A/N: I swore I wouldn't write this story. I have a ton of other things, writing included, as well as work and Real Life. I didn't want the concept to turn into an almost-abandoned schtick like some of my other fics became while I concentrated on my New Big Thing. But something just drove me to fire up Word and start this.
There are a lot of Gundam Seed school-days fics out there, but I want to make the very best one. It's drawing most of its references and experiences from classic schoolmedia (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Rock 'n Roll High School Forever, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Clueless, Saved by the Bell, etc.) and most of the minor details like geography, layout of buildings and hangouts, etc. are derived from my high school experience.
I assure you that this is NOT self-insertion, there are no OCs or Gary Stus (I may have to use a few as extras, but hopefully not as much) and for the current time, we're staying within Seed. Sorry, ShinnxLuna fans.
Constructive criticisms and reviews are always welcome. I welcome negative and positive reviews,so long as they aren't , I want to know what constitutes really great GS and GSD fanfic. People, if you have a favorite author or story, let me know; my E-mail link is in my profile. Or you could leave it along with a review… heh heh. ;-)
Thanks to Lakewood for supporting this idea, almost a year ago to the day, as well as his beta reading.
The title is an homage to the seminal Boyz II Men album, Cooley High Harmony. I picked it for the sound alliteration and little else... I just miss Boyz II Men, that's all.
Last bit of housekeeping: a lot of names changed when translated to English. For purposes of naming (e.g. Dullindal vs. Durandal), I'm using Wikipedia's names for characters.
Updated on May 20th with Lakewood's beta edits. Thanks, Lakewood!
On with the show!
1: Can't Hardly Wait
Monday, September 6th, 72 CE
18 Rhododendron Way
It wasn't the sunlight or even the chirping birds. He was used to those by now; fortunately, the migratory crows that had been bothering him, constantly cawing outside his room, were blessedly silent today.
It was the Haro that got to him.
Through the wall of the room next door.
"Haro! It's morning already! Haro!"
Kira Yamato shuddered from the sudden, sharp shock of the electronic voice, barely muffled by the wall.. The voice had bolted him out of a deep, restful sleep that had only begun five hours ago.
"Haro! You're looking well! Haro!"
Burying his face in his pillow did nothing. Pulling his blankets over his head not only didn't muffle the sound well enough, but quickly made it way too hot under the covers.
"Mwrrrr..." He grumbled a low mutter as he swung his legs out of bed, scratching his chest under his battered, wrinkled black T-shirt that served as half of his pajamas. The mutter was followed by a yawn that sucked up most of the oxygen in the room.
"Turn your stupid alarm clock off..." he half-muttered, half-yelled. Kira flung himself back onto his bed, his dark violet eyes bleary with sleep. Rubbing them did nothing, and having them closed only made him want to flop back onto his pillow.
"Haro! Eat your breakfast! Haro!"
Kira muttered a curse under his breath. She finally comes back after all these years, he thought bitterly, and all she has to show for it is some dumb Japanese alarm clock robot thing.
He got to his feet, and after a moment's vertigo, he trudged out to his almost-long-lost sister's room. A few pounds on the door interrupted the mechanical sounds of "Haro! Haro!" along with the flapping of its little... wing things... and other enthusiastic sounds.
"Hey!" he yelled/muttered as he pounded. "Turn that thing off; I'm trying to sleep here!"
Kira's next pound on the door was cut short as it flew open. He saw a glare from a pair of accusing brown eyes just before his pounding fist socked the forehead between them.
Downstairs, the old tortoiseshell laminate kitchen table shook briefly as an audible thud echoed from upstairs. The empty glasses in a cabinet clinked from the vibrations of the sound as a series of angered footsteps trundled in from the bedrooms into the kitchen, leaving Kira prostrate on the floor from a hard punch to the stomach.
Cagalli Yula Athha, the source of the angry quasi-march, tossed her shoulder-length dark blonde hair over her shoulder as she stretched her neck out. A few satisfying pops later, she looked back over her shoulder as Kira brought himself back up.
"Good morning to you too," she said with a wry smile as her brother came back to his feet.
"You didn't have to hit me," Kira protested as he opened the cabinet, fishing out a glass. "Of all the times not to have any coffee in the house..."
"You're not awake after all that?" Cagalli poured herself some grapefruit juice and popped her daily multivitamins. "I figured you'd be sleeping like it's still summer. You'll thank me tomorrow when you get a good night's sleep tonight."
Kira took a bottle of soda from the fridge and drank some straight from the container. "That's a reason enough to sleep in today!"
"Hey!" Cagalli shot an angry look at Kira. "The rest of us have to drink from that!"
"It's too early," Kira yawned. "I can't pour properly on five hours' sleep."
"It's not like you should be drinking soda in the morning. You're pretty immature sometimes, Kira."
"Oh, so I guess you're in charge now, huh?"
"If Mom and Dad hadn't left me in charge, I'd be the one drinking that from the bottle," Cagalli said with a sigh. "I hope you managed to get the rest of your notebooks."
