It Matters

CE 72 March, Orb

Cagalli stared at the second negative test she had been given that afternoon and took a calming breath, tossing the device and package into the trash bin near the base of her bathroom sink. She would have to deal with the trash herself later to not cause a scandal, but then she was paying attention to her reaction.

Relief.

A part of her had wondered if she would have been disappointed, but that feeling in her chest was too strong to be anything but real.

Relief.

No matter the result, her duty was the same, however, her to-do list for that day rushing back into her thoughts and she nodded slowly, mentally highlighting each of them as she turned on the tap and used the water to splash her face. Even if she had been pregnant, she couldn't deny the responsibilities she had willingly taken on. Her father had always put Orb first, and she was going to do the same.

To do the same…

Her hands slid slowly down her cheeks, the water splashing against the sides of the bowl as her eyes met her reflection's in the mirror. She loved Orb—was willing to dedicate her entire life to it, but she couldn't deny that level of conviction often wavered. When she saw the freedoms the Rymyrs had as adjuncts to the family, when she witnessed her uncle Homura's retirement away from head of the party, and when she was with Athrun, she did falter. The thought of being normal for a change was the most tempting thing to her and if she indulged in it too much, she knew her conviction would leave entirely.

To be… normal.

She could be and that was the one of the biggest tug-of-wars in her mind. Lord Uzumi, technically, wasn't her father. She could have stepped away after the war and no one would have batted an eye. A sad realization, perhaps, but she didn't have to be here, she chose her position and despite her longing to be "normal" she wanted it. Duty, was what it was. Even if she had gone on to do something else in her life, her tie to Orb and its citizens would still be strong. Lord Uzumi might not have been her father by blood, but he had been her father in every other way that mattered and she stood straighter, eying her reflection once more, her shorter, desert-cut locks growing longer as peace continued—as peace would continue. It would if she had anything to say about it.

Grabbing the towel, she finished up with renewed conviction, walking back over to the bed and the remainder of her clothing laid out for the day. It was her Orb uniform of course, the white pantsuit blending into the paleness of her comforter and she nodded. Perhaps "normal" was impossible, but she had other purposes and, despite any hesitations or trauma left over from the previous war, she would take that duty seriously. Surely that was the right attitude and she reached forward, getting changed quickly before turning and sitting down on the edge of her bed to button up her jacket.

Her phone was off to her left near her pillow and she grabbed it as soon as the final button was looped together, shuffling through her contacts and putting the receiver to her ear the moment she called Kira's number.

"What's the result?" Kira asked after their initial greetings and it was then she hesitated, a moment of guilt clouding her answer when she realized Athrun hadn't been the first one she had called, but Kira. It should have been Athrun, she knew, and she bit her lip in a silent curse.

"Negative," she replied eventually and she could hear Kira releasing a sigh on the other end of the line. So, he had felt relief as well and somehow that mattered. The two of them had yet to figure out their brother-sister relationship, but what he thought—even on this—mattered and her spine straightened a little as she sat.

"It would've been fine if it was positive," she said, her tone sharper than she had intended and she heard him jerk back in surprise, the shift in his breath audible again that time and she frowned. "Sorry," she said quickly, but he was already talking.

"I know," was his response and she was grateful for his honesty, even if she sometimes had to dig for it. "Do you still have to deal with media stuff?" he asked after a brief, awkward moment and she nodded before responding verbally.

"Yes, but Kisaka has a plan for it, of course."

"That's good."

Another awkward moment passed as the late morning sun peeked in through the curtains across the room. Their phone calls had a lot of these silence nowadays and her free hand tightened on the comforter beneath her, the fabric bumping against her leg. For some reason, that meant something to her too. Awkward. How had any camaraderie they had shared in the war suddenly evened out to this?

"H-how're things for you?" she stammered. "Lacus?"

"We're fine. Not much going on over here which is nice. Some of the kids are down with a cold, but Lacus seems to be on top of it."

It sounded so dismissive and she reacted instinctively. "You could help, you know," the blonde chided.

"I do! I'm just…" he trailed off and she regretted her reaction, hearing another sigh. Of course he was helping; she was foolish to poke at the wound and was about to apologize when he spoke again.

"Have you ever wondered how many orphans you made?" he asked and her apology left unsaid. It was serious question and filled with a level of grief she had been trying to understand for months. Some days were better than others, but the weight of his query sank into her and Cagalli gave a soft smile.

"We're all doing the best we can, Kira," she began, her fingers curling around the bedsheets once more. "Those kids love you and look up to you. That matters. We might have things we regret, but what we do from here on out is how we atone."

"Y-yeah, I suppose," he said vaguely and her warm smile faltered. She hadn't said the right words and she buried her disappointment off to the side, the microphone dropping down past her chin so he couldn't hear. Someday she hoped she would be able to say something profound—something to help him, but that would have to wait too. All she could do was be there and she wanted to be, but so many other things seemed to come first, her duty to Orb at the top of that list.

Another silence passed, but it was less awkward. Sure, they were both searching for what to say, but she had a feeling it wasn't because of lack of topics, but more they wanted to tell each other the right thing and her smile returned. They were both trying.

"I can come out to the orphanage this weekend," she offered. "It'd be nice to see you guys and the kids. What do you think?"

"That'd be great," he responded quickly, the light tilt to his voice promising and her smile grew.

"Should I bring anything special?" she added and he had noticeably gotten brighter.

"The kids love sweets."

She laughed. "Yes, yes they do. I'll be sure to pick some up."

Perhaps something she did could matter after all.


