Nicol's Savior

University: You know, it only looks like you spend less time on my work than you do at high school. If anything, you need more. Hey, you remembered to put the due dates on your calander! Don't worry, everyone struggles in their first year. You won't be the only one getting by on sixties.

Me: (head on desk, buried under a mountain of essays.)

Dearka: (shifts a few) Yo. Are you alive in there?

Me: (muffled) Barely.

Dearka: Then how about you write something that doesn't melt your brain?

Me: ...Ask me again in an hour. (I'm glad I'm finally on break!)

Disclaimer: I do not own Gundam SEED or Gundam SEED Destiny.

Chapter 12: Return to Space

"It's weird to see the Archangel's hanger so full," Kira remarked, half to himself, as he walked the Freedom to its resting place. The Strike, now boasting the 'Perfect' weapons pack (which was effectively Simmons finding a way to hardwire all the weapons on at once) was back in its original post, alongside Grand Buster, Blitzkrieg and Justice. Kira's team was on board the Eternal along with the METEOR weapons modulus; the Kusanagi was carrying the Akasuki and several Astrays including Asagi's team, while the Renegade had multiple CGUS and three ZAKU. "I'm used to it being just me and Mu. Now it's almost cramped." The doors closed behind him once the Freedom was secure.

The Archangel moved forward slowly, preparing to scale Kaguya and return to the stars. Kira was wracked with conflicting feelings about it. The last time he was in space, a shuttle he'd tried so hard to protect was shot down, the Eighth fleet burned around them, and he himself had barely survived re-entry. However, the fact that they were returning to space meant that they were once again taking the fight to their enemies. No more fleeing.

The crew list on the Archangel had also been, at long last, filled to capacity rather than remaining a skeleton. The newbies, a mix of True ZAFT and Orb volunteers, were mixed in among the Archangel's veterans who were showing them the ropes.

Kira finished a few adjustments to the Freedom's computer and targeting systems, leaning back in his seat as Murrue rattled off the ascension protocols. "Are you nervous, Kira?" Nicol asked over an open channel. They had to stay aboard their mobile suits during takeoff.

He chuckled slightly; the younger boy could read anyone like an open book. "I need to make good memories in space, so I stop associating it with running from the ruins of Heliopolis." He said, shaking his head. "Lord Uzumi talked about reconstructing the colony, after the war, with the cooperation of the PLANTs...but it just wouldn't be the same."

Nicol made a small noise of understanding. "Your friend Kuzzy grew up on Heliopolis, didn't he?"

"Yeah." The bluenette had dropped off the Archangel after the battle for Orb; war was just too much for his nerves. Flay had laid claim to his old post with grim determination. Nobody blamed him; a few months ago Kira would have joined him, before he understood that there were things only he could do, things he needed to do. Not just for others, but himself. "I've never been to the PLANTs proper, though. I meant to, but mom chose Heliopolis."

He decided, after his initial mental breakdown ran its course, that he was still going to call Caridad 'mom'. She was the only mother he'd ever known, and she loved him, even though she'd kept all this from him.

He walked into their hotel room, hands shaking. He didn't know what expression he was wearing, but when Athrun saw him his expression switched from warm to concerned in a split second. "Kira? Kira, what's wrong? You're shaking."

Kira opened his mouth, closed it, and shook his head, pressing his nails into his palm. He was shaking, he realized, trembling as badly as he had after Nicol narrowly survived their encounter at the island. His mind was filled with white noise. "I..." He stumbled into the wall and leaned against it. Athrun almost teleported across the room, putting his hands on his shoulders, speaking, repeating his name; Kira couldn't quite make the words out.

When he regained coherency, he was sitting on the couch with Athrun next to him. Nicol emerged from the kitchen with a glass of water, which he pushed into his hands, murmuring for him to drink and stay calm. Unable to force a smile, Kira gulped the cool liquid down, focusing on the chill in his throat, trying to right himself.

"What did Uzumi need to tell you about?" Nicol asked, biting his lip. "Mu said you were out of sorts, but..."

"My parents aren't my parents." Kira rasped. Athrun blinked and Nicol's eyes widened. "I was...I was...my birth father, Ulen Hibiki...he wanted to create a perfect human being. He...he...he took me from my mother's womb and put me in an artificial one."

"What?! But that's," Athrun stuttered, as the implications started to sink in, "That's illegal! And I thought that technology was partly theoretical!"

Kira shook his head. "Didn't...didn't matter. He had his vision. He wanted to...to make me perfect. The Ultimate Coordinator. He...he gave me more modifications, changed me more than either of you. Or anyone, really. The Ultimate human being..." He clenched his hands. "I'm...I'm artificial..."

"No, you're not!" Nicol butted in, shaking his head. "You were conceived naturally just like us. And even if you weren't, you're still a person. Nothing he did to you controlled decisions you made by yourself after you got away from him."

