Part V

"Tell me the facts again," Uzumi anxiously demanded. His scones and clotted cream sat untouched, his tea quickly going cold.

Kisaka, sensing the tension ratchet up another notch, wisely set his own cup down. It was rare for the chief representative to take tea in his office rather than the parlor, as was his usual custom. Some would say it was all the more unorthodox for the head of his security team to be invited to join him. However, Kisaka had always been more than just a mere employee. Over the years, Uzumi had also grown to consider him to be a cherished friend, an ally he could trust with not only his life but the princess's as well, and he knew that he could rely on him to help now too.

"I'm afraid the facts are what they always have been, sir. We've been apprised of nothing new. What we do know, we've already been over a dozen times-"

"I don't care. Tell me again," Uzumi roared. He was generally a patient and composed man, with a reputation for being level headed at all times – except, that is, where one thing, or rather, person was concerned. His daughter was his one vulnerability. Ever since she had entered into his life as a small child, Cagalli had held the power to make his heart soar with the utmost happiness or fail with the most profound fear – and at the moment it was doing the latter.

"Sir, the evidence is quite clear. After you discovered the princess was missing, we conducted a search of the premises, Kisaka stated, reiterating the facts he had laid out just moments before. "And we found nothing. It is clear that she left the building. Of course, it is possible that she could have been forced to leave. However, in my opinion, it seems more likely that she chose to leave on her own. I came to that conclusion after privately talking to Myrna, who had mentioned that the princess had been expressing some doubts about the night and publicly announcing the engagement. Once again, we cannot eliminate the other possibilities that I mentioned earlier at this stage, but I must say, all the evidence we have thus far suggests that the princess did in fact leave voluntarily."

"That foolish, foolish girl," The chief representative sighed, shaking his head. Uzumi knew his daughter had been unhappy for quite some time with the constraints that had been imposed on her, but apparently he had no idea how much. In the beginning, he'd hoped her running off was temporary and that she would have come back in just a few hours, like she usually did whenever she snuck off. But it had been days now and she still hadn't returned. And he had no idea about her whereabouts…..or if she was even still – no. He would not consider that possibility.

"Well, I cannot pretend that this is what a father wants to hear," Uzumi continued quietly. "However I find hope in the conclusion all the same. If this was an attempt to 'run away', for lack of better wording, she knows how to take care of herself. She's a strong girl, as we are both aware."

"True, sir, but…." Kisaka hesitated, not wanting to bring up the elephant in the room that neither man discussed; nevertheless it was his duty to at least broach the matter. "There are other matters to consider. Orb has many enemies. She's a target for terrorist groups and hostile nations as long as she is without her security detail, and it's been more than three days at this point..."

"Yes. Yes, of course." Uzumi cleared his throat grimly. "But we haven't received any ransom requests, so I doubt that anyone is holding her against her will. It appears that she must be hiding out at the moment, avoiding detection, and all we can do is hope she remains safe. But you are right - it is important that we find her before she finds herself in a dangerous situation. Now tell me, what being done at this moment to locate Cagalli?"

"Well, we're conducting a secondary search of the immediate area and the outer districts. We suspect she couldn't have gotten too far, especially considering that she was without money and any of her personal documents. Though, of course, if she had help in planning this escape, she may have had an accomplice with a car or some other vehicle waiting, which means she could really be anywhere in the country at this point. But we do not feel that is the case. We believe the princess was alone in this, and a sweep of the immediate areas is still the best course of action..."

Kisaka paused, eying his boss carefully. "Naturally we are keeping this matter quiet. But….I was wondering if we might inform Mr. Seirran of the situation. It is possible that she may be hoping to meet him somewhere, planning an early, secret elopement as it were, away from the view of the rest of the world?"

"No," Uzumi shook his head. "It's not possible." He didn't plan to delve into just why it wasn't possible. He was well aware that his daughter had never been crazy about her fiancé, but no one else needed to know that. "We tell him nothing, not yet." Not until I can figure out the best way to control the fall out from this, he silently added. "He, like the public, is to keep on believing that Cagalli has merely taken ill and is resting under a doctor's care. But we will keep looking. Whatever it takes, we will find her."

Hundreds of miles away, completely unaware of the chief representative's meeting unfolding in the Athha Manor, Athrun woke up in the living room of his rustic cottage.

Sleepily running his hands through his hair, he gradually recalled the events of the day before when they had been out sailing and began to wonder whether this had all been one huge mistake: guiding Cagalli about town, fulfilling a list of 'firsts' with her, making more memories together that would become harder and harder to forget, and letting her – hell, helping her – insinuate herself into his life even further.

Of course, he really should've known better by now. He had already had lost enough people ones in his life and had suffered deeply; and it was only a matter of time before she would leave him too and cause him the same pain. If he had learned from these experiences and had developed any sense of self-preservation at all, he probably should have just ended whatever it was they had now, before she began to really matter to him and the act of her leaving would absolutely devastate him.

