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Chapter 2 Main Chapters Chapter 4

Chapter 3 - Watering the Earth

The day after the election of Lacus Clyne to the post of PLANT Supreme Council Chairman, Shinn had cried.

He had voted for her, and still he cried. After many conversations with Athrun and Kira and Lunamaria and Meyrin, he felt he was at least beginning to understand where Chairman Durandal and Rey and, even harder to accept, he himself, had been wrong. That hadn't made the death of his dreams any easier to accept, though.

Shinn had hidden his tears, crying when he was alone in a bathroom, because he knew they'd only further disturb Luna. He could recall Luna trying to comfort him while her fear stared out of his eyes, wondering if he was going to snap and hurt someone, or drown in bitterness. It had made him sick, seeing that in her eyes. Still, he knew she meant well, was worried about him, and some part of him knew that all the changes in the world were hard for her, too, and he wished he had some scrap of comfort to give her. The best he could do was try to live normally, but often during those days it had been a poor substitute.

Despite this, he'd recovered faster than he'd thought. His work, and Luna's had picked up apace after the election, as various minor and major reforms of ZAFT percolated down. He'd started to become involved in shoring up defenses, being assigned to patrols rebuilding bases such as Jachin Due, while Luna had been assigned to another mobile suit carrier, and became an unofficial mentor to some of the younger pilots. Maintaining their love over a distance had been difficult, but looking back on it, Shinn found it fulfilling.

Even more recently, they had been graduated from officer candidate school, and were finally together again for more than a few days or hours at a time. They'd both been assigned as junior military liaisons for diplomatic missions, and their current mission to Orb was their first.

"I understand that your family is buried there," Lacus- no, Chairman Clyne- had said when he'd been summoned to her office, "so I thought that this would be a good opportunity for you to pay your respects."

"I appreciate the consideration," Shinn said stiffly.

Shinn didn't hate Lacus. Even if you disagreed with her, he'd often thought, you couldn't hate her. He didn't hold any grudges against her for defying Chairman Durandal's vision. Shinn couldn't even put his finger on the difficulty. Still, it was almost too much to hear her talking about his family, or even to see her sitting where Chairman Durandal had once sat.

Lacus had responded to him with equanimity, accepting his statement and going on to discuss details of the mission. Shinn listened carefully, noting all the details. When she was done, she dismissed him cordially, he'd saluted, and left.

Shinn shook his head as he stalked down the empty halls of the palace of Orb. He and Luna and Meyrin had already been to his family's grave site early that morning, before the round of meetings. He and Luna had to attend a meeting between a senior ZAFT military liaison and Orb military liaisons, and Meyrin had disappeared to a private luncheon with other crew members from the Archangel. During a break in the meeting, Shinn had left to stretch his legs, and now was alone with his thoughts.

He shook his head again. To see his family's grave site couldn't possibly have been the only reason Chairman Clyne had specifically asked him to be part of the diplomatic mission to Orb.

Probation was obviously part of what he and Luna were doing here - he was no fool. Lacus wanted to see if she could trust these former opponents, and also wanted to see just what these former opponents was capable of. It was also obvious she didn't intend to test him too far yet, for none of his meetings had Chief Representative Cagalli Yula Attha in attendance. That suited Shinn.

Ahead of Shinn, there was a wooden door carved with many roses. Set into the door were myriad panes of rose-colored glass. Beyond it, Shinn could make out tall hedges. He went through the door, nodding at the pair of Orb guards inside the palace, and at the pair standing by outside the doors.

There was ahead of him a fair-sized maze garden, with tall hedges consisting of various flowering plants, including rosebushes of various colors. The hedges were impeccably maintained, and stood a little taller than two meters, so that one could not see over them and thus make the challenge too easy. The garden was bordered on all four sides by tall corridors of the palace, and Shinn guessed that there were entrances to the maze from each corridor.

It was a few weeks too early for most of the plants, as they had only buds or scattered blossoms, but the rich scent of earth was still quite enough for Shinn after spending almost all day indoors. He resolved to bring Luna here at some point.