CE 73 January 6, Space (Afternoon)

Namarra had never been to this section of the PLANT before. Hell, she avidly avoided any ZAFT military bases and even in that moment she felt like all sniper scopes were on her. Lexi never came around the base even if she was with Yzak and despite the logical part of her mind knowing no one was looking at her, Namarra still needed to take a deep breath as she stared at the gates and the guards patrolling. Though, if she was being honest, she wasn't sure whether her nervousness stemmed from that security checkpoint or the person she was meeting who was—according to her watch—running late.

The Natural had been looking through some old snapshots the night before of her, Lacus, Cagalli, Lexi, Miriallia—basically any other female around her age that she knew—in order to put an outfit together for that afternoon and she felt a bit embarrassed even admitting she had planned that much ahead. While the concept, of course, wasn't beyond Namarra, she had never really willingly wantedto look cute before and she blushed then, thinking about it.

Times were quiet, strange, and just downright dull, but even through all of that, she was still chatting with Shinn and they were set to meet that afternoon. The difference, however, was she didn't have tickets to an event, so they were meeting to purely hang out for an afternoon—something Namarra rarely did outside of her current circle of friends, but the strangeness of the days might have been the push she needed to try something new. So, there she was standing there that early afternoon in a light blue, flowy skirt that stopped about mid-thigh, a thin black, long-sleeved sweater as a top with black stockings and high, black boots with a small heel that covered her legs to just above her knee. Her hair was braided loosely and pushed back from her face, a couple strands draping down near her cheeks and onto her sweater near the golden pendent she was currently fiddling with in between her right fingers.

"I didn't think military personnel were ever late and he's done this twice now," she grumbled quietly, fixing the long strap of her black purse so that the bag was wedged between her and the wall she was leaning against. A group of four, chattering teens walked past her as she checked her watch again. "Fifteen minutes late." She sighed and pushed off the wall, her lips slowly dipping. Maybe she had expected too much.

"Coda, hey—sorry."

Namarra jumped, Shinn stumbling into her line of sight from off to her right instead of through the gate. He was dressed in black slacks with dark brown shoes and wore a thin, brown long-sleeved shirt that he had pushed up the sleeves of, revealing a watch on his left wrist and a red strip of paper circling the same area. The collar of his shirt had two of the three buttons undone and he pulled at it with his right finger.

She arched an eyebrow and crossed her arms at his late arrival. "We were supposed to meet here, right? I thought that was what you said."

He nodded and smiled. "Yeah, I just got caught up checking on our reservation."

"Reservation?" she asked and he nodded, reaching for her right arm. She reacted instinctively, pulling her arm away and stepping back, her body already tensing despite the confused look on his face. He blinked once and she did as well, only after another breath noticing a similar red, paper band in his left hand, having pulled it from his pocket.

"Sorry," she said weakly, squaring back up to him. "Instincts."

He shrugged and gave a shy smile of his own. "Of course—sorry, I'll avoid doing that in the future."

In the future, she thought slowly and resisted the mutual frown and skip of her heart as she held out her right wrist and pulled up her sleeve for him to slip the paper band around. She glanced at him briefly as he concentrated on securing the end, noting the soft smile on his lips.

"There," he said when he was done, both hands falling onto his hips as he nodded. "Step one of your birthday afternoon has commenced. You ready then?"

"Birthday?" she asked, pulling her sleeve back down fully and trying to recall when she had let that information slip.

"As I recall, you do have one of those right?"

"Yes…" she replied slowly and he nodded, his expression on the verge of cocky and it finally dawned on her when she had admitted as much. He had asked what her schedule had looked like for the next couple of weeks and she admitted she was returning to Orb for her birthday. It was a simple thing, but she did feel like she screwed up a little and even as her lips dipped into a frown, his curled higher into a brighter smile.

"Do you like chocolate?" he continued and she nodded numbly, both curious about the outing and dreading it primarily because her cheeks flushed when he responded with a short "Good" and a wink.

Pivoting, he reached for her arm again, but stopped himself that time, turning back and looking at her instead. "May I?" he asked and she shrugged, meeting him halfway and putting her right hand in his. He smiled. "C'mon, I'll take you to the shop."

They had barely made it a few steps, Namarra slightly behind him and to his left, when he slowed and turned back to her again. "I didn't know you liked wearing heels," he commented, nodding down to the thin-heeled boots on her feet. "They suit you."

She didn't believe him, but she knew a compliment when she heard one and smiled through her blush that time, not caring if he saw it. "Thank you. You clean up pretty nice yourself."

They chatted a little bit on the way to the supposed reservation, the only sign of nervousness from Shinn being the few times he felt he had blabbered on too long and Namarra would often catch him stammering to end a thought, a slight blush on his cheeks. It was almost all too surreal and she vaguely wondered if the other couples in her life went through much the same dichotomy. Her and Shinn had trained together even after Yzak's course, so she knew his skills and even if they were a bit rough and impulsive sometimes, he was a formidable soldier. She had versed him in melee and even then she knew his skills were mostly in mobile suit fighting. In that moment, however, the strange slice of time they found themselves in, they were acting human, doing "normal" things. Did Athrun and Cagalli think about that type of stuff? Or Lexi and Yzak? Did they ever find themselves enveloped in a moment of "normality" and wonder "What if?"

What if their lives were just… like everyone else's?

"Hey, you okay?" Shinn asked, shaking her arm slightly from their connected hands. They were waiting at a stoplight that she didn't quite remember walking up to and she gave an apologetic smile.

"Sorry, just thinking."

"Well, I hope you were thinking about how excited you are because we're almost there."

She wasn't quite sure what to make of his look then and smiled as warmly as she could. He didn't look offended that she had zoned out, more like he was afraid it was his fault and she had to shake her head, finding it endearing.

"Try not to worry too much about what goes on inside my head. If it's something important, I'll be sure to let you know."

