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Can't Ever Be

Title: Can't Ever Be
Part: 2/8
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. This is basically a 40k word love letter to Astray...

The sun streaming in through the window was what drew Athrun from his slumber. He squinted, wondering why his neck hurt. And why the sun was streaming in his window, because his bedroom absolutely did not have an eastern exposure.

Shifting, he realized he was on a sofa and... he could hear the soft breathing of someone else across the room. At least he hadn't done anything too stupid if he was still dressed and on a sofa, but...

And then he remembered Hyi and the night before. Getting Hyi and getting his food put away and some conversation that had mostly involved Hyi falling asleep, and... well, he'd been afraid of waking Hyi up, so he'd decided to just relax for a few minutes...

There was, now, absolutely no right way to get out of Hyi's hotel room without something awkward happening. Just leaving wouldn't be good, and hanging around wouldn't be good, either.

And then when he was thinking that maybe he could just sneak out and return with breakfast... His phone rang.

Athrun groaned before moving to answer it. Perhaps if he feigned like he'd just woken up -- no, still awkward but it could be worse...

Glancing at the caller ID, it was Erica. If she hadn't just napped at her desk, Athrun would be surprised. He also wasn't terribly pleased with her, if only because this time around, her timing really stunk.

Hyi was the one who jumped at the sound of the phone, wide-eyed and surprised. Probably wasn't used to those, either. Without answering, Athrun just held the phone and stared at Hyi while Hyi stared at him.

Luckily, Hyi had missed grabbing his gun and was instead pointing the hotel television's remote control at him. Athrun exhaled and let the phone go to voicemail.

"Morning..." he said with the best smile he could muster. Hyi lowered the remote and frowned.


They looked at each other for a long moment. And finally both laughed. It was a good start.

Athrun's phone beeped that indeed, he had a message. But it was early - Erica could wait.

"I guess I fell asleep when we were talking," Athrun said. It was pretty much the truth - close enough to count.

"About what?" Hyi asked, glancing down at the bedspread. "I don't really remember even getting back here. But... I slept..."

Athun chuckled. "You were nodding off in the car," he explained. "And in the elevator. I would have been remiss not to see you in properly."

"Thanks..." Hyi crawled from the bed and stretched. "I suppose we need to go back and see Erica again?"

"No," Athrun replied. "Well, maybe you do. But I need to go home and take a shower and find a uniform that I didn't just sleep in. And then probably make up an excuse for where I was all morning and spend the afternoon reading reports more boring than anything you've ever imagined."

Hyi smiled. "That doesn't sound bad," he admitted. "It's something to do, right? Every day..."

"Not every day," Athrun replied. "I get weekends, most of the time."

Not that he ever did much with them. Sometimes he worked on little mechanical critters and sometimes he had lunch with Kira's mother. Mostly he read or caught up on messages left for him during the week.

Nodding, Hyi headed towards the bathroom and then paused. "So..."

Athrun got up and stretched, nodding as well. "I'm sure Erica will summon me over for another round of combat."


"You've got a ton of food in the fridge," Athrun reminded him. He headed to the door and opened it.


"You really don't need to keep a loaded gun around here," Athrun added. "Later..."

Hyi still seemed stuck for words, which was okay. Athrun was down the hallway already, kicking himself for just not knowing what to say at all.

But until he knew exactly what Hyi's story was... well, things were just going to be that much more complicated and that was all there was too it.

Luckily, traffic was light and Athrun was home in minutes, ignoring another round of phone calls and voicemails.

Once he'd showered and pulled on a pair of dress pants and polo shirt, he took the time to listen to them all and see what was going on.

The first was Erica, asking to speak with him whenever possible. And Erica again, telling him not to rush because she had some plans for the morning. And then his secretary, asking if he had a meeting not marked in his planner.

Perfect, he thought to himself. That was exactly it. Same as the evening before. And no one would bother checking up on him.