This struck Shinn as a relic of a more peaceful era. There were guards at this door, and probably guards at the other doors, and if any enemy were to penetrate this far into the complex, the palace would already be nearly overrun. Still, the narrow hedges and limited visibility of the maze made it seem like the perfect place for an ambush. On the other hand, perhaps it had been made as a place for defenders to ambush any attackers.

Shinn decided to set out into the maze, figuring he had a fair amount of time before the meeting began again. It wasn't long before he was out of sight of the door he had entered from, although he kept in mind the way he had come so as not to get too lost.

He looked up, using the sun to estimate how far into the maze he'd gotten. He determined which way he wanted to turn and went that way. As Shinn rounded a corner, he saw him. The man Shinn saw was slightly taller than him, with short blond hair and blue eyes, probably in his early to middle twenties. Shinn didn't know how he knew the man, but then, his body was obviously the same as he remembered, even if his hair was cut and he was wearing civilian clothes instead of an Earth Alliance uniform and a black helmet. Then there was the fact that the man glanced at Shinn's approach, then stared at him, recognized him. They knew each other for a certainty.

Shinn unholstered his pistol and aimed it at the man, but he was gone, dashing off to his left, Shinn's right. Without hesitation, Shinn ran after him, ran after Earth Forces Commander Neo Roanoke.

The blood was boiling inside Shinn's head, boiling so hard and so fast that it was only after several minutes of the frantic chase that he began to consciously think about the man again, about what Roanoke had done, what the opportunity to kill him at last meant. Evidently Roanoke had been hiding here in Orb, a neutral nation, to avoid punishment for the atrocities he'd committed, but at last he was within Shinn's grasp. They had been enemies in the last war, and on top of that, Roanoke had lied, and he had destroyed the life of Stella with that lie.

Stella had trusted Roanoke, and Shinn had no choice but to entrust her to Roanoke. The horrific modifications of the monsters in the Earth Forces made Stella dependent on a drug they alone knew how to manufacture. When Shinn had handed Stella over to Roanoke, her commander, the man she loved as a father, and had demanded that Roanoke promise he would not send her into battle again, Roanoke had freely given that promise. Then he had betrayed Stella, not only sending her into battle, but sending her on that terrible first sortie of the Destroy class Gundam, making her the instrument of destroying three entire cities. Stella perished in that mission, and until the last day of the war, Shinn had nursed the hope that he might meet Roanoke on the field of battle and force him to give up his life for his unforgivable sins.

Mu La Flaga controlled his breathing and tried to keep his footsteps light as he ran along the packed earth in the maze garden. He'd meant to visit only briefly, scouting out the garden in preparation for a stroll that evening with Murrue, but then it had happened. He'd known it was a possibility, but he had hoped it could be avoided.

There was nothing to be done about that now, of course - he had to get away from Shinn. Fighting back was just as problematic as fleeing, and he wasn't yet ready to consider fighting, so he fled.

He'd been ecstatic in the first few hours after regaining his memories of his life as Mu La Flaga, and especially so when Chairman Durandal had been defeated and Murrue was safe. But then he'd started to realize that his memories of what he'd done when he was called Neo Roanoke were just as real.

Immediately, of course, he'd noted that he had been manipulated by Lord Djibril, that he'd not had his true memories. Surely he couldn't be faulted for acting as an Earth Forces Commander when every evidence indicated that he was, and especially since he had once been a member of the Earth Forces?

That argument had dissipated like a phantasm when he recalled knowingly following orders to violate the Earth Alliance's peace treaty with the PLANTs by treacherously assaulting Armory One, flattering Orb's Yuna Roma Seiran while using him and the lives of his men to bear the brunt of ZAFT's wrath, ordering and manipulating the trusting Stella into annihilating entire cities.

He tried then to tell himself that at least he had accomplished something worthwhile by protecting and looking after Stella and Auel and Sting for as long as he could. That was something he desperately clung to for a week, for he could still recall how Stella smiled at him trustingly, the pride in Auel's face when he scored particularly well at the firing range, the way Sting had always looked out for Stella. They'd become his children, almost like Kira and Athrun and Cagalli and Lacus had been, were, to him.