"I'll hold you to that," he said quickly, his lack of hesitation startling her for a moment. "Nothing good comes from not saying the things you want to."

It was a strange way to word the phrase and she felt her face contort in confusion but it was mostly to mask the disappointment. The disappointment of probably not being able to uphold her end of that bargain. He sighed and blushed again at the look on her face, apologizing for the strange phrase and leading her across the street as the light changed.

They had walked a fair distance from the base by that time, the crowds thickening as the afternoon began and individuals came out to either meet friends, get in some shopping before the weekend's end, or to just wander and enjoy being one of the many strangers on a sidewalk of many. Once they had crossed the street, they veered down a pedestrian-only path lined with tall buildings on either side and looking much like the monotonous scenery they had been walking in since the base. The buildings were various combinations of cement windows, steel, and the occasional splash of color to catch the unsuspecting eye. Those tall buildings were primarily for offices, however, so their appeal was not as important as the many restaurants, cafes, and clothing stores lining the pathway. Namarra recognized some long-standing brands as they pushed through the crowd, but most of the storefronts had names she didn't recognize and some were even in languages she couldn't read, most likely creating the illusion of connecting with many cultures throughout the world they had left below.

"It's up here," Shinn said, turning abruptly to get to the outermost edge of the path and continue leading them towards a red and gold awning jutting out over a queue of people that Namarra had yet to see the end of.

"Here?" she asked, Shinn stopping in front of the establishment just left of the queue. He dropped her hand and put both of his on his hips, the two of them taking a moment to view the storefront before an employee noticed them. The queue to their right was held up at a young man in a black, buttoned-up shirt, black slacks, and red apron standing behind a podium writing names into a notebook and handing out wristbands much like the ones Shinn and Namarra were currently wearing. The queue shuffled along slowly, but Shinn didn't seem to be taking steps to join the line, his eyesight shifting to the two glass doors closed in front of them with the name "Greggios" scrawled in gold letting over the top half of the door. Inside to the right was a small seating section and in the back ascended a staircase to—what looked like—further seating upstairs. The left side of the shop by far housed the most delightful and delicious part of the shop. One, long counter stretched the depth of the shop, various chocolate truffles on display, their various colors and shapes garnering the eager, pointing fingers of the smaller shop customers and the envious eyes of their parents.

"Is this heaven?" Namarra joked and though she didn't see it, she felt Shinn give a small chuckle just before another employee opened the door for them and ushered them inside, Shinn pointing to their wrist bands.

"This way, please." The young blonde employee led them inside and to the right side of the store, passing the delicious glass containers and over to the furthest side near the window. They sat down at a small table with ornate, red-cushioned chairs and a wrought iron table. She handed them two menus and waited until they ordered drinks before giving them the instructions on how to navigate the gimmicky establishment.

"Hot chocolate and chocolate truffles?" Shinn asked, leaning forward on the table and resting his right cheek on his upraised palm. "Stomach of steel or what?"

"Or what, I think," Namarra responded, turning her attention back to the other side of the room and doing a quick sweep before she could finally settle in. Her bag was draped over the back of her chair and she turned, slipping her left leg over her right as she braced her left on the tabletop and the right on the back of her chair. The immediate area was filled with various couples and small families of no more than five, the noise level high enough she couldn't hear any new arrivals, but not even she was nervous enough to think anything would happen in the PLANTs and this close to a ZAFT base. Her eyes wandered over to the queue of people near the truffles and then around through the outside windows, passing a baby grand piano in the corner that she hadn't noticed before and her gaze lingered for a moment, her fingers instinctively flexing.

"More instincts?" Shinn asked, her gaze doing a full circle before falling on him across from her, his head still resting on his hand.

"Sorry, I'm usually overly cautious."

"You get snuck up on in public often?" he asked with a smirk and she found herself matching the look, but for a difference reason.

"Something like that," she said with a sad chuckle and squared back up to the table, slipping both knees underneath and hooking her ankles as her feet slid against the floor. "So," she began a second later, "now what?" Leaning forward, she braced her upper torso against her elbows and turned to look at the containers of truffles.

"Well, we eat chocolate, of course," was the simple response and he stood, looking down at her and holding out his hand once more until she smiled. He was a fast learner, it seemed.

She took it.

They had no limit other than their wallets, so while Namarra had been aware of the time as soon as they walked in, she lost track soon after their second round of truffles. Shinn was up at the counter starting his third when her gaze moved from him and over to the piano. The last time she had seen something that grand was at the Rymyr estate in Orb and even then she could only have one, faint touch. She knew social etiquette would allow her to sit down and play the instrument, but she was hesitating for a number of reasons, not least of all fearing how much she had forgotten. Some of the forgetfulness might have been from the EA scrambling her memories, but the rest of it was pure neglect and that scared her a bit more. It was easier to blame circumstances than laziness and her fingers flexed again.

It wasn't until a young boy, probably six or so in some chocolate-stained trousers and sweater with wavy blond hair, had wandered over to the instrument and attempted to open the tray above the keys that she considered it. The wood was heavy, Namarra could tell, and based on his not one, but three attempts at getting to the keys, he was interested in playing. Smiling, her hesitation fled and in that one moment of heroism, she stepped up behind the boy, announced herself, and lifted the wood to reveal the ivory underneath.

"Did you want to play?" she asked him and he shied away, his feet shuffling away from the seat as he nodded slowly with his gaze at his shoes. "Then please play," she continued. "I would love to hear it."

It might have been the enthusiasm in her voice or even the boy's interest in the piano, but either way, after a further moment of hesitation and watching Namarra pulling the seat out for him, he climbed up. He sat towards the right end of the bench and looked at his hands in his lap for a second before arching his gaze back up to Namarra. She tilted her head to the side and smiled, about to invite him to play again when he tapped the seat next to him and she gave a short laugh.