"Yeah, I got those. I stole yours."
There wasn't much conversation over the cereal, a mutually agreeable honey-nut granola that had emerged from rigorous debate between the siblings. When Muselix and Cocoa Puffs came into conflict, it was all they could do to compromise.
"You're driving, right?"
"Yeah." Cagalli jangled the keys of her battered '56 Toysler-Ford Hierophant, five days removed from its prior original owner. They had barely been able to agree on how to buy and use a car, but Kira managed to contribute just enough to edge out his sister's amount..It was a battered old sedan, but it got the job done and even came with a refurbished fuel cell straight from the dealer. "You don't have any plans to go anywhere after school?"
"Nah, not unless something comes up. I just hope it doesn't." Kira sighed, fiddling with the collar of his shirt. "I just want to get back home and finish up from last night."
"You're on that damn computer too much." Cagalli slid her empty cereal bowl over to Kira. "Here, you get those and I'll pull the car out."
The cereal bowls went into the recently-emptied dishwasher and Kira went to brush his teeth. The teenager stared into the mirror for a moment, his dark eyes not really reflecting much. He rubbed the last of his sleepiness out, splashed some cold water onto his face, grabbed his favorite messenger bag, and locked the front door behind him. The Heirophant was already whirring at idle.
"Let's get going," Cagalli annoyingly yelled, beeping the horn with her trademark half-scowl on her face.
"Sieg Zeon," Kira mumbled, dripping with sarcasm, as he popped open the door and buckled his seat belt. Cagalli had already shifted into gear.
Brighton Yard Avenue
North Heliopolis, CT
His father's Bentley was a custom job, an import that had been handed down for generations. The current driver was the grandson of the original chauffeur, the mechanic was a Herefordshire farmer's grandson, having moved far up from tractors. The only part of the car that wasn't British in some way was its passenger.
Athrun Zala never really liked the new uniform. It was fine to wear, perfectly comfortable, but the martial appearance didn't really lend itself to him.
A button-down shirt and slacks would have been fine for me, he thought, undoing the clasps of the stand-up collar, but I guess this is what sold Father on ZAFT High.
ZAFT. The Zodiac Academy for the Future of Tomorrow. Despite its name, the private foundation had strong ties to the Zala Foundation and its charitable giving. The chairman of the board for the Heliopolis Museum of Arts and the Coastal Connecticut Opera Foundation (as well as his father on off hours), Patrick Zala was so heavily involved in the business side of his job that he was surprised at his son's technical inclination.
"Don't get wrapped up in the operations side of things, Athrun," he had growled. "You've got too much promise to be working at some help desk or call center. If that's what you want to do, give ZAFT High a chance first. You can learn all you want, but they'll teach you what you really need. It's better than Heliopolis High, at any rate."
So it was over the previous spring. It was a long, hard chain of arguments and debates to move Athrun from the prestigious Pequot Prep to ZAFT, but after special dispensation from Chairman Durandal (That and probably a sizable donation, Athrun grumbled sardonically) he was able to transfer all his prior high school course credits to ZAFT.
"Is something troubling you, Master Athrun?" the driver asked, his Scottish accent still ever-present in his voice.
"Just nerves," the young man said, shaking his head with a smile. "I really wanted to go to Heliopolis High, but ZAFT is as close as it gets, I suppose. I didn't actually think Mother and Father would allow it."
"When it comes down to it, sir, they would do anything for you. You're the future of the Zala family, after all."
"Father's been very committed ever since we came to Heliopolis. I guess he was kind of disappointed that I wanted to move away from Pequot and Yale. I still haven't told him about enlisting yet."
"It'd break your mother's heart, young master."
"I know it would…" Athrun propped his head on his hand, staring out the wide window of the big luxury sedan. His sea-blue eyes reflected halfway back at him, halfway out at the rolling, hilly forests of the suburban Connecticut town. "But if I don't… I feel like I'll never do anything in my life."
The rest of the ride was relatively quiet. The wrought-iron gates of the modern school were almost always open, and students in ZAFT uniforms – the boys' consisting of the same semi-Napoleonic dark maroon military jacket and dress slacks, the girls' a more conventional blazer and pleated gray skirt – were mostly heading toward the main doors of Amuro Hall, the main building on the campus.
"Thanks, Angus," Athrun acknowledged his driver. He had long since abandoned the formality of justcalling him "McCrory," as his father did.
"Nary a problem, young master," the driver acknowledged as he held the door open for his young charge.
Athrun checked his collar again. Here goes nothing.
Heliopolis Regional High School
They pulled into the farthest parking space from the high school building just as thefirstwarning bell rang.
"If we're late because you got lost, I'm not covering your ass, Cagalli," Kira moaned.
"Shut up!" she shot back. "I did the best I could, but we'd either be late because of traffic or late because I took a shortcut!"
They raced the hundred or so yards into the building, trading insults like a typical brother and sister, until they managed to hang a left by the main office, going past the cafeteria, and down the hall in towards the English wing. Room 23 and 25 awaited Cagalli and Kira respectively. Kira managed to skid to a stop just in front of the door, walking through quietly and without too much of a rush. The next person through the door was the teacher.