Yet he still let Stella and Auel and Sting climb into those clamshell beds. He could recall looking at them, seeing them laid to sleep in those rose-colored coffins where their memories would be laid to rest. They were his command, his charges. And still he allowed them to lie there, subject to the whims of the technicians, who determined what memories they should and should not have, who kept them addicted to drugs that would kill them if they did not take them, and made those children push their bodies to their breaking points. Mu recalled how wrong he thought it all was, and yet he allowed it to continue, did nothing with his own conviction. He had seen hints of the warped upbringing those kids had, how they could turn violent at the slightest provocation and could be paralyzed with a simple word, yet he had done little or nothing to change that, to comfort them or teach them a better way to live. He'd simply accepted what he'd been given.

As time went on, it had all gotten so routine, so much business-as-usual, that he'd lied through his teeth to Shinn without a second thought or any emotion. He'd known he was lying as he took Stella's exhausted body from Shinn, had known there was no way he could take her back to the Earth Forces and keep her from having her memories wiped and her body flooded with the drugs, and had known that she'd emerge from it smiling vacantly, ready to unload death at a word. Mu had reasoned that there was nothing he could do, and at least he'd be there to look after Stella, so he simply promised empty words to Shinn, just to make the kid come to his senses and finish the truce and leave while he still could, for Mu had always felt that no one really respected truces in war, not if they didn't want to.

When Mu had realized that he had done that, that he was the one responsible, he felt a desolation he could never before have fathomed. The only comparable time was when he was at Alaska, when he'd nearly lost Murrue.

But at least at that time, he'd still had his honor.

Shinn panted. Roanoke was only a few meters away, but this accursed maze kept him from him, tantalizing him with glimpses of the last man living who had to die. Lord Djibril had perished in the lunar base he and the Minerva had assaulted, and he considered his vengeance on Kira Yamato completed when he wrecked the first Freedom Gundam, and now there was only one other man complicit in Stella's death, Neo Roanoke, and that man was before him. His vengeance could sleep at last when he killed Roanoke.

Or could it? Shinn almost wished he could kill Roanoke, then bring him back to life and kill him again, slowly. He deserved even worse than that for killing Stella.

An unbidden thought asked him whether there was anyone who would feel a need to avenge Roanoke.

Shinn pushed it aside angrily - that thought was doing nothing to help him stay alive and track down Roanoke. But the thought cleverly camouflaged itself by continuing its train of reasoning, and wondered poignantly if there was anyone who would miss Roanoke in the same way that Shinn missed Mayu and Stella.

The thought nearly made Shinn pull up short, but instead he let his anger lash out at the thought, pump through his body, and restart his legs. He mentally shouted at the thought that even if there were such people who loved this Roanoke, that didn't lessen his crimes. But the shout lost its force as he thought of the long nights clutching his phone and listening to Mayu's answering machine greeting, of Stella's dying breaths in his arms. Shinn had killed in war, and he'd kill again if he had to, but it had never made him happy, only slaked his vengeance. Now he saw why, for he'd always known, if only vaguely, that he must've made many people just as sad as he had been, as he was.

But what of all the civilians and soldiers who'd died in Roanoke's raid on Armory One, or in the Destroy Gundam's attacks on the three cities? Shouldn't, Shinn asked himself, he consider those bereaved persons, and take vengeance for them, since they could not?

Shinn gritted his teeth and pressed on through the maze, brushing against the branches of the corners in his haste. It was true that he had expected more satisfaction out of vengeance by this point. He'd defeated Kira, and felt some measure of satisfaction, but almost immediately his mind was taken up with defeating Lord Djibril. He'd defeated Lord Djibril, and still his anger and grief over the loved ones he'd lost remained with him. Doubt nagged at him: would vengeance ever fulfill its promise of consolation?

Also, returning to Orb, and seeing the looks some ordinary people shot at him in his ZAFT uniform, made him wonder what would happen if they, his former countrymen, were to start deciding to take vengeance on him.

