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

The Runaway Princess
Part I

You may think she's happy and free from care, But appearances are not always what they seem to be,
Tis' sad when you think of her wasted life,
for youth cannot mate with age,
And her beauty was sold for another man's gold,
like a bird in a gilded cage

-A Bird in a Gilded Cage, by Arthur Lamb.

A figure leaned on the balcony's railing. Amber eyes that usually sparkled with warmth, gazed coldly down at the bustling city that was just beyond her reach, the bright blinding lights reminding her of fireflies dancing without a care in the world. On lonely nights like these, she often wished that she could be more like a boundless firefly herself, able to shimmer and sparkle vibrantly without having to ever worry about the millions of watchful eyes that were scrutinizing her every move. Instead, she was kept inside a jar for everyone to admire and gaze into, unable to escape, the world only a distorted image through a glass pane.

She couldn't understand how anyone could have been jealous of her caged existence. How thousands of little girls around the world wished to be her - some even dragging the childish dream with them as they aged and wrinkled, wearing glass slippers to pretend they weren't like everybody else, even long after the clock had struck midnight. Sure, every now and again, she got to play dress up and wore expensive designer clothes and drove around in fancy limousines to go to lavish dinner parties with good-looking boys, but being a Princess wasn't anywhere as glamorous as it looked. There were a million details to arrange in her everyday life, details that her Governess had to dutifully organize and maintain, seeing to it that she was where she needed to be, when she needed to be, with whom she needed to be with, at every second of every minute of every moment. One could argue that it wasn't really a life, at all.

Expelling a melancholy huff of air, Cagalli Yula Athha unfastened her delicate robe and slowly peeled it away from her sides, letting the cold breeze of the summer night kiss the flawless tanned skin left bare by her silken negligee. As she stood there, embracing the cutting winds, her eyes kept focused on the marvellous sight in front of her. The sky was painted a dull, beautiful violet, tinged with soft blue, bleeding black as the sun faded in brilliant hues to the west. As darkness began to cloak the city that was her home, buildings beyond the railing started to fill with the shifting shapes of people enjoying themselves and their freedom.

She realized that there must have been a whole world out there only coming alive now, while she spent all her time alone and locked away in the confines of the castle. Something within her heart suddenly filled with sadness that swiftly turned into anger at the very thought. It was terribly unfair – it wasn't like she was some fine china doll; made to trot out when its convenience suited and tucked away high upon a shelf when no longer needed, a pretty ornament for all to look at and feel better knowing it was there should it be required. Yet, that was the way her family, her servants, and her entire nation treated her.

"Oh, that's where you are, Princess!" Myrna's shrill voice called from within her chambers, disrupting her train of thoughts as she opened the door to her room. "You gave me a scare, I've been looking for you absolutely everywhere! Chief Representative Athha is expecting your presence in the banquet hall in less than half an hour. Why aren't you dressed yet?"

She turned around to see a stern expression plastered on the aging face of her keeper. "Dressed for what, Myrna?" Cagalli asked innocently, tilting her head to the side before smiling sweetly and coyly batting her long blonde lashes.

The older woman immediately scowled at the nineteen-year old child in front of her. "You very well know what I'm talking about, Princess, so there's no point in playing these silly little games," She reprimanded, crossing her arms together in a way that told her she wasn't kidding. "Tonight is the night we celebrate the impending union between you and the Count Yunna Roman Seirran."

"Oh…that." She recalled in a tone that suggested she was uninterested in the matter, as she returned her attention back to the concrete jungle before her.

"Oh, that?" The governess tried to remain calm, but anger spilled into her pinched voice. "This might be some sort of a joke to you, Princess, but I can tell you it isn't to me or your father or your people or the hundreds of representatives from across the world that have flown in today just to congratulate you. We've all been preparing for this day since before you were even born, and you should show a little respect by taking it more seriously!" But she could never stay mad at the young girl for too long. Almost immediately afterwards, her face softened and her eyes filled with motherly concern. "I'm sorry, Princess. Please, it's cold out there. Come inside before you catch a cold."

