Can't Ever Be
Title: Can't Ever Be
Fandom: Gundam SEED VS Astray
Disclaimer: No implied ownership, no financial gain, only fanwork.
Characters/Pairings: Athrun & ND HE (Hyi) main, Erica, Full Cast
Rating: T Overall
Summary: A rewrite/reversion/alternate end of VS Astray. Hyi has come to 'work' at Morgenroete. Athrun Zala tries to piece together the puzzle that is his new companion.
Notes: Whew - going with the (slightly-awkward, I know) romanization of ND HE's 'nickname' here. I'm admittedly fuzzy on a few details of VS, but I'm under the impression that Chiba was while writing, too. This was basically an exercise in 'writing VS better than canon', though possibly all that came out of it is Athrun being an unreliable narrator.
Athrun tried to hold back a sigh as he looked upward. While he did appreciate his position and was trying to do his best in it, Cagalli had given him a life of paperwork. Though in comparison to her seemingly unending piles, he was pretty sure he had somehow still lucked out.
"Mmm?" He nearly forgot to add an 'at ease'.
He would never like people saluting him. But he couldn't exactly tell them not to, either.
The young soldier handed him a printout and stood, waiting.
"Dismissed, thank you," Athrun said before he began reading. Even if he had to respond, urgently, there was no need to make the young man wait.
Truthfully, Athrun expected a dull memo that was only pretending to be exciting. However, it instead was a summons from Erica Simmons. And it had apparently been sent to both him and his secretary. And he'd gotten it from her first, send via soldier just to drive her usual point home that he needed to check his messages more often.
It didn't matter, though - he was saved from reading and commenting on reports on things like laundry soap budgets and how they could save money by switching to all-soy meals and dozens of other things that he didn't think needed to be handled by anyone with 'Admiral' prefixing their name.
Now that Kira had left Orb, Athrun had become Erica's favourite test pilot, even though it wasn't exactly in his job description. It didn't matter - he felt far more at home in a half-assembled Murasame knee or an Astray cockpit than in his stuffy, sterile office.
He didn't bother grabbing anything aside from his phone and keys, jamming them into his pockets before shuffling all of his paperwork into one pile to deal with later. With a cursory wave to his secretary, he bolted out of the office and out to the parking lot. His car had survived the years intact, thankfully - even though he could afford to replace it, he was fond of it.
A minute later, he was out of the lot and heading across the base to Erica's part of the complex. For as much as the military and Morgenroete pretended to be independent of one another, there really wasn't any visible division. He just knew when he'd left his side and entered her side.
What Athrun hadn't been expecting was something aside from the usual Murasames and Astrays lined along Morgenroete's main driveway. If his car hadn't auto-corrected for him, he would have ended up in the grass.
He sped up. The sooner he could get a good look at the machine that had caught his eye, the better.
Luckily, once he'd rounded the fence, no one seemed to mind him driving clear up to it.
He didn't even bother turning the car off - he just put it in park and got out and looked up--
It was definitely modeled on the Strike. On the original, not the Dagger variants. He'd known that there were a handful of variants other than the Rouge, but he'd never actually seen any of them. And besides, this one matched a blurry photo he'd been given some months before, when it or similar had been menacing a ZAFT detachment.
Where there should have been faction insignia, however, there were just patches of bare metal where the paint had been scraped clear away. Athrun winced. It would take some work just to make that look good again. Immediately, he started making a mental list of who the best mechanics to handle it would be, as if Erica wouldn't already have that covered.
There were always a handful of mobile suits popping up, getting repairs without comment or question. Athrun had assisted on quite a few of them over the years. But this wasn't one of Erica's special Astrays, either.
But before he could be too concerned by the lack of faction symbols, his attention was pulled away by the machine's weaponry. Complimenting beam sabers, a beam rifle and small knives were enormous hip-mounted blades. Athrun could only begin to fathom what they were capable of.
The longer he looked, the more he saw and the more he wanted to climb up and look and then question. It had to be agile, had to just be ridiculously powerful...
He wondered why it was based on a Strike, though, when there were more recent options.