His sofa was far more comfortable than the hotel one, and once he sat to start returning calls, he thought he might like to spend more time there. It was a white lie, really -- he'd spent the entire evening working. He could rest a little... He let his secretary know that he'd had a last minute meeting off-base that was going to last all day and then, whether she believed him or not, hung up and dialed Erica.

At first he thought he was going to get her voice mail, but after a good dozen rings, she answered.

"You're late," she mumbled. She'd definitely been asleep, probably in the break room.

"Late?" Athrun questioned.

"I thought you'd call about fifteen minutes ago," she replied. "Was using you as an alarm clock."

Athrun chuckled. "You don't know me quite that well, I hope."

"I can take a guess as to why you called," Erica said, her tone a bit more lively. "Though... I was expecting you to be back last night. I had to work twice as hard."

"I... well..." No sense in lying to Erica - Hyi would probably tell her the truth and then he'd just look silly. "Hyi was really nodding off on the way to the hotel so I made sure he got inside safely and I guess we were chatting and..."

"Do I want to know how this ends?" Erica interrupted, a strange little quirk in her voice.

"Across the room, fully-clothed," Athrun replied flatly. Of all the things he hadn't thought about, that was near the top of the list.

"Probably safer," Erica commented. Athrun raised an eyebrow before remembering that they were on an audio-only line.

"So who is he?" Athrun questioned. "Serpent Tail, right?"

"Not quite," Erica corrected. Athrun could tell that she was smiling. "Good job, though. I was actually debating if you'd figure it out or not."

"Between that machine and... well, mostly that machine..." Athrun tried to sort out his myriad of other thoughts, but they were a jumble. Hyi's strange socialization, his lack of recent history, his mannerisms, his skill with a machine that should be outdated but was re-purposed into something that seemed either a homage or copy of Serpent Tail's Astray...

"For now, it's safest to say he's related to Serpent Tail," Erica said. "But you know how they work and that I can't say too much more just yet. However, Hyi isn't a mercenary and he's not a threat to anyone here."

"He tried to pull a gun on me," Athrun said flatly. "Luckily, he grabbed the remote instead."

There was a long pause, and then Erica burst out laughing so loudly that Athrun had to hold the phone away.

"What?" he asked. "It's not that funny..."

"It is," Erica replied, managing to choke down her giggles long enough to speak. "I'll have to pass that along..."

"Are you babysitting him?" Athrun questioned. "Because..."

"I think we're babysitting him," Erica interrupted again. "If you're up to it. It's a break from paperwork and a lot of tinkering with mobile suits, but Hyi has offered up the Gale Strike for research and honestly, it's a wonderful opportunity."

"You'll tell me more, right?"

"Eventually," Erica said. "But... just trust me when I say that there's nothing dangerous about what you don't know about him. He's just a normal guy who needs a little direction."

"If you say so," Athrun replied. He shook his head. Again, he was on the phone... He should have pulled Erica up on video, but she was the one blocking it. She probably looked about like he felt.

"I'll let you both rest today," Erica continued. "You are in, right? I'll file all the paperwork to borrow you..." Athrun heard her yawn. "...after some coffee."

"I'm in," Athrun confirmed. He was both apprehensive and curious. But it was better to know, he thought. It wasn't as if anything could really surprise him. Not after Kira and Cagalli - not after Rey...

"Excellent." There was a pause. "G'nite, Athrun."

Athrun frowned. But he had to agree. "Night."

He disconnected the phone and stuck it on the back of the sofa. Sleep sounded really good. And he rather hoped that Hyi was taking the afternoon to do the same.

It was actually two days later - Friday - before Athrun saw Hyi again. Mostly, it was because Athrun had been dragged away almost immediately to get himself knee-deep in the ankle hydraulics of a Murasame. Erica hadn't protested, which surprised everyone. But, Athrun realized later, it was a good move. Working on an actual machine got him into the right mindset. Yes, the more he thought about the parts he was working on, the more he could relate to the adjustments to the Strike frame that made the Gale Strike into the Gale Strike.