But instead he found himself getting up and heading over to the kitchen to make the both of them breakfast - all the while knowing he was a fool for choosing to spend more time with her and yet unable to stop himself, not even wanting to try. Eventually, he finished preparing the food, and she awoke from her own slumber and got out of her room, following the smell of a dozen chocolate chip pancakes, bacon, and eggs all the way to the kitchen.

"Hey there, sleepy head," He greeted her, chuckling.

"Good morning," She chirped back gleefully. The pair smiled like idiots at simply seeing one another again, and a rush of charged happiness filled the room as they sat down at the table and started to devour the delicious food that he had made for the both them.

They talked about all sorts of different things and shared various stories with one another; and somehow, the conversation always flowed easily between them, as if they had known each other their entire lives, rather than just a few days. Eventually, after talking all throughout breakfast, and the cleanup process that followed, Cagalli finally asked him the question that had been on her mind all morning.

"So, Athrun…" She began, somewhat nervously. " It's just…well, yesterday was probably the most fun I've had in a long time and I was wondering whether we might do something together today as well? That is, if you aren't already busy, or seeing someone else, of course-"

Although he enjoyed watching her nervously babble on, he cut her off. "Lucky for you, my schedule is looking pretty free these days," Athrun smiled. 'In fact, I already thought of something we could do today."

"Oh, really?" She piped up almost instantly. "What were you thinking?"

"Well, I thought we might spend the day at the beach. Now I realize it's probably not the most exciting or original thing to do, but the weather is pretty nice at the moment and there likely won't be anyone around at this time. So it'll just be me and you. We can swim or just lie around on the sand. Really, whatever you want to do."

"That sounds absolutely wonderful… " She said, excited at the prospect of them getting to spend more time together. Then, all of her sudden, her smile was replaced with a deep frown. "Wait. I haven't got a swimsuit."

"That won't be a problem. A friend left a few upstairs in the attic – I can find it for you."

"You sure she wouldn't mind?" She asked, curiously.

He shook his head. "No. It's been quite sometime now and she's forgotten they're even here. It's fine." She thought about inquiring about this mysterious female friend further, but decided against it and simply agreed to his offer.

It took them about an hour to finish getting ready and dressed, but once they were done, the pair finally left the cottage and Athrun led his blonde companion down a sandy path, which took them to the beach. As he had promised earlier, they were the only ones there at that time of day and they had the entire beach to themselves.

So, Cagalli simply followed him, as he led them further down the empty beach. He eventually found them a nice bit of soft dry sand not too far from the water, and set out two large beach towels, side by side, for them to sit down on. It truly was a beautiful day, bright and clear without a single cloud in the sky, and soon their sitting became lying as they each reclined on the soft cotton towels and basked in the sun's warm glow.

"This really is heavenly," Cagalli sighed happily, and he couldn't help but agree. Some people might have found it boring, but he truly appreciated peaceful and serene days like this; particularly after all the terrible things he had seen and endured in his own lifetime.

"Athrun?" he heard the blonde call out, bringing him back from his own thoughts.

"Hmm?" He responded, clearly out of it.

"What were you thinking about?"

"What do you mean?"

"It's just…you seemed lost in your thoughts. You looked sad."

Athrun was impressed at how perceptive she was, but he just shook his head, figuring it was easier to lie, or at least only provide her with half the truth. "I wasn't sad at all," he said. "Actually, I was just thinking about how lucky we were to have crossed paths in the way we did."

She must have believed him, because her cheeks turned a bright crimson. "Oh," was all that came out of her mouth.

Hoping to avoid going into the topic any further, Athrun suddenly arose and took off his shirt, leaving him in just his swimming trunks. "I think I'm gonna go swimming now. Do you want to join?"

"Sure." She nodded and she got up as well. Somewhat self-consciously, she reached out for the hem of her cover up dress, easing it up and off her body before throwing the flimsy material away on the ground near her feet.

While Athrun had always strived to be a perfect gentleman, his self-restraint failed him at that particular moment, and he couldn't help but stare at the lovely woman in front of him. She had worn the simple blue one piece that he had picked out for her earlier, and although it was relatively modest compared to what other girls her age might have worn, her choice of attire still suited her well, hanging onto every curve of her figure and revealing the glorious sight of her freckled shoulders, and her cleavage, and her hips, and her tanned legs.

At once, Athrun felt his cheeks burn and he began blushing as if he was a fourteen-year-old boy again. "Uh…race you there?" He proposed, trying to distract himself from the inappropriate thoughts sneaking into his mind.

"On three?" She suggested, completely unaware of what had been going on in his head, and he nodded. However, by the time they had counted to two, she had already started running out to the sea as fast as she could, trying to gain the upper hand against her opponent.

"Hey, that's not fair! You're cheating," Athrun yelled out, before he began running himself to catch up with the mischievous blonde. It didn't take him long before he did and he warned her, in a dangerously low, playful tone, "I'm going to make you pay for that."