Though he heard a military jeep approaching, Athrun didn't pull his attention away quite yet. Instead, he stayed spellbound, hoping to remember all the things he wanted to ask about or get a closer look at. He wondered what the operating system was like, considering the outside adjustments.
"I'm glad we decided not to wait for you." Erica's voice finally cut through his musings.
"What is..." Athrun cut his question short when he saw the young man flanking Erica. Though he was wearing standard Morgenroete gear - red jacket over a t-shirt and cargo pants - Athrun knew immediately that he was the machine's pilot.
"Gale Strike," the young man said quickly.
"Gale Strike," Athrun repeated. He thought the young man looked familiar but just couldn't place him. Which made him frown momentarily. He turned back to the machine.
"He'll be working with me for a little while," Erica said. "It's been ages since I poked around in a Strike, so I'm excited. Athrun?"
"I'd like your help," Erica said. "Hyi has offered full use of data from the Gale Strike, but I think I've scared off half the test team just with the words 'Wing Saw'."
Athrun hesitated as he looked back at Erica, and at 'Hyi', which didn't sound much like a proper name. So those blades were 'Wing Saws'. He could understand why most of Erica's team would be unwilling to risk their wrath.
It had been awhile since he'd done anything aside from pull Infinite Justice from its hangar to make sure it hadn't rusted it in place. Unlike what Kira had done with Freedom, Athrun kept Justice nearby and functional. He looked after it like any pilot would their machine, though the frequency of his visits was admittedly decreasing. Too many reports to read - and no strange activity near the nation in ages...
Hyi managed a smile.
Erica smiled. "And I've been quite rude, haven't I? Athrun, this is Hyi, and Hyi, this is Admiral Athrun Zala. Though he will insist on you refering to him by his given name."
Athrun knew he was blushing. Erica was acting a little too familiar, which wasn't unusual for her, though it was still awkward. But she was a genius, too, and he respected her far more than the usual politicians and career officers that he often found himself dealing with.
Athrun and Hyi stared at each other for a long moment before each offering the other a hand.
"I look forward to working with you," Hyi said softly. Athrun nodded.
"Likewise." So Hyi wasn't shy, just quiet. Or, probably just only spoke when he really had something to say. That was going to get awkward quickly.
"I've already set up a no-fly area for you two," Erica said as she walked back towards the jeep. "Athrun, it's up to you if you want to change, but you will need to move your car."
"Right now?" Athrun was surprised. He wasn't quite sure what he'd expected - not dinner first, he supposed. He nodded. "Right..."
He was back in his car in seconds, speeding towards Justice's hangar. And considering what Erica had said, he wasn't at all surprised that a team had it ready and waiting, hangar doors open wide and initial systems humming happily. She knew him too well - or knew how to play him.
This time he parked and turned off the ignition, pocketing his keys before heading towards his mobile suit.
Justice had been partially repainted when it had been repaired after the end of the war. It sported Orb's military insignia now, along with a slightly bolder color scheme.
While Athrun was fairly sure that the Gale Strike was designed for atmospheric combat far more than Justice was, he also thought he should be more than a match for the young man. Hopefully, before the end of the day, Erica would tell him a little more about the mobile suit and pilot, just to alleviate the nagging feeling that he should know them both.
Once in the cockpit, everything felt natural. No need for launching or timing. Once everything was clear, he simply walked. It felt good. This wasn't war. This was just a machine needing to do something.
No sooner had he gotten out of the hangar then a stream of commands and parameters appeared on his screen. Coordinates. They had been allotted a large area, which was good. Land and sea.
"Athrun, are you there?"
Erica's voice was clear on the open channel.
"I'm here," he replied.
"Ready," Hyi replied, equally clear. "I've received all of the instructions."
"Nothing that won't take more than five hours to fix," Erica said flatly. "Other than that, keep it friendly. You're both very important to me."
Athrun wasn't much of a fan of this kind of combat, ordinarily. Not outside of Morgenroete's combat dome, though Athrun knew why they weren't in it. It was far too small. And wouldn't offer anywhere near the sort of data Erica wanted. She wanted to see the Gale Strike move. There was something about it that pinged her interest as strongly as it did his.