Well then, she thought, looking over his head to see his parents and the three of them exchanged a silent gesture of permission before she tucked her skirt underneath her and sat. Clasping her hands in her lap, she waited, looking down at the boy next to her who was staring at his own fingers in his lap and she held in a chuckle when his legs started to sway.

"What shall we play?" she asked, trying to break the ice, but instead of words, his hands moved to hers and he placed them on the keys. "Me?" she asked and he nodded. "Well, I'm going to need help. Would you like to play together?" That seemed to garner a smile from him and she laughed that time. "Okay, you lead."

Quickly, the boy's right pointer finger went to one of the keys and he pressed it, startling himself with the sound. His hand recoiled and he looked up at Namarra surprised, as if he couldn't believe he had made the sound himself. She laughed again and shifted her right foot on the sustain pedal, putting three fingers from her left hand down on the lower keys in a chord. She pressed and then held the keys, motioning with her right for him to press another key. He did, laughed, and did a couple more before the excitement took him away from the instrument and back over to his parents to tell his short tale of the time he played the piano with a mysterious, dark-haired girl.

Namarra laughed at his retreat and removed her fingers as her foot lifted. "I didn't know you played," Shinn remarked to her left and she twisted to him quickly, a truffle already between his teeth when his eyes grew wide. "Sorry," he muffled, realizing he had startled her. "I didn't mean to scare you."

Frowning, she took a breath and centered herself on the bench, flexing her fingers once more before resting them lightly across the ivory. "I haven't done this in a really long time," she admitted, her fingers hovering just above the starting notes to a song she hadn't played in years. "I'm afraid of how bad I am, to be honest."

"Why?" Shinn asked simply, his mouth still trying to break down whatever chocolate-filled delight he had purchased. Her look startled him again and he swallowed. "What? It's just me and some random pedestrians. Unless…" He paused. "Aw, Coda, are you embarrassed to be bad at something around me? Afraid for the tables to be turned for once?"

"Funny," she muttered with a frown and took a breath, the pads of her fingers brushing against the familiar ivory and they almost ached with the touch. "The piano has just meant a lot to me, even when I was little. A lot to my brother too," she added quietly and he seemed to grasp the weight then, finally finishing the truffle and leaning forward against the left side of the piano. The back end was closed so he could easily square up to her and she saw his sad, understanding smile before witnessing his shrug a second later.

"If that's the case, wouldn't he be more upset if you didn't play something right now? No matter what?"

It was such an intuitive response she was startled, her chest swelling as soft shivers traced down the back of her neck. Shinn honestly did understand sometimes and the Natural swallowed, finding him suddenly intimidating and her often closed-off self, vulnerable. She would have panicked—should have panicked given all of those emotions, but instead she willed herself to remain calm.

"Seriously, how do you have these random moments of wisdom?" she asked.

He shrugged and licked the fingers of his right hand, Namarra knowing a truffle had been melting there only a few seconds before. She saw him shift as he crossed his right ankle over his left, the charm of a specific cell phone tumbling out of his pocket with the movement.

Perhaps that's the reason, she thought, knowing the charm to be from his deceased sister's phone—the one he took everywhere to remember his family in his own way. With a sigh and a nod, she took one more, deep breath before, finally, beginning one of Kai's favorite melodies.


CE 73 January 10, Armory One (Afternoon)

Dearka looked up at the scaffolding, his arms crossed at his chest while the hangar buzzed around him with activity. It was of a suit he had never seen before, the body black with red trimming, but the machine wasn't completely put together just yet, the unset pieces of armor laid out on the floor as the naked skeleton stood beneath the careful tools of mechanics. He didn't recognize the model, but that really wasn't surprising. ZAFT engineers hadn't slowed since the end of the war, from what little he knew, and had even been gaining some fairly high-end talent from many Coordinators who had fled Earth. Many even from Orb, from what he could recall.

The blond had just left his meeting with the ZAFT recruiter, the past conversation still swirling around his mind as he took a step back to get a more comfortable look at some work being done around the right shoulder of the unit. Despite having stood in a place similar a year ago, he felt out of place, the lone man in business slacks and a white shirt amid ZAFT uniforms of various rank.

He had decided to not bring Yzak into the process right away nor did he decide to use his father's connections, choosing instead to go to a recruiter's office himself. The initial interview was easy, just dropping his name and recounting his time on the Le Creuset team amid a room of widening eyes. From that moment, he was swept up into a bunch of paperwork, phone interviews, until finally asked to come to Armory One a few days after he initially walked through the recruiter's door.

So, there he stood, gazing up at a life he had both left behind and was now rebirthing once more, his fingers twitching under the crook of his elbow as his memories slipped back to the war. The state of the world might be on shaky ground at the moment, but Dearka was determined to protect it. He had the brains and the skills and being a redcoat wasn't horrible at the end of the day.

"At least it's something you know how to do," he muttered aloud, his voice lost amid the noises of the hangar. He hadn't expected to come all the way out here, but didn't want to miss the opportunity, feeling his phone buzz in his pocket, which was probably a message from Yzak announcing he was on his way to meet him. Either that or the young commander was cancelling his meet-up. After all, Yzak had to create a reason to be out at the new base that day though the whitecoat had seemed determined. While Yzak had been both surprised and supportive of his return to the military, he was also adamant at smoothing out the process, possibly even putting them on the same team. Yzak was using a lot of the clout he had gained from his successful training program to shuffle Dearka through the system and while it would take a little adjusting, getting put on Yzak's team meant he would be among friends and a pilot.