"That's right," Athrun said softly, squeezing Kira's wrist. "Where ever you came from, you're still my best friend, and one of the bravest men I've known."

"But..." Kira hesitated. "But what does it mean? That I was designed to be 'perfect?' Was I supposed to show that natural people were defective compared to me? How...how many babies did he go through before he got me and got the right results?"

"Those are his sins," Nicol said with great emphasis, "Not yours."

"That's why I could use a mobile suit despite having no experience." Kira muttered. "That's how I could rewrite an OS in a minute while being shot at."

"Is that a bad thing?" Athrun said insistently. "You used those powers to save people, Kira. That's nothing to be ashamed of."

Kira looked between them several times, eyes still unfocused, though his breathing had evened out. He shivered and murmured, "You're not afraid of me?"

The other two boys shared an alarmed look, then shook their heads. "No," Nicol responded. He reached out and brushed his fingers across Kira's hands, which were still shaking. "Why would we be? You're Kira – sweet, selfless Kira. We'll never fear you."

"But all the things I could do," Kira said, his voice weak and afraid. "Fighting off four elites alone. Defeating a man with years of experience in his own back yard. Managing not to kill someone in a split second of clarity. All that, and I did it despite having literally fallen into a mobile suit and had no idea what I was doing half the time. What could I become if I fully realized my 'potential'? What will I become...if I embrace what I am?"

"...You'll become someone I wouldn't want to face on the battlefield." Athrun acknowledged, before gently turning Kira towards him and pressing his forehead against his. "But you'll still be you. Kira. Your soul isn't crafted by your genes."

Kira nodded once, twice, then he started to cry – out of relief, out of stress, or out of exhaustion he wasn't certain, maybe all three – and Athrun embraced him against his chest while Nicol circled around to his side and rubbed soothing circles on his back.

"...Kira?"

He blinked; he'd gotten lost in thought again. Wow, the last time he was this dazed it had been the time when Nicol was confined to the Archangel infirmary. "Sorry. What was it?"

"I'm surprised the Zala loyalists vacated the PLANTs." Nicol said, smiling patiently. He knew why Kira was distracted. "Chairman Clyne didn't say much; apparently the riots and increased political opposition forced him to relocate."

"Well, knowing that half their army had deserted them was a moral blow like none other," Athrun commented. The Archangel jerked, beginning its climb towards the stars. "Lacus said a man named Durandal was primarily involved with...ousting the corrupted ZAFT. I've never met anyone with that name, so I guess we'll get the whole story once we arrive."

"I guess," Kira echoed, though he had a faint feeling that name should be familiar. He brushed it off; he'd heard dozens of names with varying importance ever since he was inducted into the PLANTs armed forces. "He must be a good orator, if he pulled that off without support from True ZAFT."

"I've heard a little about a man named Durandal," Nicol said thoughtfully. "I think my mother met him a few times, at various state functions. She said he was a friendly, genial man, though not very forthcoming about himself."

Maybe he wanted to be underestimated, Kira thought, in case something like this happened. It was as good a theory as any.

"We'll find out." Athrun sounded a little uncertain, though neither boy blamed him for it. He was still out of sorts about everything related to his father and his father's position; he'd spent most of his time not in meetings avoiding anyone of any political stripe.

Kira didn't blame him for wishing that war was a little more simple. Good and bad people. Enemies and allies. And while things were less complicated than when he first tumbled into the Strike, the motivations of their opponents were still all over the place; with some just there because their country demanded it. It was frustrating, and saddening, and could wear away at your resolve. You had to fight, just to be sure you were doing the right thing.

The rattling slowed and then stopped; the Archangel had passed through the atmosphere and had entered space. Letting out a long breath, Kira opened the Freedom's hatch and let himself float in zero gravity, removing his helmet in the process. He was going to miss the clear, natural air of Orb; already the recycled oxygen of the Archangel tasted dry and stuffy. Nicol was clearly thinking something similar when he emerged from Blitzkrieg; there was a wistful look in his eyes.

"I'll always belong in space," the pianist confined in him as the three floated over to the catwalk. "But I'm going to miss being on Earth, feeling sunlight on my skin."

"We can always go back, when this is over." Athrun offered. When. Not if. There had been a subtle change in his dialogue once he was reunited with his two best friends; less despairing, less world weary, more confident. Dearka had noticed, and added that to his constant teasing; Miriallia frequently had to come to their rescue whenever he was on a roll.

Kira wondered if his best female friend knew the implications of effectively having the blonde collared. Though given her baggage with Tolle, it was entirely possible she either hadn't noticed, or was ignoring it. To his (considerable) credit, Dearka was keeping his attraction to her low key; despite being plainly interested he hadn't approached her with anything more than casual friendliness.