There was little surprise to learning that his assumption of about the Gale Strike's speed had been correct. Athrun hung back, mostly watching it. He couldn't help thinking about fighting Kira in the original Strike. But this machine barely resembled that. Instead, it was its own beast of a machine. It had been made for a purpose and Athrun knew it had nothing to do with Orb. But now was not the time to ask. Not yet.
They both landed on a leveled stretch of beach that was centered within their coordinates. Hyi pulled a beam saber from one shoulder.
"Yes," Athrun replied, grabbing for one of his own sabers. They'd start slow and wait for Erica to guide them, at least at first. He was sure she was receiving monitor feeds from both of them.
They both stood, beams crackling, for a moment before Hyi rushed forward. He was fast, even on land, and Athrun had to take a step back to meet his thrust and parry. But he quickly turned it around - Hyi was good but he was lacking that certain something. Athrun was sure he had more actual combat experience. With a couple more swings, Athrun had managed to push Hyi back a bit, towards the water. As much as Athrun wanted to kick out and flatten Hyi, he wasn't going to do more than this -- yet.
"Good," Erica's voice crackled over the channel. "Responses are good. But... you're both really hesitating, aren't you?"
Athrun heard Erica sigh. "You're both underestimating one another," she said flatly. "I meant what I said that you're both free to do what you'd like as long as I don't have to rewrite my entire annual budget to make repairs."
Athrun managed a faint chuckle. He knew Erica had needed to do just that when he'd returned to Orb. Justice would still be in pieces otherwise. But he couldn't help that it used completely different technology than the rest of the Orb fleet. Sure, she'd gleaned a bit from Freedom, but Kira had mostly been ridiculously possessive of the machine and refused to share so Erica had needed to reverse-engineer as she went.
Not that Athrun could really blame Kira.
It wasn't until Hyi grabbed for one of the Gale Strike's Wing Saws did Athrun realize exactly what the mobile suit made him think of. And who. But he held his tongue, mostly because he was too busy trying to block Hyi's swing. It should have been obvious, really - he'd even considered this machine against Erica's beloved Astrays. This was related, definitely, as was the pilot. But how...? And why?
It didn't seem polite to ask any of those questions just yet. Not when he was finally needing to kick and send the Gale Strike sailing. It righted mid-fall and rushed back. Athrun smiled. He could amp things up a notch or two. Excellent. Aside from Cagalli, who was only darned good at best, Orb was lacking in exceptionally skilled pilots, and part of Cagalli's skill tended to be the benefit of having better machines. Besides, it wasn't as if... well, it wasn't as if they ever did anything together anymore. Even as hesitant, awkward friends. Certainly, they didn't run around smashing metal together.
He was fairly sure that he'd always love her, but... He wasn't going to go back on what he'd said. Not after all of that...
With a bit of an idea as to how the Gale Strike would move, Athrun found it easier and easier to dodge. They were both relying too heavily on the gimmicks of their machines and Athrun knew it. Perhaps if they were both in GINNs, with just heavy swords, their fight would be far more interesting.
Yes, Athrun was definitely relying on Justice's own superior range of motion and slightly larger size. He had far more weight behind his movements and had a powerplant that would never quit. But every time he knocked Hyi back, Hyi rushed forward again.
Athrun had to give him credit.
"Boys... how are you doing?"
It took Erica's voice to, again, pull Athrun from the intense focus he'd fallen into.
"Fine," he said quickly.
"Nearly out of power," Hyi admitted.
"That's okay," Erica answered. "Head on back, both of you. I don't have everything that I want, but it's a start."
Athrun powered down everything aside from his main systems and relaxed.
"You're good," he said, before clapping one of Justice's hands onto the Gale Strike's closer shoulder. It was something he'd often done with Kira. Though he hadn't quite realized he was doing it til he heard the sound of metal hitting metal.
"Ah--" Hyi seemed surprised and Athrun immediately wished he hadn't acted so familiar. "So are you."
