Stella Dies Free

Me: (pushing a door shut; behind that door are a thousand rabid bunnies) Damn it! Let me finish something first! (one bunny, a golden one, slips past my ankles) Goddamn! Evil brain!

Stella: (picks up bunny) Aww. Its cute...and it wants me to get better!

Me: (manages to shut door) Ah, right...that one. Stella, I really like you, but the moment you and Shinn crashed into each other I KNEW you stank of death. (Stella pouts) Sorry sweetie, but you were stuck with the 'Artificial Newtype Girl' role, handed down from your predecessor Four Murasame. And frankly...ugh. If you have to die, damn it, I want you to go out with some agency...not as a hapless victim. I want to make a more meaningful, powerful figure out of someone who's always a victim. Hence...the bunny.

Stella: (sad) I'll still die?

Me: That remains to be seen...but we can't escape tragedy all the time.

Stella: But I'll destroy the monsters?

Me: You better believe it.

Disclaimer: I do not own Gundam Seed/Destiny

Chapter 1: An Awakening

**~On Board the Minerva, three days after Lodonia~**

I don't want to die.

That thought had rattled around Stella Lousieer's head so many times over the past several years. It had been screamed, torn from her, embedded in her conscience by drugs and torture and suffering. Ever since she was a child, it was the only consistent thought that she remembered. The mindwipes never took that away; it was her block word, her curse, and sometimes it was the only thing that kept her standing when people tried to kill her and when she killed them.

Well, not kill – that's why she used a knife. When she threw a knife or stabbed someone, they would keel over and it was as if they were asleep, not dead. Since the thought of death risked triggering her block as much as the word itself did.

I...don't want to die.

She remembered falling from the cliff, flailing helplessly in the water. The darkness of the ocean seemed to engulf her and swallow her whole.

I don't want to die!

The thing was...sometimes Stella didn't remember why she didn't want to die. Only Neo and Sting and Auel were waiting for her, cared if she was gone. Whenever she went out into the world, there was always blood and machine gun fire and explosions and fire. There was never any peace or gentleness. Why was she afraid of dying? Was it because...she was afraid of more pain?

But...for a moment...the dark of the water had seemed comforting. Like everything...like all the pain was fading away.

Then a pair of arms had wrapped around her back and pulled her back towards the surface. Someone had answered her cry of pain and desperation and fear, something she had never remembered happening before.

I'm...alive...?

Pulling her back to the surface, back to the warm, blazing sunset, back towards life.

"Are you trying to die, you twit?!"

He hadn't meant it that way – he'd been angry because he was worried about her, he told her some time after she woke up in this place. He had seen her just walk off the side of the cliff, too dazed and in her own world to realize how close to the edge she was. He'd been angry because he had thought she was being careless and thoughtless with her life. That, and he had been somewhat concerned...he was never good at showing it.

He switched tunes the minute she panicked at the sound of her block word.

"I'm sorry. You're not going to die."

And then he'd embraced her.

No one had ever hugged her. No one.

She'd never felt anything like it. Suddenly all that pain and fear that was always in her chest...just disappeared. She felt warm. She felt safe. She felt at peace.

And now...

Stella gazed up at the ceiling of the hospital, her breath softly rushing in and out through the mask over her mouth. Sitting next to her was an angel, gently holding her hand. Warm red eyes caressed her, concern and affection plain in them, framed by a curtain of soft black hair.

"Shinn..."

He blinked, and smiled down at her. He reached out and lightly ran his fingers through her hair, a soft, soothing sensation that made her smile and lean into his touch. "Yes Stella? What is it?"

"I..." What had she meant to say? She tried to remember what it was. Her mind was a gaping black hole most of the time, a dark haze, and empty void. "Where...where were you, before you...came here?"

Shinn's brow furrowed, and he sat in silence for a moment as he puzzled out what she meant by that. "You mean...where my home is?"

That was it! She nodded, pleased with herself. "Yes...h...home."

Her happiness melted immediately when a sad look crossed Shinn's handsome face. Her angel hesitated for a moment before saying, "Well, my home is up in the stars now. But...a long time ago, I used to live on an island. Like the one we met on."

"You used to?" Stella whispered. "What happened?"

"Well..." Shinn shook his head, and alarm crossed his face when he saw Stella's anxious expression. "Oh, Stella, it's nothing – I was just lost in memories. I have a perfectly lovely home now. I live among the stars, in the colonies. It's as if I can reach out and touch them, sometimes."

"Touch the...stars?" Stella found herself smiling at the image. "That...sounds nice. Are there...stars out now?"