"I'm sorry to be suspicious, but only military personnel are allowed in this hangar," a gruff voice remarked just over Dearka's right shoulder and the blond turned. "I don't normally see anyone in here without a uniform." The man looked to be at least five years older than Dearka with a stern face, his brown skin dark underneath shaggy black hair and bright, amber eyes. He wore a redcoat with the decoration of an experienced pilot, a white scar already marring the side of his neck and worn like a badge of pride, perhaps, Dearka knowing it was probably something that could have easily been removed. Still, he was striking, an air about him making Dearka subconsciously take a step away and feel small, despite being of similar height.

"Sorry, I'm a new recruit, but still a veteran, I suppose."

The man's eyebrow arched incredulously and Dearka gave a weak smile, waving off the suspicion as if that would help his image, but instead the man shifted position, walking closer and then in front of the blond, stealing his attention away from the mobile suit in the background and forcing Dearka's focus to be squarely on him.

"I'd rather not be that person," he went on, arms crossing on his chest just as Dearka's dropped to his sides. "But you have to have clearance to enter this hangar and I have a suspicious feeling you do not. I'll just escort you out, if you don't mind."

Dearka did mind, that was the problem, but he wasn't entirely sure he minded that much and held his arms up out to the sides. "Sorry, didn't mean to step on anyone's toes."

"Dearka?"

Both men turned to see Yzak walking towards them, his white jacket swaying out behind him throughout his brisk walk and Dearka almost laughed at the sight, rarely seeing his oldest friend in his formal attire. Damn, Lexi was right. Each time, it was weird. Many of the mechanics stopped their work to give salutes as Yzak returned them quickly in kind, eventually making his way to the duo and flowing into a more formal salute to the redcoat after the man had made one for Yzak.

"Commander Joule, strange to see you over here instead of Hangar 16."

"Officer Zanbare, nice to see you again. Normally I would be over there, but my colleague seems to have forgotten how to read," Yzak responded, his attention turning to Dearka who shrugged at the attention, his lips flipping into an apologetic smile.

"Lost in thought, sorry."

"Well, your 'colleague' should learn quickly to hold onto his thoughts," the older man muttered, not amused by the story, but his rigid appearance had softened a little.

"Yes, he should," Yzak agreed and held up a hand to introduce the two men. "Dearka, this is Officer Malek Zanbare, one of our top pilots. And Zanbare, this is Dearka Elsman, a former teammate of mine."

"Elsman?" Zanbare muttered, Dearka reaching out to take the man's hand in a shake. "Le Creuset team?" Zanbare went on and Dearka nodded, the older man humming while his face shifted towards recognition as he nodded.

"I see. That's not a name I've heard in a long time. You picking up the uniform again?"

Dearka nodded and shrugged. "Seems to be the best fit."

"Well, I hope that's the case. Welcome back," Zanbare said, sliding his arm up into a salute and Dearka instinctively did the same thing, the movement feeling weird after having not done it in so long and his grin faltered. It might take him a while to get used to it again, it seemed, despite his enthusiasm.

"So, do you know where they're putting you?" Zanbare asked as their hands returned to their sides. "Or is this all still very new."

"Still very new," Dearka said quickly, but Yzak was already responding otherwise.

"My team, if I have anything to say about it."

"Two of the famous four back together, huh?" the older man said, his eyebrow arching again at the thought until he too shifted into a shrug. "Yeah, I'm sure Command would allow it. Good optics."

"Famous four?" Dearka echoed, looking over at Yzak, but he didn't seem as surprised by the name.

"The little Council brats that could, I suppose," Zanbare began and he snorted. "I thought it was all talk until this one turned out to be competent." He flicked his chin over at Yzak who snorted as well. "A team of four Council kids, commanded by Le Creuset—a team anyone who was anybody never thought would actually turn out to be strong members of the ZAFT military force, but—well—here we are, I guess." He shrugged and acknowledged a call for him at the back of the hangar with a small nod of his head. "If you're as good as your record claims, we'll be better for it."

"I'll do my best," Dearka responded.

"I'll take it," Zanbare said, waving his arm high in acknowledgement that time as his importance on the floor became clear. He was the authority in the room, Dearka turning briefly to see who was hailing and noting the insignia for the head mechanic on the breast of an older woman.

"Well, look forward to seeing you again," Zanbare continued before either Yzak or Dearka could remark further. "For now though, I think I'd better make sure no one breaks anything important." They all stiffened into salutes and then he passed behind Dearka towards the older mechanic.

"Top pilot, huh?" Dearka muttered, following his path for a moment before squaring up to Yzak.

"Yeah, he's the intended pilot for the Gaia, one of ZAFT's new prototypes." The young commander jutted his thumb to the side, indicating the skeleton Dearka had been previously observing.

"Oh?" Dearka edged, his eyebrow following the same path upward as his voice. "Should you be telling me all of this?"

"What? You signed all the dotted lines, right? You're ZAFT's again."

"Not sure I like how you worded that, but I get what you mean all the same." The blond's mood actually plummeted with that thought and he knew his face couldn't hide it. His lips dipped into a frown and he had to look away, returning his attention to the Gaia as his eyes tried to find anything for his brain to think on other than the pure disappointment he felt in that particular moment. Despite his enthusiasm earlier, the reality had sunk in and not for the first time over the past couple of days, the doubt crawled up his stomach into his chest.

"You regretting it?" Yzak asked and Dearka didn't turn to look at him, not having the nerve to look at him just yet.

"Yes and no," he replied, not entirely sure whether Yzak was asking about his denied proposal or his decision to rejoin ZAFT. If Dearka was being honest, the answer was going to be the same for either question and he shrugged after further pause. "Nothing I can do about it now."