"Okay, let's do this," an enthusiastic, wry voice called out over the buzzing of conversation in the classroom. A tall, handsome man with wavy blonde hair, sharply blue eyes,and a sculpted face walked through the door, closing it behind him. "This is 12th grade, homeroom 25. I'm Mwu La Flaga, and I'll be teaching Current Events, Speaking and Rhetoric, Social Psychology. I just started to advise the Drama Club and I'm also a backup coach on the fencing and judo teams. You'll be hearing enough of my voice throughout the year, but I'm pretty sure you might not be too scared. I hope."
Most of the class chuckled at that. A few of the girls quickly whispered some excited comments to each other. Kira picked up a "he's so cute!" from one of them.
"I'll be passing out all the usual paperwork: name and address cards, waivers for your parents to sign and bring in, and this year's student handbook. I've been asked to tell you all to note a big change: the school's honor code now involves interactions with students in other schools. Nobody wants a repeat of the plastic cement incident with ZAFT High or their little chemistry experiment on our Haroball fields. Keep it civil." Mwu stared down the groans and protests. "People, ZAFT students are students just like you, with the same goals, hopes, and dreams. Prank wars aren't how we do things here. Clear?"
"Clear," the general mumble came back. Kira raised an eyebrow; he wasn't big on the sports teams, but he knew that everyone who did follow sports was disappointed that the homecoming game was cancelled due to a strange liquefaction of the field only hours before gameday.
"Good. Enough housekeeping." The teacher pulled the chair from behind his desk at the front of the room, dragged it across the linoleum floor, and sat on it, arms resting on the back as he leaned forward with a friendly grin. "So let me get to know you people a little. Let's start from my left: name, rank, and serial number."
In room 23, a similar routine was going on.
"I teach World History I and II," Ms. Murrue Ramius was explaining as she passed out her share of the forms and sheets to her students. Cagalli scanned the student handbook idly, halfway bored already. "I've also been working with the Literature Club, the student newspaper, and I'm advisor to the Student Council for the seniors. If any of you are concerned about anything, you don't have to be in a class with me to come talk to me." The young teacher looked up and smiled. "Despite what many of you might have heard, I try to make things a little enjoyable."
It didn't help that peals of laughter came from next door.
"I mean, what is the deal with airline food?" the student in front of Kira expounded, talking with one hand while the other was tucked in the pocket of his jeans. "It's nice to eat and everything, but maybe we want to take the other half of the quarter-egg omelet in a doggy bag."
Great. So much for standing out.
"Okay, Mr. Feldstein, you can sit down now," Mwu gestured ostentatiously. "We won't applaud, we'll just throw money. Next, you there." He gestured towards Kira.
Kira stood up. "Hi, I'm Kira Yamato," he started off, looking around the room. "I've been going to Heliopolis High since I was a kid… my sister Cagalli just started here this year since she's been studying in Orb for the past few years. I'm really into computers and mechanical things like that, but I've been doing lighting for the Drama Club, too. Be gentle with me," he finished off on a joke.
Not quite the reaction I'd hoped for, but…
"Nicely said," Mwu joked. "Someone needed to play the mysterious and quiet card. Next victim?"
"I'm Cagalli Yula Athha," Cagalli announced, standing up with a loud scrape of her chair. "Seventeen years old. Kira Yamato is my brother; he's next door. I just came back from studying in Orb while my parents were working there."
"How's he your brother if your last names are different?" one student asked.
"It's a long story," she shot back.
"So what would you like to do here, Cagalli?" Murrue asked, smiling.
"Probably just play football or rugby or something like that."
The class chuckled. "Those are boys' sports, genius," someone yelled.
"Spare me the details." Cagalli rolled her eyes. "I don't expect you to understand, but there's such a thing ascivic teams. You people can just go bash your heads against the wall and go prank ZAFT, and-"
"Thank you, Cagalli," Murrue interjected. "Not to upstage you, but it's Mr. Argyle's turn. Sai, I remember you from last year, but why not introduce yourself to everyone else?"
Zodiac Academy for the Future of Tomorrow
"Ladies and gentlemen," Chairman Gilbert Durandal, the head of theZAFT Foundation's board and the principal, spoke from the podium of the school's stately auditorium. "Welcome to another year at ZAFT. We take great pride in our standards and our students, and in passing them on to society. By incorporating the facilities into our academics, we have aimed to create the leaders of tomorrow by teaching it directly…"
Athrun had heard the speech before, either at his father's fundraisers, the entrance ceremony at Pequot Prep, at every single formal function he'd sat through, been dragged to, or forced to attend. He was smiling, but not by virtue of the speech.
He'd spotted her out of the corner of his eye, and there wasn't a doubt in his mind. It was her.
"Hey," a voice whispered to him from behind, followed by a tap on his shoulder; he turned from his sudden reverie. "You look new."