"Yeah, of course." Shinn shot her a furtive, and sneaky, look. It was the look of someone who was about to cheerfully disobey what someone had told him to do; a look every child has expressed at least once. "Would you like to see them?"

Stella's eyes brightened, and she nodded enthusiastically. "Yes! Yes, I would like to look at the stars with Shinn. That...that would be so n-nice."

Talking took her breath away. Or maybe it was Shinn who took her breath away? Stella couldn't really tell. But Shinn smiled and got up and wheeled her bed out of the infirmary and took her into the elevator. Most of the crew were asleep, and he slipped past the one patrolman who was in the way. There wasn't much going on, since the Minerva was on its way to a port. Stella vaguely heard that they were meeting someone important there. Hence everyone's relaxed attitude.

Shinn opened the door and gently wheeled Stella out onto the deck. A grin split his face as she let out a happy gasp, sitting up in her bed to see it better.

Thousands upon thousands, uncountable numbers really, of beautiful silver bursts spread across the sky. They glowed, sparkled...she had never seen anything so marvellous...her heart was pounding fast, and yet it didn't hurt the way it usually did...

"Oh Shinn..."

"I know. It's pretty amazing." Shinn smiled and pointed upwards. "Can you see any shapes in the sky Stella?"

"Shapes?"

"Yeah, the constellations. Can you name any of them, Stella?"

Constellations? Strangely enough...that word rang a faint bell...it was a very distant memory. A very faint thought, it threatened to fade as she reached for it...she couldn't tell where it had come from...but...

"There." She pointed straight upwards, her arm trembling. Shinn reached out and gently took her hand, steadying it. "That one...the dipper. The big one."

"Yeah!" Shinn looked so pleased. "The big dipper. And over there...that's Andromeda." He pointed somewhere off to the right. "See how it kind of looks like a girl? There's a story behind that one. Would you like to hear it?"

Another thought. Another faint feeling of recognition. "It's...she was...cursed, wasn't she? No...that's not right. She...she was going to be sacrificed."

Shinn's eyes lit up, and Stella's heart felt like it would burst. It wasn't a painful sensation at all – it made her happy. So happy. "She was! An angry god had demanded that she be given up as a sacrifice because of the wickedness of her kingdom. She waited on a cliff to be devoured by the beast, only for a hero to sweep in and rescue her, killing the beast."

"A hero...like you?" Stella asked softly.

Shinn blushed fiercely, and took a few seconds to recover the power of speech. "I, I guess so."

Stella looked among the stars, her eyes seeking familiar shapes. Shinn helped her, pointing and gesturing and talking. Vague thoughts perked at the edges of her subconscious, helping her along, putting occasional words in her mouth.

Eventually Stella got tired. Shinn pulled the blanket up to her chin and began wheeling her bed back inside as she slowly fell asleep.

**~Line Break~**

"Look mommy!" A tiny girl, maybe four or five, pointed eagerly at the sky. "The stars are out! Come on, let's go count them!"

A gentle, wheezing laugh. "You can't count all the stars, sweetie. There's too many of them!"

The girl swelled up indigently and said, "Sure I can! I'll count all of them. And one day, I'll go up, bring one down from the sky and make it into a necklace for you!"

Soft, fragile hands wrapped around her shoulders. This was a hug; it was different from Shinn's, but it radiated warmth and security all the same. "That would be wonderful, my little angel. Don't forget to bring one for yourself, too. Then we'll match!"

"Yup!"

The small blonde child leaned back in her mother's arms. They both stared up at the sky, the distant crashing of the waves against the beach the only thing to disturb the silence.

**~Line Break~**

"What's wrong, mommy?"

Wide magenta eyes stared at the bed. A tall, slender figure lay in it, pale as a ghost. The woman smiled weakly and tried to speak, but her eyes widened and she was seized by a violent coughing fit. Mortified, the little girl ran to her side and squeezed her hand.

"Mommy!"

The coughing slowly subsided, and the woman looked contritely at her daughter. "I'm sorry, Stella. Mommy isn't...isn't feeling very well. I don't know if I can take you out today."

The little girl shook her head, crawling onto the bed and burrowing under the woman's arm. "I don't mind mommy! We'll watch TV together instead." She reached out and pulled the drawer open, revealing a black remote.

The woman smiled and gave the little girl an amused look. "And how did you know that was where I put it?" She asked with mild reprimand.

The girl blanched; she had forgotten that her mother had hidden the remote away because she had been watching TV late at night instead of going to sleep. She had managed to find it after some searching, but she hadn't meant to reveal that. "Ah...I can explain..."