"Things don't always go to plan, but sometimes the newer plan you make is better than the old one," Yzak said carefully and Dearka gave a wry laugh, eyes falling to the floor as his hands went into his pockets, scuffing at the floor with his shoe.

"Ask me that question again when I make a new plan then," the blond responded eventually, finally meeting Yzak's eye and happy to see the understanding on his friend's face. The past year had been good for both of them, Dearka realized, watching another soldier run up to Yzak, interrupting their conversation by handing him a clipboard and rambling off a few words. Yzak was sliding easily into his new role and the responsibility had matured him. While Dearka felt like he was on his heels, he could still sense his own growth and the corner of his mouth quirked into a smile.

"C'mon, I want to show you something," Yzak began after his briefing and Dearka nodded, following after him quickly as they left the hangar to a transport jeep just outside the main door. Yzak jumped in and Dearka joined him quickly, the young commander edging them towards Hangar 16, their original meeting spot.

"It's gonna be strange seeing you in charge," the blond remarked, leaning back and crossing his fingers behind his head as he took in the area, feeling the nostalgia come back in a rush. When they weren't fighting for their lives, military life actually wasn't too bad—well, at least he didn't think so. Still, it was going to be weird being back in uniform and after catching some strange looks on his behavior, Dearka settled in more naturally in the seat.

"I'm sure you'll get used to it. If things work out how I think they will, you'll be a pilot on my team and you'll find out really quickly the rest of your teammates are rather candid."

"Oh? You tolerate that?" Dearka asked, bracing a hand against the dashboard when Yzak had to make an abrupt turn.

"Not quite sure my feelings on it matter," the commander grumbled and Dearka couldn't help but laugh.

"Man, that does sound like fun. All we need is for Piper to rejoin and then things will be back as normal," Dearka said offhandedly and Yzak snorted, bringing the jeep to a stop near the open door, the large title "Hangar 16" an orange reminder Dearka wasn't paying enough attention to the buildings as he was wandering around.

"If Piper gets anywhere near ZAFT, she'll have more to worry about than a few curious faces," Yzak grumbled further, turning off the vehicle and stepping out.

Dearka gave a wry laugh and followed suit, stepping down onto the pavement once more. "Ah, so the closest she can get to ZAFT is you, huh?"

Yzak shrugged. "Something like that."

The blond laughed more genuinely that time, feeling his worries from before chipping off. Perhaps this was the right decision after all. "Your anniversary is coming up, isn't it?" Dearka continued. "A year?"

"Something like that," Yzak repeated dismissively and Dearka snorted, following after the commander briskly.

"What, that's as seriously as you're going to take it?"

"I dunno. We don't really do big milestone things."

"This is, like, the first milestone you've had."

"No, she met my mother over New Year's."

"Oh?" Dearka asked, his voice lifting in interest as they filtered into the hangar. Another machine stood in front of them, this one in a much later stage, the armor already fitted, but it didn't look to have any weaponry yet, the blond seeing the parts for beam weaponry including a beam cannon in another area of the hangar. There were also parts laid out for what looked like a backpack piece for the suit, but Dearka couldn't name it, having been out of mobile suit schematics for too long to have the words on the tip of his tongue.

Yzak was swarmed the moment they walked in and Dearka waited, taking in the light green suit as he waited patiently to the side. "Well, how'd it go?" he eventually prodded, finding a good moment just after a mechanic ran away with a clipboard.

"Fine, I think. Neither have said anything bad, at least."

"What? That's it?"

"What? My mother was never going to hate her—it was fine."

Dearka snorted and shook his head. "You amaze me sometimes, you know? I just don't understand how you can be so uncurious about these things."

"What do you mean?"

A different mechanic came up to Yzak next and handed him a new clipboard before saluting and hurrying off in another direction. Yzak took in the contents of the first page and then flipped it up, eyes scanning the information further as Dearka went on.

"You've almost been dating for a whole year and you know very little about her life in Orb, very little about her work, and very little about what makes her so special."

"There's lots of things that make her special, thank you very much, and I know all of those. Anything else, she can share if she wants to."

"So, I take it she hasn't wanted to?"

Yzak shrugged. "Some things don't normally come up, no."

"And you're okay with that?"

"Look, Piper and I are doing fine. I'm focusing on my career and so is she. We've got a system and it works. What's so bad about that?"

"Nothing I guess," Dearka said vaguely, but his response faded out. A pair of officers in darker blue, almost black uniforms were walking briskly in their direction and Dearka instantly began to tense. They could have been anyone and walking towards anyone, but the longer the blond watched, the quickly he realized they were walking towards them. No, not them.

Him.

"Dearka Elsman?" the taller of the two asked, his face dark underneath his cap and the blond nodded.

"Yes?"

They both took a step back, opening a path between them with one arm leading the way. It looked almost hospitable, but their words were far from friendly and Dearka instantly felt his ears deafen as the blood rushed to his head.

"You are under arrest. Please follow us."

"What's the meaning of this?" Yzak hissed and the noise level in the hangar gradually began to hush as the conversation continued.

"Please, sir, we don't want to cause a scene."

"He deserves to know," Yzak pressed, but Dearka was slowly starting to catch on, his once pride at joining the Three Ship Alliance in the war suddenly staining red as his hand went up to steady his friend.

"Commander, it's fine—"

"Desertion in the line of duty," the taller officer rattled off and the hangar did hush at those words. "And treason," he finished and Dearka had never felt so alone.

ZAFT's again, indeed.


CE 73 January 11, Orb (Morning)

The broken porcelain laid at her feet, the tea staining the ornate carpet, but Lexi was far from caring about a few expensive threads and crockery. Her mind was buzzing with emotion, not one remaining for long and she was getting jittery because of it, her hands starting to shake at her sides.

