Pandora154085: omg, you are so sharp about the whole Shinn & Shiho thing! Hahaha! Well… I have no intention of bringing Mayu into this story. Does that confirms your gut feeling? *sniggers* Read on my fellow reader, and I *hope* you would find out more. Would you prefer a more frequent update but of a short chapter length? Or this current pace & length is fine? Let me know :)

Sierrajuliet518: I swear I am getting old, what is 'HEA for Yzak and Shiho' means? Yes, poor Yzak... but he needs to suffer (ahem, more) so he will better understand what his mom meant when she warned him about being powerless and scolded him for refusing the opportunity of being in power. I believe this will make him more certain in his move against Lacus. You know, the old saying of always listen to your mother. OH YES! You mentioned before that you were curious about Dahlia? hehehe :P let me know what you think about her after reading this chapter? Anyway, if I update more often but the chapter is of bite-size (say a quarter or half of the usual chapter length), will that work for you?

Monkeyheart3: Hope you had a blast and found the previous chapter as an acceptable present :) You aren't the only one whose head is spinning. There will be more head-spinning things in this chapter *oops!* Let me know your thoughts about this one yeah? By the way, would you prefer a lengthy update but take 1 or 2 months to be ready? Or would you prefer bite-size update but at a more frequent pace?

Mardhi: Hi hi, welcome! I am glad to hear that you are enjoying the story and the Yzak I have created :) unfortunately, there isn't much in this chapter but i hope you enjoyed it nonetheless. I promise you, the sweet Yzak will return soon. HINT: WHERE DID THE DAMAGED KIMONO WENT? Would you like a shorter chapter but at a more frequent update pace? Hear from you soon!

Disclaimer: I do not own Gundam Seed and Gundam Seed Destiny.


New Romance: Chapter 7

[Giga-Float, Earth]

"We should… give her some motivation. Don't you think so?" The Commander glanced at the Squadron Leader who entered the surveillance room. While his face remains stoic as he saluted, he knew the taller and bigger man would say something to express his disapproval of the new 'recruit'.

The Commander knew the newcomer was a disruption to the system, to everyone's usual routine. 'Recruit' doesn't exist in this programme. It was something unheard of. Something that baffles all of them. The Squadron Leader and his team, and all the other teams. They were born into this programme, and brought up only to serve the cause. They exist only because of this programme and serve their purpose. The moment they could no longer be of use to further the cause, they cease to exist. No point in keeping something when it is no longer of assistance, no longer serve the purpose or any.

"She was supposed to find Ren and take her out." The Squadron Leader spoke as soon as the Commander nodded at him, allowing him to be at ease. Taking in what several screens were showing, he frowned. "No Mapping. She's running around blind."

The Commander shifted his attention to the screens in front of him. One was a surveillance, showing two women in separate pods. Each wearing a virtual reality gear over their head covering their eyes. Another screen displaying the virtual world they were immersed in.

He had Rose and Ren, the latter who was one of the best 'Mapper' around, placed in a modern day maze virtually. The maze was one of an urban landscape and the game was simple. One of them will be allowed to leave the maze. The exit will show itself when one is dead in that virtual world. He wanted to find out for himself whether the new recruit was still in touch with one of her 'gifts', a skill which all females in the programme has. Just like what the Squadron Leader has mentioned earlier.

If Rose can't use the 'Mapping' to pinpoint and seek out Ren in person, she won't be able to apply 'Mapping' on the battlefield and extend its reach to pinpoint enemy's location and accurately gauge enemy's next move and/or time to impact. Machines don't have signatures as strong as humans. A Mapper need to master the ability by mapping on humans before applying it to battlefield, to pinpoint non-flesh and blood entity like mobile suits and their arsenals.

A detailed scan showed the receptors were still intact, in her but dormant. He wanted to see for himself whether the recent encounter with her past lover will bring back her memories. He needed to know how much knowledge about her 'gifts' she has imparted to someone whose existence was thought as impossible. He also wanted to know if she has re-discover her 'gifts' once again.

After all, she was the gunner for the infamous Desert Tiger. He may be a Coordinator and one of the best pilots ZAFT has ever groomed but perfect accuracy while piloting such a complicated machine in Earth's atmosphere was impossible. No Coordinator, even with their enhanced reflexes and all that unnatural abilities, was able to achieve perfect accuracy. High scores, near perfect, compared to Naturals - yes, but no way a perfect score.

Desert Rose was able to do that because of the 'Mapping' which she used unknowingly. That was also why she was the one of the two female marksman in ZAFT.

The other was Shiho Fumiko Hahnenfuss.

Both of them had perfect score. Both of them bested the top three highest scorers in ZAFT's history. First being Dearka Elthman, son of Tad Elthman. It was given that BUSTER works for him. The late Le Creuset was smart to let ZAFT's best marksman had Earth Alliance's most advanced long-range G-Unit. That punk shot down many from a safe distance. Engaging face-off and close combat like his best friend, Yzak Joule, who happened to be second highest scorer, was just to seek some thrill from the mundane of firing from safety and distance.

The son of Ezalia Joule and the late Isaac Joule, Yzak Joule. He let his sharpshooter talent go to waste with his penchant for close-range combat. He was an arrogant punk just like his best friend but one with the short-fuse. However, the Commander wouldn't want to underestimate him. Not with the direction he was heading now. The spoilt and rash boy had grown quite a bit ever since he was thrown into politics, and now that he has a girl he likes.

Shiho Fumiko Hahnenfuss. Again.

Talking about the girl, she was … unique but controversial. It was to the extent of seeing his superiors having opposing views about her.

Shiho Fumiko Hahnenfuss, she was not supposed to exist. Her existence opened numerous, or perhaps, endless possibilities for the programme to progress. Whereas for Rose was a case similar to a child, who was separated from her parents and ended up in a foreign land with no identity.

The Commander wonders how she was coping with the bullet wounds.

"What use is there if she can't even do what a female should? Mapping is the fundamental skillset. She won't be of any help to the team."

The Commander re-focused his vision back on Rose, who was still 'running blind'. He wondered… will Desert Rose be able to 'Map' Housenka?

After all, both of them were rightfully Earth Alliance's assets. Even half-siblings have some sort of 'resemblance' and 'connection' to one another, don't they? Given one of the parent is of same enhancements and gene pool.

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[Onogoro Island, Earth]

"A good coffee for your thoughts?" Ramius appeared beside him and handed a mug of steaming caffeine beverage to him. The big guy offered her a small smile as he took the mug from her. With a gentle knock against hers as a toast, he sipped the beverage in silent and followed by a nod. "This is good. I thought you were at it with your jokes again."

The woman laughed, "it was a bad pun, but yes, I wasn't lying about the coffee."

He took another sip, enjoy the feeling of warm beverage sliding down his throat and warming his body. The weather was turning cold and despite of that, he prefered to be out here exposed to the chilly wind and sunlight. At least there was fresh air and the distant scenery of the surrounding mountains with the vast ocean as the background. He didn't like the filtered air of the underground hangar and the blinding white lights against lifeless concrete or metal walls.

The fresh air against the cold yet peaceful setting reminded him of Aisha. She was like the fresh air he enjoyed amidst the chilly temperature against the bright sun. She was cold to touch but a person full of warmth, joy and mischief. Having her around always make the hours and days more bearable. While he never understand why someone of her physique would have a lower body temperature to the point that it was cool like the fall winter wind would feel like on one's skin, he had always welcomed any physical contact with her. It never fails to lighten his mood or bring a smile on his face.

She would suddenly grab his hand and intertwined their fingers for a brief moment before letting go.

She was also the queen of random hugs, sneaking up on him whenever no one was noticing or around. He would jumped slightly at her 'attacks'. Pressing herself against his back, she wrapped her arms around his waist and rest her head against his back. "You are like a furnace, Andy. If I don't know you, I will really think you are having a high fever!"

At times, she would tease him. "Aww. My poor overgrown kitty is too tired to see an attack coming." He missed her very much. He still can't believe she was in front of him a couple of days ago.

"Too cold in there?" Ramius asked, she had that look again. She worries too much.

"Just wanted some fresh air." He replied, taking another sip of the hot beverage.

"The hot desert air smells better than the air-conditioning in there." That was what Aisha will say before she starts complaining about how scorching sun was going to ruin her fair complexion. Apart from all that, he knew she was afraid of cold. He will never forget how she always snuggle up to him on the bed. A blissful satisfied sigh never fail to slip past her lips she does that. Whenever he moves or turn to his side, she will return to cuddle or snuggle. Soon after, it became a natural thing to him to remain still while sleeping. He didn't want her sleep to be disrupted.

"Mwu got this from one of the popular cafeteria at his hometown. He got you a bag of it, on your table."

The big man toasted to her again, "thank you. I will go grab him later for that too."

The Captain of Archangel smiled. As she drank hers, she can't help but to wonder about his visit to the coffeehouse at Larange 4. Andrew seemed distant, as though something had happened.

"How was the honeymoon?" The Coordinator asked, while the woman's cheeks turned rosy at what he had said, or rather, implied. "It was just a weekend trip to visit his parents."

A small chuckle escaped the big man and the blush on Ramius' cheek grew redder. "It's not what you think… we were cleaning up some weeds and unwanted growth on his parent's tombstone."

"You know, next time we should get him tea or something non-coffee." A familiar voice sounded with approaching footsteps.

Ramius turned her head towards the direction of the voice to be greeted with the sight of Mwu walking over. He too, had a mug in his hand and playfully slapped Andrew on his back as he joined them.

"I don't mind the change but make sure you drink it with me." The Coordinator flashed him a slanted mischievous grin, causing Mwu to laugh. The coffee-fanatic joined him in his infectious laughter.

"I will drink it if it is brew by you but you will have to down it first." Mwu countered, playfully challenging the bigger guy to make and drink tea. Andrew Waltfeld will never do that. He only drinks water and coffee, nothing else. There was no way the coffee fanatic was going to anyway near a cup of tea or tea leaves.

"You," Andrew Waltfeld pointed at Mwu with his mug, "are a bully." Mwu chuckled with a smug expression on his face.

"You two." Ramius shook her head with a mock disapproving look. Both of them were like overgrown kids.

