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Can't Ever Be


Title: Can't Ever Be
Part: 7/8
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...

Hyi's car was parked in the exact spot that they'd parked the week before. Athrun parked beside it and got out. He could either stay close and wait for Hyi to return, or he could wander. And wandering sounded good actually as did lunch. For as much food as there had been at breakfast, he hadn't actually eaten much of it. There was too much going on to worry about his stomach.

Now he bought himself a rolled sandwich and some fruit and sat on a bench to eat. When he'd finished, he glanced at a few other stalls, debating earrings for Cagalli and a bracelet for Kira. The second time he circled by, he bought both.

There was still no sign of Hyi. But when he looped back by the public parking lot, Hyi's car was still there, too. Had Hyi abandoned it?

Athrun sighed and turned. He couldn't spend the entire day looking, but he didn't want to head back yet. One more circle of the town's main streets... Maybe he'd get lucky and...

He found himself staring into bright clear blue eyes. Hyi had tanned a bit, but it looked good on him. He was nearly the same color that Kira turned almost instantly when he was on the surface.

"Athrun?"

"Hey... are you okay?" Athrun asked. "You... vanished."

"Needed to think," Hyi admitted. Athrun did nothing to discourage the rib-creaking hug he found himself enveloped in a moment later. "You came to get me?"

"Yeah..." Athrun reached to pet his hair in the same way he did with Cagalli. Reassuring, fond, but...

"Did something happen?"

"Yes," Athrun said as Hyi pulled away. "There was an attack. It's really better if we get back to Onogoro."

"Okay," Hyi said with a nod. "I just need to get my things. I've been staying in a room here. It's so different..."

"I'm sure it is," Athrun said. He couldn't help smiling. This had to be utter culture shock for Hyi, but he seemed to be enjoying it.

"This way," Hyi said, reaching for Athrun's hand. Athrun took it and squeezed without thinking. It felt right. He was so used to touching Kira and being touched, the same with Cagalli. It was natural... And felt good with Hyi, too.

Athrun didn't let go until they were at the rundown little tourist hotel that Hyi had been staying at. Instead of a keycard, Hyi had an actual metal key that he turned in the lock before opening up the door to reveal a tiny, well-lived-in bedroom.

"Nice," Athrun said as he looked around. It was cozy and the decor was far more interesting than the business-sterile of the Morgenroete room. "I wouldn't mind staying here some day."

"We'll come back?" Hyi asked as he gathered up his belongings into a duffel.

"Sure," Athrun agreed. He glanced out the window at the busy street beneath. No short, fuzzy blue hair this time, which was a good sign.

"I've found some good places to eat," Hyi continued. "But I've missed some of the ones on Onogoro. And eventually, I'll learn to cook for myself, once I have a kitchen somewhere."

"Sounds like you're thinking of settling down here," Athrun noted. It wouldn't be a bad thing. He sat down on the bed to watch Hyi, who had apparently bought half of the marketplace and was trying to cram it into his bag.

"Not right here," Hyi said. "But Orb... Maybe... Yes. You're okay with that?"

"Of course," Athrun said. "We'd get to see each other."

Hyi paused, staring at Athrun for a long moment before silently nodding and going back to what he was doing.

"I bought something for you," Hyi said after a long moment. "I think I already packed it, though. I guess I'll give it to you when we get back?"

"That's fine," Athrun told him. They'd have a bit of time. Everything was set to begin the next day, after all. There'd be time. And he'd already told Kira and Cagalli that Cagalli's giant bed was theirs for the night. He figured if he'd found Hyi, then he'd stay in Hyi's hotel room while filling him in on the plan and his role therein. And if not, he'd be out looking...

"I'm sorry I picked a bad time to come think," Hyi said as he tried to smash the sides of his duffel together and get it zipped. "If I'd known, I... guess I would have just tried to stay nearby, but not where he is..."

"Gai doesn't hate you," Athrun said as Hyi finally got the zipper to work. "He..."

"It's still... not comfortable for me."

"I'm sure it isn't," Athrun said as he got up and went over to grab Hyi's duffel away from him. He could carry it as far as the cars. Especially since it looked like Hyi still had his jacket and some other things to carry. And he still had to check out of the hotel and return that little metal room key on an oversized keychain.