"I was there!" she shrieked and Cagalli sighed, her hands moving from the end of the desk to cross in front of her. She was leaning back against the edge, nothing between her and her unstable cousin, but what had been pitched as a nice morning tea among friends had turned into something akin to an intervention. Waltfeld, Kisaka, and Athrun were all standing off to the side, probably there to keep any physical altercation from happening, but despite them often being strong pillars of support, Lexi was cursing them. She had been ganged up on and then sat down at a table like a child, given a hot drink to lessen the blow. The only other ones in the room who didn't seem to be in on the information were Lathan and Namarra, the two of them nursing their own versions of shock and sitting quietly behind her at the table.

Lexi's lip curled up in a snarl, and her shoulders tensed, the pristine Orb uniform around her shoulders constricting and crumpling with the movement. A lie—surely. Yzak wouldn't have willingly killed refugees in cold blood.

Yzak wasn't a war criminal.

"Lies—all of it lies!"

"The events are well documented, Lexi," Kisaka began, his tone a fatherly combination of stern and soft. "And the Seirans are taking it very seriously—as should we. Orb operatives arrested Yzak Joule this morning and have him under their observation."

"I was there!" she shrieked again, ignoring his report. "Lies! Nothing on that battlefield was neutral."

"That's what a court will decide," Kisaka continued and Lexi scoffed.

"Self-righteous pricks—"

"What's going to happen next?" Lathan asked, his elbows bent on the table and fingers up near his lips. He was sitting beside Namarra at the only table in the room, the small, squared furniture looking almost comical in Cagalli's office now that the real reason for their "friendly morning coffee" had come out. They were all in Orb's finest, yet their faces has turned disturbingly grey, nearing pale as Cagalli's explanation went on, but there was no denying the facts the blonde had laid out. Events were already in motion and no doubt all the Rymyrs were feeling a step behind, even if Lexi was the one most vocal about it. Lathan was by far the most stable of the three and he shifted to slowly push his teacup and saucer up higher on the table, the cloth beneath bumping with the movement as he waited for further explanation.

"A formal case will begin within the month in front of a panel of impartial judges from various nations and held over Junias Seven—the most neutral and significant location given the nature of the case," Waltfeld answered calmly from behind him, leaning back against a bookshelf on the other side of the room. "The Seirans already have the prosecution ready and I would imagine the Joules will be putting together a solid defense. If they're following protocol, only a small number of media will be allowed to document the events, but since it's a high-profile case, there's a good possibility it could become a public fiasco."

"As soon as it begins, I will have to make a public statement, I'm sorry," Cagalli said, her hand reaching up to massage her forehead and probably realizing she might be a reason the case would become a fiasco. "From that point, the only thing we can do is watch and comply with the proceedings."

"Watch and comply," Lexi snarled quietly, though even she knew she hadn't masked her anger well enough for the room to not hear. She was pacing a line between the table and Cagalli leaning against her desk, her thumb nail between her teeth as she gnawed on it, but the words in her head were much louder than the grumblings she muttered. Her other half was laughing and had been since the news had been announced. Laughing and sneering sweet doubts in Lexi's ear and the redhead bit through her nail when it spoke again.

Oh my. Yzak's quite the naughty boy. A grin accompanied the taunt and it grew wider in the back of her mind. I think I like him even more now.

"I have to denounce it and him whether he was conscious of his actions or not," Cagalli continued slowly, Lexi hearing her voice off to the side, but the redhead wasn't looking at her. She wasn't looking at any of them. Her pacing feet were where she focused and then her bleeding nail when the Berserker spoke again.

Shame though. Doesn't seem like he'll be around for much longer. The grin opened in a laugh. Better find a new boy toy, Lexi.

"I have to formally ban him from entering the country as well," Cagalli continued and the emotion swarmed up Lexi's throat to her head, the blood rushing along with it, but it had little to do with Cagalli's admittance. All of that so far had been expected.

So far.

"And, Lexi," the blonde said softly, her voice dipping to an even tone as Athrun shifted closer out of the corner of Lexi's eye. "As head of the family, I forbid you to have any dealings with him."

"Forbid?" the redhead echoed, her attention snapping to her cousin as the laughter practically deafened her other senses. "You forbid me?"

To her credit, Cagalli held her ground and Athrun came further into view, taking post near the blonde. "Yes, Lexi, I'm sorry," she said and the anger was hot, whether Lexi had wanted it to be or not.

"Even if he's acquitted?"

"Lexi—" Athrun started, but the redhead looked at him that time and whatever ice was in her glare kept him from continuing.

"This is my stance as Chief Representative of Orb and head of this family," she continued, pushing off to stand straighter in front of the desk. "Even if he's acquitted."

All bracers were off after that one line and Athrun did have to intervene, Lexi taking purposeful steps towards Cagalli who still didn't flinch. They locked eyes and the laughing in the back of Lexi's mind ceased, but even with that distraction gone, the redhead's fury remained.

"Do you remember nothing of the war?" she hissed, stopping only when Athrun put his palms on her shoulders to hold her back. "You're standing in the room next to the man who killed members of Desert Dawn—I killed members of Desert Dawn," she shouted, yelling over Athrun's shoulder as her pointing finger moved from Cagalli to the frowning Waltfeld. "Orb has taken in ex-members of the EA, ones who had been battling on Orb soil. You've given them jobs and citizenship!"

"I can't ignore this case, Lexi, and my personal feelings can't go into this decision, I'm sorry. I'm saying this as the Representative of Orb—"

"Damn your titles, Cags!"