"How was your vacation?" Mwu asked, placing his free hand on Andrew's good shoulder to give it a comforting squeeze. He was one of the few who knew about the big guy's story. Although he jokes and did his job as a Captain in ORB's military, they were aware that he was still grieving over the death of his late lover, Aisha. He was unable to move on from her passing. It was tough for him. It was difficult for them to see him like this but there was nothing they can do. Except to hang out with him whenever possible.

Ramius shared with him that the friendship between her and Andrew stemmed from the difficult journey of dealing with the demise of their lovers. Back then, Mwu was presumed dead. No one knew about his survival until the second war. The whole time Ramius and Andrew confided to each other. She shared some of their small talks to Mwu and his reminiscence of the late Aisha. Throw in the conversations he had with Andrew after they move past the formal and awkward acquaintance phase, all he can say was the big guy is a softie at heart. And his heart was stolen by a very charming lady who didn't survive the first war.

It was a tragic love story. If she was still alive today, they would probably be married and with children perhaps.

Mwu' story with Ramius was a miracle and one of strange twist. Nonetheless, both of them came a long way and were now together. For that, he was thankful. Mwu hoped the big guy will find his happiness someday. He hoped for a miracle.

"I met Aisha."

"Come again?" Mwu said as reflex. Was he hearing right? "What?" He stole a glance sideways to see Ramius' jaw went slack. Andrew Waltfeld turned towards the couple, eyes looking intently into theirs. "Tell me I was seeing things."

Mwu was stuttering, while Ramius stepped forward. Mwu was a perfect example of the possibility. "Where? In Larange 4?"

The big guy nodded calmly, watching their reaction still, waiting for either one of them or both to repeat the things he thought they would say. Especially Mwu, that man has yet to recover from the surprise.

"At the coffeehouse?" Andrew nodded again to Ramius. "She came to you? Or …?" She probed.

"The barista who brought her in said that he saw her scrolling leisurely and stopped outside to admire the decor." Andrew started. "He recognised her and brought her in. She even introduced herself to him as 'Rose'." He continued. It was the part that baffled him no end. Why the new name?

"Rose." Mwu spoke immediately, earning a surprised look from Ramius and Andrew. "There was a Biological CPU in the base who was named Rose. She was the new recruit-" he continued. The name triggered memories pertaining to this name, all of which were flashing in his mind now.

While he recalled memories about his time as Neo, it was fuzzy and more surfaced upon certain triggers. The doctors said it was his mind's way of dealing with the second identity and the guilt from all the things he had done when he was Neo. And Mwu must say that the Lioness has been kind to him. She could have ordered him to be strapped down and have the doctors, with the use of advanced technologies, to forcefully access his memories during his time as Neo, under the valid excuse of National Security but she didn't. All she request of him was to serve in ORB's military and attend his weekly sessions with his doctor and therapist - to record whatever memories that have surfaced.

"You know her?" Andrew asked, eyes widened in disbelief.

"I happened to be onboard when I saw her. She was on the bed, unconscious. They were transferring her to the lab." The ex-Earth Alliance pilot and Commander replied. "They were sending her into the lab for scans. One of the doctors was saying something about her memory. Another spoke of the method used has no effect on her."

Ramius looked worried. "What method? What was it for? And why was she called Rose?"

Mwu shook his head, "I am not sure, but all the females who were borned into the programme were named after a flower or a plant. Those who were picked up from orphanage were named after a trait they exhibit, in another language. There is no duplicate of names."

"Are we talking about the same person here?" Ramius placed a hand on Mwu's arm. He looked stressed at trying to recall past memories. "Can you describe how she looked like?" Andrew's late companion has a very distinctive hair colour.

"She has blue hair, with 2 random streaks of orange. 1 on each side. She's fair, like you." He revealed to Ramius, as Andrew looked at him as though he had grown two heads. "What about the colour of her eyes? Does she experienced bad headaches?"

"I wouldn't know. She was unconscious when I saw her. She was under the charge of another Commanding Officer. There were only 3 Biological CPUs in my team. Since she was unconscious at that time, I don't think she was of any use to the other Commanding Officer."

The couple noticed Andrew's grip on the mug tightened. "What about this Commanding Officer? And his team?"

"All pilots in his team were Biological CPUs. His were more stable and required less conditioning than the three I was assigned with. She was the oddball. Others were calling her a 'recruit'."

Ramius and Andrew exchanged astonished yet confused looks.

"Do you mean they don't recruit these pilots?" Andrew asked. "I don't understand."

"All pilots are born into the programme or picked up from orphanages. Recruitment, aka a full grown joining the team, is unheard of."

"It doesn't make sense." Andrew spoke to himself but the couple in front of him caught it nonetheless. "Why would she be considered as a 'recruit'?"

Ramius noticed Mwu was lost in thoughts and the slight tilt at corner of his lips hinted something else. "Mwu? Are you alright?" She spoke softly, her hand on him tightened in a reassuring squeeze.

"Since Biological CPUs were born into the programme or picked up from orphanages, they do everything together. Eat together, train together, all that. Those who didn't make the cut were disposed of. They call her a 'recruit' because she was brought in from a battle. She was brought in not as a child but a full grown adult." Mwu started, worry filled his striking sky blue eyes.

Ramius turned to looked at Andrew, "if Rose is Aisha, they must have got hold of her after that battle and brought her back. That could be why others called her a 'recruit'."

"I heard EA lost her when she was a child. She was written off as MIA after a raid by ZAFT."

Ramius looked disturbed and worried. "It sounded more like a 'lost and found case'. EA lost her when she was child and found her when she became an adult."

Mwu nodded, "yes. If she had not went missing, she would have hone her abilities & put it into use like all other Biological CPUs."

"She can't be a Natural." Andrew said in disbelief, shaking his head.

"I came across her file once. She inherited the 'enhancements' from both her parents, who were from the programme too. That enhancements are almost on par with a Coordinator. The inheritance is what made her a special asset to the programme."

A tense exhale escaped from Ramius as she pursed her lips. Her head was spinning from all the sudden influx of information. At the same time, she was worried about the two guys in front of her. She was afraid that Mwu would take it hard on himself for not revealing this sooner, while she was concerned about how Andrew would take the news. Although they need to ascertain that Rose is Aisha, the description given by Mwu tallied with the woman in his mobile phone.

"She is one of the two." Mwu continued, unable to look at Andrew and Ramius. He felt disturbed too. All these were coming back to him now. "It has never happened before… Rose is the first. Even for the Biological CPUs who are born into the programme, all of them have to be conditioned. Otherwise, they are just regular Natural, born without the abilities EA required."

"What about the second one?" Ramius asked.

"The last I heard, they were looking for her."

"Her?"

"Yes."

"What do you mean? She was never in the team? Or they lost her too? Just like how they lost Rose?"

"Not quite. I heard she is the offspring of another who was MIA too, during that raid."

Two pairs of widened eyes looked at him in absolute bewilderment & shock.

"ZAFT caught one. The doctors and specialists were trying desperately to sustain her." Andrew finally spoke, recalling from all the hear-say. "I don't think they can… procreate."

A veil of guilt came over Mwu's already-frowning face. "Stellar."

Ramius took a step closer and placed a comforting hand on his folded arms. While his memories of days being Neo were on and off, he remembered about the Biological CPUs, especially the one called Stellar. Beneath his laidback ways, Ramius knew the girl's death loomed over him. He shouldn't have deploy her after getting her back from ZAFT, as his promise to the Red Coat.

"She's one of those who can't..." Mwu revealed with a tense breath, "so she wasn't selected for the programme which ensures the creation of next generation of Biological CPUs."

Drawing another deep breath, he shifted his weight between his feet and looked at the floor. "She wasn't stable enough… the procedures to sustain her would have killed the foetus."

Worry was written all over Andrew's face. "Do you know if Aisha was selected for this programme?" If she fell in love with someone else and is having the person's child, he could live with that. However, the topic of this conversation involves Earth Alliance and a military programme, Aisha may not be given the freedom to have a child with someone she loves. That was what worries him now. Biting chill travelled down his spine and kept him frozen at where he is.

He quickly searched through memory of the other day. She doesn't look pregnant. Then again, many females in the military don't know about their pregnancy until the stomach starts to show. By the time it does, it was far along into the pregnancy which makes abortion unsafe.

Ramius inhaled a deep breath quietly. She didn't want to know the methods used for the procreation programme. She didn't want to think about the girls and women in the programme. She felt sick, her throat burned with bile.

Mwu shook his head, "I didn't see any indication in the file."

Ramius took another breath to clear her thoughts. Folding her arms, she thought about it for a couple of seconds. "What if… 'Rose' and the mother of that 'Second One' were not that wrecked by the enhancements yet?"

Both men looked at her, completely lost.

"Look, both of them were the handful who were MIA after the raid. At that time, they were children. The effects of whatever conditioning that had already made could still be there, in them, but dormant or dulled because there is no way to maintain or further the conditioning or enhancements. Their body might not be that damaged yet, so-."

Realisation struck both men. "That could be how the 'Second One' came about…"

"Yes."

Andrew was quick to continue where it was going, "this, 'Second One' may have inherited the traits or effects of the enhancements dormant in her mother."

Mwu cleared his throat and took a step towards Andrew. "I hope you don't mind me asking this…" The big guy nodded, "go on," while Ramius arched an eyebrow at him.

"Have you gotten Aisha pregnant before?"

Ramius' honey-brown orbs widened in shock, almost to the size of a saucer as she sharply turned to face her boyfriend. "Mwu! W-what are you-"

Andrew replied in a matter of fact tone. "Why?"

Mwu fidgeted, appearing uncomfortable with what he was about to share. "Female Biological CPUs who were better performing usually didn't manage to carry the foetus to full-term. The foetus died or the body rejects the foetus."

"Miscarriage." Ramius has a conflicted expression.

"So you wanted to know if Aisha, if she was pregnant before, whether she managed to…" Andrew voiced Mwu's thought patterns. If she suffered a miscarriage, it likely means her body was wrecked by the enhancement did to her when she was a child. This also points that she could be one of the 'better-performing' female Biological CPUs, whom Andrew assumed would have received more enhancements than others.

"Once we thought she was pregnant, but it turned out to be a false alarm." Andrew elaborated, recalling the time he insisted to go with her to receive the medical report.

Back then, he was reeling from the fact she went to the military base's doctor to ascertain the pregnancy without telling him about it. That she could be having his child. Although the doctor could have waited for the report to be out and then informed him of the result as per protocol - since he (Andrew) was the Commander of the team, the doctor was a friend and so he brought to his (Andrew) attention out of concern and knowledge that both top soldiers were seeing each other.