Quickly, Athrun pulled away and started back to the hangar. Hyi followed, and Athrun was surprised for a moment before realizing the obvious - the machine would need to go somewhere and his own hangar was definitely the safest and farthest away from curious eyes. And it's not like it was actually his, after all. Though he did have his own reserved parking spot.
Mechanics surrounded them the second they were in, waving and gesturing. Athrun settled Justice into its usual position and locked its powerplant before opening the cockpit. There'd still be enough power for the mechanics to do what they'd need to do, but nothing hazardous. In an emergency, there were others who knew the password, but... Athrun didn't want to think about that.
Hyi seemed a little shaken, when he emerged. Athrun hoped it was just the sheer amount of mechanics offering to poke, repaint, repair and otherwise touch his mobile suit. If he was used to doing all his own repairs, well...
"Come on," Athrun said, gesturing towards his car. "I'm sure Erica has all sorts of things she'll want to ask us about."
"But..." Hyi gestured at the Gale Strike in return.
"It's okay," Athrun promised. "These are all good people."
Hesitating, Hyi finally nodded and followed Athrun to the car.
Athrun waved to the mechanics before easing them away from the hangar and across the maze of runways to get back to the main road. Hyi seemed less fond of the car than Athrun would have thought. His driving wasn't bad, after all. And the car itself usually got a comment or two. Though depending on exactly where Hyi was raised...
"You're not really used to cars, or Earth...?" Athrun questioned.
Hyi's eyes went wide for a moment. He shook his head, and for a second, Athrun thought he might be blushing.
Athrun shrugged. "It'll get easier. Just wait til the first time it rains or you go swimming in the ocean. That's all different too."
Hyi was quiet, instead just looking out at everything around them.
"Thanks," he muttered as they pulled onto the main road.
"You're staying for awhile, though..." Athrun really wanted to ask about those scraped-off faction markings. And about other things.
"Yes," Hyi replied. He seemed to be half-lost in thought as well.
"I'd like to look at your mobile suit on another day," Athrun said just before parking. "I was familiar with the original Strike..."
"Really?" Hyi seemed surprised. Athrun nodded. Apparently there was someone out there who didn't know who he was. It was refreshing and Athrun was happily amused. It was far better than being fawned over. The worst had been a group of younger Orb girls who had printed out scans of a photobook that had been put out when he'd been originally engaged to Lacus. Most embarrassing thing ever. And they'd wanted autographs and it was all just...
"You were with OMNI back then?" Hyi questioned as he quickly undid his seatbelt and got out of the car.
Athrun blinked. "Not quite," he replied. He was obviously going to have to give Hyi a brief history lesson in the elevator. If Hyi had been born either on a ship or one of the smaller L4 colonies, he might've somehow missed everything aside from the basics of the war. It just seemed odd. Especially for a Coordinator. And one who had to be associated with Serpent Tail somehow.
He'd have to have a private chat with Erica as well. She always had secrets, but this one... It seemed very different.
"There were five machines," Athrun began as he led Hyi into the building. He didn't even bother with his military ID - the security guards knew him and he just waved to them that Hyi was fine.
Hyi simply stared as Athrun explained everything he could in as short a time as possible. It was strange what Hyi seemed to recognize compared to what he didn't seem to know about. Despite being about the same age, Hyi just wasn't very familiar with the recent past at all.
Briefly, Athrun thought of Lodonia and shivered. He was thankful for the soft ding of the elevator and Erica meeting them in the hallway.
"That was wonderful, both of you," she said with a smile. She had a pouch of juice in hand for each of them and Athrun took his quickly. She was always good about that sort of thing... Athrun thought it might be because she was a mother in so many ways. He knew Erica's son, and also Erica's mobile suits and Erica's AI computers, the latter of which could run circles around anything he built.
And she reminded him a bit of his own mother, but Athrun would never tell her that.
Hyi hesitated longer, until Erica gave him a little look. And then he took it and drank.
"I'd like to know what we were testing," Athrun admitted. "Machine, pilot or both."