By the time he made his way out to see the machine - via jeep and not via his own car - all of the damage from their little spar had been fixed and the scraped metal had been filled and painted. The machine was now a blank slate, waiting for a purpose beyond being examined and tested.

Athrun circled around it as best he could, examining every part he could see from the ground before snagging a lift. Feet, ankles, calves... It felt unnatural to think of a mobile suit as having things like manipulators - they were hands and nothing would change that for him.

Possibly from all the times with Kira... Hands. They expressed so many things to each other, each unconsciously using their machines to emote. And it had worked...

Athrun stared long and hard at the Gale Strike. Could it emote too? Could there be something more to it than a machine made to destroy?

It would depend far more on the pilot than the machine, though...

He'd scrambled up to examine the hydraulics of the ankles of the Gale Strike when he realized he was being watched.

Cool blue eyes were looking quite nearly through him from down on the floor of the hangar.

Athrun jumped down, unable to hold in a smile. "Hey... I just..."

Sometimes, hydraulics and circuit relays and programming weren't at all interesting to whomever he was speaking to. Kira had taught him that, too.

"I'm starting to see where the agility comes from," Athrun managed. "I never really got a chance to look at the original Strike and Cagalli's machine was always kept tucked away."

"She had a Strike as well," Hyi said, staring at Athrun as if asking for confirmation.

"Yes," Athrun said after a moment. "Strike Rouge. But it was destroyed in the second war. And not by Cagalli..."

"I'm still reading about the first war," Hyi admitted. "It's an honor to have met so many important figures..."

"I wouldn't say..."

"I didn't realize that I was sent to Erica because she created the Astrays," Hyi said. He was frowning again, which Athrun didn't think was a good look for him. He looked far better when smiling or at least somewhat amused.

"Why did you think you were here?" Athrun asked. They were both in mechanics's jumpsuits this time around. That made things far more comfortable than when he'd been stuck in his uniform.

"I was told that this would be a good place to stop and think and decide," Hyi replied. "But..."

"It is," Athrun replied. "You just have to make sure you know all the questions first."

"Huh?" Hyi stared at him for a long moment as Athrun looked for the words...

"Personal experience," Athrun said, finally. "Hey... I'm really not that interesting, but I'm curious about the modifications on the knees... Do you know the reason for that, or was it something done by..."

He trailed off. "Who made these machines, anyway? Aktaeon?"

"No," Hyi replied. "A different group, using stolen data. Maybe something... wasn't right with it?"

Hyi had a strange look on his face and Athrun wanted to ask, but there was a bit of a commotion outside that distracted them both.

It sounded a bit like a plane, but Athrun thought it was a mobile suit. A Murasame, perhaps? But they'd already finished repairing the broken one and had tucked it away. And nothing was scheduled for the afternoon...

Athrun gestured for Hyi to follow him out of the hangar.

And then Athrun saw it - a Saviour. He'd been told, some time later, that there'd been a second unit, but it had been stolen. But also that it had been found.

This, Athrun could tell, was not that machine. Not by a long shot. No, this was that other Saviour, the one that had skimmed over Orb and sent over the strangest set of IFF codes that Athrun had ever been handed.

And then it had vanished.

That was months past and this...

Either the machine was damaged or the pilot had changed, Athrun wasn't sure which. But something was definitely wrong with it. On descent, it wobbled with the transformation and very nearly blew the landing entirely. It was graceless and Athrun raced over to it to see what was wrong.

Hyi was close behind him.

And then Athrun froze completely. The Saviour had a good share of bumps and dents covering it, but the real shocker were beautifully rendered Serpent Tail symbols dotting it.

"Serpent Tail?" Athrun asked under his breath.

"Elijah!" Hyi waved as the cockpit opened.

Sure enough, it was Serpent Tail's second pilot. Athrun nearly winced. He'd spent plenty of evenings patching up Elijah's Zaku and now... he'd gotten his hands on a Saviour.