"But what's going on right now is bigger than any of us individually. We're just going to have to do what we have to," Athrun told him. Hyi had apparently also bought a few boxes of rocks, judging from the weight of the duffel.

"I know." Hyi grabbed a jacket. And a brightly-colored blanket. And a few other things. Athrun chuckled.

"Use your Morgenroete card for all of that?" he questioned.

"I have some of my own money," Hyi replied. "And... I don't have many things, so I just... got what I liked when I saw it."

"Mmm, let's get back to Onogoro, then you can show me?" Athrun reached for the door.

"What about... oh, we're not driving together at all..."

Athrun shook his head. "We can chat a bit on the ferry, but that's all. How's your driving, anyway?"

"No problems. No one honked at me on the way here, either," Hyi told him. "Maybe one person should have, but it really wasn't my fault. There was a truck and..."

Athrun listened to Hyi up until they were in their cars. Days of having no one to really talk to poured out of Hyi, which just made Athrun chuckle once he was on the road. Hyi was, physically, a good decade or so younger than Gai, but he doubted that Gai had ever been that talkative, even as a teenager.

The drive back to the ferry seemed endless. Athrun watched Hyi in his mirror for most of the trip, making sure he was there and not cut off by any trucks of speedsters.

As soon as they were parked on the ferry, Hyi was out of his car and into Athrun's.

"Are you sure it's okay if you're not with Kira tonight?" Hyi questioned softly.

"Mmm?" Athrun blinked. Hyi had definitely, well, not-entirely but somewhat misunderstood that relationship. "Kira and I are friends, that's all. We've known each other for a long time and are a little more physical with one another."

"Oh..."

"And it's the same with Cagalli, before you ask. I still love her, but it's a kind of love that's not like it was when I'd hoped to marry her. I wouldn't regret spending my life with her as-is, but she and I..."

Hyi was watching him very carefully and curiously.

"That probably doesn't make much sense, does it?" Athrun asked. "I guess... I don't really know how to explain it. We're always going to mean a lot to each other, but neither of us would be comfortable being in an exclusive relationship. For a lot of reasons."

"But a non-exclusive..."

"Sometimes we get lonely." Athrun didn't meet Hyi's gaze. Instead he just looked out at the water as the boat started to move.

Hyi was quiet until they got to the far shore.

Once he was back off the ferry, Athrun went right down his call list - Kira, Cagalli, Veia, Eleven. He was done for the evening. Gai was handling things with Erica in what Athrun thought was the craftiest part of the entire plan. Though apparently she'd be bringing in help. Nothing new there. Athrun assumed that Erica knew everyone who could possibly be drafted to provide assistance. That was just how she was.

He unclipped his headset before he got to the hotel. And without Hyi's keycard, he actually had to pay for parking. He used his Morgenroete card -- it probably wouldn't actually be charged.

Hyi gathered his things from the car and Athrun tried to grab what he could. The blanket was beautiful and soft and he hated to think what Hyi might have paid for it.

"It's a warm night," Hyi noted as they crossed through the lobby.

"Yeah," Athrun replied. "I hope the maid turned up the AC or you'll be roasting tonight."

"I could open the windows," Hyi said as they stepped into the elevator. "I slept the other night with the windows open. First time, I think. Well, definitely, for me, I mean."

Smiling, Athrun wondered if the tall glass windows even opened at all. It had taken some time to get used to sleeping with open windows if only because of the chance of unscheduled rain.

No sooner were they in the room than Hyi was unpacking. He'd bought a handful of shirts and a few other strange things that looked like clothing. And bags of dried fruit, and trinkets and just stuff that seemed strange but Athrun trusted Hyi to put it all to use.

"Your gift is in here somewhere," Hyi said as he dug. "I guess it's the first thing I've ever given anyone.

He paused in his digging with a thoughtful little smile on his face.

"I hope you like it," he said.

"I'm sure I will," Athrun replied. He wandered over to the windows to check. They probably could open, but it didn't look easy. Cranking up the air-conditioning would be easier and he did that instead. Perhaps they'd need that beautiful, multicolor blanket after all.

