictability of the currents and waves. Once, on a training exercise, his team and he ran into a summer squall. The waves rose twelve feet high and the tiny lifeboat they were on rocked violently on the heaving seas. With all of their training and technology, there was nothing they could do except wait the storm out.
One year later, Athrun wondered what walking on ice with snow melting in his hair would feel like.
"You're sick," Cagalli said in disbelief.
"Contrary to popular opinion, Coordinators are not invincible, you know," Athrun groaned and buried his head in the pillow.
"But, you're actually having a fever." Her palm was blissfully cool against his forehead.
"I don't think I need you to tell me that."
"How are you feeling?"
"I'm fine, don't worry about me."
"I'll go get a doctor!" She sounded worried.
Athrun caught her arm quickly before she could move off the bed. "N-no… that's fine… I just need some rest."
"It's okay to say you're not fine!" She said in irritation.
"I'll recover quickly."
"Is there anything I can do?" She fussed over him anxiously.
"You could stay here with me."
Coordinator babies grow up quickly. At three months, Athrun spoke his first word. At five months, he took his first step. When he turned a year old, he slipped and fell down the stairs. His cries brought his father, mother and the house butler to his side immediately. There were no visible signs of injury. The knuckle-sized bruise would only come later, blossoming in angry violet and blue. When his mother had reached out in worry, his father stilled her hand. Barely a year old, Athrun understood the meaning of "he's fine."
At seventeen, he realized how nice it was to be cared for, even if he was just fine.
"Are they outside the store yet?" A muffled voice hissed behind the curtains of the dressing room.
"Yeah, they wouldn't dare to disobey your orders," Athrun muttered self-consciously, feeling distinctly ill-at-ease standing in front of a girl's dressing room.
A hand snaked out of the heavy folds of the curtain and dragged him suddenly and forcefully into the dressing room.
"W-what are you doing?" Athrun made an uncharacteristic squawk of shock at finding himself in the awkward situation of being alone with a girl in a girl's dressing room in a very crowded mall. Fortunately, he found that Cagalli was fully dressed and looking very calm.
"Put these on," she ordered without preamble, tossing a camel-brown trench coat and a black fedora at him.
"Whatever for?" He caught the items of clothing reflexively in a daze, and only just realizing that Cagalli had changed out of her rather formal green pantsuit into a red summer dress that ended just above the knees and a large, straw floppy hat that covered half her face.
"The Chief Representative of Orb and her bodyguard are taking a day off," she said cheerily, while peering around the edge of the curtain to make sure that the rest of her security detail was still out of sight. "Come on! Hurry up and put those on!"
Finally catching on, he frowned and shoved the coat and hat back into her hands. "You're crazy if you think I'm going along with your trick. They'd be worried sick!"
Her eyes took on a perverse glint and he could see the familiar stubborn set of her jaw setting in. "The peace talks ended early and I have absolutely nothing to do anyway until the shuttle leaves at six!"
"Kisaka will have my head for this!"
"Am I not allowed to have any fun at all? You're being a real spoilsport, Athrun." Did he imagine that her lips actually quivered? She did look on the verge of crying.
Caught between a rock and a hard place, he hesitated. She had been working hard recently. Athrun couldn't remember the last time he had seen her in anything else besides her usual formal wear, much less a… wait, a dress. Belatedly, it struck him that she was wearing a dress out of her own volition.
"You're actually wearing a dress." The words escaped him before he could fully process them.
"Yes, you idiot! That's how much I actually want to go somewhere without a whole contingent of soldiers wearing fancy reflective sunglasses following me!" She said in indignation. "Besides, I'm least likely to be recognized like this."
They locked glares and Athrun could see the mutinous rebellion in her eyes; not unlike the day she had haughtily ordered him to release her restraints while struggling helplessly in the water. Suddenly nostalgic for a younger, more willful and carefree Cagalli, he relented. "Fine, but we leave them a note at least."
"I knew you'd come around!" She patted his cheek affectionately and held up the trench coat for him to slip his arms through. As if not trusting him to do a good job of it, she personally placed the hat on his head and tucked most of his distinctive blue hair away. Finally, she straightened out his collar and critically surveyed their reflection in the mirror. They would pass for any regular couple out at the mall on an idyllic day.