It was a young-looking boy with lime-green hair and blue trim on his uniform. A first-year student, the equivalent of a tenth-grader.
"Yeah," Athrun whispered back. "Is there anything important that he ends up talking about?"
"Not really. I'm Nicol Amalfi."
"Athrun Zala." He turned to shake the other student's hand.
"Where'd you come from?"
"Pequot Prep. My dad wanted me to end up in Yale and Wharton."
"So did mine," Nicol nodded in agreement. "But my mom wouldn't let him do that. I'm here for music theory. Piano."
"There are music programs here, too?" Athrun asked. He thought ZAFT was only about tech studies programs and high-level liberal arts.
"ZAFT isn't just for mechanical engineers anymore," Nicole smiled. "My friend Dearka is actually one of the few who got into the aviation program. He gets to go fly a training Zaku once a week. He even knows someone who's part of JROTC while he's taking classes."
Athrun's eyes went wide. "They really let students pilot a Zaku?"
"I'll introduce you. He can tell you more."
"Welcome to the 72nd academic year at ZAFT," Durandal finished. "We have high hopes for each and every one of you."
Kira had lucked out; he had first lunch section with most of his old friends. Tolle Koenig and Kuzzey Buskirk had already staked out the same edge of the same table at which they'd eaten lunch for most of the last year. One chair was conspicuously empty.
"So what's it like with your sister back home?" Tolle asked between bites of turkey on rye. "She's probably busy chopping down trees and stuff."
"She's not that tough," Kira responded, quietly sizing up his sandwich. He was only good at making tuna fish, and tuna fish it was, just as it had been every day over the summer. "She really doesn't get in the way or anything like that, if that's what you mean. She kicked in for half of the car, so it's cool, really."
"I still can't believe your parents let you buy a car!" Kuzzey protested. "Mine won't let me use my savings, they won't buy it themselves, they won't let me get a job or anything."
"Hey, it's better than the alternative. I had to work delivering documents all summer." Kira had appreciated the practice driving the messenger service's big vans, but it wasn't exactly fun given the lack of air conditioning. "Tolle, didn't your parents get you a car?"
"Yeah, but I can walk to school and work, which is good since the fuel cell just died." Tolle took a drink from a can of green tea. "It's gonna be six hundred to replace it. I'll need a ride for a while," he lamented.
"Too bad Sai's still wrapped up with Flay," Kuzzey said, stealing a cheese puff from Kira's lunch. "I still can't believe they've been going out all summer!"
"I still can't believe his father made him take her to the junior prom as a business deal…" Kira lamented. He still wasn't sure if he still had a crush on the beautiful Flay yet. His shyness always got the best of him when it came down to finding an opening when she was hanging around with Milliaria and her friends…
"This will always be his chair, no matter what," Tolle pronounced. "None shall occupy it until our buddy returns!"
"Hey, Kira, I'm starving," he heard Cagalli from behind him. She strode up briskly, sat down in Sai's seat, and stole the other half of Kira's homemade tuna fish and cheese puffs. Three blank stares met her as she looked up between bites. "What? Something on my face?"
The cafeteria was glass and steel all over, with an open wall of food, beverages, condiments, accessories, anything that anyone might want. There were no lines or cashiers, just students walking up and taking whatever they wanted – salads, sandwiches, even what appeared to be an international section featuring Mexican food – then sitting down with their friends. Athrun looked down at a bottle of water and a roast beef sandwich, a delicate spiral of mustard on the face of the cold cuts. He thought for a moment, deciding between that and freshly-ground peanut butter, and opted for the roast beef.
"Yes, it's all free for whenever you like it," Nicol answered the question on Athrun's face. "Most of it is a donation from ShopCentral Supermarkets; their family's been going to ZAFT for years. Yzak Joule's mother is their current CEO and she's an alumni."
Athrun let out a whistle. "This is really impressive."
"The food is lousy, though," Nicol said with a wry smile, picking out a grilled vegetable salad. "Over time, you'll figure out what they make fresh and what they get from ShopCentral."
"I'll say," Athrun said with a frown at the roast beef. It was definitely roasted; it made charcoal look like snowflakes by comparison. He choked down the sandwich a bite at a time, vowing to go for a salad.
"Yo, Nicol!" a jovial voice called out. Nicol and Athrun turned to the tall, tanned blonde senior that had held up his hand in greeting. "Who's the fresh meat?"
"Dearka, this is Athrun Zala. He's a new senior. Athrun, meet Dearka Elsman. He's my next-door neighbor."
Athrun and Dearka shook hands. "Welcome to ZAFT. It's pretty tough, but so long as you don't have much sanity to lose or a social life, you'll probably actually graduate."
Athrun tilted his head a little. "Um… thanks?"
Dearka grinned. "Don't worry about it. If you got through the entrance exams, you'll do fine. Just don't freak out like Yzak."
"I heard that, you bastard!" an angry voice yelled out from far too close. Athrun almost jumped in surprise. "Who are you to say that I'm going about this wrong? You're the one who's rolling around in a Zaku trying to pick up women!" The source of the complaint, a pale, angry-looking student with longish white hair, stormed up to Dearka and glared at him.