The Desert Tiger remembered his mind went blank at the news and before he knew it, he was in Aisha's room with her sitting up from her bed in surprise. The confrontation escalated to be the biggest and most heated argument they ever had. She kept it from him because she was ready to disappear without a trace to have the kid and not tell him about it. She had assumed that both will be burden to a highly-decorated soldier such as himself. That set him off the edge and he had never been more baffled and upset at the same time. He didn't know where she get the impression from.

"She was an active pilot then. The chances of her being pregnant is almost zero. If we want a kid, she will have to resign and undergo the recuperation programme, as with all female pilots of ZAFT who want to have a kid." The Coordinator added. "The doctor said that the recuperation programme is likely to be longer for her case. The frequency she accompanied me out to the battlefield as the gunner, really messed up her chances."

"If we can get to the 'Second One' and keep an eye on her, she will lead us to Rose, whom we believed is Aisha." Ramius said, quickly bring both men back to the topic. She was assuming that EA will be going to 'retrieve' Second One.

Mwu tapped his chin, considering the viability and credibility, "We need resources. Even before we talk about resources, we need to be sure that Rose is Aisha." If they can further ascertain that, they can quickly work on getting her back. However, this could mean bringing it to Cagalli's attention. Otherwise, he can't think of anyone who has resources of such extent.

"In the file you looked at, any photos of the child who went MIA?" The Coordinator took out his mobile phone. Unlocking it, he scrolled and after a couple more tapping, he showed the phone to the couple.

Mwu and Ramius took a good look. It was showing a photo of a young girl with blue hair and 2 orange streaks. She was a chubbier version of the child he saw in the photos of of the file named 'Rose'. She was hugging a teddy bear with a man and woman, seemingly in their early thirties. All three of them were smiling.

"Is this the child you saw written off as MIA?" Andrew asked and Mwu nodded immediately. Can't go wrong with a natural hair colour like that. Blue hair with 2 orange streaks, one on each side.

"Yes, this is her but she's chubbier in your photo. The one in the file, the jawline was more prominent, less round." Mwu continued, "the photo matches what I saw of the unconscious woman. Her hair colour and complexion."

"Looks aside, she has the same ailment as before." Andrew calmly added, recalling the incident at the coffeehouse. A sudden migraine which saw intense headache at the back of her head, where the head and neck meets. With each stab, the pain travels down to her neck and back along her spine. The pain becomes manageable if pressure was applied consistently over a period of time at the exact spot where the migraine first started. There were times Aisha was so affected by the headache, her movement and reflexes dulled to the extent where she would stumble as she stepped out of the machine. Soon after, she would blackout. It tends to happen after intense or long-drawn battles. The doctors could only diagnosed as stress.

The couple was about to ask for details but taking in the guarded look on the Coordinator's face, they decided against it. "There must be something about Aisha that stood out and caught EA's alliance. Otherwise, how do they identify she was the special child who went MIA?"

"Aisha is the gunner of Desert Tiger." Mwu said in a matter of fact tone. "That alone is enough. When I was in EA, everyone from the Ground Battalion said the same thing. 'Go for the arsenals when you face the Desert Tiger.' The Commanders like to hang the fact that it was a woman behind the guns over every pilot's head. They went batshit crazy."

A small yet prideful chuckle escaped from Andrew. That was his girl. "Aisha was transferred to be the gunner because she was one of the two perfect scorers in the military academy." The Coordinator revealed, giving a pointed look at the couple.

Both of them exchanged knowing looks. "What about the other perfect scorer?"

"The other is a Red Coat." Andrew added, finishing the rest of his coffee in one gulp. "She was transferred to my team for a short while. The face off with EA was getting out of control and Aisha…" He paused to reconsider about revealing her ailment and decided against it. "Her health was affected, so the Headquarter sent the Red Coat over."

Andrew was torn about about revealing her identity or name. He wanted Aisha back but there were many unknown and undetermined variables here. The Red Coat is a highly-reliable comrade to have and based on what he heard from Aisha, she is a nice girl.

When he first saw her and watched her interaction with the rest, he reminded him a lot of Aisha. She maintains a distance from everyone. She was guarded and holds everyone at arm's length.

Unlike Aisha who switches between sarcastic and cordial, the Red Coat was more reserved. If she doesn't move or speak, she blends with the background. He wouldn't realise she was there. And when he did, there she was looking at him with cold, unwavering eyes before she shifted attention to everyone else in the briefing room. She was observing everyone, taking in everything around her. She reminded him of a Leopard, sitting on top of a tree branch silently watching over the vast jungle below her. Not a single movement goes unnoticed and yet, no one know it was there until it decides to appear. That side of the Red Coat disturbs him. However, Aisha and the girl hit off well and were able to relate to each other with ease.

With her around, Aisha was more chirpy than usual. She seemed… less lonely. For once, other than him, Aisha had a friend. Although her time in his team was short, she made Aisha happy and that made him happy.

"Another perfect scorer like Aisha, a Red Coat, and a female," Mwu noted from Andrew's words. "She was the perfect stand-in and-"

Then it struck Ramius, the pilot of DEEP ARMS. The Hive went digging into the identity as per Cagalli's request. As soon as the particular poster with two contrasting visuals, featuring a young girl in kimono and ace pilot suit, and featuring DEEP ARMS, was put up, the search was much easier.

According to the file she received this morning, The Hive managed to find out about her career in ZAFT but it was still looking into her history, background and where she came from. Major S.H. was ZAFT's first female marksman and Red Coat. She earned the prestigious accolade after getting a perfect score in marksmanship and impressing Ezalia Joule with her study and proposal on Beam Weaponry. Ezalia Joule specifically requested for her involvement in studying the Beam technology of the stolen G Units. Surprisingly, she was the one who managed to reverse engineer the technology and drew the technological roadmap, which saw the technology being adapted to ZAFT's fleet of mobile suits. After the battle with Sakura Burst, she was promoted to a Red Elite.

Someone like her would have been Ezalia Joule's potential daughter-in-law.

Wait.

Ramius quickly took out her phone and launched her social media app. There it was. She looked exactly like the girl caught on camera, hanging out with Yzak Joule, Dearka, Miriallia.

The way both of them looked at each other. Major S.H. and Yzak Joule have a mutual liking for each other. "She was the one who took the bullets meant for Yzak Joule…" Ramius muttered in realisation.

The kimono.

She was the girl whom Cagalli reunited with during recent PLANTS' Independence Day-and-Memorial Service. The Princess forgot about protocol and hugged the doll-like brunette upon realisation that she was her friend who disappeared without a trace. What happened? Why would someone disappeared without a trace?

"Shiho Fumiko Hahnenfuss." Ramius recalled the girl's name. Andrew straightened up right away, jaws clenched and a tic appearing along his jawline. Ramius must have struck a nerve.

Hold on.

She was a Red Coat.

She was a perfect scorer. One of the two perfect scorers in the military academy. Aisha was the other.

She was the one who stood in for Aisha temporarily.

"She could be the 'Second One'."

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[Carpenteria Base, Earth]

Picking up the incessant beep of mobile phone's alarm, Shiho sat up at a slower pace reminding herself of the two wounds. She quickly switched it off before it woke Dahlia, who was still sound asleep on the single bed at two arm's length.

Rubbing sleep from her eyes, she insert the micro-card that Dahlia handed over into her mobile phone. The device restarted by itself. When it was functional again, she noticed it was no longer on the military base signal and Wi-Fi. It was disconnected, on flight mode.

The phone began to vibrate at several messages coming in. The brunette just stared in bewilderment at the device in her hand. This is not the usual secured channel or function she remembered. It doesn't make any sense. It appeared to be on flight mode and yet, she received a total of six texts and voice messages. All were sent on yesterday, throughout the day.

From Yzak.

She brought the phone closer and stared at it for a few seconds. Scrolling down the notification page, she opened the oldest message first and double tap to confirm that it was Yzak's personal number.

"Landed in Aprilius One. Are you awake?"

Second message: Sat by the Round Table earlier for hours. I am doing whatever I can, Housenka… all you have heard or what others say to you, please know that I am working on it - to get you out of Carpenteria and ideally, Earth.

Third message: It wasn't me. Nor was it us being the reason for your transfer. Don't listen to what others say. When I am done, that person will regret that she even thought about it.

Fourth message: Are you awake? Are you recovering well? Is Dahlia treating you well?"

Fifth message: "I hope you see this in time… I know it is going to be difficult for you but please listen and cooperate with Dahlia. She will keep you safe and that means out of the battlefield. I need more time and I need to know that you are and will be safe."

Sixth message: "Don't bother yourself with what the media and netizens says about us, about you, and about me. They don't know anything."

Seventh (voice) message: "How are you, Shiho? Are you in pain? I read Dahlia's messages that you are awake and walking about already. Go slow and take it easy alright? Please take good care of the wounds and yourself…"

Eighth (voice) message: "(sigh) I hope you will be better tomorrow and activate the micro-card soon. The messages are not getting through… I am not getting through to you... I am worried... (Pause) I miss you, Housenka. I miss you like crazy, good night."

A new text message just came in. Without hesitation, she tapped onto it. "The messages went through :) how are you feeling now? Did you sleep well?"

She didn't want to text. She wanted to speak with him. To have his voice next to her ears.

She placed her finger where the sender's name was and remained there for 2 second. The dial screen showed. As soon as the dial tone started, it ended right away. "Shiho?"

The breath she didn't know she was holding the entire time slipped. She was finally talking to him. After so long… no wait, not really but it sure feels like it. "Yzak? Is that you?" She started, causing Dahlia to groan in her sleep and stirred a little.

Oops.

"Yeap. How are you? Just woke up?" Shiho smiled to herself at his voice. It was still thick with sleep. He must have texted her right after he woke. She felt the smile grew wider at the thought. Her heart did a little somersault too.

"Uh-huh." She replied with her hand over her mouth. She was trying her best not to wake Dahlia.

"It's not the right time now?" Yzak asked, a tinge of disappointment at the end. She would be too. She didn't want the call the end so soon or at all.

An idea struck her. "Just a sec."

She fumbled one of the two duffel bag that Dahlia carried yesterday. One of them contained her personal belongings. As soon as she found her wireless earpieces (aka earpods), she was beaming ear to ear. She pressed the power button and waited for the light to come on but it didn't happen.