Elijah descended quickly and looked Hyi over before giving Athrun a familiar wave. There was no chance that the mercenary didn't know who he was, but it was easier to keep things simple.

"I got a message that someone spotted my Zaku down here," he said quickly, looking straight at Hyi. "Has Erica said anything...?"

"No," Hyi replied.

"Your Zaku?" Athrun questioned.

"Yeah... it was stolen," Elijah said with a little wince. "The pilot of this..." He gestured back to the Saviour. "Well, he tricked me out of the cockpit and stole it."

Athrun just stared. What sort of idiot would ever do something that incredibly stupid? The Saviour was a superior machine and Elijah's Zaku had... a strange paint scheme.

"I haven't heard anything," Hyi said. "Maybe it wasn't Erica."

"Reed just said Morgenroete," Elijah replied. He sighed. "I guess I should check with Erica anyway to be sure... And if a job comes up, I can't stay."

Elijah and Hyi looked at each other for a long awkward moment.

Athrun watched them for a moment longer, unsure, before turning his attention to the Saviour. Like the Gale Strike, it had been heavily modified. And really, Athrun wasn't sure that he liked the changes. Instead of the functionality that the Gale Strike seemed to have, it was more like the changes to the Saviour were done simply to change things. Athrun didn't like it. He wondered if that was part of the reasoning for the poor handling. Possibly also the operating system.

"What's it called?" Athrun questioned, finally tearing his attention away from unnecessary wing modifications.

"Vent Saviour," Elijah replied. "I... I'm using it until..."

"It's his," Hyi said flatly.

Athrun watched them. More awkwardness. It would be almost comical anywhere else, but the tension here, in the shadow of a hulking machine, was closer to painful.

"It's mine," Elijah said after a moment. "But I probably shouldn't leave it here. But I locked on to the Gale Strike and thought..."

"It's just in the hangar," Hyi said. "I've only been here for a few days."

"Oh. Then I don't need to check up on you..."

"You were sent to check up on me?" Hyi questioned.

"No," Elijah replied quickly. "I... just thought I should. But you've already met Ath-- the Admiral, so..."

"Yes, we met almost immediately," Hyi said. "And if your Zaku registered somewhere in this country, we should all go looking for it."

"Just to see..." Elijah said almost too softly.

Well, Athrun realized as he watched them. He definitely saw it now. He'd seen enough of Elijah's interactions with his leader to mistake anything. This had to be a Murakumo - younger, and wow, he had to have popped in just about from nowhere.

After Kira and Cagalli, he paid more attention to these things. And the features were all there, so...

The implications, however, were concerning.

"Let's go," Hyi said. He gestured to Athrun. "You can get Justice up, right?"

"Of course," Athrun replied. He wasn't entirely sure what-- Oh, he was an Admiral, so he could probably just declare this all okay and just deal with the ramifications later. If Erica hadn't already pulled the necessary strings. Often, Athrun got the notion that she was secretly the head of everything aside from the country proper. And some days...

"Good," Hyi commented. "And you're familiar with Elijah?"

"We've met a few times," Elijah interjected. "Though..."

"It's okay," Athrun said quickly. "We were just out here looking at the Gale Strike. And I can authorize our clearance for a quick search."

"Thank you." Elijah almost smiled. He had the same fine features that Athrun had seem on countless young Coordinator men, but Elijah's were amplified somehow. If he hadn't known that Elijah was his age, and very definitely male, Athrun thought he might mistake him for a younger woman. Despite the scars that marred Elijah's pale skin.

It was probably best that along with his beauty, Elijah radiated a certain vibration that also declared him very off-limits. Though it hadn't stopped a couple of mechanics in the past. Elijah had punched one of them.

Both Athrun and Hyi were in their machines quickly. Gale Strike was nearly out of the hangar before Athrun got everything unlocked, but he didn't mind. He'd catch up. He was also beginning the first round of communications for what they were doing.

He made some of it up.