After a few seconds, the woman laughed and squeezed the little girl to her side. "You're a smart little one, aren't you? You're going to be able to do all sorts of wonderful things when you get older."

**~Line Break~**

"Mommy?"

"What is it, Stella?"

"What's a space monster?"

The slender woman looked at her little girl in alarm. "Who said that to you?"

The little girl shrugged; she wasn't as upset as she could have been otherwise, since she didn't really understand what she had heard. She was thinking about it because the boy who'd heard the phrase had been very upset. "Not to me, mommy. There were some boys at school who said it to someone else."

The woman took a deep breath and knelt down in front of the girl. "Stella, 'Space Monster' is a very foul and cruel name used to describe coordinators. Your teacher taught you about them, right?"

"Yes mommy. They aren't human anymore, right?"

"NO!" The woman burst out angrily. Her child flinched and skittered away from her; her expression became soft again. "I'm sorry, love. I didn't mean to shout." She placed her hands on her daughter's shoulders, her sweet, impressionable daughter who shouldn't be taught hatred like this, and finished with a serious look in her eyes, "But that's wrong, Stella. Coordinators are still human; they've just had changes made to their bodies that make them stronger and smarter than they would have been otherwise."

"O-Oh..." The little girl thought about that for a minute, before her face screwed up with confusion. "Is...that a bad thing?"

"No, sweetie. It's just a choice made for them when they were born, by their parents."

"...I don't understand. Then why didn't the teacher say so?"

Her mother pulled her into a hug. "Because some people are jealous of those who can do what they can't," she explained softly. "They put them down and treat them as different so they can feel better about themselves."

"But...but that's so stupid!"

"I know, darling. Promise me you won't ever say that, okay?"

"I promise, mommy."

**~Line Break~**

Stella woke up roughly twenty four hours later, still feeling exhausted and wrung out like an old dishcloth. The withdrawal from the gamma drug wasn't as rapid as it was for the original three Extended, but the symptoms were the same. Deep sleep becomes impossible, the body experiences bursts of burning pain, before eventually giving out under the strain. It was dark, and the doctor that was often hovering around her was gone.

She was alone.

"Shinn?" She rasped, looking around. The room was empty. "Shinn...?"

Where was he? He was always there with her.

Stella turned her head to the right, unable to move and lie on her side thanks to the restraints still pinning her arms and legs to the bed. Frowning, she began twisting her arms in the leather, meaning to escape and go find him. Where was her Shinn? He couldn't be hurt, right? He wouldn't just up and leave her. No, he promised. He would never stop protecting her. It must be the people here...like the Doctors back in that place... They were keeping her from him...

She hissed in discomfort as she pulled and bent her wrists in the restraints; the leather was burning her skin the harder she tugged. The ropes were tight and professionally done. However, Stella was not an Extended for nothing. She would get out of them.

After seething, struggling and thrashing for what felt like forever, Stella finally got her left arm free – dislocating her wrist in the process, but that was easy to fix! Feeling more than a little pleased with herself, Stella reset the limb and untied her other arm, and then her legs in short order. Tossing the buckles aside, she stood up – and nearly fell over; her legs were numb and shaky without the drug to keep her strong. Stumbling, Stella forced herself to stand up right and walked, one foot in front of the other, towards the door and hit the activation key several times before it slid open.

Leaning heavily on the wall to steady herself, Stella stepped out into the hallway...and immediately hit upon a problem. The hall was long and went both ways. She could see an elevator, low lights, and nothing resembling a map.

Where was she? Where was she supposed to go? Where would Shinn be?

Stella shivered violently; her body objected to this adventure. What would she do if the other monsters here found her?

"Promise me you won't ever call anyone that, darling."

Stella blinked. That thought...she'd heard it in her dream...

Who had said it to her? ...Her mother?

"Mo...ther...?"

I promise, mommy.

...not to call people monsters...

Shaking her head slightly, unsure, Stella pressed herself against the wall and looked around. Eventually she decided to try and get to the elevator – one step at a time. Slowly she inched towards it, listening acutely for any sign that her escape from the hospital room had been raised. So far it seemed that it hadn't, which was odd – the last time she tried to get out of bed without permission (last time? What last time?) alarms were blaring the moment she pushed the door open-

The thought caused her to seize up. Memories of pitch black hallways, being tied to a metal gurney, laughter and masked skeletons and needles and being trapped. Pain and fear, locked up in the dark, away from everything, forgetting everything, loosing bits and pieces of herself until there was nothing left-

She collapsed. Again. It hurt less since she was semi expecting it, or maybe it was because the psychosomatic pain crashing through her mind was so omnipresent she barely registered anything else. Her chest heaved as broken sobs forced their way out, the hallway around her twisting and writhing until it transformed into the black hell that was Lodonia. This time, however...this time she didn't cry out for help, or out of fear. Something inside her rejected that. She simply curled up, refusing to show any fear, simply gritting her teeth and crying in relative silence as she mentally prepared herself to be drugged, to loose herself in the darkness and the pain.