Shit. The battery was flat. How long was she out? The battery has never gone dry. Whatever, now is not the time.

She threw her wireless earpieces onto her bed and quickly made her way to the bathroom. Once she was in, she quickly locked the door behind her and turned to close the cover of the toilet bowl. "Yzak, are you still there?" She said as she sat on the cover carefully. She can't believe she was having a phone call in the bathroom. It was … weird. Funny even.

"Yup, where did you go?" Curiosity was loud and clear in his voice.

"I went to get my earpods, so I can speak softer and not wake Dahlia… but they are out of juice." Shiho revealed and knew the next question was on its way. "Where are you now? You sound normal."

There. She hesitated but decided it was fine. They weren't FaceTiming anyway. "In the bathroom."

"Huh? Bathroom?" He repeated after her. She could see his expression in her mind. A bewildered frown and he might even scratch the back of his head.

He made an awkward and unsure sound. "I don't know about this, Shiho. You are not trying anything funny, right? Are you?" It was now her turn to be baffled. What was he talking about- Oh. What the hell. Yzak Joule!

"It's morning! H-How? Why are you?" She stuttered. This was embarrassing. "Why are you even having such dirty thoughts at the start of the day?! I don't do nude photos!"

"Huh? What? Nude-" Yzak sounded very confused for a second before he caught on. " No! I don't mean THAT. No. What the hell, Shiho." He started chuckling to himself, "YOU, get your head of the gutter."

The chuckle became a very amused, light-hearted laughter. It chipped away the embarrassment and irritation burning the brunette at the other end of the line.

Sound of her laughter filled the tiny bathroom. She was supposed to remain annoyed and to retort that her head was the gutter because of his question. However, she can't. Not with Yzak laughing away. His laughter tickled her and felt like a warm fuzzy blanket wrapped around her. While it reminded her of the distance between them, it made it less heavy on her chest. A little more bearable.

"I don't mind having the conversation in the evening, you know, before we head to bed. Just not now, Hounseka. It's going to be difficult for me to get through the day." He added, mischief and tease in his voice causing Shiho's face to burn red. This guy!

"Shut up." Her voice was cold and firm, not revealing the complete opposite of what she was feeling now.

The platinum blonde laughed again. If he didn't know her well enough, it was easy to think that she was offended and upset. However, he did. She was embarrassed and going 'Ice Queen' was her way of handling. She didn't want him to know that he got her. If she was face to face with some other officers, her tone and the stoic look will immediately silence whoever was talking to her, and send them speed-walking away. Just not him.

"I miss you, Shiho." He replied as the laughter died. Longing wrapped tightly around those words. How he wished she was here, he didn't need to hold the phone to his ear. He would be holding her, with her silky dark chocolate hair bunched up from last night's slumber, with her skin slightly warmed from last night's cuddle with him on the bed.

Fuxk. He needed her. He missed her badly. He can't stand the feeling of waking up to a lonely bed. He missed holding her against his body as much as he missed the smell of her. The slightly sweet yet sensual and intoxicating scent of orchid, white chocolate, and raspberry. The pillow and bed sheet at home was filled with the intoxicating scent but he was sure it would have turned into nothing when he returns. It would have been ages and/or Alfred would have have it changed into a clean sheets. It was just one night with her and the memory of her snuggling against him seared deep into his memory.

He didn't know how he was going to sleep tonight. Or survive the day even. He will be going into the Voltaire and Rousseau today. He could go into her room and hang around there for awhile. Hopefully, it was still filled with her scent but he won't bet on it. Without a doubt, he was going to have recollection of her everywhere in the ship. In the hangar where Deep Arms stood there, locked into position but always ready for launch. On the bridge where she will be in discussion with Dearka and Laura on supplies and especially the quantity of arsenals for their next patrol or operation. In his office, where she will place a stack of printout pending his signature and accompanied with a cup of coffee made to his liking.

When he said he missed her, it was because he felt it. It was weighing on him, constantly reminding him about her presence, lack of. It was eating at him, together the guilt - he was the cause of her current condition and their situation. All because Lacus had to use her a leverage against him.

"I..." The brunette started on the other end of the line, "keep thinking about you too." Her voice was no longer frosty and dead. It was soft and laced with a hint of hesitation. Yzak didn't expect her to reply because they were too early into this just got together. They just acted on their feelings for each other very recently. After these years. After fighting alongside with each other in two wars. He got all of that. Thus, what she had revealed was enough for him. It surprised him.

"You" he started slowly and gently, not sure how he was going to convey his intention without coming across as harsh or sounding hurtful, "don't have to say it, Shiho."

When there was only silence, he quickly added. "What I meant is, I hope you don't feel pressured to reply or say something similar just because I said it to you."

The silence was still present.

"I said it because I felt that way… and I want to tell you how I feel. That's all." He continued. Unfortunately for him, he was unable to see her nodding to his words.

Realising it, she quickly spoke. "I know…" The suffocating emotion was back again. She missed him too. It was of such intensity that she couldn't put a word to it. Saying that she missed him was not enough to describe the heavy weight that was pressing down on her chest. All she wanted to do now was to rest her head on his chest, listen to his steady heartbeat and have his arms around her, holding her close. Like how it was over at his place, on his bed that night before they got into this mess. There was nothing sexual about the touch. It made her feel safe and warm. If she was to put a word to it, it was tender. Endearing. It has been a while since the last time she slept so well and comfortably.

"I mean it too…" Shiho exhaled, almost like a whisper. She wanted to tell him how much she was looking forward to see him again but she knew it will only add onto to the pressure he was facing. She didn't know what exactly was happening but having Yzak to tell her to hang on twice, that it wasn't him for put her on Carpenteria twice, and to ignore what others would say, spoke volume about the shit Yzak was facing. And there was Dahlia, sent by Ezalia Joule. His mother. She was supposed to be under House Arrest. The shit is definitely big. Otherwise, the mama tiger doesn't get involved. By default, she can't.

A knock on the toilet door sounded. "Sorry Shiho. You need to go for breakfast so you can eat the antibiotics and be in time for the briefing." Dahlia's voice drifted from the other side of the door. A yawn followed.

"Okay, just a minute." Shiho replied before returning her attention to her mobile phone. Without prompting Yzak, she switch the call to video. Just for a second. She wants to have a look at him for one short second. It felt strange to hear his voice but not being there in person. It further reminds her of the physical distance between them and it wasn't helping her to feel better too.

At the moment the video call was accepted, Shiho's face appeared on the top half of the screen. Yzak's face appeared second half of the screen. Both burst into laughter at what they saw.

The platinum blonde's silvery strands was a perfect example of a bedhead. His usual straight strands were tangled up and a side of his head looked as though he had a small bird nest in silver built there.

His blue orbs shone with laughter but nowhere near the piercing stance he was known for. It was still half-lidded with sleep. And there was a shadow of beard forming. This is not the Yzak Joule that people know. He looked like a regular guy who just woke and could fall back to sleep at any minute.

"Hey you…" Shiho started in between her laughter. "Sleepy Head."

His lips titled into a slanted grin at the name she called. "You are no better, Housenka." The piercing blue of his eyes were slowly emerging from the earlier burst of laughter. They were travelling across her face, taking in her tangled hair, parted bangs, and unwashed sleepy face.

A few more knocks against the door and it sounded urgent. "Shiho, you are running out of time for breakfast."

As her attention returned to the phone, there was a small smile on the platinum blonde. His eyes dulled with something she couldn't describe but she felt the same way. He was trying his best not to make the suffocating emotion worse for both of them. Neither of them wants to hang up.

"I…" got to go. She started, her voice shook as she felt her heart breaking. She couldn't bring herself to say the words. The video call was a bad idea. It quenched the thirst but only to make it worse.

He nodded, and took a deep breath. "I will call you tonight?"

"Don't you have meetings or work?"

"I will be onboard Voltaire and Rousseau today. If nothing comes up, I should be able call early evening? Will it be too late for you?"

Now that she thinks about it, she has no idea on the day's programme after the briefing and her roster. She doesn't know what shift she will be on.

"How about letting me know when you are heading to bed or call me right away? At least, you don't have to wait up." Yzak suggested.

"Alright, let's do that."

"Take care, Housenka. Please be careful."

"You too." Shiho said softly, unable to bring her finger to the button which ends the call.

.

.

.

"May I?" Shiho asked the moment she arrived at the table with two empty seats. She knew everyone in the cafeteria was aware her presence. Especially those on the table, some slowed their consumption of breakfast in a futile attempt to hide their sideways glance. Others didn't bother to be discreet.

While scanning for a place for herself and Dahlia, she noticed there was no familiar faces. She wondered where her colleagues went for breakfast aside from the canteen. She remembered a handful of them are willing to skip breakfast for an extra hour of sleep but most of them aren't.

The officer closest to where she was nodded and gestured in cordial manner, "sure".

Both women said their thanks, quickly settled down and started on breakfast. Just as the brunette reached for her cup o coffee, Dahlia playfully hit her hand, "uh-huh. Shucks, I didn't see you take coffee."

Shiho looked at her momentarily stunned, someone just hit her and not letting her drink coffee. "I need to. It's a routine at the start of shift."

The doctor gave her a pointed stare and realised it failed to intimidate the woman sitting in front of her. No wonder she could handle Yzak. Her passiveness must have drive the platinum blonde crazy and ended up, liking her. "2 hours after your antibiotics."

"No. 15 mins to briefing. I will pack it in my tumbler. I will have the antibiotics now."

"Double no. Coffee stays in the cup. Plain water into the tumbler. 1 hour after antibiotics."

The brunette exhaled an exasperated sigh, while munching the scrambled egg and brioche. "I am still groggy from the medicine. I need to perk up. Otherwise, I can't work."

"Work? You are supposed to attend the briefing and then back to your room to rest."

"Commander Frigore will release the roster after the briefing."

"Distributing roster is one thing. Getting an injured soldier to work is another and as your doctor, I won't allow it. Not on any professional principles and common sense." Shiho raised an eyebrow at Dearka's younger sister, who reinforced the last line with forceful stabs of her fork into the scrambled egg on her tray. "Common sense?"

The brunette's stoic expression cracked into a look of amusement.