"I need the coordinates," he called on the open channel. Hopefully Elijah would pick it up.

"Sending, then switch to the specified channel..."

"You think the thief is monitoring?" Athrun asked. He quickly input everything and finished his own portion of the mission. They were clear to go fly over the area specified. It was uninhabited - too rocky, and likely the perfect spot to hide a mobile suit. Though if the Zaku was damaged, it might just be abandoned there, sans pilot.

"Yes," Elijah replied. "He's.... he was..."

"Elijah..." Hyi trailed off, though.

"Well, I just want to find him," Elijah said quickly.

"Let's go," Athrun said, firing his thrusters. He was up into the air quickly, and switched configurations so that he could ride along on his backpack. He wished he'd offered to just take the Saviour - Vent Saviour - so that he didn't have to watch Elijah suffer through it. He'd definitely have to offer some training.

It wasn't unheard of amongst Coordinators - one trait accidentally traded off for another. But Elijah's beauty apparently undid everything else like coordination and speed.

Yet he was a skilled mercenary. It would surprise quite a few people that Athrun knew. Not that he was going to be writing home any time soon.

The less he thought about the PLANTs, the better. Really, the only things up there were a few people, who could visit, and the graves of so many people that he'd loved.

Flying over rocky and desolate beaches, Athrun wondered about the Zaku thief. Obviously there was something in the mix that Elijah wasn't telling him. Hyi probably knew.

There was no point in trying to keep up with the Vent Saviour - in plane mode it had him completely outclassed. So by the time he, and Hyi, arrived to the location pinpointed, Elijah had already landed just outside an isolated copse of trees and was rushing towards the remains of his former machine.

Setting Justice down just beside the Vent Saviour, Athrun scrambled from his cockpit in time to see Elijah crawl up into the Zaku's cockpit.

And heard him yell...


Looking around, Elijah cried the name again before slipping down all the way.

Athrun was there a moment later, with Hyi on his heels.

There was no sign of another pilot, but Elijah was trying everything he could to get the machine to move.


"May I?" Athrun asked, leaning down and offering a hand to get Elijah back out. The machine had been left in a reclining position, but not totally flat.

"Sure..." Elijah said after a moment. "I just thought... even if he wasn't here... he would have left a note for me..."

Athrun blinked as Elijah took his hand. It looked rather like the mercenary was going to cry.

Sliding down into the cockpit once Elijah was up with Hyi, Athrun managed to get one panel on to try to start diagnostics and see where the power failure was, but he couldn't even get that far. The one panel he'd gotten flickered and something underneath sparked.

He sighed.

"No good," he said as he scrambled up to sit with his feet dangling down and in. "Want to take it back and see what we can do with it in a hangar?"

"But what if he..." Elijah shook his head.

"It won't help him like this," Hyi said flatly. "We'll take it back."

In the back of his head, Athrun finally recognized the name 'Veia'. A great ZAFT hero, killed in a grand battle... His father had always spoken highly of the young pilot - told Athrun to aspire to that level of skill..."

Veia had always had red mobile suits...

Athrun looked down at the grey and red machine he was sitting on, and then to the Vent Saviour. If it was the same Veia, somehow, then yes, the Vent Saviour was the wrong machine for him. Obviously...

"Where is he?" Elijah questioned, looking at Hyi almost accusingly.

"I don't know," Hyi replied. "If I knew, I'd tell you."

Elijah nodded after a moment and glanced around the clearing again.

"He's probably long gone," Athrun finally said. "The last thing that would have been working is the homing signal that was picked up and even that's dead now."

"Maybe he left you a message that you just can't see yet," Hyi commented.

Athrun looked at him for a long moment before nodding.

"Let's get back," he said as he swung his legs over and began to climb down. "I can use a few of my own sources to look for him too."


"I know what he looks like," Athrun said softly. "Our age, grey-blue hair... probably still a bit on the small side."

He couldn't help thinking of Nicol...