"The 'lakes' on the PLANTs did always feel like over-sized wave pools," The blonde in question remarked, having already extracted himself from Grand Buster. "Nothing will beat the real beach – I'm starting to see why Laura wanted to get married on Earth." He smiled wistfully. "Heh. Maybe some day I'll do it in her stead. Have a beach wedding."

Athrun looked surprised; Dearka typically didn't bring his sister up in casual conversation, much less mention something personal about her. "Maybe someday," He echoed.

Dearka smirked at him, but didn't offer any embarrassing rejoinders, which lead Kira to believe he was actually brooding on something – quite possibly Yzak Joule. The silver haired berserker was the only member of the former le Creuset team who was missing from the Archangel. And while the redcoat's abrasive personality had kept most at arms length, Dearka's ego had been such that he could ignore the worst of Yzak's vitriol for long enough to become good friends with him. The funny thing was that Yzak actually appreciated it, for all he pretended to be eternally irritated by Dearka's refusal to take anything seriously – the two weren't often seen without each other. Given that neither had any idea where the other was ever since Alaska, it wasn't too much of a stretch to guess that Dearka was worrying and trying not to show it.

"Do you think the trip to the PLANTs will be relatively free of trouble for once?" Kira wondered.

"Don't tempt Murphy's Law, Yamato." Dearka warned him. "Never tempt Murphy's Law."

Line Break

In spite of Kira waving a hand in front of Fate's eyes, the trip to the PLANTs did in fact go smoothly – aside from two skirmishes with ZAFT scouts that were easily taken care of. Miriallia couldn't quite contain her curiosity as the Archangel entered the hanger of Junius One; before all of this she likely never would have set foot in the PLANTs in spite of the fact she rather wanted to. "Wow," she heard Flay say somewhere above her as they approached. "They look amazing up close..." True that, she thought. So this is where the boys live...

Using 'the boys' as a blanket reference to Athrun and Dearka helped her deal with her complicated feelings regarding them. Dearka was charming, had no trouble making her laugh...but she wasn't ready to deal with how that made her feel. Not right now. And Athrun...she had planned to confront him straight up about killing Tolle; but seeing Kira's happiness at being reunited with the blue haired boy had put a hamper on her desire to do so. The fact that, as Nicol had said before, Athrun had proven to be soft spoken and empathetic outside of battle had muddled things further.

So instead of dealing with these feelings, Miriallia buried herself in her new job. CIC control. She didn't have the official training, but she had learned rapidly in the months she had spent handling the controls under the Lieutenant's direction. Miriallia had always been the one managing things whenever Kira, Tolle, Sai and Kuzzy were working at the university, so she could adapt to this. It was both scary and a little thrilling; she finally felt like she had some agency in her fate. And after being dragged all around the stars and the seas, with the threat of dying over her head at all times, that was a welcome feeling. Technically, going from a Crewman Second Class to Lieutenant was an unprecedented jump (especially for someone who hadn't been through military school), but frankly just about everything on the Archangel was unprecedented.

Miriallia stepped out of her seat and stretched, nodding to the Orb woman who had taken up her old post. The ship was being given its docking orders, so they had pretty much arrived – the Renegade and the Eternal were already in port. "I'm not used to things going that easily," she said, half to herself. Murrue overheard her and gave a grim smile of agreement.

The older woman – Yuffie, Miriallia had heard her name at some point – put a hand on her shoulder and gave it a friendly, reassuring squeeze. She didn't say anything aloud, but all that was implied was all that was needed. Don't worry, you're not alone, you have backup, you will not be deserted. Miriallia liked Yuffie. She was warmer many career soldiers.

The Archangel also had a new councilor, mostly for the pilot's sake, though all the soldiers were encouraged to talk to her at some point. Miriallia had gone to her in the middle of the night after a nightmare about Tolle's death; the resulting two hour conversation and storm of tears had taken some of the weight off her shoulders – enough so she could go back to sleep without trouble. Or worrying Kira. Because Kira had enough to worry about as it was.

Frankly, Miriallia was just hoping she could catch up with the Hawke sisters now that they had reached home base. She had run into Lunamaria after the battle for Orb – quite literally, she'd been dwelling on something Dearka had said and crashed into the purple haired girl on the way to the mess hall. Lunamaria hadn't been phased in the slightest; ignoring her attempts at apologizing, she grabbed Miriallia by the arm and dragged her over to her table where her sister Meyrin was waiting. Luna had thrown a few dozen questions at her and suddenly the Orb native found herself chatting with the two girls like they had been long lost best friends all their lives. At some point Shiho and Anew had joined them, so by the end of the meal Miriallia had come to know half of Kira's squadron fairly well.