"Yes, getting an injured soldier or anyone who is unwell to work is not right. That is a given. That is common sense." Dahlia emphasised, scooping a spoonful of egg and ate it with a huge bite out of the brioche. "So…" she drank the glass of orange juice, "if Commander Frigore expects you to work while you are still in this condition, he severely lacks in common sense. And sorely lacks in compassion."

Shiho noticed some officers to her side were looking at them, some had their eyes on Dahlia. The Elthman spared them a bored glance before shifting her eyes to the brunette. Purple orbs twinkling with defiant and mischief. "If he does, I will handle him."

Shiho leaned forward and Dahlia did the same. "What are you talking about?" The brunette whispered in a hushed tone.

"Definition of work here is going near the mobile suit and deployment to battlefield." The doctor smugly countered, "and you are going to step into your mobile suit."

Shiho was about to retaliate when Dahlia stopped her, "so it is a no."

"You don't get it. He is my Commanding Officer now and-"

"I know. I get it but I am Your Doctor." Dahlia emphasised the last two words. "Doctor's advice overwrites almost every single commands. Even a court hearing or trial is dependent on an appointed doctor."

The smirk on the younger Elthman's face caused Shiho to roll her eyes mentally. She found another similarity between the siblings. Before she could burst her bubble, Dahlia raised her index finger in a mock lecturing way. "You forgot who sent me here and what a shit-grade plan Frigore came up to have us separated."

The officers seated beside them stopped eating momentarily. Shiho threw a warning glare at the blonde but it failed to shut her up. "Do you know why I MIA-ed for 4 hours yesterday? Because that jackass attempted to lock me up for unauthorised access to this base."

The brunette couldn't help with her widened eyes. She was surprised at every aspect of it. She had not expected such a treatment to an Elthman, called by Commander Frigore whom she knew to be a kind and perspective leader. It was as though whoever was behind all of this wanted Shiho to have nothing to do with Yzak Joule or people affiliated to him. To be on her own, singled out.

(Television) "Interim Supreme Council member Yzak Joule broke his silence after the assassination attempt earlier this week."

Hearing the broadcaster mentioned the familiar name, Shiho directed her attention to the nearest television screen in the cafeteria. Everyone did.

Male broadcaster: For the first time, he addressed to the public and in a interesting way.

Female broadcaster: Instead of holding a press conference or releasing a standard announcement from his office,Yzak Joule wrote a letter, post a photo of it onto his social media page. As we all know, his social media is managed by his PR team. He has never posted any material personally.

Male broadcaster: We sent an enquiry to his office and his team confirmed that the posting was made by Yzak Joule personally. They went on to share that moving forward, any post made by him in person will be signed off with '-YMJ', which stands for his full name.

Female broadcaster: This posting came hours before his attendance at the Supreme Council meeting.

Male broadcaster: While we are still pending for official press release and coverage from our reporters, let's have a look at what he had wrote and posted.

"Hi,

How are you? This is Yzak.

Thank you for your warm birthday greetings and concern in light of what had happened recently. If you were there with family and/or friends, I hope all of you are safe and unhurt.

I am fine and so are my colleagues. Everyone is safe and all of us are coping together as a family. I humbly request of you to extend kind consideration towards them from a respectable distance.

If you had noticed or recalled anything suspicious or out of norm, please contact the authorities and support investigation. In the meantime, please remain calm and take care of one another in any way as fellow people of PLANTS should and would. We made it to this day was not because of materialistic means. It was the people - our parents, our grandparents and those before them and their resolve to stick together through times like this. As a family.

Take care, I will see you soon.

-YMJ."

Female broadcaster: His next post was a photograph, and it was also signed off with 'YMJ'.

The television screen switched to show Yzak's social media post. A small cluster of white fennel flowers and a lonely stalk of Tudor (red English) rose, both were tied together with a fully-bloomed red camellia flower. The three flowers were the focus of the shot, against a background full of different flowers weaved along fine net across the concrete of the Tribute Wall.

Male broadcaster: It appears that he went to the Tribute Wall and instead of placing flowers of his family crest only, he also included the insignia of Major S.H. The red camellia flower.

Female broadcaster: The post sent everyone, who was watching the social media space for an update on Major S.H., into a frenzy. Due to the poster which she has appeared on, the red camellia flower has been widely recognised as a representation of her. Ever since the assassination attempt, which saw Major S.H. taking the bullet, there has been silence. No update from ZAFT.

Male broadcaster: The post divided the Internet into groups. Some speculated that she didn't make it, thus the weaving of the red camellia onto the Tribute Wall. As the Tribute Wall was erected in memory of those who has fallen in the wars. If this was true, we can only say that Yzak Joule mentioning about his colleagues are fine and safe in his letter did not include Major S.H."

Female broadcaster: Some were optimistic and took the post was Yzak Joule's way of communicating to everyone that both him and her were well. As symbolised by the flowers of his family crest and red camellia being tied together, with him back in PLANTS to weaved the flowers onto the Tribute Wall.

Male broadcaster: Some took it further and interpreted it as a confirmation that both of them were dating, as hinted with the tied flowers.

Female broadcaster: Aside from Netizens' comments and speculation, let us now invite our special guests to share the views and interpretations from the professional communities.

Three adults, 2 men and 1 lady, joined the table where both broadcasters were seated. The lady was from a leading advertising and public relations firm, while one of the men was a professor specialising in political studies and the other was a retired campaign manager for undisclosed public figure.

Female broadcaster: Thank you for joining us today. As you are aware, the events from last week and till today has been unexpected. And in light of the uncertainty we are facing today, the tension with Earth Alliance and the upcoming elections, we would like to explore as many views as possible from the various communities of the society.

Male broadcaster: Yes, let us begin. The posts made by Yzak Joule himself have been a hot topic. Both have been widely discussed but we would like to know if these contains any indications on more serious matters, such as his yet-to-be-confirmed participation in the upcoming election, how he intends to leverage on his inheritance of the two munitions firms etc.

Commentator 1 (Retired campaign manager for undisclosed public figure): I would say the letter gives us a good indication that Yzak Joule is going to run for the elections. Why? He 'spoke' to the public and acknowledged their concerns about the recent events. All of us know he is extremely private person. He doesn't address the rumors and accusations about him, so to have him 'writing a letter to everyone' is a very clear indication that there is an intention behind it. A calculated move. This could be an indication of something new. Something Yzak Joule will do going forward. And since he addressed public concerns in his first post, it is significant. Someone of his status and current career portfolio, you don't just speak to public via social media. It must a objective, or a meaning to it .

Commentator 2 (Lady from leading advertising and PR company): I agree. The usual practice is to hold a press conference or release an official statement via his office. We can take it that he is targeting the Internet-savvy, the social media savvy, the youngsters, which are two groups at large.

First would be the coming-of-age voters who are voting for the first time. Second would be the group who is voting for the second-time. The latter are the ones who were sour that the previous election saw no new blood joining the Supreme Council as full-time Representatives, despite the forceful exit of prominent and well-loved leaders via the House Arrest.

This is where Yzak Joule comes in. If I am in his shoes, this is the best chance. He is the youngest in the Supreme Council. Aside from Lacus Clyne, he is the only youngster at the table. Plus, he just turn 21 years old which makes him literally the most relatable Representative among the rest.

With these two groups, he needs to portray himself as the most ideal candidate to be their leader. What better way to do it via social media. The post of the letter is effective and a success on all aspects.

First, it brings him down from that unreachable impression as the 'Son of Ezalia Joule' to a regular guy who post whatever he wants to communicate or show the world on social media. Second, you noticed he wrote his message on a paper and then took a photo of it. We can see from it that he had thought about it , it wasn't on impulse and he did not forget about older generation of voters. He could have his message as a post by typing it out as with typical nature of a social media post but he didn't. Writing a letter, with a paper and pen, is almost like an ancient way of communication between two parties which saw plenty of thoughts put into crafting the written piece. This also reflects that he had thought about it - the people's concerns, how he should address it, the message he wants to convey, how he wants to convey and to who he is communicating to. If this is not a perfect example of Yzak Joule being all grown up, I don't know what is.

Commentator 1 (Retired campaign manager for undisclosed public figure): I would also like to bring everyone's attention to the words he used in the letter. It focused extensively on togetherness, such as 'everyone', 'family' which was mentioned twice, and 'people of PLANTS'. He was drawing from older and successful campaigns implemented by past leaders, which called for citizens of PLANTS to unite. The literature of these campaigns were deeply-rooted into the older generations, so you can say that Yzak Joule is smart to tap on the previous campaigns' literature, which people were already familiar. Instead of coming up with something completely new and risk alienating the seasoned voters, which in a way might push them to his competitor, James Frigore.

Commentator 3 (Professor specialising in political studies): What he has done so far, the messaging, the communication means and channels, he is putting across or even reminding people that he too, is a citizen of PLANTS. Whatever they are going through and have on their mind is what he experiencing as well, he acknowledges all of it and reach out to the people about them. This exactly a trait of a people's leader and this is the image he portraying.

Don't forget that he just turned 21. Very likely, this move is easily considered by first-time voters that the posts stemmed from him as a coming-of-age citizen of PLANTS. This group of people is different ballgame all together, and I would say Yzak Joule will be most comfortable reaching out to them than the rest, his competitors. As he belongs to that group. He knows first-hand how they think, what their opinions are and how to reach out to them. In my opinion, the social media post is a very smart and calculated move. It got everyone talking about it and we can take it as a successful kick start of his campaign unofficially.

Female Broadcaster: Talking about calculated move. We noticed he mentioned 'colleagues' and subtly throw in a request for privacy with the line 'I humbly request of you to extend kind consideration towards them from a respectable distance.' I can't help but to think that it is regarding Major S.H. who took the shot in his place, and rumours have it, the brunette is the one who is dating. How do you think it will implicate his participation in the election and his chance of winning?

Commentator 2 (Lady from leading advertising and PR company): Until today, we have not hear from ZAFT about her - whether she was alive or dead. That line you have highlighted is definitely a request for privacy in a subtle way. Yzak Joule is requesting politely and without being too obvious to everyone to leave Major S.H. alone. We can it that she is alive and recovering but there is nothing much for us to read further into for confirmation that they are dating.

Commentator 1 (Retired campaign manager for undisclosed public figure): If one is to attempt at reading into it, the only thing to get out of it was a confirmation of a superior and subordinate dynamic. This is because he mentioned 'colleagues' and 'coping together as a family'. It is neither a confirmation or a hint. It is as though he is sweeping the incident about the outing under the carpet and refusing to talk about it. I don't see how it will implicate his participation in the election and chance of winning.

