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Chapter 4 Main Chapters Chapter 6

Chapter 5 - Reaping The Harvest

A reporter from a PLANT news organization narrated for the camera from the hospital lobby. "Supreme Council Chairman Lacus Clyne concluded her speech and Orb's Chief Representative Attha gave her speech this afternoon after the attempted terrorist attack. I'm standing in front of the hospital where treatment is being given to the audience members who voluntarily subdued the attackers. The Chairman and Orb's Chief Representative paid a visit just a short time ago to present their official thanks."

The news feed cut to footage the crew had taped earlier of Lacus and Cagalli, and a contingent of security guards, entering the hospital rooms and greeting the astounded and delighted patients.

After the footage had concluded, the news channel returned to the anchor, who said, "More on this developing story: the Orb government has announced that their preliminary investigation is complete and that they have apprehended all of the assailants."

"So you're certain that you've identified all of the traitors?" Yzak Joule demanded.

Cagalli wondered how many times she'd told him the same thing. "Our team has identified the source of the breach and those responsible. We're certain we found all of the traitors."

Yzak folded his arms, clearly unsatisfied, but Dearka's expression convinced him to cool down. Yzak huffed, "I'd like to see a copy of your team's report."

"It contains internal security matters," Cagalli told him, "so I'm afraid not. Would you settle for a scrubbed report?" She'd probably have to release one to the press anyway.

"Very well," Yzak grudgingly agreed.

Cagalli turned towards a window. "I think I share your feelings, Yzak. Some of them, at least. This is hardly the note I wanted the talks to end on."

Yzak shrugged, and said, "You and Chairman Clyne saw to it that was not the note we ended on. I'm simply concerned with ensuring this doesn't happen again."

"Then we are agreed," Cagalli informed him, turning back to look at him.

Yzak nodded sharply.

"I noticed something, though," Dearka proffered his opinion, "back when it happened. What I saw was that people in the crowd reacted to stop the first gunman. Isn't that right?"

"Yes, that is correct," Cagalli said.

"I don't think that would've happened even a few years ago," Dearka concluded.

His words hung in the air a moment, then Yzak announced, "We should be leaving now. Good evening, Representative Attha."

"You two will be joining us this evening?" Cagalli partly asked, partly stated.

"Indeed," Yzak averred.

"Wouldn't miss it," Dearka said jauntily.

Kira came to one of the palace's rear entrances. It had been hard to keep from running.

The guard opened the door, and Kira saw the guards escorting Athrun only vaguely. It was Athrun himself that occupied most of his attention.

"Athrun, it's good to see you again!" Kira exclaimed.

"Kira, you too," Athrun said, though more subdued. "I hope I haven't disturbed you. Sounds like you ran to get here."

Kira took a deep breath. "Believe me, it's a relief after having to sit still for so long this afternoon," Kira laughed, remembering the cramps he'd had when he finally got to climb out of the Freedom after several hours.

"I suppose so," Athrun chuckled.

Kira studied his friend's face in the light of the sunset. Athrun looked drawn, and somewhat pale. Though he didn't show it, the thought that crossed Kira's mind was that he looked completely miserable.

"Kira, if you don't mind..." Athrun trailed off, but his eyes now revealed a grim determination.

"Of course, come right in," Kira told him, and led the way into the palace. That was a relief, seeing that look in his eyes.

As they went along the hall, Athrun added in a conciliatory way, "I am relieved to see you're safe, Kira. The news is saying that there aren't any major injuries, is that right?"

"That's right, we're all fine," Kira nodded. They continued walking down the hall, side by side, the guards preceding and trailing them by a respectful distance. "I'll take you straight to her," he told Athrun.

"I appreciate it," Athrun told him. "Especially on such short notice."

"Actually, all of us were waiting to hear that call from the perimeter, that you'd arrived," Kira told him. "You're just in time, too. Since this is the last evening, Cagalli was going to get all of us out on the lawn."

Athrun raised his eyebrows. "A party? And she's still going ahead with it?" He shook his head with a slight smile. "I suppose I shouldn't have to ask."

"Indeed. And we're supposed to call it a farewell gala, since it's supposed to be a fancy sendoff for everyone who'll be returning to the PLANTS. You know Yzak and Dearka are here, right? Oh, wait," Kira laughed awkwardly.

"Yes, I've seen them on the news plenty," Athrun chuckled. "It will be good seeing them, too."

Their conversation tapered off after that. Athrun was concentrating earnestly on what was ahead, and Kira didn't have anything more to actually say.

They arrived at the study, where two of Cagalli's personal guard stood beside the mahogany doors. The doors opened as Kira and Athrun approached, and Yzak and Dearka stepped out. The doors closed, and the four stared at each other a moment.

Finally Yzak snorted, "It's about time!"

He and Dearka turned to leave, Dearka throwing over his shoulder, "We'll see you tonight, Athrun!" His tone playfully reveled in the fact that he knew no one would allow Athrun to do otherwise.

Kira, after recovering from his surprise, knocked on the door and said, "Cagalli? Athrun's here."

It was quiet a moment, then Cagalli opened the door herself. "Athrun, I'm glad you could come," Cagalli said quietly. "Please, come in."

Athrun glanced at Kira, but he was standing deferentially beside the door, and Athrun thanked him with his eyes. Athrun entered the room alone as Cagalli remained at the door and told the guards within the room and outside, "Take up the secondary positions." Kira merged with their crowd for a bit before they all started splitting up to go to their different destinations.