Improvising entirely on his own, Athrun put his arm around her, suppressing a chuckle at her jolt of embarrassment, as they strolled out of the store, right under the noses of the six highly-trained bodyguards of the royal Athha family.
Once, in a mandatory class on Western philosophy, Athrun came across The Symposium by Plato in which the philosopher had Aristophanes present a story. Aristophanes claimed a theory that humans originally had four arms, four legs and a single head made of two faces but Zeus, fearing their power, split them all in half and condemned them to spend their lives searching for the other half to complete them. At ten years old, when Athrun read the story, he had first laughed at the sheer ridiculousness of the idea and then scoffed at how primitive humans had been to believe in gods and soul mates.
Older but not necessarily wiser, seventeen-year old Athrun imagined that if the theory had been true, it was no wonder that he had been such a quiet and reserved child; Cagalli had enough impetuous rebellion for two.
"Does he always behave like that?"
"Who?" Cagalli asked distractedly, balancing a precariously high stack of reports and trying to open the door at the same time. "Oh, you mean Yuna?"
He took half the stack of reports from her easily with one hand and simultaneously opened the door. "Yeah."
"We grew up together; his father and mine were close friends."
Siegel Clyne and Patrick Zala were close friends. He had spent nearly the whole of his relatively short childhood with Lacus, before he had been sent to the Moon. He was even engaged to his childhood friend, but he was fairly certain he had never put his arm around her waist and tried to kiss her ear in public.
There was a long pause while she fiddled with the folders and Athrun thought maybe she hadn't heard him. He was about to let the matter drop when her voice came forth, strangely muffled behind the towering stack of papers.
"We're engaged, Yuna and I."
Coordinators were genetically enhanced human beings; they learned more quickly, had stronger and faster bodies that were virtually immune to diseases. At four years old, without being taught, Athrun made his first fully functional interactive robotic pet for his betrothed. At six, he graduated top of his form at the preparatory school on Copernicus City on the Moon. School enrollment was ninety-nine percent Coordinator. In the military, they made locker-room jokes about how lucky he was to be engaged to the pop princess, Lacus Clyne. Fifteen-year-old Athrun hadn't realized how desirable his childhood friend was. At fifteen, he took top honors again at the ZAFT Military Academy and unknowingly acquired his first rival. After a particularly violent outburst from Yzak after having beaten him at the shooting range for the sixty-fifth time in a row, Athrun briefly wondered what jealousy felt like. At sixteen, he was awarded the Order of the Nebula for allegedly killing his best friend. His instructors from military school, twenty years older than he was, saluted him whenever their paths crossed.
At seventeen, Athrun decided he didn't like how jealousy felt.
"I think that's quite enough for you," he said calmly, deftly plucking the slender glass of champagne from her fingers and holding it out of her reach.
"Hey! Give that back!" Cheeks flushed and eyes slightly glazed, Cagalli made a clumsy attempt at wresting the glass back from him.
"You know you're not very good at holding your alcohol."
"All the better!" She yelled defiantly, rather close to his ear, and he flinched. "I have a right to get drunk on my birthday, Athrun!"
His eyes softened at her obvious frustration and he relented, yielding the glass of champagne to her. If she wanted to drink herself into oblivion on her birthday… and the date of the signing of the arms renewal treaty between the Atlantic Federation and Eurasia, who was he to stop her? Cagalli had tried her best to prevent it; to protest that the world, so newly fragile after the war, did not have need for more mobile suits, war planes or battleships but it had ultimately all been in vain. The treaty had still been signed a little over two hours ago.
"Athrun Zala! You need to break that bad habit of yours!" She jabbed her index finger hard against his forehead.
"What did you do that for?" He asked sharply, startled by the sudden gesture.
"That bad habit of thinking too much. I can just see those wheels turning in your head." She did an exaggerated imitation of what he assumed he looked like when he was "thinking." At least he hoped it was an exaggeration, because she looked utterly comical – brows furrowed deeply, nose pinched and lips pursed thinly.
He couldn't help it. She looked so ridiculous that he burst out laughing, holding his sides in helplessness as unrestrained laughter poured out of him.