Commentator 2 (Lady from leading advertising and PR company): On the other hand, if they are indeed dating, the relationship is a double-edged sword for Yzak Joule. Depending on how he put her out to the world, she can further cement his image that he is people's leader or remind everyone that how Supreme Council operates, a modern-day aristocrat and him being someone from privileged class, aka the son of Ezalia Joule.

Commentator 3 (Professor specialising in political studies): We do not know much about Major S.H. except the fact that she is a full-time ace pilot, a Red Coat specifically, and a war hero. If Yzak Joule is indeed seeing her and plays his cards right, the impression of him being a typical modern-day aristocrat and heir of old money will take a backseat.

Commentator 2 (Lady from leading advertising and PR company): Yes, I agree. Major S.H. is his express train ticket. She will help in drawing people's attention away from his privileged background and make him more likeable and approachable. It also reinforces the image he is trying to portray - as a people person or even a regular guy.

Regular Joes are working class and most of them date others who are just like them, working class. From what we know so far, Major S.H. is serving in ZAFT full-time, meaning she is a working class. That will click with the people. She is a war hero, being revealed as the pilot of the well-loved Big Blue War Machine. Because of that, people now recognised her and it goes to show that she has already made a name for herself among the people. As you can see from the past couple days, the outgoing concern for her from the public following the assassination attempt, the people like her.

Commentator 1 (Retired campaign manager for undisclosed public figure): Then again, it depends on many factors too. If Yzak Joule and Major S.H. are indeed dating, he will need to come clean on when the relationship started and this might impact his reputation as a Commander because she is from his team, 'Joule Team'. And as we all know by now, this could easily be used by detractors, questioning about his work ethics. If it blown out of proportion, it questions his credibility as a leader and affects his chances of winning. It will be challenging to utilise her because she is serving ZAFT full-time. Her schedule would not allow her to join him on his campaign trail and even if she has time off, she can't speak up for him like what other leaders' wives do because they are not married. Not to mention that there is a high chance of her being transferred out of his team, because it compromises their working dynamic and integrity as a superior and a subordinate. In my opinion, she is a bad-press magnet instead of being helpful."

As the onscreen discussion went on, Shiho peeled her eyes away and directed her attention back to the plate of breakfast goodness in front of her. She didn't have much appetite to begin with because of her stiff shoulder and sore bullet wounds but now, she has completely lost whatever little appetite she has.

Is this what Yzak meant when he texted her not to be bothered with what the media was going to say?

She was lost for words and didn't know how she should feel about this. Now that politics is in the picture, the environment in which their new-found relationship operates in seems more complicated, threatening and risky. In fact, it was starting to scare her as realisation catches up.

She thought she knew what to expect if she was in a relationship with Yzak - the typical situation of everyone (aka media and netizens) zooming in on her identity and background. How long it would take before the truth was out of the bag, how Yzak would react, how his reputation as the son of Ezalia Joule would take a big hit when the media get hold of it, how long Yzak could withstand the pressure, and how the relationship would end - quietly or play out for the whole world to see.

What she had thought of was somewhat similar to dating a celebrity, which mainly revolves about publicity and that was about it. Never did she realise that seeing someone who could be a public figure one day had more serious implications on their relationship, private life, and most importantly, on Yzak's career.

If there's anything she can do about it or have a say in the situation, she doesn't want to be of any part or play any role in his career, should he decides to participate in the election. She wishes to be the person he come home to at the end of a long day, to seek comfort, some peace and quiet even though it was temporary, and of course, a good rest. Yes, she will be his sanctuary. If they last, she would not want to brave the media and public scrutiny that accompanies the job of being a Representative. While her heart winced with a dull ache at the thought of him facing it alone and remorse, she knew she was of no help to Yzak. As what the retired campaign manager has mentioned, she will be a bad press magnet.

If the current situation she was now in (removed from the Joule Team and transferred to Earth - a huge distance away from Yzak), was of any value, it goes to show that Yzak Joule was not invincible and there are things, in fact, many, were out of his control. And that she should always know where she stand, what she was up against, when to fight and when to run so she could live for another day to fight or even prepare for the worst.

"Come on, Shiho." Dahlia's voice cut through her train of thoughts, "finish up whatever you can and let's make our way to the briefing room. The coffee is a no."

.

.

.

Silence enveloped the Mass Briefing Room as Shiho entered with Dahlia. It was as though everyone froze at her presence. Was it because of her expression or lack of one? Or was it because she was in the Red Uniform but paired with skirt? It has been awhile since she wore paired uniform top with a skirt. Commander Frigore was fine with her wearing pants. Commander Walfeld didn't comment because she was temporary stand-in, while Ms Aisha recovered. Yzak didn't care because he got used to her being in pants since the time they were under the late Commander Le Creuset.

She quickly scanned the room to see familiar faces and again, she saw none. What happen to her colleagues? Where did the other pilots went? Were they transferred to Gibraltar or Banadiya?

She did noticed the significant number of reds amidst the green though. Usually, the Reds appeared as random dots in the sea of green. The scene in front of her was different now. The Reds resembled three big clusters of toadstools. The Greens were like random blades of grass surrounding the sizeable poisonous red mushrooms.

"Major Hahnenfuss." a voice cut through the thick silence. Turning to its direction, it was black-haired Red Elite. Shinn Asuka. He had a hand slightly raised, palm opened and facing her.

Now that Dahlia is back with her, there was nothing much for her to worry about (except for the reason behind Dahlia's presence), Shiho will try to be less anti-social and hostile. Especially now that her colleagues are nowhere to be see. And Shinn Asuka, who seems rather friendly towards her… almost happy to see her everytime. She was somewhat confused by that and wonder if she should ask him about it.

Realising his hand was still raised, she acknowledged with a nod and a small awkward pursed smile. As she made her way to him with Dahlia, she felt their eyes on her and wander to Dahlia. Shiho can imagine how it looks like and the questions running through their minds. Why the need for a personal doctor? The same situation in cafeteria.

As they arrived at where he sat, Dahlia quickly settled down beside him. "How have you been?" Dahlia offered a small smile to the male, who looked equally surprised as Shiho.

"Have we met?" Although his tone was polite, she saw it in his eyes. Guarded and with caution. Both were non-existent when they met at the common area last night. Strange.

"You brought back the Biological CPU about two years ago." Dahlia replied in a hushed yet gentle tone. She recalled his attachment towards the girl, the way he looked at her and held her. He had a thing for her.

"I was one of the doctors." The young man seemed to have forgotten about their brief encounter in the past. She told him to go over to where his commanders were, to make sure he overheard their discussion about the Biological CPU. Dahlia did not agree with their plan but there was nothing she could do about it. The girl was not one of ZAFT soldiers, she can't throw her weight and overwrite what Shinn's commanders had in mind. None of it was ensuring the girl's survival. Rather, it was to ensure she withered away so they get to study her dead body and gather more information on what ZAFT's pilots are going up against.

The calm facade crumbled for a split second. Shiho saw recollection, grief and longing all in his eyes and almost-unnoticeable pursed lips.

He missed her.

For a moment, Shiho felt for him as she recalled the current situation between herself and Yzak. However, she reminded herself to count her blessing. At least both of them were alive.

A memory of Commander Waltfeld and Ms Aisha came to her mind. The beautiful lady helped sharpened her skills as a marksman during her short stint in Desert Tiger's team. The tall lady who was just as afraid of cold as her, chilly to touch as her and had the same mother of migraine as her. The teasing but kind lady felt like a doting aunt she never had.

The team needed additional support when they took a significant hit from EA and resulted on a severe shortage of pilots. Reinforcement from Lagash Base won't make it in time if EA launched another round of attack. The enemy was known to launch successive attacks within very short timeframe, which usually spreading ZAFT's Ground Forces even thinner, hardly recovering from the initial round.

Carpenteria Base, and Gibraltar Base are like sisters, always taking care of one another. Suez Base and the makeshift headquarter for ZAFT forces on Earth in Banadiya were like cousins. Extended family, further away but nonetheless, ready to help. The desert territory belongs to the African Community. While they pledged their loyalty and resources to ZAFT, the fact they own sovereignty of the territory did not sit well with Shiho. It was a grey area. The African Community could turn its back against ZAFT and in favour of Earth Alliance when Earth Alliance decides that they want to take back their words and welcome the African Community into the coalition. Otherwise, the African Community remains as an impressive fort held by Commander Waltfeld and his team.

Back then, she was in the Frigore team and was transferred to Commander Waltfeld's team temporarily, until reinforcement arrives and Commander Waltfeld's team were back on its feet. Specifically, until Ms Aisha was well enough to return to support the Desert Tiger as his gunner.

She remembered her meeting with Commander Waltfeld. She felt small standing in front of him. It was the first time she felt this way and it was alien too, because she was taller than most female Coordinator so that leaves her at same height as a guy, or close to.

Aside from physicality, there was something about the way Commander Waltfeld carry himself. Strict and cool-headed, he projected confidence and absolute authority. She also remembered Ms Aisha was a perfect balance to him. The woman was either cordial in a cold distant way or sarcastic to colleagues. Shiho and Martin DaCosta, Commander Waltfeld's second-in-command were exceptions. She was friendly in a mischievous way and full of warm with them. She turned coquettish whenever 'Andy' was around, but only when it was just four of them.

Ms Aisha would jump onto Commander Waltfeld's back out of the blue for a hug or stop right in front of him and give him a peck on his cheek. As Shiho and Martin DaCosta were closeby and stare in an open mouthed shock, Commander Waltfeld tried his best not to react to it and keep a straight face. It usually motivated Ms Aisha to do something more drastic until a smile or a chuckle slipped from the big man.

Yeap, Shiho and Martin Dacosta witnessed that. While she found it rather entertaining and found herself wondering how they got together, Martin DaCosta was always skirmish when Ms Aisha was at it, teasing his boss. And the eversharp Ms Aisha would not leave until she poked fun at the younger man. "Oh, look at you. Our poor Martin! So awkward... All these are normal things between couples. You need to go the cafeteria or staff lounge more often and get yourself a girl!"