"Found it!" Hyi was holding up a small bundle wrapped in tissue paper.

"Mmm?" Athrun was a little surprised, if only because he had a very similar bundle in his jacket pocked. Two, actually, though the earrings were also in a little drawstring bag.

"Here..." Hyi got to his feet and walked to over to where Athrun was lingering by the heating and cooling controls. He could feel the air come on and it sent a chill down his spine.

"Thank you," Athrun said softly. He felt both nervous and the peculiar fuzz of wonderful surprise. He opened the tissue bundle carefully and found himself staring at a beautiful bracelet made of wooden beads and coconut pieces, all brightly painted and strung thickly together. Despite everything, it was a very masculine bracelet and Athrun could imagine himself wearing it. Many of the more indigenous soldiers wore similar decorations with their uniforms. Pride in Orb was always encouraged, and as long as jewelry wasn't distracting, it was permitted.

Carefully, he put it around his wrist and admired it. "It's really nice."

"You really like it?" Hyi questioned.

Athrun nodded. He had a choice to make. As much as he had intended the bracelet he'd picked out as a gift for Kira, he could replace it easily from a local shop and Kira would never know. Kira would never know if he didn't get anything at all, or got something else unrelated.

And Hyi was watching him with such a fragile expression that Athrun figured there was only one choice. It would be a white lie. It wouldn't hurt anyone, and really, he should have been thinking of Hyi to begin with. He just hadn't thought...

Hyi had gone to think things through. Now Athrun rather thought he needed to go and do the same thing.

"I have something for you, too," Athrun said with a little smile. "Here..."

Hyi's eyes went wide as he took the tissue bundle from Athrun.

"Really?" he questioned. Athrun nodded. And felt kinda horrible. Hyi and Kira had such similar coloring, thankfully, that it would work well on Hyi. And there were a few orange accents in with the purple and blue of the beads and coconut. Athrun had tried to find one with more of a gold theme, but had failed. Apparently, whoever made the bracelets lacked anything metallic. Which made sense, but was a little frustrating for Athrun when he'd been looking.

Using the same care that Athrun had, Hyi unwrapped the bracelet inside and rewarded Athrun with the widest smile he'd ever seen on the young man. Even though he should have been, he wasn't expecting the full body hug that followed, nor how long it lingered.

"Thank you," Hyi said. "It's just like the one I got you. Though..."

"Mmm?"

"Oh, it's..." Hyi let go and put the bracelet on and went back to his bag. "I actually got one for myself, too, so now I have an extra. It's almost the same colors, too."

Athrun felt infinitely more awkward. He'd made the wrong decision. Totally wrong. If he would have just held on to the bracelet, he'd have one for Kira and Hyi would have been none the wiser.

"You could give it to your friend," Hyi continued. "To Kira."

"Huh?"

Hyi gave him the third bracelet and Athrun turned it over on his hands. Blues, some purple, and just a hint of a gold metal-flake paint around the holes in the coconut shells. It was exactly the bracelet he'd been after for Kira.

"But..." Athrun tried to hand the bracelet back, but Hyi shook his head.

"The colors are better for him," Hyi said. "And... you were so busy looking for me that you probably didn't have anybody else on your mind."

"Thank you," Athrun said as he re-wrapped the bracelet and put it back into his pocket. And then he pulled Hyi to him, holding him close.

"Athrun?"

"Mmm?"

"Thanks."


Waking up with Hyi was very different than waking up with Kira, even when the night had been completely innocent. And the night had most definitely been innocent.

However, where Kira lacked any concept of personal space even after waking, Hyi would skitter off to the far side of the bed and apologize.

Mostly, for his part of the plan, Athrun just had to be patient and go about business as usual. Though that did mean an afternoon with Elijah and the evening with Cagalli.

He had twenty-eight text messages from Erica, including a cryptic comment that the cavalry had arrived.

"Want to get breakfast?" Hyi asked as he scrambled to get dressed. "If we wait, all the good stuff will be gone."

Athrun chuckled. He really didn't think he was supposed to be eating the hotel breakfast since he wasn't a registered guest.