"Yeah," Elijah said softly. "You knew him too?"

Athrun shook his head once he'd landed on the ground.

"No," he replied. "But I knew of him."

There were plenty of reasons that the topic had never come up. Mostly that Veia was very dead and while it was little secret...

There were clones.

Athrun looked at Hyi and tried not to stare as he crawled down from the Zaku, helping Elijah more out of concern than anything else.

Elijah was definitely crying now.

"I'll get the Zaku," Athrun said. He wasn't entirely sure if he could carry the machine back on his own, but he could probably figure out something between his backpack and everything else. He at least had a platform for it whereas both the Vent Saviour and Gale Strike were ill-equipped for cargo.

"Are you sure?" Hyi asked.

"I'll try not to damage it." He'd been trying to make a joke, but judging by the looks on both Hyi and Elijah's faces, it had fallen flat.

He really needed to figure out what was going on. And he'd probably not get a chance for awhile, unless he could corner Erica half-inside the torso of the machine he had Justice kneel to grab.

Hyi was assisting him a second later with Gale Strike. He seemed to know just what Athrun was trying to do and together, they managed to get the Zaku up and onto the backpack's platform. It was awkward, and likely to lose a foot to the way it hung over a thruster, but better than nothing.

"Thanks..." Elijah managed.

Slowly, and mostly in silence, they made their way back to Morgenroete.

Erica was waiting for them.

However, not a single negative word came out of her mouth. She simply, once they'd all disembarked, gave them each a quick motherly hug and told them to go wash up.

By the time Athrun had Justice settled, three Murasames were loading the Zaku onto a flatbed truck.

Erica was nowhere to be seen.

Athrun wasn't going to let that go. She picked up on the third ring as he ducked around a corner, away from Hyi.

"I need to know what's going on," he said firmly. "This is getting..."

"Complicated, I know," she finished. "It's a step beyond even what I was expecting, to be honest. But I can explain, I promise."

"What is Hyi?" Athrun asked. "He's a clone, right? That's the only explanation that makes any sense, and now that I've thought of it, it makes perfect sense."

"Not a clone," Erica said quickly. "Not in the sense of the three that you're probably thinking of. Though their lives become a little complicated now that Veia is--"


"Nothing," she said. "I can't prove everything yet, so... just try to be patient. Hyi isn't like we are, but he's trying so hard. He's just got... work to do."

Athrun sighed. And when he turned, saw Hyi wandering the runway, apparently looking for him.

"Gotta go," he said. "We'll talk."

"We will," Erica replied.

Athrun wasn't the one to disconnect the phone call. He knew, quite well, that Erica always seemed to be one step ahead of everything. It was a part of why he was so fond of her. But this was getting ridiculous.

It also made no sense that someone would clone a clone, so whatever Veia was... the most likely answer was that he was simply Veia, gone into hiding or something else for the last half-dozen years.

Perhaps there were so many levels to all of this that Erica thought it might be better if Athrun stayed in the dark.

"Hyi!" Athrun called, raising a hand.

Hyi turned and smiled, running over to him.

"I didn't see where you went," he said. "That was good - getting the Zaku back here. I thought we'd need a plane..."

Athrun shook his head. "Probably the less attention drawn to all of this, the better? Especially if Veia is monitoring communications somehow."

Hyi nodded. "That's a good assessment."

"So... do you know what's going on?" Athrun asked him. It wouldn't take too long to get back to where they really could clean up and...

He glanced up. It was nearly dark. Despite being slow-going on the way back, he really hadn't realized that it was that slow.

"Some," Hyi replied. "There was..."

Hyi frowned.

"Well, there were a few incidents but... It's complicated."

Athrun chuckled. Obviously it was complicated or people would stop telling him just how complicated the situation was.

"Is it a current threat?" he questioned.

Hyi shook his head quickly. "No. Absolutely not. Veia isn't a threat, either. He's just... We..."

"Mmm?" For a second, Athrun thought he was going to get some information out of Hyi.