"I remember now," he spoke as recognition shine in his eyes. "You were the one who-"

Dahlia quickly cut him off with a sudden hug. Gasps drifted to Shiho's ears, telling her that some officers were still watching them. What surprised the brunette more was the blonde's sudden behaviour.

"Shh." The blonde gave a pat on his back to prevent him from continuing. "I'm sorry… I thought that was the best way to keep her alive, by letting you know and getting her out." She whispered only for his ears and Shiho's. The brunette's purple eyes darted between the two. What was going on?

She noticed Shinn Asuka's tensed body relaxed, a corner of his lips tilted to an almost unnoticeable smile. A small, defeated smile. "I think... She is happier now." The intensity of grief and resignation in his voice as he replied softly to Dahlia made Shiho's heart wrenched. For a moment, it reminded her of the time her mother passed away. Of the time she struggled to come to terms that her mother, whom she spent years locating her and finally got to reunite with, had passed away. It was barely half a year when she first met her, seeing her for the first time in person but as a teacher and student.

"She is happier now" was what she said to herself to get out of the consuming grief, anger, and sense of lost.

She pulled her eyes away from the two, before her mind drifted further down the memory lane. It was something she didn't want to revisit now, where she was surrounded by strangers. She can't afford to show anything about her which people could use to their advantage, and yet, to her disadvantage.

Just then, the automated door slid open and Commander Frigore walked in with his second-in-command. Everyone stood up at attention and saluted, except Dahlia. Taking in the unfamiliar face, Shiho was really puzzled. Even Captain, who was Commander Frigore's dependable second-in-command, was nowhere to be seen. He was replaced by someone else.

"Morning everyone, at ease." Commander Frigore nodded, gesturing for everyone to take a seat.

"The Supreme Council has decided. The Diplomatic Resolution has been revised and what concerns all of us is the newly incorporated deadline. 2 weeks from tomorrow."

"If Earth Alliance does not respect PLANTS sovereign rights over Gibraltar and Carpenteria and return the borders they are occupying 2 weeks from tomorrow, we will take it back. By all force necessary."

"And that is why all of you are here." Taking time to meet everyone's fixated gaze squarely, he continues. "As you can see, we have colleagues from the Space Forces. 3 teams of Reds. They will be fighting alongside with us in the event Earth Alliance continues to disregard our sovereign rights."

Some Greens and Reds nodded in agreement.

"Your new comrades have assisted in operations on Earth in previous war(s). Some took down elites of Earth Alliance." He nodded to Shinn and Shiho. "Right after this briefing, I want everyone to check your mobile suits. Get in there, get it all warmed up, make yourself at home. The engineer team have worked throughout yesterday to have all of your machine retrofitted."

"The Headquarters had approved additional flight packs and suit packs. Glider no longer exist in all of your dictionary anymore."

"The objective is simple. Take back what is ours with whatever force necessary."

"And to make sure all of you know the kind of enemies you are up against, the Headquarter instructed for training under the same regime."

There were some slight movements along the crowd, mainly from the Greens. Their reactions didn't come as a surprise, the training regime for the Reds were different from the one designed for the regular pilots (the Greens). Although the Reds earned the rank primarily because they graduate at the top of their cohort with their final year project contributed directly to ZAFT's fighting capabilities from technologies to designs, the Reds need to maintain a certain calibre to remain being a Red throughout the course of their military career. One of it is to outlast, outsmart and beat the notorious Artificial Intelligence in the Annual Simulation Test, which its mere name strikes fear in undergraduates who are in their final semester, while the annual session was hated by most Reds.

The Artificial Intelligence was brainchild of Eileen Canaver and Yuri Amalfi, whose academic specialty were Information Science and Mechanical Engineering respectively.

While the brain and heart of the Artificial Intelligence were hosted in an unknown location for obvious reason, it takes form of the enemy in the simulated field operation. The undergraduates and the Reds will enter with their flight suit and put on the virtual reality gear. For the undergraduates, their simulation pods replicate the interior down to the operating mainframe and OS of mass-produced ZGMF-1000 ZAKU Warrior. For the Reds, the simulation pods are more advanced in design and the virtual reality technology used due the varied mobile suits the Reds were given.

The reason why the Artificial Intelligence was infamous because it gathers and records data such as the pilot's reaction speed and response to the simulated enemy's moves in order to interpret and predict the pilot's next move, only to use it back on the pilot as an enemy's attack. From the last session and every training sessions since the pilot was an undergraduate and had its first simulated field operation trial. In another word, every session with the Artificial Intelligence forces the pilot to outsmart himself or herself in previous session, to be better than the last time. And that was why it is a marvel and yet, hated by everyone.

"The A.I., sir?" Someone from the crowd asked. The annoyance and dread is the person's voice was very loud and clear. It was followed by some sniggers among the crowd.

The corner of Commander Frigore's lips turned upwards in a disturbing, almost malicious smile. "Yes, the A.I. but new and improved."

Silence enveloped the meeting room immediately.

"Thanks to some of you who have faced off with Earth Alliance's elites and succeeded," Commander Frigore spared Shiho and Shinn a glance but eyed Shinn a second longer before his attention returned to the crowd in front of him. "We manage to retrieve records in your mobile suits about the battle and translated it into priceless data - reaction speed, the moves, the sequences… and we have incorporated it into the A.I."

The air in the meeting room felt heavy, almost suffocating as Commander Frigore spoke the words which first got everyone's undivided attention.

"That will be the training regime everyone in this room will go through."

If someone was to drop a pin, it will be audible as though a live mic was placed on the floor right where the pin landed. Audible and crystal clear sound cutting through a dead silent room.

"I look forward to everyone's utmost focus and 101% in acing the training." Commander Frigore offered a smile, one which did not reached his eyes. "Your life will depend on it."

.

.

.

As soon as Commander Frigore ended the briefing and hurriedly exit the meeting room, parting ways with his second-in-command, Shiho got up from her seat immediately and ran after him. "Commander Frigore."

Her sudden movement saw Dahlia getting up, barely meeting her pace. "Shiho!"

Out of reflex, Shinn followed along. "Doctor! Major!"

The American commanding officer came to a halt and turn around to meet the stoic brunette stopped in front of him , taking deep breaths as she saluted. She was almost panting. "Earth's gravity seems to be getting to you, Shiho."

The cold facade on her face shattered to reveal surprise at the use of her name. This easy-going man in front of her now was the Commander James Frigore she remembered working under right after her graduation from the military academy, before and after her stint at Commander Waltfeld's team, before the sudden transfer to Le Creuset team, after her short-lived return from the Joule Team. He always tries his best to make his comrades at ease, regardless of ranks and how dire the situation was. A whole world's apart from the commanding officer she briefly met at the common area yesterday and the person who was briefing the 4 teams (3 teams of Reds and the Frigore team) in the meeting room.

She do not know what caused the change. Or could it be she never knew this side of him?

Seeing her lack of response, still in shock at his small joke, he went on to fill the silence. "You need to visit the gym to recondition yourself to Earth's atmosphere before -"

"Before what, Commander Frigore?" Dahlia interrupted, appearing beside Shiho and pressed a hand to her racing her heart and heaving chest. "Before she participate in training? Or before she goes onto the battlefield?"

"Doctor!" Shinn's panicked voice silenced Dahlia for a brief second. It was no surprise that he was shocked by how she speak to a Commander.

"No worries, Asuka." The tall and built American officer brushed off casually as he placed his hands behind his back. His posture took a domineering turn as he looked at the blonde doctor squarely. The Commander whom Shiho remembered has disappeared, replaced by a stranger she met yesterday and earlier in the meeting room, one she would prefer to keep a distance from.

"I don't expect people of Ezalia Joule to have respect for anyone else, except for Mrs Joule herself." Commander Frigore said to Dahlia, the arrogant tilt of his lips and the cold challenge in his eyes sets off all the warning bells in Shiho. She couldn't decide if it was malice or threatening. "Including a doctor…" A sarcastic chuckle slipped, "I expected more from the daughter of Tad Elthman. I must say I am surprised that you are working for Ezalia Joule, rather than your father."

A short laugh of disbelief escaped from Dahlia's pouty lips. "Likewise, I expected more from someone whom people held in high regards, almost on par with Yzak Joule." A smug-looking smirk rivalling Commander Frigore's appeared on the woman's face. "I must say I am surprised to learn that you slept with Yzak Joule's fiancee. Or wait, it's ex-fiancee now."

Shiho felt her jaw went slack and her feet firmly rooted to the polished floor as those words drifted into her ears and registered in her brain. That's right, she found out from Dahlia yesterday that Yzak was once engaged. While Dahlia omitted the details and reason why the engagement was a thing in the past, she learnt the rich and beautiful Brenda Jersek was Yzak's intended back then.

Then it struck her.

No wonder there was always a tinge of anger and a negative dip in tone whenever Yzak mentioned about Commander Frigore, especially during yesterday's call. No wonder he disregarded her comment about Commander Frigore with her when she woke.

Because Commander Frigore slept with Yzak's wife-to-be.

Wife-to-be.

Yzak must have liked her enough to be engaged. No, he had loved her, so much that he had proposed and became engaged. Her heart felt as if her blood had become tar as it struggled to keep a steady beat.

Otherwise, why would someone like Yzak be engaged? If whatever Commander Frigore had done didn't happen, Yzak would be married now.

Married.

Her chest felt as though hot coal was in it, under her rib cage, burning her from inside out, not cooling quickly like a coal in water. It throbbed and tortured her in every heartbeat, not wanting to forget the pain, the reason behind its existence.

He would be Brenda Jersek's husband. She would have been his wife.

Wife.

The nausea swirled unrestrained in her stomach. Her head swam with half-formed thoughts and questions.

A dismissing chuckle sounded from Commander Frigore, drawing Shiho out her tumbling mess of thoughts. "I wanted to say it's too bad that it didn't work out but I can't. Yzak Joule is really good at pushing his girls away for his career… a stake in the military, and now…" His eyes drifted to the stoic brunette who was looking at him intently, no doubt her breath hitched in wait for his next words. "a stake in politics. First was Brenda, now is Shiho."

Dahlia was about to come to Yzak's defence when Commander Frigore shifted to face Shiho. "I don't wish to have this conversation with you. Neither do I prefer audiences, if you want to broach on the topic."

His expression softens, eyes wiped clean of the disturbing mix of challenge and arrogance from before. "Take it as my welcome note for you, Shiho. Don't forget how you ended up back here this time and why are you still here now instead of a shuttle back to space."