"I suppose," Athrun said after a moment. "And..."

"Mmm?" Hyi looked at him strangely.

"Well, it'll be easier to coordinate if I'm not out here with you all the time," Athrun explained.

"You don't want..."

"Let me finish," Athrun interrupted. "My apartment is a two bedroom and I haven't even seen it in a week. It's on base and aside from the occasional Murasame or crew party, it's quiet."

Hyi blinked at him, unsure.

"Do you want to stay with me instead of here?" Athrun had agonized about the question all night. It was definitely something potentially life changing, for both of them, and he didn't want Hyi to feel uncomfortable or take it the wrong way. "You don't have to - it's just an option."

Hyi was quiet for a very long moment. Athrun began to feel sick - he'd apparently asked the wrong question.

"Live with you?"

"Well, in the spare bedroom..." Athrun wasn't entirely sure where the problem was so he didn't know how to spin it. "You'd have your own key and everything - I wouldn't expect you for dinner every night or anything."

"Live with you?" There was a tone shift. Hopefully a good one.

"Yeah..." Athrun nodded.

"Today?"

"Well..." Athrun hadn't quite been expecting that. "If you want, but I'll need to clean a little and there's not really any furniture and I have haro parts all over the one desk..."

"Haro parts?"

"Yeah," Athrun said with a little smile. He knew just what to give Hyi now. And Veia, since he was thinking about it. Hopefully he'd get a chance.

He took a moment to explain exactly what a haro was, before pausing and waiting for confirmation that indeed, Hyi had parsed the original question fully.

"I... You want me to live with you?"

Athrun nodded again. "Just for however long you want to stay around," he added.

Hyi echoed the nod this time.

"And you'd be free to do what you need to," Athrun added. "Normally I just sit behind a desk most of the day. No mobile suits, no excitement. Sometimes I argue with my secretary about what to order for lunch..."

Hyi had a soft smile on his face. Athrun almost didn't want to spoil it.

"We'll have to split the chores," he added. "I don't have a maid."

"That's okay," Hyi said. "I can learn. But... breakfast now? We can... talk more?"

"Of course," Athrun said with a smile. "And before you pack anything up, at least come see where I live. It's not big and it's not particularly fancy, which is what I prefer. The big homes can go to the guys with families and all."

"And then?"

"You pack up and move in," Athrun said. "And I teach Elijah how to fight in his new machine."

"It's really okay?"

"Well, I'm sure there'll be some form to fill out for having a civilian with me," Athrun said after a moment. "But since you're already Erica's guest, it shouldn't be a problem."

He shrugged. He'd deal with it. He wasn't quite sure how he'd tell Cagalli or Kira, though. He knew exactly what they'd say - that this wasn't like him and that he was too much of a loner and what if it didn't work out...

Athrun didn't want to worry about that. He just wanted to give Hyi a chance to do whatever he needed to do.


"Hey, I'm going to hang this up here," Athrun said as they got into the car. Careful he undid his bracelet and attached it to the rearview mirror.

"You don't want to wear it?" Hyi asked him, unable to hide a frown.

"It won't work under a pilot suit," Athrun replied. That was only part of it - it also left marks on his skin and rattled in his sleep. But mostly, it just wouldn't work under a tight pilot suit.

"I guess I'll need to put mine somewhere, too," Hyi said. He leaned back for a moment. Once they were out of the parking garage, he started to fiddle with the radio. Today was an electric rock mix.

He didn't live too far from the hotel - nothing was terribly far on Onogoro - and they were at his apartment building in minutes.

"This?" Hyi asked curiously.

"Yeah," Athrun replied. "Told you it wasn't much."

"It's nice," Hyi commented. "Not a huge building." He eyed the brick two-story. It was older, and while Cagalli had once called it charming and been surprised that it had survived everything, Athrun preferred 'older'.

"C'mon," Athrun said as he got out of the car. "See if you like the inside. I'll probably need to clean out the fridge..."

"It's probably fine..."

