The remainder of the year passed quickly. Christmas was a sombre affair, the whole country seeming disinterested in celebrating much. Lacus could hardly blame them. The memory of the war was too fresh, the city itself still rebuilding, and the entire thing lent an air of sadness to the city.
Christmas aside, the New Year also lacked celebration. Too many families were broken, scarred, and fractured for there to be much excitement about the future. Their own household was no exception.
While Cagalli had long since gone home, duty calling for her to return, the rest of them remained at Captain Ramius' mansion while their own home was rebuilt. Kira's father had taken a break from his travelling, wanting to be nearer his son, and even Athrun had yet to return to his own home. Nobody really wanted to leave Kira.
Lacus knew that that fact was not lost to Kira, and while she was grateful for the help, she did have to wonder if it would not be better simply to return to their lives and let him return to his. Part of the issue was that there was entirely too much that she didn't know. Was Athrun's presence more helpful, or more hindering? Sometimes, the latter seemed true, but right now...she really wanted to believe in the former. Athrun had known him longest, after all.
Ever since the visit to the specialist, Kira had been...sedentary was the best word for it. He disliked going out, and in fact moving around much at all. Lacus was pretty sure some part of him hated the idea of using any sort of walking aid, so to avoid it, he just...did nothing.
To make matter worse, her agent had called. Apparently, they thought it was a good idea for her to go on tour for the new year. It was not something she did very often, especially not since the end of the first war, but right now, with tensions still so high, a peacekeeping tour would be nothing but beneficial to their efforts. The problem was, she agreed with them.
"Lacus?" Athrun's voice carried softly through the door.
Straightening from where she was slumped on the sofa in the small sitting room, she called back, "Come in, Athrun!"
"Where's Kira?" Athrun asked, sitting down across from her. Of course that would be the first question. "Is he...?"
"Yes," she said. He barely left the balcony these past few days, except to eat and sleep.
"...how is he? How are you?"
"I am well," she said. "Better than Kira, at the very least."
"And...have you decided yet?"
Lacus hesitated. She had confided in Athrun and Cagalli about the tour request, but they still hadn't told Kira. "I...do not think I can leave him," she finally said. She hated to say it, she wanted to go, but Kira was important, too.
Athrun sighed, then nodded slowly. "I think the tour is a good idea," he said slowly, "but I agree that Kira's just not ready for you to leave."
Lacus smiled sadly. "Yes."
"Lacus?" he asked softly. At her look, he continued, "How do you think he's doing? Really?"
That was not a question even she really wanted to face. Avoiding it would get them nowhere, though, so she met his eyes and said, "Not well."
Athrun's lips quirked down, and he shrugged. "No sense hiding it, is there?"
"I do not believe lying will benefit anyone," she said softly in agreement.
"What happened? He was doing so well after we saw the specialist."
"I spoke to his doctor," she said. "She warned me that there would be a lot of ups and downs, especially given the nature of his vision loss. The best thing we can do is be there for him, and support his recovery at his own pace."
"I get that, Lacus, but...he doesn't seem to be healing."
She pondered his words, words that had been on her mind, also, for a long while. Finally, she said, "Perhaps he should speak to a psychologist." It had been on her mind a lot lately, but the very idea of suggesting it to Kira made her wary. She did not think he would take it well.
"I'm not sure he'd agree," Athrun said, voicing her concerns.
"Perhaps that is for us to work on, then," Lacus said softly.
Athrun nodded slowly. "You're right."
How they were going to do that, she had no idea.
On the other side of the door, Kira released the handle and turned away.
Lacus and Athrun talked for a while longer, then joined forces to wrangle the hungry children for lunch. Reverend Malchio and Caridad laid out the meal, while they got dirty hands washed and everyone seated at the long table.
"Has anyone seen Kira?" Lacus asked, glancing at the empty spot beside her.
When she was greeted by shrugs and head shaking, she smiled sadly and stood up. He usually at least came to meals, even if he didn't eat much. "I shall go find him. Please, do not wait for us."
Athrun half-rose, as though to follow, but she shook her head. She would let him know if she needed him after she found Kira.
In the end, finding him did not prove difficult. While he was not on the balcony, a surprise in and of itself, heading out there did lead her to him. The balcony had a fantastic view of the beach, and that was precisely where Kira was.
It was bit of a walk down there, but it was not hard to spot Kira when she made it to the beach. He was standing at the edge of the surf, just above the wave line. For an instant, she felt a flash of concern that he was going to walk straight into the water, but she stopped herself from rushing forward and instead made herself look.
He was standing perfectly at the edge of the wet sand, not moving a muscle as the waves licked at the very toe of his shoes. A particularly large wave came in, heralding the incoming tide, and he stepped back, just out of range. As the water flowed out, he stepped forward, following it, only to step back as the next wave came, again avoiding wet shoes by mere centimetres. She watched this for several minutes, feeling a wave of pride for his ability to navigate even without his sight.
Eventually, she resumed walking, taking care to make noise so that he noticed her. The moment he did, it was obvious, his form tensing and head snapping towards her. Before he panicked, she smiled, letting it leak into her voice.