"Not right now..." Hyi seemed truly apologetic. And torn. Athrun assumed it had to do with the faction logos that had been scraped from the Gale Strike. He'd let Hyi tell him whenever Hyi was ready.

Keeping Hyi fed had fallen to Athrun again, which Athrun didn't mind in the least. To be honest, he ate far better when he was with someone else than when he was just stopping to get something for himself. Or, even worse, cooking for himself. At first he'd experimented, but as time passed, he found it far easier to grab the barely edible food on base or just grab the cheapest quickest convenience store meals. They did what they had to do, at least.

But when it came to Hyi, Athrun thought he should do a little better by him.

"Is there anything you don't like to eat?" Athrun asked as they drove. He'd insisted on a shower, and after a little prodding, Hyi had washed up as well. He seemed a bit nervous in the communal shower, which made Athrun wince a bit inwardly. But Athrun also had decided that Hyi must be a little younger, too, and possibly just insecure. It wasn't like Athrun was going to peek...

Hyi shrugged. They were both back in generic Morgenroete clothing - dirty and sweaty garments had been sent to be washed.

"Oh, don't tempt me to take you somewhere really strange," Athrun said with a chuckle. He had tried out almost every restaurant in the area, just out of boredom and curiousity, over the last little bit. Well, he'd first found most of them before, when he'd been living alongside Cagalli.

Cagalli was still a complicated part of his life. She was good to do her own thing, and he was good to do his, and sometimes they saw each other but... they didn't really talk. Maybe, Athrun though, they should. Someday.

"How strange?" Hyi questioned.

"There's one on the other side of the base where you can pick your sushi off the stomachs of naked women," Athrun said and then instantly regretted it. He'd only been there once, for someone's exceptionally rowdy retirement party. And he hadn't thought it particularly hygienic, to be honest. But now Hyi probably assumed he frequented, since it was his first suggestion and...

"No," Hyi said quickly, and blushing. "I don't think..."

"That's good," Athrun replied. "I don't think Erica would ever let me here the end of that."

"The place where we went last time is okay," Hyi said after a moment. "I won't order as much..."

"You can order whatever you want," Athrun said. He'd have to drop back a block, but it wasn't out of the way at all. As long as it wouldn't be the only place they'd ever go...

If this was going to turn into a regular thing...

"Do you drive at all?" Athrun asked him. "Or just mobile suits?"

"I..." Hyi seemed to be thinking hard on the subject, which made Athrun frown. How could he need to think about such a yes-or-no question?

"I think I know how, but I don't think you'd want to let me drive your car around town," Hyi finally said. "I could practice on the runways, if it'd be better if I provide my own transportation..."

"I'm happy to drive you," Athrun commented. "I was just curious. We can practice, though, if you want. I want to give Elijah some pointers with the Vent Saviour."

"You were a Saviour pilot," Hyi said quickly. He then listed Athrun's mobile suits...

"You did read up on me..." Athrun blushed a bit. He wasn't sure just what Hyi found, so he didn't really know where to start denying things.

"You're very famous," Hyi noted. "Very famous. A household name in the PLANTs and quite well-known on Earth. And I'm... riding around with you."

"Be thankful," Athrun said. They pulled into the restaurant's parking lot. "It's a lot easier to be nobody. I tried it and liked it..."

"Then why...?"

"It's a long story," Athrun replied. He chuckled. "It's complicated. But if we keep getting to chat, I guess we'll end up knowing all of each other's secrets."

"Yeah," Hyi said. He unbuckled his seatbelt and paused, looking up at the sky. "I guess we will."

"You don't seem so sure."

"It's complicated." Hyi chuckled, too, as he got out of the car and followed Athrun into the restaurant. Athrun was growing to dislike the word, but for the time being, he was just going to have to play along and unravel everything.

They were swarmed upon entry.

And with a little prodding, Athrun convinced Hyi to order far too much food and have enough to take home.

He didn't spend the night.



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