That, Athrun wasn't so sure of. And again, Athrun found himself comparing Hyi and Gai. Where Gai's approval was silent and implicit, Hyi's was verbal and expressed. Honestly, Athrun wasn't sure which he preferred, but at least with Hyi, he knew where he stood.

The first thing Athrun thought when he unlocked the door was that he needed to open a window. He turned on a couple of lights and waited. Hyi was cautious with his movements, looking at everything. Of course, he'd probably never gotten to live in a place like this before.

Athrun opened the kitchen window and checked the fridge. Oh yes, it very much needed some work.

"Athrun?"

"What's up?"

"Nothing, you're just quiet," Hyi said. No bugs, at least, and nothing had sprung a leak. Athrun was pleased.

"Mmm, you're looking around and I'm making sure that nothing decided to leak," Athrun explained. "I'll show you where the bedrooms are, though. There's even a bit of a hallway."

"Is that strange?" Hyi questioned.

"For most apartments? Yes," Athrun gestured for Hyi to follow him. He felt bad that the place was so boring, but he just... Well, he supposed he hadn't quite ever thoroughly settled in.


He took a deep breath before stepping onto the tangle of runways. He didn't just have Elijah today - he had Gai as well, in Blue Frame, sizing him up in Justice.

Blue Frame was an intimidating machine from the tips of its fins to its feet. And Gai's reputation was legendary.

Elijah, on the other hand, was known for his looks, not his skills. Yet he was Serpent Tail's second. So there had to be something...

"Sending coordinates," Athrun broadcast. He'd cleared the area where he'd originally sparred with Hyi in Gale Strike. It was a good spot - both as far as terrain and airspace went. They'd have a good fight. Though if Gai was going to watch, he hadnít needed to pull out Blue Frame. After all, that hadn't been part of the plan.

But neither had asking Hyi to move in with him. That was... well, it surprised him that he'd even asked Hyi, and that Hyi had accepted. But it was such an obvious thing to do - they got along well, and Hyi still needed a measure of guidance and would for awhile, until he got used to his own existence. And even if Hyi decided not to stay in Orb, well, he'd always have somewhere to come back to.

Cagalli had once told him that, and hugged him, and...

That's probably why he returned. There was nothing for him in the PLANTs but memories, after all.

"Got 'em," Elijah replied. "Gonna try to fly there."

"You're going to fly there," Athrun told him. He had Justice's own flight system to manipulate and without worrying about Elijah, he sped past the grey and teal machine.

Elijah arrived not long after he did, however, and transformed Vent Savior back from its mobile armor mode, hovering in the air for just a second before attacking. Athrun blocked him, smiling. He hadn't even needed to say anything.

"Good," he replied. He wondered just how much fun he could have. Though he knew the rule - no more than five hours of repairs or risk being stuck doing it all himself, from his bank account. But this would be good data... He was recording everything.

"I'm having trouble monitoring altitude and..."

Athrun had to stop himself from hitting the machine in the head with a beam saber. Not out of annoyance, but because Elijah was distracted.

"Don't worry about that and worry about the mobile suit in front of you," Athrun told him firmly. He grabbed old the Vent Savior and threw it. It took Elijah a second too long to react and the mobile suit crashed into the water.

Elijah swore and thrashed about in the shallows before getting himself upright. The Vent Savior was probably fine, but Elijah was flustered now. He got off the ground and lunged at Athrun, but it was easy to have Justice slip to the side and meet Elijah's beam saber with one of its shin beams.

"That's not even..." Elijah started. "I don't know what that is."

"Justice," Athrun said, smiling. "Infinite Justice."

Elijah tried again, but was deflected. However, it wasn't any huge lack of skill with the Vent Savior, just that for the time being, Justice was faster and stronger and Athrun knew the terrain well.

Actually, Athrun thought that Elijah was doing quite well. They stayed out for nearly an hour, before Elijah signaled that his battery was getting perilously low.

"That's good for one day," Athrun said. "Let's go see if Gai's still waiting for you."

"Mmm, he might be," Elijah said. He made transforming Vent Savior look good and Athrun lingered behind him in Justice, just in case he did have any power issues before getting back to the hangar. However, he did not.

Blue Frame was still standing there, intimidating, thought its head cameras adjusted to watch them land.