He relaxed instantly, smiling to greet her. "Lacus." Stepping farther from the water, he used his cane to navigate towards her, meeting her partway. With one hand, he reached out, and she guided it to her face without being asked.
"Supper is ready," she said, after several long moments of allowing him to trace her features. "Did you not realise the time?"
He was silent for a long moment before he dropped his hand away, sighing. "I did, I just...needed to think." He seemed to do that a lot, lately. "Sorry if I worried you."
Hooking her arm through his, Lacus stayed silent, letting him decide where to direct the conversation. It was something she was good at.
"Lacus, am I...a burden on you?" he finally asked, voice barely audible over the rolling surf.
"Kira... Of course you could never be a burden—"
"Don't—just, please. Tell me the truth."
She hesitated, thinking, then gave his arm a squeeze. "No, Kira. We have a difficult path to walk, but you are not a burden."
His smile was weak, but genuine.
"Will you show me how you were doing that?" she asked on a whim. At the small, confused frown he sent her, she elaborated, "With the surf. Walking up to it, without getting wet."
For a moment, she thought he was going to tell her she was crazy, but then he smiled. "Sure. Close your eyes and come with me."
It was a strange feeling, walking at his side knowing neither of them could see a thing, but she trusted him to guide her, so she never once peaked. Before long, he stopped them, and she could hear the water roiling just a short distance away.
"Follow my lead," he said, "and listen."
She did as instructed, focussing on her ears to tell her when the water was approaching. The first few times, he had to tug her away, but eventually, she started to get the hang of it, and began reacting almost as well as he did—though not quite. It was still only his responses that kept their feet from getting soaked. It was strange, but also...liberating. She knew she could open her eyes at any moment and just look, but she chose not to, instead allowing herself this brief immersion into his world.
They stayed like that for over an hour, moving further and further up the beach as the tide came in, until the sun began to set, and a concerned Athrun came and sought them out.
And, Lacus thought, she learned something that day.
"Athrun?" At the soft sound of Kira's voice, Athrun blinked the sleep out of his eyes and sat partway up. The room was almost pitch black, but he could just make out the shape of Kira, laying on his own bed across the room. "Are you awake?"
"Yeah, yeah, I am." Mostly. He had just been dropping off, but now he was up. "Everything okay?" Kira didn't usually wake him up—this early, anyway.
"Am I hurting Lacus?"
That was not what Athrun had been expecting, at all. For a moment, all he could do was stare into the darkness, mouth slightly agape as he sought words. "...what on earth, Kira?"
"I don't want her to be the reason she misses her tour."
It seemed to be a night of Kira blindsiding him, because once again, Athrun found himself speechless. He thought they had all agreed not to tell Kira about it at all, so how...? Or, rather, who? Had Lacus broken down? Cagalli? If they had, it was...well, that was their business. Or, it was Lacus', but Cagalli could have quite the big mouth on her.
"I overheard you two earlier." Oh. "You didn't even...tell me."
Athrun took a deep, steadying breath. Words. He needed words. It was too bad he was so damn bad at them.
"Uh, I, well..." Words, Athrun! Words! "Kira, I'm sorry. Lacus thought it would be better to stay home for now."
"For me." It wasn't a question.
"She should go. I...I don't want to hold her back, Athrun. Your lives shouldn't be put on hold because of me."
"Kira," he said, more firmly this time. "Nobody's life is on hold. We could all use this break." It didn't feel like a lie. "Lacus too. She worked as hard as anyone."
"The war isn't over yet, Athrun. Not completely. It's our job to see to it that hostilities disappear, not just get covered up. That's the point of the tour, right?"
Damn Kira and his big brain. Of course he'd see through that. "...yes, Kira. It is."
"So she needs to go—she must want to go. It's important, Athrun."
It was sort of hard to argue with him when he was blatantly right—as usual. Instead of trying to find words, Athrun slid out of bed and made his way over to Kira's—though not without stubbing his toe on some unidentified object. At his quiet yelp, Kira sat upright.
"Just...stubbed my toe," he muttered. "Can't see a thing."
"I wonder what that's like."
Athrun hesitated. Was that a joke? He honestly couldn't always tell anymore, and the wrong answer could be disastrous. Unable to decide, he stayed silent and strode the rest of the way over, sitting on the edge of his bed.
"I don't want her to go, Athrun," Kira said softly, "but I know she needs to."
"She doesn't want to leave you either, Kira. It's not that important. I'm sure you guys can work something else out instead."
"But it is, Athrun. We both know that."
Reaching over, Athrun rested a hand on Kira's shoulder. "You don't always have to sacrifice for everyone else, Kira. You can be selfish sometimes."
Kira's breath hitched at his words, and Kira groped around with his good arm, locating Athrun's side before leaning into him. "No, Athrun, some things are just too important. I-I have to tell her to go. Please, help me convince her."
"Okay—okay, Kira. We can discuss this more in the morning, okay? I promise." But right now, they both needed rest. Patting Kira's thigh, he moved to stand.