"Yeah, yeah," she mumbled, rolling her eyes as she ambled back into her bedroom in the palace. "I'm guessing the royal advisers have already picked out some stupid, frilly, doll dress for me to wear, right?"

"Right," Myrna nodded, picking up the outfit that had been picked for her. "It's designed by Monsieur Durundall, from his latest spring collection. I think you'll be delighted to know there's only one in the whole wide world."

"Very well. I'll try not to be too difficult this time."

Defeated, she began to quickly undress, pushing the thin straps of her negligee off her shoulders and watching as the black material fell to the ground, pooling around her ankles in a wave of luxurious silk. She then kicked the dark cloth away from herself and raised her arms up, allowing the older woman, who was the only mother she had ever known, to easily pull the shimmery gown down her petite frame. "Turn around," Myrna commanded firmly. The girl slowly spun around and she zipped up her dress. Once it was done up all the way, she quickly pushed her down into a low wooden chair and picked up a silver brush off the table, combing, hefting, twisting, and illustrating the princess' golden mane in the exact detail she wanted.

The silence was suffocating and thin, and Cagalli felt as though it was pressing down upon her, but that the slightest movement might shatter it, like a stone thrown into the still surface of a cerulean lake. Her fingers twiddled and fiddled, as they did when she was a slip of a child, and she decided she could no longer keep quiet. "Myrna, can I ask you something?" She finally asked in a voice not much louder than a whisper, as she stared blankly at the reflection in the mirror. "Just between us?"

She tore her eyes away from her task and immediately stopped what she was doing. "Of course. What is it, Princess?" Myrna responded, the concern in her voice touching her and making things even more difficult.

"You were in an arranged marriage once upon a time, too," Cagalli begun, somewhat sadly. "Were you scared when you got engaged? Were you afraid that maybe, just maybe, you wouldn't ever fall in love with your fiancée?"

She watched the woman's expression change as the meaning of her question began to sink in. It was pity she looked at her with, pity and sorrow. One of the things that Cagalli found herself admiring about this woman was her overwhelming sense of duty, but as she grew older, she had always wondered what she defined that as - whether it was to her kingdom, or to her heart? "Oh, no. Of course not," Myrna shook her head, providing an answer to her question that was not the one she wanted to hear. "I knew that one day I would eventually learn to love him, as I now have."

She shook her head. "But what I mean is…what if you hadn't? What if you never eventually grew to love him?" She felt an overwhelming sense of relief as the question left her lips. So overwhelming she was spurred on to continue. "Weren't you scared at thought of marrying a complete stranger and having to spend eternity with him, in sickness and health, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, until death do you part?"

"Listen, Princess," Myrna said solemnly, her weathered bony hands brushing her silky blonde hair in the same fashion as when those hands were soft and plump and the hair chin-length. "Not all marriages are a match made of love. Sometimes, a loveless consideration turns to respect, respect turns to admiration, and admiration turns to love. I am very lucky that I love my husband and that he loves me in return, but I know that even if that had not been the case, even if Hamuea had not smiled upon me and I had not been so fortunate, I would've married him anyways, because that was my destiny, as this is yours."

"But what if I don't like my destiny?" Cagalli exasperatedly questioned, growing increasingly upset by the second. "I didn't choose to be who I am – a princess – yet the way I've lived my whole life has been dictated by the family I was born to, by my duties to this nation. And it isn't fair! I dream of excitement, and wild exploits, and never ending adventures in the desert, finding out all I've been missing!" Her voice filled with emotion as she got lost in the sheer beauty of her yearnings. "And…and most of all, whenever I dreamed of getting married, I dreamed of a man who would know me and care for me and love me for who I am, not what I am-"

She was cut off abruptly when a single finger was placed on her ruby lips. "It is better not to dwell on what will never be." She dropped her hands on to her shoulders and whispered in to her ear, "That is over now, Cagalli. Put your dreams in a drawer and lock them away. It is a princess' duty."