"If daddy had known I would eventually set foot on the PLANTs," Flay murmured as she fell in step with Miriallia in the hallway, "he would have disowned me."

Then he wouldn't have been much of a loss, Miriallia opined silently. Aloud she said, "Are you worried about going inside, Flay?"

The redhead twisted strands of her hair between her fingers, biting her lip. "A little. I know I have an Orb uniform, but...well, the Allster name probably isn't welcome here. For good reason." She made an unhappy face. "I bet Nicol won't tell his parents I tried to shoot him, if I meet them."

"He's forgiven you, Flay, there's no reason to." Miriallia grabbed her hand and squeezed it reassuringly. It had been frightening to watch Flay loose her mind. But now that she had it back, the brunette was determined to see she keep it. Enough terrible things had happened already; allowing any more would bring them nothing.

"He should have been mad. He should have hated me." Flay whispered. "Why...why did he forgive me? I wouldn't have forgiven me, in his place."

"That's just the sort of person he is," Miriallia said simply. Because that was really all there was to it. It was part of the reason she was friends with the pianist. "It's something he has in common with Kira." Flay hung her head. "Forgive yourself, Flay. We're all doing what's right now."

Flay thought about that, then squeezed Miriallia's hand in turn. "I don't deserve a friend like you, Mir."

"Deserving has nothing to do with it." The brunette responded firmly.

They disembarked the Archangel a minute later; Captain Murrue and Mu were already outside, along with Captain Campbell and Mister Waltfeld. They were all standing behind Siegel Clyne as the man shook hands with a tall, dark haired politician Miriallia didn't recall seeing in any of the dissertations. He must be the man who ousted Zala.

"Heeey! There you are!"

Flay jumped, while Miriallia grinned and swung to her right to see Lunamaria jogging over, Meyrin and Anew trailing behind her. The purple haired sharpshooter skidded to a halt and clapped the brunette's arm. "Welcome home!" She said brightly. "To my home, that is. I don't know about you, but I want to take a breather and go for a swim. Don't you? What's your name, by the way, I've seen you around but we've never chatted." The last two questions were directed at Flay, who jumped in surprise before stuttering her name out. "Flay Allster? Right, right, Mir mentioned you earlier. My place has a pool. And snacks in the cupboard, dad has a sweet tooth like you wouldn't believe. You up for swimming?"

"I'd love to," Miriallia said honestly, because she needs to pretend she's a normal sixteen year old girl from time to time or she's going to loose her mind. The idea of ducking her head below the surface of a pool, not thinking about attack analysis or pitched combat or the deck pitching below her feet, is amazing and she can't agree fast enough.

Flay is feeling the same way, because despite jumping at Luna's friendliness (and perhaps waiting for the other shoe to drop; there are going to be Coordinators here who aren't happy to have an Allster around), nods in acceptance.

Lunamaria beams and proceeds to drag them both off in the direction of the train station. She already has permission to disembark.

**~Back with Kira~**

Gilbert Durandal exudes an aura that Kira can't quite put words to.

The description Estelle gave Nicol about him was spot on. Durandal had an easy, gentle smile, but his eyes were distant and he came across as enigmatic; he spoke little of himself and mostly of what he had achieved in kicking Patrick Zala off the station. (As it turned out, it was revealing that his plans to assassinate Siegel and Lacus Clyne, as well as revealing the purpose of GENESIS) He apologized for not being able to destroy the canon itself, Siegel told him not to worry; he hadn't had the forces for that to be feasible. Eventually Siegel introduced him; Durandal shook his hand and praised his determination and compassion.

He also knew that Kira was the Ultimate Coordinator. He was attached to the project when he was twelve.

Durandal was nothing but kind and sensitive on the matter. He reassured Kira that he was in no way an artificial being, with words similar to those that Nicol had used. He hypothesized that the superhuman reflexes were what allowed Kira to escape the Strike so he wasn't hit by the brunt of the explosion (and hence, survived). He promised to keep the knowledge of the project from spreading, as he had done for years since it closed and Hibiki was killed by Blue Cosmos.

Kira thought that Durandal's eyes could see through anyone. There was something intensely magnetic about him, about those eyes. Kira felt like he could trust him. That wasn't a feeling he threw around easily anymore.

Athrun relaxed when Durandal talked to him. That, if nothing else, convinced Kira there was something unique about that man. When Durandal said all he wanted was peace, all three boys found that they believed him.

End Chapter

Yup. Welcome to the story, Durandal, one of my favorite Gundam seed antagonists. Your roll in this story is a little last minute, but I wanted to get you in somehow. Sorry for the wait, University hit me like a runaway train with broken breaks AND at one point I lost all the data on my old computer, which was a HUGE downer and killed my muse for a good while. But I'm back, and I DO intend to complete this story.

Read and Review please!