"Athrun? I...I think it's going to be a bad night." That admission spoke painfully of what had to be going on in his mind. While Athrun himself often suffered from nightmares brought about by years of soldiering, he couldn't even imagine what went on in the mind of his pacifist best friend.
"Do you want me to stay?"
Kira didn't say anything, just laid back down. Taking the hint, Athrun stole a pillow and used it to prop himself up against the headboard. Closing his eyes, he was just dropping off, again, when Kira's voice once again cut through the silence. "This reminds me of your seventh birthday."
Athrun took a long moment to consider the event, eventually bringing up the incident in question. "You stole that horror movie out of your dad's collection, and smuggled it over to my place."
"Where we watched it in the middle of the night."
"And then you were terrified and spent the night in my sleeping bag clinging to me," Athrun finished, chuckling. "I'm still pretty sure you didn't even sleep an hour."
"Your mom came in and found us. I'm pretty sure she knew exactly what had happened."
"We're lucky she never told either of our fathers."
Kira snorted a laugh. "Yeah, might have made it harder to do the next time."
"Why did we keep doing that?" Athrun mused aloud. "You hated horror movies."
"I think we just thought it was cool. Kids are dumb."
Athrun shrugged, despite Kira not being able to see him. "Probably."
"Thanks. For...you know."
"Yeah. Good night, Kira."
If only it were that simple, but it never was. Athrun had no idea how much later it was when he was jostled awake by Kira's thrashing. Immediately aware of what it was that had awakened him, he took a deep breath and carefully shifted over. It was dangerous to wake Kira by touching him, but talking to him was usually okay.
Before he could do anything, Kira lashed out violently, swinging his right arm. With a cry of pain, he bolted upright, grabbing the cast with his good hand. "Athrun? Athrun!"
"I'm here, Kira," he said carefully. He had long since learned that sudden sounds and movements were dangerous, so he took care to speak quietly.
"Where? Athrun, I can't—"
He placed a hand next to Kira, making a point of disturbing the bed so Kira could feel it. A moment later, Kira's good hand grabbed his arm. With that hurdle crossed, Athrun slid further down the bed and carefully pulled Kira into a hug. Thankfully, there was no resistance.
"It's really you, right? I'm not...dreaming? I don't want to fight you anymore, Athrun. Please, I don't want to fight you. Athrun, I can't see you."
"I'm here; it's me. We aren't fighting anymore," he assured. "We won't ever fight again." Because they'd both found their answer at last.
Kira let out a shuddering breath. "I'm sorry, Athrun. I never wanted to fight you."
"Same goes for me," Athrun said softly. "But it's in the past. We've moved on."
Kira nodded against his shoulder, but stayed silent. Athrun was dropping off to sleep, again, when Kira spoke.
"Athrun? I...I think I might go for a walk. I don't think I can sleep."
Bleary eyed, Athrun sat up slowly. "Okay, yeah. Let's go." He knew Kira's sleep schedule was off, ever since he lost his eyesight, and he tried to be patient with him. His circadian rhythm couldn't regulate itself very well with him completely missing his eyes. Not his fault.
"You can stay and sleep, Athrun."
"I'd rather go with you." That, at least, was true.
Kira didn't argue, and together they got up, pulled on sweaters, and headed outside.
The beach was different at night, Athrun noted. Colder, and with the tide running high, they were forced to walk at the tide line, dried seaweed and driftwood crunching under their feet. They made slow progress, Kira carefully feeling his way with his cane, clenched tightly in his left hand, and Athrun squinting at shapes in the dark.
The wind blowing in ruffled their hair and pierced their jackets, prompting Athrun to pull his closer to him. To the right, waves crashed against the shore, and the very air stank of salt.
"I'm sorry, Athrun. I should have been there for you more."
It took Athrun a moment to catch up to Kira's line of thought. The war, he must mean the war—and the personal war Athrun had waged with himself over what to do. He began shaking his head, before catching himself.
"Don't, Kira, it—none of that was your fault."
"...you asked me for my help, before the war happened. I should have tried to help you more. If I had been there half as much for you as you are for me..."
"Then this whole war could have turned out differently. As it is, we're all here, and the world is again on its way to peace. We can be grateful for that, if nothing else."
Kira sighed. "I...I know. I just don't want to be a burden on you anymore."
"Kira..." They'd been over this.
"Because I know Lacus needs to go," Kira continued, ignoring Athrun, "but...I don't want her to. If she does..."
"Kira, she doesn't have to go," he said quietly, "and there's nothing wrong with not being ready to be without her. But, if you do tell her to go, I'll be here for you, Kira. Like always."
Kira was silent for a long while after that, as they continued to walk along the beach. It was approaching daybreak already, but Athrun had no intention of pushing Kira. They would take this at his pace.
"I think I need to see a therapist."
Taking a deep breath, Athrun glanced at the water, where the first hint of sunrise was just peaking up over the waves. "I...think that would be a good idea, Kira." Closing his eyes, he bowed his head. "I think that's a really good idea."
This chapter was touching to write. Kira needs his friends.
Thanks to all who have reviewed. I know it's slow-going, but it means a lot to me.