Footsteps. And here are the doctors. Stella braced herself as best she could.

"What the-?!" The footsteps sped up, then paused, then there was a rustle and someone was kneeling down in front of her. "How did you-? You fell? Look at me, please – are you alright?"

Stella's mind went mercifully blank. Are you alright? What sort of question was that? "Shinn?" She wondered, before looking up and meeting the not-doctor's eyes.

No, this wasn't Shinn. It was a different boy, slightly taller, possibly the same age or close to it. Her blurry eyes fixated on what looked like a silver bird's wing, on the right shoulder of his uniform. It was the only thing that differentiated it from Shinn's. He must be the Commander. Like Neo. Stella grew cold inside, He will be furious that I managed to get out of the room. Maybe he won't let Shinn see me anymore. A desolate hole formed in her chest at the thought.

"Please, say something. Are you hurt?" The boy repeated. He didn't sound angry. He sounded...kind of worried. Almost like Shinn, but different.

"I'm always hurt," Stella responded quietly. "Always."

The young man's expression twisted for a moment, rage and sadness in equal measure – a look Stella was unfamiliar with. He hissed something she didn't understand, something that sounded vile, and she shed away from him.

He reached out as if to touch her, then hesitated, and instead asked, "Where were you trying to go?" There was an odd cadence to the question – as if he already had a theory, and was simply seeking confirmation.

"I..." Stella pulled her legs closer to her chest. She wasn't sure she trusted this person. "I...I was alone..." She nodded towards the door. "No one was there."

"The doctor went ashore to restock supplies," The commander explained. "Lunamaria was supposed to be on call to watch you, but everyone's tired since-" He halted abruptly, before finishing, "-since our last operation. I guess she hasn't gotten here yet..."

Stella didn't answer that. Her breathing came out raggedly. She wondered why they hadn't left her at Lodonia. She couldn't imagine she was a very useful prisoner. Extended were disposable. (Who had said that?) And if she had been captured by monsters...except...

What if they weren't monsters?

The thought brought Stella up short. She looked up slowly, meeting the commander's eyes for the first time. The emerald green orbs were fixed on her arms, badly burned and scraped from escaping the leather straps. "I guess I shouldn't be surprised you got out of those..." He mused, half to himself. "You've probably been tied down like that before."

Stella nodded slowly.

"Look, you shouldn't be trying to walk around on your own," The commander said awkwardly; he wasn't very talented at offering comfort or support – at least not verbally. He was a kind man but had difficultly expressing himself. "The doctor hopes that a different treatment will help you more, but you shouldn't strain yourself while you're waiting. Here...I'll help you get back to the room."

Stella shield away and pressed herself against the wall. "N-No! Please...I don't want to stop feeling anymore! I'll stay, I'll be good, please, I don't want to forget. I don't want to forget him! I loose part of me every time you put me under, please, please-!"

The hysteria built in her throat until it was all she could do not to wail and scream her pleas; the hallway tilted violently as she sucked in short sharp breaths between words, even though she knew they hated it when she begged.

She pressed her knees close to her face. "Don't lock me up in the dark," She sobbed softly. "Don't make me forget who I am."

The commander paused. Anger flashed through his eyes again, it must be because she was making a nuisance of herself...then it bled out and he just looked worried. Stella was starting to get a headache from this; why were all these people so strange? At least the doctors at Lodonia had been consistent.

Nevertheless, the young man seemed to come to a decision all at once. Standing up, he left Stella where she was and walked over to the wall. Tapping it, he asked, "Shinn? Shinn, are you awake?"

Stella's head snapped up in pure surprise. He wasn't going to hurt her? He wasn't angry? He didn't mind that she was crying...? He was asking for Shinn?

"...No, we're not under attack. It's the girl – yeah, she's out of her room, I don't know how – I think she's looking for you – yeah, don't worry. I'll stay with her."

The commander switched the system off and returned to the wall where Stella was lying. She looked up at him in awe. "I'll see if there's some sort of low light that we can leave on in the hospital." He offered. "If it helps calm your nerves."

"...Who are you?" Stella wondered aloud.