She wasn't sure what he had meant by that at first, but then he quickly bent down and grabbed her by the legs, easily scooping her into his arms. "Don't you dare! Athrun, let me go!" She shrieked, hitting him with all the force she could muster, but it was too late. He charged right into the sea until the waves reached slightly above his waist and let go of her, dropping her into the freezing water below. She surfaced a few moments later, gasping for air and glaring at the man who was laughing as if what he had done was the funniest thing in the world.

She loved how much younger and more carefree he seemed when he laughed. But she knew that even though she could have watched him like this forever, she still had to get him back for his little stunt, so she pulled his feet out from under him, sending him surging into the water. It took him a little while longer for him to re-surface, but Athrun eventually came up again and immediately flung an armful of water at her in revenge. In a fit of laughter, she flung an armful of water back at him, which he returned, leading to an all-out war breaking out between the two.

Their playful fighting would go on for a few minutes, until Athrun overtook Cagalli and pinned her wrists to her chest, to stop the seemingly constant deluge of water being aimed at him. He was much stronger than her and unsurprisingly was able to overpower her without much effort. "Gotcha," He said, smugly, convinced that he had won their little game.

"I don't think so," She replied defiantly, and she began to struggle against him, trying to free herself. Even though her efforts were in vain, he soon found that her wriggling against him was starting to complicate matters. Indeed, this prolonged intimate contact was stirring a sensation deep in him that he thought he had buried.

He immediately loosened his grip on her in an attempt to recompose himself and Cagalli took the opportunity to break free and escape. "Ha! I've won after all. You really didn't think I'd give up so easily, did y…."

She wasn't able to finish her sentence though as a strong wave rolled past them, unexpectedly pushing her even closer towards him. As her body roughly collided with this, he instinctively wrapped his arms around her waist to steady her and she found her hands pressed against the walls of his hard chest.

They were suddenly much closer than they had been just a few moments earlier and she could've sworn she saw something in his eyes change and his breathing alter.

Looking into those amber orbs, he knew he was being pulled under, taken down as fast as a drowning man caught in a riptide. And Cagalli felt herself sinking too. Her senses jolted at being held so intimately by Athrun. She felt a warm quiver low in her belly and she let out a soft whimper. It was a telling reaction, but she didn't care. Her eyes were fastened to his, falling to his mouth as it inched closer.

But he held back, his eyes diverting from her lips and he suddenly frowned. "You're bleeding." Lifting a hand from her waist, he gently touched her forehead. For the first time, she registered pain, the saltwater from his finger stinging the small cut.

"I…I don't know," she said, bringing her fingers up to join his. "I guess I didn't notice…"

Neither stepped back nor spoke a word about the fact that their bodies were still pressed intimately together.

"It must have been a small rock or a shell fragment that hit you when we were splashing each other," He reasoned, and she wondered how he was still capable of rational thought in a moment like this. It seemed as if he was always holding himself back, never letting himself go fully, and she wondered why that was.

"It's…it's alright. I-I didn't even feel it-"

"I'm sorry."

And he wasn't sure what possessed him to do it, but he bent down and softly brushed his mouth to the cut, tenderly kissing her forehead. His lips were warm against her cold skin and his scent, the heat, the feel of him…it was a foreign and powerful combination that overwhelmed her senses completely, and she found herself thinking that she wouldn't mind more of his kisses.

However, he pulled away, withdrawing his lips from her face and cruelly taking the warmth of his body from hers too. "We should probably go back and get that cleaned up," Athrun told her, and she didn't put up a fight, weakly agreeing with him before swimming back to the shore in silence.

Later that night, after she had her cut cleaned and shared a dinner with Athrun, Cagalli excused herself to bed much earlier than usual. She had claimed that she had been tired, but rather than go to sleep, she lay wide awake on the bed, pondering their almost kiss and the reaction that even a near miss had aroused in her.

She wondered what her fiancée would think if he had witnessed how she'd acted today, if he knew how she felt being touched by another man. There was no doubt that Yunna would be absolutely livid, felt betrayed, even.

She pushed the thought out of her mind and touched her forehead at the spot where Athrun had kissed her.

While she had been kissed by a handful of people before, she had never actually enjoyed the experience. Perhaps it was because the men of her acquaintance were all so abhorrent to her; for they had all been either unable or unwilling to see the woman she truly was on the inside. All they ever saw when they looked at her was the crown princess of Orb and they wanted her as a trophy wife, a pretty thing to display on their arms.

But with Athrun…it was different. He was the only one who had ever truly listened to her. He saw Cagalli, the real living, breathing woman, and didn't try to fix her, or change her, or mold her into something he thought she ought to be. He knew and appreciated her and accepted her for who she was.

And that wasn't the only 'first' he had accomplished in her life. Touching her forehead, she realized that for the first time, she also enjoyed having been kissed, even if it had been fairly innocent. She wasn't sure what that meant, but it was an equally exciting and terrifying thought that kept her up for the rest of the night.