"Speak of the devil," Dearka lamented.
"What the HELL did you just say, you bastard!" Yzak screamed, grabbing Dearka by his starched collar.
Athrun let them go at each other as he looked past Yzak's shoulder, moving as he shook his fist at Dearka. Just past the white-haired agitator, he saw the same movement as he did at the speech. A small, bouncing pink object.
So she really does go here!
"So that's the details of your first project," Mwu said happily, handing out a sheet to his students along with the week's Newsweek. "Isn't that great? Now you don't have to worry for the future."
The class moaned as one, not having expected to do anything for the first week. Kira paged over the requirements, a four-page analysis of trends in Newsweek, not really looking forward to it. He knew a little about the world around him from RSS feeds, but aside from knowing that Seigel Clyne had recently been elected governor in a recall election, there wasn't all that much else. There wasn't anything in the table of contents concerning Linux releases, thus nothing really excited him.
The bell rang again. School was over for the day.
"Read the article on the election for tomorrow!" Mu called out. "That's all for today, see you next time!"
Cagalli was waiting for him outside the hallway. "You got hit with it too, right?" she asked.
Kira looked at the assignment again. "Four pages due next Monday." He sagged his knees dramatically. "Whatever. Let's just go home."
He stashed his backpack in his nearby locker, not really needing it for the next day, and turned around to call for his sister. He froze in place as he saw his friend Sai coming around the corner, Flay Allster on his arm.
Kira immediately turned and blushed, still not sure about his friend and the girl he wasn't sure he liked. I'm happy for him, but…
"Hey, Kira!" Sai called out, waving. "So you got La Flaga for homeroom, right?"
"Oh, um, yeah," he said shyly, turning around. "Hi, Flay."
"Hi Kira," Flay said with the minimum politeness and acknowledgement. "Hey, Sai, are we going to Minerva's after school?"
"Sure, I guess. Hey, Kira, you wanna come along?"
"Oh, that's OK. Cagalli and I have to start on a project."
"That's what you get for taking Current Events with La Flaga," Sai said sympathetically, adjusting his trademark red-lens sunglasses. "Say hi to Cagalli for me, she's right in front of me in homeroom."
"Oh, yeah, sure," he fumbled. "Later."
"C'mon," Fllay tugged on Sai's elbow. "Let's go play some DDR or something."
Kira sighed as he turned around back to his locker, Cagalli's accusing eyes looking on. "You coming or what?"
"Yeah, let's go home," Kira sighed. "Nothing else to do here anyway."
"Hey, Nicol!" Dearka caught up with Athrun and Nicol as they headed down the main corridor of Amuro Hall. "We're gonna go do it. You still in?"
"You bet I am!" The young student immediately pepped up, a determined eagerness in his eyes. "We're really going to do it?"
"Yeah, I haven't been able to shut Yzak up about it. This is gonna be the best senior year ever." Dearka turned to Athrun. "Hey new guy, wanna come with us? We're going to steal Heliopolis' mascot costume to get them back for Junius Seven."
"Huh? What was Junius Seven?"
"It's what they did to our Haroball team at the seventh game of the Junius Cup," Dearka recounted, punching his palm. "Bottom of the eighth period, the score is tied two-two. Someone on the Heliopolis team snuck in and sabotaged our best Haro. They welded on a metal plate so our best kicker broke his toe on a penalty shot. We lost, 14-2. They call it the Bloody Valentine. Like Valentine's Day, y'know?"
"But you're going to steal their mascot? What is it?"
"Here's our target!" Yzak burst onto the scene, slapping a printed-out photo of someone wearing a strange, boxy outfit, painted in bright white, blue, and red with yellow horns. "The Heliopolis Naturals' mascot, called Strike. It's an obnoxious costume that some obnoxious idiot wears like a moron, prancing around the field at halftime. We're going to put it on the Coordinator statue out front and send the photos back at them!"
"Wait, wait… what statue?"
"George Glenn, the Coordinator," Yzak explained with an exasperated sigh. "Newbie, you'd better shape up and get your ears to the ground, you bastard!"
"Right, right." Dearka stepped in, holding up hands to the seething Yzak and confused Athrun. "So you coming? My car's out front."
"Of course he is!" Yzak shoved Athrun forward. "We need all the hands we can get. Newbie, you'll run interference. Go distract their attention!"
"Wait, I don't care about Heliopolis High!" Athrun protested. He had to catch himself before explaining that the local school had been his first choice. "They haven't done anything wrong!"
"Not yet, but they will," Dearka said flatly. "What kind of team name is 'Naturals,' anyway?"
Perplexed, Athrun followed Yzak and Dearka, Nicol in close tow, out to the parking lot. A shiny new '72 Benzler Buster started up at Dearka's remote signal, and they tore past the crowds of students walking downhill to their respective buses and chauffeured rides home. Athrun idly looked out his window before he was distracted by another eerily familiar flash of bright pink. Bouncing bright pink.