Athrun realized he hadn't heard so much as a sound from the machine. And...

"Where is Gai, anyway?" Athrun questioned once he descended.

Elijah's eyes went wide.

"How did you know?" His hair was stuck to his head from his helmet and it took a good shake and raking his fingers through it to get it unstuck. Athrun did the same. They probably looked a bit like a matched pair.

Athrun gave him a little smile. Tactics, after all. Though there hadn't been any mention of an additional decoy.

"Gai had to go meet up with someone," Elijah explained. "A Junk Guild ship came in with some friends of ours, but they had to sneak in too."

Athrun frowned. "We need to all be following the same plan..."

"Don't worry," Elijah replied. "Blue Frame isn't just a decoy. Kazahana is working on another little project up there."

Nothing about that made Athrun feel better. He'd initially doubted that everyone could work peacefully together and sure enough, already there changes being made. If Gai hadn't told Eleven about the deviations, then everything was going to go astray.

Athrun didn't think there was any reason to keep complaining to Elijah about things, however. None of it was Elijah's fault; he was merely following his leader's orders. And Elijah was actually to the note anyway.

Pausing before heading to go change, Athrun circled around to peek into the hangar the M1 Astray Socius Customs should have been parked in. They weren't there. Instead, there were Murasames.

"What's going on?" Athrun asked himself under his breath.

Maybe it was time to catch up with Erica and see just what was going on. Because he had the entire Orb military following him at the moment. There was absolutely no room for error.

Luckily, Erica was at her desk, typing frantically at her keyboard. No longer did she feign being a Natural. Not when it mattered, at least.

"Erica?"

"I don't know if I have time, Athrun. There's a lot going on."

"I know," he replied. He hadn't bothered changing. Aside from a couple of very curious women on the elevator, no one had said a word about his pilot suit. And they'd been appreciative, if nothing else.

"Then..."

"I need to know what's going on," Athrun said firmly. "Things have been changed."

"We're a bit ahead of schedule, that's all," Erica replied. "The decoy machines are going together easily, and all the others will be in place by tonight."

"Tonight?" The timeline was three days.

"I sent you messages," Erica said. Athrun reached for his phone. Another couple dozen missed text messages, a call, and then... "What have you been doing, anyway? Your card registered at Hyi's hotel last night."

"Yeah," Athrun replied. "He's going to come live with me. "

Erica stopped typing and stared at him for a long, long moment.

"That was quick." She smiled. "Anyway, our request for one Junk Guild team turned into a whole... well, let's just say there's another group out there who isn't terribly fond of the pair that attacked two nights ago."

"Erica?"

Athrun blinked at the woman who'd just wandered into the office behind him. She was beautiful, a bit older, and wore a lab coat over a jump suit that wasn't buttoned one button above her waist. But it didn't exactly look bad, either. Just... wow.

"Hi, Athrun," she said with a little smile. It took him a second, but then he remembered her. She was with the Junk Guild. And was Erica's best friend.

"Trust us, Athrun," Erica said.

"Fine," Athrun replied. He settled in the hall to sit and read all of the texts. Sure enough, everything was speeding up and he'd been informed properly. And Eleven knew, and Serpent Tail knew... Athrun quickly typed out a few messages to the various commands and patrol platoons. No huge changes for them.

He was not in a good mood when by the time he wandered into Cagalli's residence for his shift at her side.

She made the mistake of asking about his day. He made the mistake of telling her. They both ended up lying on her bed, wondering how things would end this time.

"You said something about that guy..."

"Hyi."

"Yeah, Hyi... He was up..."

Athrun told her the city name, and talked a bit about the town.

"Ah... I haven't been there in ages. It's always such a mess to travel now. Unless you want to be my bodyguard?" Cagalli gave him a bit of a pleading look. Gone was the wild desert warrior he'd heard tales of. Instead, despite her cravings for adventure and running around fighting the bad guys, she was stuck in an invisible cage.

"Whenever you'd like," he told her. "Might have a tag-a-long, though."

"Hyi?"

"Hyi. I hope he's settled in okay..."

"Mmm?"