The young girl looked at the reflection in the mirror, her gaze lingering a little longer than usual as she contemplated just how different the face staring back at her seemed. She catches the wink of the diamonds at her throat, the glimmer of the amethysts in her hair, and cannot form a single word - she was speechless by how beautiful she had been made to be. She was absolutely breathtaking in her flawless gown of ivory and gold that looked like it had been painted onto her skin, clinging on to every curve of her body before flowing dramatically to the floor; her blonde locks braided to form a halo around the crown of her head.

Deep down, she knew should have been happy with the final product of hours of work, that she was beautiful, stunningly so, but it was a beauty that was artificial and forced, masking away someone who was deeply broken and imperfect. The bodice of gold and glitter that rivalled that of the chandeliers and champagne just buried her heart. And her reflection only seemed to cement the unforgiving reality of what her Governess had said – that, in a matter of weeks, the gilded cage her parents sought to keep her would be finalized with an elegant emerald ring being placed on her finger. She was going to take on the name of a stranger she had never met, a man who she would never love. After all, all she had known was devotion to her kingdom, it was all he was raised and taught to know. Her life had been nineteen years of neatly falling into place in her father's chess game, following orders, and doing what was expected of her.

Her dreams, bright and nebulous and shining through with stars, would be gone, dimming in the darkness of her future. Now nothing would fill the empty spaces or still her cries. She would give up happiness for her people. For it was a princess' duty.

"Introducing the crown princess of Orb, Cagalli Yula Athha!"

Instantly, the talking among the crowd subsided, and everyone fell silent as their eyes slowly travelled to the top of the marble staircase, where the most anticipated guest of the evening was standing. Slightly unnerved by all the attention, the Princess put on her best smile for her loyal subjects, an expression that she had mastered as a mere child, and thanked them, although her kind words were lost to a sea of sounds. She then proceeded down the steps gracefully, careful not to trip as her shimmering silk gown was trailing behind her like an ebbing tide. Eventually, she reached the bottom, where a man in a navy suit walked up to her and offered his hand.

She curtsied politely at him, radiating the elegance everyone expected of her, and accepted his offer. "Good evening, Mr. Seirran," Cagalli greeted, linking her arm with his.

"You look beautiful today," Yunna commented gently. Bowing to her once again, he remained lurched over, thoughtful, and contemplative, for only moments. "And please, stop with the formalities. Considering we're getting married and starting a life together so soon, I think it would be more appropriate if you started calling me by first name."

"I'll try my best to do so from now on. She forced herself to add,"Yunna,"

"Good. Now smile," He instructed. As she was told, she smiled, and he smiled as well, and seconds later, the flashbulb of multiple cameras went off simultaneously, nearly blinding them both. She hated how this moment would undoubtedly be splashed across the front pages of all the major international papers and gossip magazines come tomorrow morning. Intimate photos of them laughing together, and kissing, cramming their wedded bliss down everyone's throats.

"Shall we dance?" Yunna asked, bringing her back down to reality. She suddenly realized that the orchestra had just started playing a new song with a relaxed tempo, and that his request wasn't really a question as much as it was a demand. She bit her lip, uncertain, but nodded anyway, allowing him to whisk her away onto the dance floor.

His hand immediately tightened around hers as the other quickly snaked around her waist and they glided gracefully across the ballroom. There were no friendly words between the two, only two decades worth of practiced steps and tightening grips as they spun around the room, going round and round in circles. She had heard many guests speaking of some connection they had felt in the dance, a notion of instantly falling madly in love with one's partner. If only they knew the truth: that there was nothing, and would always be nothing, of the sort between them. They were both skilled dancers, nothing more, nothing less. No reason to make it into anything else, into something it obviously wasn't, when that was all they would ever be. Husband and wife, a label that meant nothing at all.