"Hey, wait a second! Stop the car!" Athrun cried out suddenly.
"No stopping!" Yzak shouted, pointing forward like a cavalryman. "We go to take down the Naturals!"
"We're stopping," Dearka deadpanned, braking to a stop. "Make it quick, okay?"
"I will. Thanks." Athrun got out of the car and ran a few yards back. I knew it. I knew it all along!
Heliopolis High (parking lot)
That same time
"What kind of piece of junk did you talk me into buying, Kira?" Cagalli moaned. They were sitting in their Hierophant, dead in the water. She tried the electronic ignition first, then the mechanical backup. Both generated a ready, pitched growl from the starter, but the engine didn't take.
"Try riding on the clutch again," Kira suggested. "Give it some more throttle, too."
"This isn't a computer, Kira. Don't even try." Cagalli popped the hood open and got around to the front, staring at the morass of metal and tubing for the hydrogen fuel cells and the engine. "Start, damn you!" She brought her fist down on the camshaft block, not even wincing.
"I'll go look for someone with a jumper." Kira got out, left Cagalli to curse at the engine, and started walking back to the school. Anyone else with a car had already left the lot. Maybe there's a teacher who has one. Mr. La Flaga might still be around, I hope.
That same time
He didn't even hesitate to walk up and gently tap her on the shoulder.
"Lacus?" He took another step, justa little closer. "It's you, isn't it?"
She wore her long pink hair in a ponytail, contrasting nicely against the maroon cashmere of her uniform blazer. A few locks of her flowing hair danced in the gentle hillside breeze as she turned around, barely appearing to move as she did so.
"Athrun? I had no idea that you were here!"
Lacus Clyne smiled at Athrun as she clasped her leather school bag in front of her with both hands. "It's good to see you again, Athrun," she said gently, her soft tenor voice gracefully toned, a pleasing song even when she wasn't singing. "I didn't think I'd see you again after you went back home from Wellesley."
"My transfer approval came through a day after I came back from the program," he explained, trying not to show his surprise and sudden onset of shyness. "You had to leave so suddenly and I was worried I wouldn't be able to find a way to see you again."
"Oh, I apologize… I wish I had the chance, but when my father's campaign kicked into gear, he practically begged me to come on the trail to sing at his rallies." She smiled, her blue eyes shining from the effort. "I was worried too. I thought I'd never have the chance to work with you again."
"Yeah, me too!" he blurted out suddenly. "I mean, it was really fun teaching those kids with you."
"Wasn't it?" She giggled. "I still have that Haro you made me, too."
There were a series of random electronic tones and a thump from her school bag. Athrun looked down at it; it looked like something was trying to kick its way through. "I can't accept that!" A high-pitched voice bleeped out. "Why in the hell!"
Athrun laughed a little. "I knew I saw something loud, bright, and bouncy. You really still kept that?" His little mechanical toys were the hit of the summer camp they taught at. Lacus taught singing, Athrun taught electronics, but they had both volunteered to take over the musical theater program. They'd first met when Athrun had almost dropped a bank of spotlights on her.
"He was the star of the campaign." Lacus opened her bag and took out the tiny ball-shaped robot, holding it out in her open right hand.
It bounced a few times, flapping its non-functioning metal wings. "Athrun! I can't accept that!" the Haro beeped abraisively.
Athrun laughed a little. "Wow, it's still holding together, too!"
"Don't say that. It's very well built. I'm really glad you made it for me." Lacus tilted her head and smiled. Athrun tried to stay on his feet, save for a honking horn behind him.
"Hey!" an angry Yzak-shout came from the Buster. "What are you doing, you bastard!"
"Umm…" he stammered for a moment. "We were just going to go and, uh… I'm going to help them steal Heliopolis' mascot," he explained. "I think they did something to us last year, and if it's true, we're supposed to get them back."
"Well… you have to do what you have to do, I suppose." Lacus sighed. "These prank wars don't accomplish anything but create more prank wars. I wish that everyone would settle down." The horn started honking again.
"Yeah, me too." Athrun shook his head. "I think I'm just going along to keep them from blowing up the school. But sometime later… can we, um… maybe…"
He took a breath and recomposed himself. Go. This is Lacus. You know her. She knows you. Are you really that nervous? Would she laugh in your face?
"Maybe we can get together sometime soon?" he asked. "It'd be great to catch up, just to talk again."
"Of course." Lacus smiled and reached into her school bag again, withdrawing a pink sheet of paper from a notepad. "Here, now you don't have any excuse." She jotted down a phone number and folded the paper into neat quarters. "Athrun, it's really so nice to see you again. I'm glad you're going to ZAFT. I hope we end up having some classes together."
"Thanks." Athrun accepted the sheet, his fingertips touching hers as he reached out. He had to fight his reflex to keep his hand where it was, but he tucked the number into his wallet securely. The horn honked again.
"Hey!" Dearka called out. "Unless she's coming with us, we gotta move, Athrun!"