She smiled, with what looked like almost tender affection, and poured out another glass of champagne, spilling nearly half of it on the carpet. "You need to loosen up a little, Mr. Hamster," she said as she handed the glass to him.
She held out her own glass of champagne mockingly, in what looked like an indication of a toast. "To my birthday," she said hollowly and they both emptied their glasses.
Two hours and two bottles of champagne later, they left a messy trail of clothes strewn haphazardly across the room as Athrun half carried and half guided her towards the bed. He was amused that Cagalli, who so vehemently protested wearing dresses, smelled of an intoxicating mix of jasmine and orange. His mouth slanted hungrily over hers and the shock of the contact was electrifying. Her hands were tangling in his hair, running over his shoulders and back, her nails digging into his flesh.
And as he bent over her in the dim confines of her bed, she whispered against his ear, "I think you are drunk, Athrun…"
The liver metabolizes most of the alcohol in the human body. Regardless of the amount consumed, the liver can only metabolize a certain amount per hour. This rate of alcohol metabolism varied among individuals and was largely determined by genes. In most Naturals, alcohol was broken down at a rate of one ounce per hour. Coordinator fetuses were genetically manipulated to possess enhanced liver functions and can metabolize alcohol at five ounces per hour. In short, most Coordinators had five times the alcohol tolerance of Naturals.
At seventeen, Athrun first realized what a liberating substance alcohol could be.
"What are you planning to do?" Cagalli's voice came over the communication link, anxiety apparent despite the static of the unstable connection.
"I'll make the Justice self-destruct and create a nuclear explosion." Athrun felt exceedingly calm. He had always been prepared for this day. Perhaps some part of him had always been looking forward to this day.
"Athrun, if you do that, you'll -"
"It's our only option! Don't follow me." Athrun released his flight pack, forcibly stopping Cagalli from pursuing him down the tunnel. Once he reached the core of GENESIS, his hands found the controls of the self-destruct device with a sense of déjà vu. In the limbo between dreams and reality, he had practiced this many times over.
"Athrun!" The Strike Rouge came into view and his hands paused in mid-air, a breath away from the fulfillment of his destiny.
"You can't do this! Stop running away!" Cagalli's scream pierced the silence of space within the cockpit of his mobile suit. His hand trembled over the button. She was shaking him awake, forcing him to confront himself and his reasons for saving the world. It would be so easy to just press down and…
"To live is to fight!"
At sixteen, Athrun had been prepared to sacrifice his life to save the world. C.E. 74, two years older and none the wiser, he was prepared to survive in atonement for the world.
She came into his life with all the suddenness of a summer squall; violently sweeping away all of his beliefs and inhibitions, leaving him raw and aching. With utter disregard for the walls that he had carefully constructed around himself, she had stormed her way into his heart, taking root in soil that he hadn't known was capable of sustaining life.
Athrun didn't believe in soul mates, two halves of a whole or other similar notions, but he knew, without question, that she had forced him to look into a mirror of himself. She was all that he wasn't – the good and the bad. She was rash heedlessness, fiery resolution and violent compassion. He hadn't realized it, but he had been drifting for the longest time, when she had appeared, torn down his walls and shook him awake. Quite literally.
And now, despite his best intentions, Athrun had dreams, hopes and a selfish desire for life. He didn't know what the future would hold for him but as long as he lived another day, anything was possible. And if nothing else, he would always have these memories.
Of the years between.
Disclaimer: Sometimes I wonder if this is even necessary on a site called fanfiction dot net. But nevertheless, I don't own anything from Gundam Seed and Fukuda definitely doesn't require my permission to insert these snippets from "Athrun's memory" into the movie.
Author's Note: It's deliberate that there's no real indication of when this recollection of the past actually takes place. In my mind, as I was writing it, I imagined Athrun thinking about it as he heads into the final battle of destroying Requiem in Destiny. But really, it can take place at any time in the Destiny timeline or even x years after the series ends. Feel free to insert your own dramatic scene of an angsty, pensive Athrun. I know I did, and to the tune of Yiruma's River Flows In You. The years between refer to the two years between Seed and Destiny.
A special thank you to my beta readers: Strata-Assassin and Quintilis.