The study was a medium-sized room. There were a good many lights with golden filigree bases and crests of Orb tastefully worked onto the lampshades, but it was hard to see them in the growing dark outside the single window at one end of the room, opposite the door. The flickering light in the room came from a fire Cagalli had lit against the lingering vestige of evening chill the spring retained. The walls were lined with bookshelves, filled but not crammed with books. A table and four chairs were between the door and the window. To their right were two sofas facing each other, each able to seat three people. They were angled so that they fanned out around the fireplace, to provide some equity of warmth to all the occupants. The firelight glinted off the expensive hardwoods of the sofas, and the air was full of the rich but pleasant scent of the fire.

Athrun stepped a bit further into the room. Cagalli half-turned to face him, though she didn't exactly look him in the eyes. "Please, sit down," she said. As he seated himself on a sofa, she took a poker from beside the fireplace and adjusted some of the logs. She replaced the poker and sat down on the opposite sofa. Cagalli wasn't really sure how to begin talking to him. She'd been aware of his movements, for even after he resigned his admiralty in the Orb fleet, he stayed within Orb for his own safety, and Orb security shadowed him to prevent abduction or assassination by Blue Cosmos or Lacus' political opponents, so she couldn't really ask him what he had been doing lately.

"I was quite relieved to learn that no one was killed today," Athrun spoke up. "I almost thought," he paused, then continued, "that I was too late to do what I needed to do."

"Athrun, you don't need to do anything," Cagalli said.

"But I do," Athrun said plainly. He rested his chin between his thumb and first finger. Then he removed his hand and began to speak.

"I was angry, and I haven't talked to you in a long time. At the time, I thought it was the right thing to do, that it was the only response to what had happened. I had something against you and it was my right to hold on to that."

"Then I started thinking about what's happened over the last few years. Kira and I, we came to be able to talk to each other and look each other in the eye, even though I knew he'd killed Nichol, and he knew I'd killed Tolle. And Miriallia, she took the initiative to talk to me. It took months, but finally we could look at each other and look each other in the eye. And then," he faltered, and recovered, "and then I looked at myself in the mirror, and I realized that I wasn't giving you a second chance, and I couldn't look myself in the eye. I felt like the worst sort of coward."

He looked up then, his green eyes flashing in the firelight. "That's why I had to come back. I had to apologize for that."

"This is...This is..." Cagalli shook her head. "You're apologizing to me?" She said in a dead voice, "But don't you understand? You were right to be angry with me. I'm still angry with me."

Athrun blinked. "Maybe. But then, that would mean that Kira and I were wrong to forgive each other, and I'm not about to believe that."

"Stop it! I'm the one who should be apologizing!" Cagalli shouted. Tears started to stream down her cheeks. "You don't have anything to apologize for! I'm the one who started all of this! I made the wrong choice! I shouldn't have chosen him, I should've chosen- should've chosen- " Her sobs robbed her of her voice.

"Cagalli, I forgive you," Athrun pronounced, leaning forward, his hands clasped together. His eyes began to dribble.

"I knew I should've chosen you!" Cagalli wailed, and lunged out to grab his hands.

After a few minutes of shared tears, Athrun told her, "It pains me to see how much I've hurt you."

Cagalli swallowed. "It's only what I deserve, Athrun. But since you don't seem to want to believe that, I'll have to forgive you too."

Athrun bowed his head. "How much of this could I have prevented if I'd come sooner?" he wondered aloud. "No matter how hard I try, I'm always such a fool."

"Stop beating yourself up about that," Cagalli demanded. She bent further to look in his eyes, and he looked back at her. "I'm glad you did come back. This pain I'm feeling now, I've never been so happy to have. And it's almost gone, too." She smiled as rivulets of tears continued running down her face. "I'll always be grateful to you for it, Athrun Zala."

Dearka glanced at Yzak as they continued walking down the hall to their rooms. "I though you wanted Athrun to return to the PLANTs," he commented.

Yzak made a face but said quietly, "He can't for a while, and obviously this is more important." He considered a moment and then added, "Besides, he was never going to return until this was done."

Dearka nodded, and the two entered their respective rooms.

Athrun emerged from the room, wondering what he should do now. Cagalli's nurse Myrna was heading down the hall towards him, and he looked up at her.

"Athrun, how good to see you again!" she burbled. Myrna looked at Athrun, then said, "Oh, I do hope you are staying for the farewell gala! You are, aren't you?"

"I hadn't known what was occurring tonight, but yes, I'll be attending," Athrun stated reservedly.

"I thought you hadn't known, or you would've spiffed up more, something like that will never do!" the nurse said with forceful concern.

He had been thinking a little more casually dressed than sounded appropriate for this event.

"Well, let me see what we can do," Myrna said, eyes gleaming with anticipation.

"Ah," Athrun tried to think of how he could politely refuse, then decided there was no fighting destiny and uttered, "Thank you."

He followed her down several halls, into the fitting room.

Athrun stepped out of the fitting room. He was pleased with the results, of course, but he felt he understood Cagalli's attitudes about clothing far better now that he'd been dressed by the woman who'd dressed her since childhood.

Myrna rushed out of the room behind him, telling him to be sure to be at the party on time. It occurred to Athrun that she was probably now going to collect Cagalli, and that there was still several hours before the party was to begin. He might have been relatively spared in order to give Cagalli more time. Athrun promptly stopped wondering about what might've happened had Myrna had more time with him. It just wasn't worth thinking about.

Athrun heard Kira walking towards him, and Athrun went to meet him.

Chapter 4 Main Chapters Chapter 6