His orbs were burning into hers as if to pick up the slightest sign of reaction to his words. He was expecting her to be affected and Shiho will be lying to say she isn't. However, she can't let it show. She won't. She kept it in and decided to bring it to Yzak during their call later in the evening. If he meant what he says about both of them being in this together, he will come clean with her when she ask. Everything about Brenda, to his plans now and the reason behind Dahlia's presence. He told her to wait for him, so what exactly was going on? She didn't want to play into people's trap just because she knows shit about the guy whom she got together with recently. Shiho willed herself to remain her passive front, his eyes were burning. "That should not be a problem for the Joules." He tilted his head to Dahlia, still keeping his gaze on Shiho, "they got you a nanny so how difficult would it be to arrange your transfer back to Space Force?"

Dahlia arched an eyebrow at him, "The nanny is here to look after the defenseless child because of your Boss, the Chairwoman.

Taking in Shinn's widened eyes and Shiho's quiet shift of attention to her , Dearka's younger sister shrugged. Sarcasm oozing from every pore. "Who would have thought the Poster Girl for peace wouldn't think twice about holding her childhood friend as a hostage? Hostage against someone who is not keen in politics to begin with."

The brunette felt herself went rigid in shock. Was it true? She was here because of … Lacus? Her friend, the Chairwoman of PLANTS was holding her hostage against … Yzak? What for? What did he do to warrant such an action?

A disbelief chuckle slipped from Commander Frigore. "You should have seen him in action during yesterday's Supreme Council meeting. He is definitely Ezalia Joule's son."

Shiho's fists clenched at that reference. It sounded more of an accusation or label of sort, one with a negative tone to it. She disliked it as much as Yzak. They weren't talking his blood relations or biological background. Everything that Ezalia Joule was known for, especially as a politician.

"Even Stephen Jerzek and Jordan Hahnenfuss spoke. He had majority to agree with him. He turned the tables against Chairwoman Clyne. He had the meeting transformed into a National Defense Committee meeting. He is really something."

He took a step towards Dahlia, who tilted her chin up in fierce defiance. "The three teams of Red in this base were all thanks to him, for not keeping his big mouth shut."

"The Diplomatic Resolution is going have a deadline. We are asking for war. 2 weeks from now." He angled his chin upwards, using his height, he was looking down at Dahlia with disgust. "Be sure to remind your father to send a shuttle to pick you up."

A smirk appeared on the Elthman' face when Shiho thought she would explode from the insulting look Commander Frigore was giving her. "Sure, Shiho comes with me."

"She is on standby-" The man said through gritted teeth, while Dahlia chucked her tongue in a disapproving manner and cut him off. "She is Unfit for Combat-"

A sarcastic chuckle slipped from Commander Frigore. "She would have recovered by then. Unless the Chairwoman approves, she can't leave the base and that makes her on standby. Operation-ready."

The doctor shook her head and laughed. "Say that to Ezalia Joule, Commander Frigore. And when you do, be prepared to change your name. Your boss wouldn't have the time to grasp straws, much less to save you."

"Dahlia." Shiho said it before she registered the slip. Three pairs of eyes were on her now. "You mentioned earlier that you need to change the dressing on my wound."

Catching the drift, Dahlia decided let it end here for now. "Right. Let's go." Turning to Shinn Asuka, she offered a pursed smile as Shiho salute to Commander Frigore.

The brunette glanced at the younger guy for a brief moment before walking away with Dahlia.

"I know you have many questions, Shiho…" Dearka's younger sister started, feeling uncomfortable at the apparent silence between them. They didn't talk the entire walk back to their shared quarters. Now they are back in the room, it was time to find out if the deafening silence was a good thing. From what Ezalia told her, the girl was reserved by nature but it doesn't mean she was detached from what was happening around her. In fact, she is fully aware but chose not to react or make herself known. Dahlia remembered Ezalia described her a Leopard perched on a tree branch, quietly watching anything who poses a possible threat or could be next meal. The moment you spotted its tail, you are probably done for.

The brunette settled on the bed and began working her boots off.

"Yes, I have…" she started, her voice was soft and quiet. "I don't know if I should hear from you or Yzak." When the boots and socks are off, she left them at where it was, and straightened up. She looked at Dahlia in the eye. While her face was passive, she saw questions and uncertainty in her lilac eyes. The pale shade of purple is something she rarely see. It reminded her of the transition of white tip of amethyst crystal to the heart of rich purple. It was lightly tinted with purple and glassy, almost a hint of grey or blue. She wasn't sure.

The doctor pursed her lip at the question, "if you are dying from it, you can ask me. If you can bear with it, you should bring it to Yzak. I don't want to risk straining the thing between you two."

Even though her eyebrows are somewhat covered by her bangs, Dahlia knew Shiho arched an eyebrow at her with the slight movement.

"One of the many reasons Ezalia sent me here because she wants Yzak to be focused."

"I am a distraction." Shiho's lips pursed into a thin line.

Oh no.

"No, but you are a tool which people will use against Yzak. Unfortunately, it has already happened." Dahlia quickly corrected without revealing too much of Ezalia's intention. At first when she heard about this task from Ezalia, she thought her boss was doing this solely for Yzak, her son. However, seeing her boss' expressions and paying attention to how she speaks of Shiho, Dahlia know the brunette has her boss' seal of approval. The older woman must have foresee just how much of an influence Shiho has over Yzak.

"You mentioned Lacus." Her flat tone brought the doctor out of her mental rambling.

"Yes."

"Details?"

Shit.

"You should speak to Yzak about this."

Double shit. Shiho just frowned at her.

The lightning of anger flashed through her entire being. Shiho wasn't certain if the sudden deadly emotion was because of learning her childhood friend was involved - using her as a leverage against someone she was seeing, or the knowledge that Yzak kept her in the dark about what her friend did.

Just then she recalled one of Yzak's text message. Something about the person behind it will regret it.

(Third text message) It wasn't me. Nor was it us being the reason for your transfer. Don't listen to what others say. When I am done, that person will regret that she even thought about it.

For the benefit of doubt, Yzak might have his way against Lacus but decided to keep Shiho in the dark because both women were childhood friends. He didn't want to hurt Shiho with the fact her childhood friend would pull such a move. Perhaps, that was why he mentioned more than once to her via text messages, to trust him.

Then again, why would Lacus used her as a leverage against Yzak? Wasn't he her right-hand man? Kira Yamato doesn't count because he was just a regular Commander, of her vessel Eternal. He is an ace pilot, skilled enough to put a scar on a pilot as aggressive as Yzak. However, there was nothing beyond his piloting skill and good-nature. She heard him speak to Lacus and other officers before she thought he is too soft and idealistic. He should be a teacher in a public school. Nurturing and righteous in a black and white way. He doesn't belong in the military. Shiho could only take it that he was in ZAFT to protect Lacus, but to what extent Shiho doesn't know. He holds no political position and has no military assets, which was a stark contrast to Yzak.

Then it struck her. Could that be the reason? Yzak has everything needed to be the Chairperson of PLANTS and ZAFT. Except the people's support.

Now he is the largest stakeholder of the two ammunition manufacturing firms, while the third was pending Athrun's birthday to change hands, Yzak has ZAFT's fighting capability in his hands. All that was left was his political influence and hold, which sees Yzak announcing his participation in the upcoming elections and winning it to cement his position in the Supreme Council and National Defense Committee. When it happens, Lacus' position is next.

Either he did threatened Lacus which left her no choice but to use Shiho as a shield against him. Or he had no intention but Lacus made the move as a warning just in case he was considering, and as an insurance for herself.

If it was latter, be it a warning or an insurance, it was a wrong move on Lacus' part. Shiho was worried about how Yzak would react to it. No one takes threats well, especially one of such nature, using someone they cared about as a hostage. Knowing Yzak, who was infamous for his temperament when triggered and as someone who doesn't buck under threats, he will not be able to swallow such treatment. Shiho was starting to be fear for Lacus. If what her guess about Lacus' reason behind such a move was true, the pink-haired woman is driving Yzak into a corner. He might react in a very drastic manner, coming back to crush Lacus, wasting no time for negotiation and leaving no room for retaliation.

"Maybe I should leave you to call him?" The caution in her voice brought her back to reality.

The brunette's gaze remained fixed at her as she considers her option. She wanted to call him, really. The need to force the truth out of him and probably smack him for not telling her sooner was burning like raging fire in her blood but she also wanted him standing in front of her, face to face as he speaks.

She didn't think he will lie to her but body language was a good indication on the degree of truth behind his words. No matter how advanced technology was, it was best to speak of such serious matters face to face. Taking in the slightly fidgety girl in front of her, Shiho know the stoic expression on her face was getting to her. Good.

"Hand over the phone." She doesn't want her to tip Yzak off.

"What?"

"Your mobile phone you used to communicate with Yzak and Ezalia. Hand it over."

"Shiho…" Dahlia gave her a suspicious look while her voice dropped to one that was laced with confusion and warning. "What are you thinking?"

While Dearka's younger sister seems to be nice girl, Shiho wasn't in the mood to befriend her and keep things rosy. "Don't make me repeat myself."

The brunette had a hand stretched and palm opened, "I will call him."

End of Chapter 7


Author's note: hello everybody! how has it been going? Sorry about the close-to-2-months wait. I was wondering... would you prefer to update more frequently? However, I must tell you that if it is a more frequent update you prefer, the length of each chapter will be shorter. Say half or a quarter of the usual length. what do you think? Let me know :)

SO! how did you find this chapter? Did the conversation between Ramius, Mwu & Andrew shock you speechless? Or was it the revelation that Dahlia knew Shinn from before? Or was the argument with between Dahlia and the freaky (in a mean way) Commander Frigore was a bigger surprise? Or was Yzak's past (engagement) the major stunner? I am super excited to hear which surprised you more, hahaha. well, if it was all four, let me know. Write to me about it, ya? I would love to hear from you :D

Again, I am sorry for the lack of Yzak x Shiho moments in this chapter. Trust me, I want to squeeze in more but it won't be realistic and this is the time for the shit to take its place and start rooting. All the bad things (ok, not all at one go but some needs to happen now) before the sweet stuff returns (temporarily).

Drop a review or private message, I will be waiting. Hearing from you guys always make my day! Thank you once again!

HUGS!