"I'll call you!" Athrun said excitedly as he turned around. "I hope we get some classes together, too!"
"Old friend?" Nicol asked.
"Something like that," Athrun replied, smiling broadly. "Let's do this, guys!"
"Now that sounds like an enthusiastic participant!" Dearka remarked. "Welcome to ZAFT High, buddy. Now let's get you properly introduced to our school life!"
Heliopolis High (parking lot)
"No luck?" Kira jogged back up to the car.
Cagalli had a visible grease mark on her forehead. "None."
"Mr. La Flaga is asking around to see if anyone has a jumper," Kira reported.
"Kira, next time you buy a car, get a mechanic to look at it first." Cagalli sighed, closing the hood of the battered blue Hierophant. "This is a dead battery for sure."
"When did you become a mechanic?"
"I worked on mobile suits for the local racing team in Orb. They race 'em like cars over there. It's really fun to watch, so I started helping out the Onogoro Astrays team."
"Then there's no reason why you couldn't have looked at the car before we signed the title," Kira teased, dodging a grease rag that was subsequently thrown at him.
"Here, turn right here!" Yzak shouted. "That's our target, those bastards!"
"I can read Mapquest. Shut up already, Yzak." Dearka signaled and turned into the driveway for Heliopolis Regional High, undoing the snap for his collar and unbuttoning his uniform jacket. "Ditch the uniforms."
The others complied, stowing their distinctive ZAFT jackets away. They all wore white undershirts, save for Yzak.
"REO Speedwagon?" Dearka couldn't stop laughing. "I can't believe you own an REO Speedwagon shirt, Yzak."
"Shut up, you bastard! It was all I had left!"
"I borrowed it from my brother!"
"Your brother's away at college."
"You're the one who's not shutting up. Get down!"
Athrun and Nicol ducked behind the front seats, trying to lower themselves. Yzak didn't even bother until Dearka physically shoved his head into the front panel with a hollow thunk and a barely-muffled curse. Athrun caught a glimpse of well-cared for shrubbery and a sign: "Welcome to Heliopolis Regional High, Home of the Fighting Naturals. Dignity, Respect, Intellect." A large yellow school bus drove past them, more than one student looking down from the windows with a question in their eyes.
"They keep the supplies around the back of the building, by a small utility garage," Yzak whispered from halfway into the glove compartment. "The janitors will probably have left it open."
Kira turned to see the shiny green Buster heading across the main parking lot towards the rear of the building as the last bus left the grounds. "That's the kinda car I want one day," he said in admiration.
"Yeah, they probably have next to zero battery failures," Cagalli protested. She'd given up and started reading her Newsweek.
"There, I see it," Dearka exclaimed. "It's just as you said. Where'd you find this, Yzak?" He pulled the car around the rear as they passed an open utility garage.
"I skipped lunch to run reconnaisance. No way am I eating the stuff we sell!"
Dearka parked out of sight between the building and a line of trees, just shy of a science classroom.
The four students got out and huddled around the trunk of Dearka's car for an impromptu planning session. "Nicol, you go with Athrun and Yzak. Get the mascot uniform and bring it out here. Hurry!" he whispered.
"Don't order me around, y-"
"Come on, let's do this," Athrun tried to hold off the oncoming argument. "We can do this and show them they can't mess with ZAFT!"
"Athrun, whatever happened really got you fired up," Nicol observed as they tried to appear as casual as sneaking students could. "You weren't so sure about this when we left school."
"I just feel like I can actually do something," he said after a moment's thought. "I guess I really feel like I'm in ZAFT now, part of something really meaningful."
"You're damn right that this is meaningful!" Yzak snapped. "Here, help me with the torso."
The mascot outfit was a boxy, robot-like contraption. It looked like a human-shaped robot out of some sort of old sci-fi cartoon, and Athrun swore that he recognized milk cartons for parts of the forearm segments. Its chest segments were painted a bright, royal blue, accented by red cutouts that had to come straight from plastic dinner plates. Is that an Ikea logo? he wondered, looking at a cut-off part of raised lettering.
They removed the Strike from a hook next to a hedge trimmer and a bolt cutter. It was big enough for a human to wear and unfortunately just a little too big for Dearka's trunk.
"Damn!" Yzak pounded his fist on the window pillar of the Buster. "We came this far and we can't steal the Strike!"
"What are we going to do now?" Athrun asked, holding the head of the costume.
"Torso goes in the trunk." Dearka started to detach the right arm. "Everyone, take a limb or two. Athrun, that head would look mighty good on you."
"Huh?" Athrun experimentally put the head part on. "Wow, it's really hard to see in this thing."
"Let's get this thing out of here before-"
"Hey, who are you kids and what're you doing?" a man's voice asked.
"Oh, uh, we were just going to take the mascot and clean it up a little," Dearka quickly lied. "It's kinda stinky."
"Well, hurry it up." A coach looked in at the four students, each of whom quickly pretended to examine their parts closely. "The Haroball team is warming up on the field near the front lot. You, finish suiting up and be out there in five minutes." The coach pointed at Athrun, who was still wearing the Strike mascot helmet, before swiftly walking out of the garage.