Athrun figured that sooner was better than later to tell her. It wasn't really her business anyway, except that it was. If she was too strongly opposed, then... he wasn't sure what he'd do.

"Hyi's going to stay with me for awhile," Athrun said. "Just til he gets on his feet here."

Golden eyes were staring right into his a second later. She'd flipped on top of him and had him pinned down with both arms and legs.

"You asked him to move in?" she questioned. "Are you two...?"

"Not at all," Athrun interjected. "Don't worry..."

"I'm not worried," Cagalli replied. She didn't budge. "I just want to know. Because if you are..."

"We're not."

"But do you like him?" Cagalli continued questioning. "He's pretty good-looking. Sort of looks like Gai from Serpent Tail, don't you think?"

"He does, yes," Athrun said. "I think they're related, actually. But the situation is a bit like yours and Kira's and it's better not to draw attention to it."

"You didn't answer my question, Athrun Zala."

"That's because I don't have an answer for you, Cagalli Hibiki." It was a cruel response, and one that Cagalli wasn't really expecting. She rolled off to the side and curled away from him.

Athrun just stared at the ceiling for a bit longer.

" I didn't mean it like that," he finally said.

"I know."

"I won't do it again."

"You can if I deserve it. That's who I really am, isn't it?"

"No," Athrun said as he rolled to put his arms around her and hold her close. "You're Cagalli Yula Athha, too. You're always going to be both."

"It made me think about the Socius," Cagalli said softly. "It must be so hard for them..."

Athrun shook his head, even though she couldn't see him. "No... it's not hard for them at all. They are what they are, and that's all. There's no self-discovery for them, no wondering why they exist. They exist for the reason they were created, and they can't change that."

"And all that talk of copies?"

"Is very real," Athrun said. "But please don't think about it. It'll drive you crazy if you do."

"I don't want to think about it," Cagalli replied with a little shiver. Athrun reached back to snag the edge of the blanket and pull it over them both.

Athrun knew he was going to think about it anyway.

He was still holding her in the morning when Kira returned.

He sped the entire way home.

It looked like Hyi had moved in with little trouble, however there were now things in places that Athrun wasn't sure he wanted things. All of the haro parts had been delicately moved over to the kitchen table, and...

Athrun peeked into the spare bedroom -- Hyi's room, only to find it empty. But the car Hyi was using was in the driveway, so...

He hesitated only a moment before pushing his own bedroom door open. Sure enough, Hyi had forgone the futon in his bedroom for Athrun's bed. He was sprawled, with the covers half-pushed-off, and seemingly oblivious to the world.

Not entirely for the first time, a train of improper thoughts and images rushed through Athrun's mind. Hyi had to know what he was doing. He couldn't be quite that naive. He...

Athrun was about to close the door again when those blue eyes fluttered open.

"Athrun?"

"I'm here." He stepped into the room and took off his jacket. He let it hit the floor - the earrings and bracelet were now with their owners, so he had nothing in there to worry about. His phone could break for all he cared.

This was a day off from Elijah, too, who was supposed to be making arrangements for heading back into orbit. Fake plans, but plans. And Hyi... It was a day for Hyi to run some tests for Erica in the afternoon, without Athrun. Athrun... had plans to do paperwork, eventually. His inbox was probably starting to be terrifying.

"Are you okay?" Hyi asked. "I waited..."

"Yeah, I was just really tired, so Cagalli let me stay in one of the rooms there." It wasn't entirely a lie, that.

"You're sure?"

"I'm fine," Athrun said. "I'm sorry I didn't call to let you know that I was going to be late, but I didn't realize until it was far too late to be calling. I figured you'd be sleeping and I know how hard it can be to sleep in a strange place."

Hyi nodded and rubbed his eyes.

Apparently he wasn't going to offer an explanation for why he was in Athrun's bed, and Athrun was refraining from asking. There was too much going on and he was just going to have to relax and trust everyone. Nothing good would happen otherwise - for the time being, everyone was a part of one team and he had to believe in his teammates. And he had to check his phone more often to keep up with them.

"Today I take Gale Strike out and show it to the Representative, right?" Hyi questioned.