Erica smiled. "Mostly the machine," she replied. "Come on. I'll show you what I have so far."
"Mostly?" Hyi echoed quietly, following behind Athrun as they walked to Erica's development rooms.
Hours later, while he and Erica were still pouring over the data and comparing it to everything they could dig up, including Kira's original tests with the Strike for Morgenroete, everything remaining on Strike Rouge, and then Mwu's rebuilt Strike, Athrun glanced over towards a very-quiet Hyi and realized the young man had fallen asleep.
"Mmm?" She obviously hadn't realized how late it was. Hopefully she hadn't needed to get home for dinner.
Athrun gestured to Hyi, and then to the windows, where it was very obviously getting dark.
Erica glanced and then started softly giggling. "Okay, I guess we should call it a day. I didn't mean to bore him to sleep..."
"Where's he staying?" Athrun questioned. "I'll drive him home and make sure he gets something to eat."
Erica told him a hotel, which had rooms permanently reserved for Morgenroete, before walking over and crouching.
"Hyi..." She reached carefully to touch his cheek.
Hyi flailed for a second, but Erica caught his hands.
"You fell asleep," she explained quickly. "Athrun will take you back to your hotel, though. And probably grab something to eat for you along the way."
Nodding, Hyi mumbled a string of apologies and got to his feet.
"Go ahead," Erica said as she stood. "I'll get everything turned off here and then head home myself."
Athrun nodded and beckoned to Hyi. He knew Erica would keep working all night. He would have, too, except that Hyi was obviously as important as his machine and Erica was putting him in charge of Hyi's well-being for the moment.
"What do you like?" Athrun asked as they got back in the elevator.
"To eat," Athrun continued. "Erica told me where you're staying and there's pretty much everything between here and there. So if you have any preferences..."
Hyi shook his head quickly. "Not really. Anything fresh, I guess."
Smiling, Athrun debated between a handful of places before deciding on a smaller family diner with a simple menu. Homecooked food, always tasty, and while possibly not as fresh as sushi or the vegan place, probably more what Hyi was after.
"I know just the place," Athrun replied as they made their way through the lobby.
"You like living here?" Hyi questioned once they were past the guards.
Athrun looked at him quizically. "I guess... I mean, I don't want to go back to the PLANTs and there are things I can do here."
"I..." Hyi trailed off, instead looking up at the sky.
"You don't have to decide what you want to do right away," Athrun commented. Hyi was obviously at some sort of crossroads. His strange cross-section of knowledge and the insignia-free machine were proof of that.
And Athrun knew very well what it was like to be stuck with a feeling of floating and not knowing what to do. But if Orb wasn't the place for Hyi, well, Athrun didn't want to encourage him to stay. Nothing good would come of that in the end.
Of course, most of Athrun's questions would be ones to ask Erica. He was sure she'd be there late, so he just had to get Hyi back to his hotel room and then...
"Thanks," Hyi said softly.
Athrun unlocked the car doors and got in. He'd drive a little slower on the way into town, in case the darkness unsettled Hyi more.
Hyi slid in a moment after.
"You're welcome," Athrun replied. He smiled. "This is a nice break from paperwork, I have to admit."
"Would you rather be a pilot full time?" Hyi questioned. Athrun started the car and backed out of the spot he was in. The lot was nearly empty now.
"No," Athrun replied. "Not if it meant war, at least. I suppose if it was for civilian projects, it would be okay, but... Justice isn't really made for that."
"Justice is made for wars," Hyi stated. Athrun cut across the lot on the way to the exit. No sense in staying within the lines. Hyi flinched.
"Yes," Athrun admitted. "I suppose that's really all there is to it."
He sighed. And Hyi stayed quiet til they arrived at the restaurant.
The problem with small, family diners was that they were small, family diners. And Athrun was, of course, still in his full uniform. Nevermind that he frequented the place and all the waitresses knew his name.
And knew that he very rarely brought anyone to dinner.
By the time they slid into a booth, every waitress in the place had slipped by them, looking Hyi over curiously.
"They're just friendly," Athrun said apologetically as he grabbed the menus from behind the napkin holder and ketchup. "The food is really good, though."