He couldn't be doing this to himself! Self-examination, indecision, that was what weak people like the Atthas did! He had to stay focused!

Mu hustled through the maze. He thought he was about at the south exit, but it was hard to be sure here - he'd had to retrace his steps several times. He was just lucky he hadn't entered any dead ends.

He had to get back to Murrue; he couldn't leave her alone a second time. Of course, the cynical part of his mind noted, that was awfully convenient for him. That sort of reasoning, his cynicism told him, would mean that he'd again get to escape the consequences of his own actions.

At the end of the last war, knowing what to do about some things was easy. He hadn't asked himself whether he should marry Murrue. Mu had asked himself about how to propose to her and when to propose to her. Not asking Murrue at all had never been an option. Knowing that she loved him even after he had become Neo Roanoaoke was something priceless and irreplaceble.

Knowing what to do about having been Neo Roanoke had been a much harder question to answer. Stella and Auel and Sting had perished in the war, so there was nothing he could do for them. Mu's escapades in the first war alone, let alone in the second, had made his true identity a persona non grata in both the Earth Alliance and the PLANTs, so there was no real way to make amends. That, at least, was what he kept telling himself, but his cynicism kept laughing mockingly.

Revealing himself and challenging Shinn, or even simply taking the bullet Shinn was obviously willing to give, appealed to Mu's sense of honor, and his sense of shame. But his sense of self-preservation seemed more alive than ever in this moment of tension, and it devoted all of his cunning, skill, and strength to prolonging his life. Besides which, even if he did deserve death, he couldn't stand the thought of everyone gathered around his coffin.

He could almost see them, for he'd imagined the scene several times since the war ended, and several more since Shinn started chasing him, and the scene made his heart break. Athrun would've dragged himself out of hiding to stand there with a stiff upper lip. Lacus' cheeks would be glistening as she held a blubbering Kira. Cagalli would be blaming herself for something silly like not having enough guards on patrol. And Murrue, dear Murrue, would be holding another coffin ornament, another burden around her neck.

Mu shoved aside the maudlin vision, as he had many times before. With that alternative ruled out, two further unpalatable alternatives remained. One was to escape Shinn, and continue running from his own past as Roanoke. The other was to confront Shinn and emerge victorious, allowing Roanoke to claim one final victim, one last sacrifice in order that Mu might go on with his life.

At least, Mu's cynicism pointed out, he assumed that Shinn would be the last victim.

Shinn caught sight of Mu ahead. He soon lost him again in the branches of the maze, but then saw a flash of him ahead again. Shinn quickened his pace. The limited field of vision still prevented him from taking a shot, but it wouldn't be long now.

"Not too much longer, Stella," he said to her under his breath.

He blinked. He hadn't really said that to her, of course. She was dead and could hear nothing. There wasn't really any conceivable way she could care one way or the other about it now, was there?

Of course she would. Even if she were dead, that didn't mean she wouldn't be happy to hear that Neo Roanoke was dead!

He gnashed his teeth. It had suddenly occurred to him that Stella was different than how he imagined her, how he remembered her, how he wanted her to be. She was always different from how he perceived her, from the day he met her to the day she died.

Even on that final day of her life, she had respected Roanoke, and had become enraged when Kira had attacked him. She'd tried with all her might to defend him. Could she possibly look at him with the tenderness usually reserved for him, if she learned that he'd killed the man she loved as a father?

It seemed everyone was more complicated than he'd thought. Even Luna was more complicated than he'd thought.

Thinking of her made him stop short. What would happen to Luna if he killed Roanoke? She'd be questioned at the least because of her relationship with Shinn. Maybe she'd even be accused of being an accomplice to murder. She was a native of the PLANTS, not a native of Orb like he was. There wouldn't be any chance of sympathy for her. Despite Lacus and Cagalli's friendship, this was a highly sensitive diplomatic mission, and if Lacus thought that Shinn had acted inappropriately, or if there was a chance that diplomatic relations could be severely perturbed, Shinn was sure that Lacus would extradite both of them to Orb.