"Oh, for Hameua's sake," Yunna finally snapped, "at least try to look happy, won't you?"

"What are you talking about?" She asked, still smiling. "I am."

"Then stop looking as if you're at your own funeral," He whispered quietly into her ear, making sure no one else could hear. "I understand you're not doing this willingly, that you feel as if you're just another insignificant pawn of your parliament, but what you fail to realize is that my looks, my affluence, and my family background makes me the most desirable man in this country. In fact, I could probably have my pick of just about any woman in this room tonight. Yet, I've chosen you. And now that I've become very good at playing my part, being your devoted and doting fiancé, I expect you to put in a little more effort into propagating this little illusion."

Through clenched teeth, she defiantly hissed, "You have no right to tell me what to do."

"Do you really think you stand a chance against me, my lovely bride?" He smirked, enjoying the way she desperately wanted to fight back and although he reluctantly admired her feisty spirit, he would relish breaking it more. "If so, you're really more naive than I thought...Princess."

"You know you don't scare me," She snarled back at him, her eyes flaming with rage. "You can throw around your weight and use your power or daddy's money all you want, but I know the truth. You're just a little, scared boy underneath that suit. A spoiled brat that's used to getting everything he wants. But you will never have me and I will never be happy being by your side."

"Your happiness really doesn't matter to me." He slipped a ring with a diamond as large as her knuckle onto her finger. It might've been a simple action, but she knew that he knew it said everything while meaning nothing at all. A simple action, sure, but also an acceptance of a life that would be filled with sadness - the beginning of the end. "Once we get married, you can try to fight against me as much as you want, but one way or another, you will give up on grappling this world and will retreat to doing what you do best – winning the hearts of Orb citizens by playing the role of the rebellious princess, while the men discuss the issues of actual concern."

The song stopped and he let go of her, but not before planting a kiss on her cheek. Contrary to popular belief, the world did not stop with the breaking of her, even thought it should have, and thought she stood still, the world kept on moving around her, at its constant, ever-changing pace. She tried to find a chair to sit in before her legs collapsed, but now that she had begun dancing, she was not allowed to sit. Diplomat after politician after dignitary asked her to dance without pause in between. It was painful - each and every single one of them was a politician through and through, and each was trying to schmooze their way into her good graces. Eventually, after what felt like a lifetime, one of the pianists snared the crowd's undivided attention and she was able to swiftly retreat into a shadowy corner near the entrance. Finally alone, she once again wished more than anything that she could be an ordinary teenager, soaking in all the liveliness and merriment the world had to offer.

But what had Myrna said? Ah, yes. That it was not meant for her. But why shouldn't it be? Her heart sadly questioned. For so long, too long – almost forever now, really – she had been living vicariously through films, books, and even the servants' illicit romances, always looking out at life but never living it. When would it be her time to shine? To experience something real?

As her eyes locked upon the unguarded entrance, it suddenly became clear in her heart and mind what she must do. For the first time in her life, she was going to take control. Without looking back and giving herself a chance to think, she turned and ran, her stilettos making no sound against the velvet carpet. Tonight, the weight of a lifetime's worth of restriction and forced conformity was finally coming to blows, bearing down impossibly upon her until it came down to at last shoving the weight off or being crushed beneath it - and shove it off she intended to do.

She was running away.

Author's Note: After two months of heavy edits and revisions, written throughout my hectic academic course load and brutal exams from hell, I've been able to finally finish this piece. I apologize if it feels a bit slow, but I really want to develop the story, build anticipation for what's in store (such as a fated encounter in the next chapter), and create characters that aren't fickle or shallow or one-dimensional. Interesting tidbit..my main source of inspiration derives from Roman Holiday. Also, the whole instantly falling in love with one's partner, while edited to be different, was originally from the talented writer, Quintillis.