"Oh, crap." Athrun swallowed nervously.
"Hey, looks like the Haroball team is starting their practice," Kira pointed out. A group of students wearing track suits were jogging laps around the front lot. Each of them was juggling a large pink practice Haroball between their feet, dribbling like pro soccer players. "Cagalli, weren't you thinking of joining them?"
"No thanks. Haroball is too boring. I'm probably going to join the fencing team since there's not really much girls' rugby or things like that."
"OK, Athrun, finish putting that on and go out to the practice field. We'll come back around the front and pick you up. In ten minutes, be at the corner of the parking lot closest to the driveway." Dearka hustled Nicol and Yzak back into his car.
"You'd better not get caught, because we're not coming to bail you out," Yzak hissed. "Just because you're doing all the work doesn't mean you're going to get all the glory!"
"Huh? Hey, wait a minute, why do I have to do this?"
"Nicol is too small to fit, Yzak will probably try to tackle the Haroball team captain, and I'm the only one here with a driver's license. Besides, we haven't hazed you properly yet." Dearka clapped him on the shoulder proudly. "We're counting on you, Athrun."
Athrun slumped his shoulders and sloughed into the bulky costume, one part at a time, until he was the very figure of the Heliopolis High Strike. Even Yzak's permanent frown broke into a chuckle at the sight as Athrun trod off to the front lot.
"Hey, what's the deal with that?" Kira pointed off back towards the building. "Why did they bring out Strike?"
"Dunno," Cagalli looked up from the driver's side of the Hierophant. "Maybe he's just there to boost people's spirits for the practice."
This is not how I pictured ZAFT, Athrun thought as the team entered a series of passing drills. He was doing his best to act like a mascot, trotting around and waving his hands in the air, but he was convinced that all he was doing was looking silly. Five more minutes. Dammit, I thought my after-school activities with ZAFT would actually take place at ZAFT…
"What is he doing?" Kira said to nobody in particular, opening the door. "That's a new routine."
"You mean you actually went to the games last year?"
"Well, not really, but I did work at the concession stand…"
"Woooo! Let's go, guys!" Athrun cheered, trying to fake his way into being the mascot. This is so stupid. Hurry, Dearka!
Wait a minute… over there, by that car…
Athrun stopped his dancing fool routine almost by reflex. His vision was tinted green by the mesh eyes of the Strike, but the old blue Hierophant sedan was the last car in the parking lot and it had someone leaning up against it. Someone lanky, with tousled brown hair, a vacant yet intelligent gaze in his eyes, and an open, relaxed stance. Someone he knew. The last time I saw someone like that...
"Don't worry, there'll definitely be space for you," he said to the other boy, handing over a burned CD. "Your parents will let you come to Pequot, right?"
"I hope so," he said, taking the CD and holding it close. "I'll miss you until then."
"Don't worry, it won't be long!"
"Kira?" Athrun took off the head of the costume, shaking the sweat from his navy-black hair. "Kira? Kira Yamato?" Athrun raised his voice. "Kira! Is that really you?"
"Someone call me?" Kira looked towards the shouts of the Haroball team and the now-headless mascot. "Wait, who is that guy?"
The two boys started walking towards each other, not needing to take more than ten steps before they could see each other: blue eyes and dark hair met neatly-combed violet eyes and mousy brown hair…
Before they knew it, they were face to face, just a yard or two apart.
"What are you doing here… and what are you doing in the Strike!"
"That's what I'd like to know! Why are you here in Heliopolis? This isn't where you belong!"
"What… what do you mean?"
There were some annoyed shouts as some of the Haroball team began to realize that the mascot wasn't their normal cheerleader-turned-cosplayer. Their shouts were eclipsed by a roar of the engine from a '72 Benzler Buster.
"Athrun, hurry up!" Nicol yelled, throwing open the passenger door of the car. "Let's get out of here!"
"Kira… why are you here?" Athrun was still puzzled. "You were going to go to Pequot… we could even go to ZAFT together…"
"Athrun, this is where I am… and you're stealing our mascot. Why are you doing this, Athrun?"
"Hey, stop him!" a team member shouted from further across the parking lot. "He's got our mascot! He's from ZAFT!"
Athrun turned and ran towards the car, not bothering to say anything to Kira.
"Athrun…" Kira yelled out. "Athrun!" He held out a hand to his old friend, not knowing how to react as he saw him run into the car and practically dive through the door. He saw Athrun's eyes turn to meet his as the car sped off, a disctinctly mixed look of sadness and confusion present in them.
Mu La Flaga came running up just as the car disappeared down the driveway and around the corner, rear tires screeching as they drove away. "Did anyone get the license plate!" he yelled out to the assembled team, Kira, and Cagalli, who had run up just as the car drove away. He was met with numerous shaking heads.
"Athrun…" Kira breathed in. "Athrun is part of ZAFT High now…"
To be continued…