Luna on trial for something she had no part of, that was the thought that made Shinn stop dead and his blood run cold. Surely she didn't deserve any of this, any more than Stella had deserved her fate. But Luna was linked to him, and his vengeance was linked to Roanoke.

There was no possible way Shinn could see to kill Roanoke and escape undetected- he was within the palace walls still, and even if he did make it to an exit to the maze garden, he'd be arriving at an entrance to the main palace. If somehow he managed to overpower or kill the dozens of guards -also innocent- and flee past the sensors and barriers and soldiers protecting the palace, and evaded the inevitable police search teams, Luna would still be attending the meetings inside the palace, unaware until she was hauled off for interrogation. They probably wouldn't be too harsh with her, not at first, but even the thought of her fear for him, and the shame and rage she'd experience because she'd be called, explicitly or not, accomplice to a murderer, made him sick.

He knew he had only a few seconds more to choose. In his next heartbeat, Shinn made his decision, and swore, first in a whisper, then in shouts of rage. He ended with an incoherent bellow at the sky, as he clenched his fists and screwed his eyes shut even as they overflowed with tears.

Shinn didn't remember later what he told the guards who responded to his shouts, or why they simply let him go without more questions or a search of the grounds. He didn't know where Neo Roanoke went. He didn't notice whether he arrived in time for the resumption of his meeting or not. Shinn couldn't recall a single thing said at his meetings for the next half-hour. After that half-hour, his recollections were hazy at best.

During the meeting, it occurred to him that it was possible that he might've killed Roanoke and been able to continue living as normal. Perhaps he'd even be hailed as a hero. For surely no one would publicly condemn the killing of a war criminal? But Shinn soon discarded that thought. Lacus would certainly never trust him again, wondering just when he'd find people whom justice compelled him to kill. Luna would start looking at him with fearful eyes, wondering what he might do next. He'd probably find himself and his family shunned by those who favored peace with Earth, and disdained by extremists who would think he should've slain more Naturals while he had the chance.

"Shinn," Luna whispered in his ear and grabbed his arm, and Shinn realized with faint and mute surprise that the meeting was having another recess. He slowly turned his head to her.

"Shinn, what is wrong?" she asked him firmly and concernedly.

Looking in her eyes, he realized that he would have to tell her exactly what had happened. Come to think of it, he'd probably have to tell Chairman Clyne, too, if word hadn't already made it to her.

"Someplace else," Shinn whispered, surprising himself with his throatiness. His shouting or emotions had affected his voice. He took a swig of water from the glass at his place, then he and Luna rose and left, neither releasing the other.

Lacus looked at Shinn for a long moment. Cagalli had told her in a whisper about the report from the guards. After that, Lacus had conversed with Luna. Lacus had summoned Shinn as soon as possible afterwards, and now the two were alone in an office, clearly in use, but not occupied at the moment. Lacus had seated herself behind a desk, and Shinn stood at attention, despite the empty chair in the room.

"Shinn, please give me a report of what transpired in the rose garden shortly after lunch," Lacus asked neutrally.

Shinn gave her an extremely objective and literal report.

"While you chased him, you did not actually make contact with him?" Lacus clarified.

"I drew my sidearm, but did not fire," Shinn confirmed.

"For which we are all profoundly grateful," Lacus told him. "I appreciate your honesty, Shinn. I shall only ask you to apologize to Mr. Roanoke by this evening."

Shinn stared at her stupidly for a moment, stunned in too many ways, then almost said something intemperate and literally bit his tongue. He then said, "Ma'am, he is a war criminal, a murderer. Shouldn't we at least ask Orb that he be brought to justice? Shouldn't he be stopped? Why should he be allowed to continue having his freedom after having committed such heinous crimes?"

Lacus answered him, "Because I believe that you came to the correct conclusion when you chose not to kill him."

She stood up and said, "Good evening, Mr. Asuka."

He said a perfunctory "Good evening," in return as she left, and stood baffled for a moment in before leaving.

Chapter 2 Main Chapters Chapter 4