"Mm-hmm. And she spent most of last night talking about it. Be careful, or you'll lose it for real," Athrun noted with a chuckle.

"I have to let her fly it?" Hyi frowned and pushed off the blankets, stretching a moment later.

"Only for a bit. It's a two-fold step - perhaps it'll draw out our targets and if not, it might mean they're not after Cagalli at all. Or the Gale Strike. But otherwise, she's a perfect sitting duck..." If it wouldn't be for the well-staged presence of Four, Six and Thirteen just inside adjacent hangars, waiting, Athrun would have vetoed this part of the plan. While Lady Sahaku had very publicly left the end of the meetings to visit her summer home, her attendants weren't with her. Instead, it was Eleven, Seven and Veia. And the small guard of M1 Astrays sent to guard over the property included two hastily re-painted, stripped down custom machines. The extra equipment was being delivered and re-assembled via a fleet of lawn service trucks.

And Athrun wasn't terribly sure how Gold Frame had been moved, except under cover of mirage colloid and by someone who was willing to crawl into that terrible machine.

"Then..."

"Well, she isn't, really," Athrun corrected. "She'll be fine in a Strike."

"But the OS..." Hyi shook his head. "It's..."

"Not a problem. The Vent Saviorís entire operating system was about ninety-five percent identical to what I remember from my Savior. Even the original Strike had a switchover option to run a Natural OS and..." Athrun trailed off. He should have realized sooner that there was one more carbon human running around Orb. One who would have delivered the Strike's OS right along with himself. He shivered. That was best ignored entirely - no need to even suggest it to anyone around Mwu if they didn't think of it first.

"Athrun?"

He shook his head. "Nothing. Just overthinking. But she'll be fine for a few minutes if she needs to be. She's a good pilot. And she won't let anything happen to your machine. It's been a very long time since anyone managed to shoot her down."

He couldn't help a little smile.

Hyi nodded and finally crawled from the bed. While Athrun had at least showered, he hadn't changed clothing and rather needed to. He was starting to think that he should just pick a closet at Cagalli's and fill it, if this sort of thing was going to keep happening. Though it wouldn't be fair to Hyi to have him move in and then never be around.

Besides, once Kira went back to the PLANTs, Athrun didn't think he'd have as much reason to be visiting.

"Anyway," Athrun said after a moment. "I need to change and get to work. I'll see you in the evening if nothing exciting happens, or..."

"Wait, you're not coming to see me-- Cagalli in the Gale Strike?" Hyi asked.

Shaking his head, Athrun moved over to rummage around in the closet for a clean uniform. He'd probably need to have some dry cleaning done at some point. Maybe his secretary could pick it up, if she was still speaking to him. Then again, maybe she'd just gone on vacation since he wasn't around to make sure she wasn't just sitting there playing virtual solitaire all day.

"I need to actually go do my job for a day or two," Athrun said. Pants, shirt, jacket... Socks and underwear, too, from the dresser. All standard issue. Nothing worse than needing to explain undershort preferences to a supply sergeant. "I don't want to even think about what my desk looks like, but I think if I just sit and deal with it, I'll get through it all. Or bring some of it home, if you don't mind me being a total bore."

"But what am I...?" Hyi started, only to trail off when Athrun started undressing.

"Just be nice to Cagalli, and don't patronize her, and you'll be fine. Treat her as a skilled pilot, not as a princess, and she'll listen to you," Athrun explained. Old clothes off, new clothes on, sort of an art-form, really, though previously it had been from flight suit to uniform and back again.

"I don't know..."

"Erica will be there, too," Athrun interrupted. Maybe he'd been coddling Hyi too much. Hyi needed to get used to doing things on his own. Of course, considering, he probably just needed to learn what all the things were that he could do on his own so that he could get used to them.

"Okay..."

"Good." Dressed, he glanced in his dresser mirror and smoothed some flyaway strands of hair. Hyi was still standing there bleary-eyed.

"You can make coffee," Athrun told him. He gave Hyi a friendly little pat on the shoulder and then headed back towards the door. "Have a good day."

"You too," Hyi said.

The entire distance to his office, he debated if he should have read between the lines more.


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