He looked surprised, and then smiled reassuringly as best he could. "Athrun Zala. I work with Shinn on board this ship."

"Athrun..." Stella echoed, trying the name out. When he didn't get angry, when he looked relieved that she seemed comfortable speaking to him, she found herself smiling.

Athrun dutifully remained with her for a quiet three minutes, at which point the elevator chimed and Shinn hurtled out of the doorway nearly crashing into the wall in his haste. Stella brightened and reached out for him; he ran to her side and gently picked her up, bridal style. "Oh Stella. I'm sorry you woke up alone." He said.

His hour long apology broke off into a stutter as Stella pressed against him, nestling into his embrace so her head rested against his heart. She missed the understanding look that Athrun threw at Shinn's back as the redcoat carefully carried her back into the infirmary.

Shinn was about to put her down when Stella grabbed at his shoulder. "It's so bare here," she whispered. "So silent. I keep thinking I'm back-" she stopped. She didn't want to say the name, invoke more of those awful memories. She didn't want the memories those people had given her. "-...can you stay? For a little?"

He nodded, not wanting to say anything – he didn't want to frighten her with his anger. It was always there; bubbling in his veins and under his skin, flaring up every time he thought the world might get better only to discover yet more atrocities. Before he just wanted the Earth Alliance beaten. Now he wanted to destroy it, burn it down and salt its ashes. No organization that condoned things like this deserved to exist; whether headed by naturals or coordinators. So instead he walked to the side bunk, built into the wall, and sat down on it, leaning against the thin pillow and balancing her in his lap.

"Shinn?"

"Yeah?"

"Do you get in trouble for worrying about me?"

"No." He said, shaking his head. Well, maybe that wasn't entirely true – the Captain, while all genuinely sympathetic to Stella and willing to bring her to ZAFT in hopes of saving her, would prefer that Shinn not zero in on her as completely as he had. Shinn was guiltily aware of his tendencies towards insubordination; though technically he wasn't much worse than other redcoats had been in his shoes (frankly, Yzak Joule had been much more flagrant, for much weaker reasons, and had never been disciplined until after the war was over) so he'd returned to his regular schedule to give her one less thing to worry about. "I'm just more busy...we're getting close to a tricky place to navigate."

"Oh." Stella nuzzled his chest as she sifted through what that statement meant, exactly. Shinn blushed lightly, adjusting his hold on her so one arm surrounded her shoulders. "You'll protect me, Shinn?"

"Yeah. Always." He promised, and he meant it; it was a reckless thing to do in war, but he'd never been a cautious person.

"Then...then promise...I'll never have to go back to Lodonia?"

Shinn tensed at the name; he knew that damned place would be haunting his nightmares for the foreseeable future and he'd never been a prisoner there. He hoped he wasn't about to trigger another panic attack. "It's been destroyed. You'll never go back there. I promise."

"Destroyed?" Stella shuddered, her fingers digging into his chest. Whether it was fear or from going cold turkey wasn't clear, though it was probably both. "How?"

"I don't know." Shinn said cautiously. That's funny...I think she's more coherent than before. She didn't ask questions, or wonder...is it because the drugs are wearing off? "Everyone had left when we got there." It wasn't a total lie...everyone alive had left. "The Captain thinks there was a mutiny."

Stella made a small noise, like musing. "I'm tired, Shinn."

"Then get some sleep." Shinn urged, stroking her hair. "I'm right here. I'll protect you."

Stella sighed softly and raised her head to look at him. Her violet eyes were dull and drained, but her lips pulled into a tentative smile so at odds with her former body language that it lit up her face in spite of that. "I know." Then she lay against his shoulder, her breathing softening as she relaxed.

Shinn inhaled a shaky breath; Stella's scent filling his senses as he did so. She felt so fragile in his arms. They had hauled all the data from Lodonia that they could, including all the drugs and such that were used on the test subjects – Captain Gladys intended to present all of it to Chairman Durandel when they arrived at their next destination. Shinn hoped that the Chairman would then let the whole living world know what those Earth Alliance bastards were capable of. Stella deserved that much.

Now the doctors just had to reverse engineer a cure out of all that tragedy...

End Chapter

So this is our opening - Stella's still at her lowest, but being separated from Roanoke is causing her to remember things...this isn't just a shipping fic, it's character driven for Stella - as she takes back her identity and sense of self even in the face of what the EA did...and bringing some retribution in along for the ride. Shinn is the secondary protagonist (obviously) and he'll be changing along with her - don't expect him to get screwed over for Saint Kira here.

Read and Review please!