"It's okay," Hyi replied. "You're obviously more famous here than I realized."
Athrun sighed. "That too."
He didn't know why he was looking at the menu. He knew what he wanted. But since Hyi was studying it all quite intently, well, he didn't want to make Hyi any more uncomfortable than he already was.
And then he had another thought.
"Order whatever you want," Athrun added. "My treat."
"Are you sure?" Hyi questioned. "I don't want to be any more of a burden."
Shaking his head, Athrun simply set his menu down. "I'm sure."
What he didn't say was that one of the cards in his wallet had Morgenroete's name embossed beneath his own. Erica's doing, for other late night projects that had required trips to any given 24-hour convenience store necessary.
They ate in relative silence, each watching the other and hesitating again and again. Athrun supposed that it was just how they were going to be for now, before wondering if he should even plan on getting to know the young man. This had just been a quick favor, unless Erica was going to be pulling some strings and getting a temporary reassignment for him. But she'd not mentioned anything like that, so...
The most troubling thing about Hyi was that he felt so familiar. But Athrun knew Serpent Tail, which had been his first thought. It wasn't a group that people just came and went from. No, it was a tight-knit unit that moved as one. If Hyi had ever been a member, Athrun would have seen him before. He'd assisted with fixing their machines often enough, after all, at Erica's request, because she wanted to show off her original Astrays and the Serpent Tail's Blue Frame was amongst them.
Yet the Gale Strike's paint was eerily similar, and the giant swords certainly made Athrun stick on the thought. Perhaps it was an homage.
Hyi's hair was about right for their leader, too. Hyi's was shorter, but getting shaggy. Still... Hyi's eyes...
Which were staring right at him, clear and piercing blue.
"Is something...?" Hyi began.
"Everything tasty?" Athrun managed. Hyi had ordered what was far too much food, but Athrun didn't mind and he figured it'd be breakfast for him as well, and possibly lunch.
Hyi nodded. "Didn't think they'd give me so much. It's okay to take some with me, right?"
Nodding, Athrun couldn't help a smile. There were no doggy-bags on small spacecraft, after all.
"Our waitress will even box it up for you with extra bread if you ask nicely," Athrun added.
Three boxes and one bag later, Hyi had his hands full and Athrun was easing the car back onto the road.
"Is there anything else you need tonight?" Athrun questioned. It was the polite thing to do, after all, considering that Hyi was living in a hotel room. At least it was a nice enough place that a fridge, microwave and coffee maker were standard. And also a data-console that would hopefully connect well enough for Hyi to do some basic research on the first war. If not, Athrun knew he had books. Not on purpose, but because they'd been sent to him.
Of course, he didn't have it anywhere near as bad as Cagalli. Or Lacus.
"No," Hyi replied. "I think I have everything."
"Okay--" Athrun wasn't terribly sure if he believed Hyi, but was going to let it go. Depending, Hyi was probably used to making do with whatever. Especially if he'd been... away from his home for awhile.
Athrun was grumbling under his breath by the time he pulled into the hotel's parking garage. At the last traffic light of many, Hyi seemed to be dozing off again and Athrun knew he'd feel horrible if he didn't get Hyi to his room safely.
Hyi only really perked up when the car stopped.
"I'll carry your food up," Athrun said firmly. The car was off and he was already getting out.
"You don't have to..."
But Hyi didn't resist, despite frowning like he wanted to.
"Once you're in your room, I'll get going," Athrun commented.
Nodding, Hyi handed the bag of leftovers to Athrun and proceeded to dig for his keycard.
Athrun's uniform got him right past the desk-clerk, security guard and a baggage attendant without question. The attendant actually saluted, and Athrun echoed it after realizing the man probably was enlisted.
Hyi looked even more drowsy in the elevator and Athrun wondered when the last time the young man had gotten a decent night's sleep.
"When did you get in?" Athrun questioned as Hyi fumbled with his keycard.
"Last night," Hyi replied. "Haven't really slept yet."
Athrun sighed. "That's what I was afraid of."
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