"I can't!" she screeched and Athrun turned to put one of his hands on her, keeping the two apart as much as he could and saying each name in warning. It was commendable, but maturity did little against the combined anger of the Athha spitfires and the girls snarled at each other before Lathan finally stood to intercede. Getting to his feet with practiced grace, he snagged Lexi's pointing arm, his fingers wrapping around her forearm with an agility she didn't know he had even with his Gorgon Eyes.

"Enough," he growled from behind her, the sound very unfamiliar, but it did little to calm her. "Your fight isn't with Cags and you know this. Cool it."

"Cool it, Lathan? Cool it?" Her anger turned on him then, but Namarra was there instead, the Natural's arms out as she stood between them.

"Lexi, you're panicking—relax," the Natural said calmly, eyes narrowed as her chin flicked upward in acknowledgement. "Stop listening to it."

The room hushed with that bold declaration, but despite the laughter being gone, any sentiments the Berserker had whispered still lingered and the redhead shook off their holds, stepping away from them and their encirclement.

"Why?" she spat, not entirely sure she meant the words, but they definitely felt right in that moment. "It's the only one making any sense." The declaration probably made little sense to many in the room, but her spite was palpable, the shoulders of each individual tensing and remaining tense as she walked towards the table to gather her things. "I'll not stay and listen to this garbage," she added and made no eye contact with the others, merely locked her attention on the door and hurried towards it, the resignation of Namarra and Waltfeld announcing they would follow after her just before the redhead slammed the office door.


CE 73 January 11, Space (Early evening)

"What is this, Durandal?"

Heine paused, having just left his office and was closing the door behind him when the shriek sounded from down the hall. He recognized the voice of Ezalia Joule instantly and he felt his chest grow cold. Something must have gone terribly wrong for her to lose her composure and he was turning the key in his door to lock it when her rampage continued.

"Orb had jurisdiction—you let them arrest him? You're putting him on trial?"

"Ms. Joule, please. You need to sit and we can talk calmly about this."

"He's just a kid!" she continued and Heine swallowed hard. There was a good chance she was talking about Yzak, but he forced himself to calm down. He couldn't claim to know who or what would set her off like this and he took careful, but quick steps towards Durandal's office, happy most of the staff had already left for the evening.

"The final decision was not mine to make, but I do know protocol is being followed," the chairman said calmly.

"What is this country to us, huh?" Ezalia continued, her voice exiting the room from various places, Heine hearing her feet tap against the carpet as she paced. "Their outcry sparked nothing! We have no one to appease! Why are we taking this so seriously?"

"Because they are serious allegations, Ms. Joule."

"But he's my son!"

Heine swallowed again, and tried to release a steadying breath, but failed. There was his proof and his feet quickened into a jog without further thought, coming to a stop just before he reached the threshold of the door and just as Durandal had come over to shut it, blocking him to further eavesdropping. He cursed, spinning on his toes and heading straight back to his office. He had to know. He had to find out why Ezalia Joule, one of the steadiest personalities in politics, was erupting at the current Supreme Council Chairman.

His keys were back in the lock and he had the door open once more as muffled shouts sounded from Durandal's office. Heine closed the door before he could hear more, however, locking it behind him and taking long steps to his computer, waking it up quickly and using his high-level clearance to get into the system.

"Yzak Joule," he said aloud, typing the name into the database as he dared not even sit, waiting impatiently as rows upon rows of file names filled his screen: academy reports, exemplary performance reports, exam scores, pilot record… Among all of those high honors was the most recent report and Heine choose that file, bringing it up onto his screen.

And panicked.

The singer understood now why Ezalia was screeching in Durandal's office and his fingers tightened around the computer mouse in similar distress. Yzak had been summoned to court for war crimes and after reading the remainder of the summons, he noticed it was not just war crimes, but also crimes against Orb.

His hands shifted to brace against the edge of his desk, head drooping towards the floor and hair cascading against his cheeks as his eyes focused in on his pocket and the phone he knew he had hidden there. Someone call him—please. There had to be something wrong with this story—something he wasn't getting. Yzak was rash, but not a war criminal and his attention returned to the report, his heart rate speeding up even more when he found the original document and saw Cagalli's signature. Cagalli had summoned Lexi's boyfriend to court for war crimes against Orb—an allegation that if proven guilty, Yzak would be sentenced to death.

"Helmeya, help us," Heine breathed and his phone finally did go off, the singer eagerly taking Lathan's call and ready to help weather whatever shitstorm was about to encompass them all.


CE 73 January 12, Space (Early morning)

Lexi had sent Yzak multiple messages on her journey back up to the PLANTs, but he hadn't replied to any of them. If she hadn't figured he was just busy with trial things, she might have been worried. Waltfeld and Namarra were keeping a sharp eye on her as well, however, Namarra taking her phone at some point, but that wasn't before she had seen the news about Dearka. The three of them stilled into a nervous silence at his court martialing and Lexi willingly gave Namarra her phone.

She just… didn't want to know anymore.

The journey felt longer than normal, but as soon as they landed, she handed her things to the others and made her way to Yzak's apartment. She didn't care about her state—wasn't even sure he would be there—just wanted to see him and her pace didn't slow until she reached his floor. His door was open and someone was standing in the doorway, though she didn't recognize the gentleman. He was wearing a black suit and black tie, the white collar of his shirt sticking out from underneath longer blond hair cropped at his chin. He was about Yzak's height, but not intimidating—or so she thought at first. It wasn't until he heard her approach and turned towards her in the hall that she felt his competence and saw the intelligence in his eyes. If she hadn't been tense already, she would have tensed again at his scrutinizing look, but her mind was already set on seeing Yzak and that was her plan whether this man wanted her to or not.

"You the girlfriend?" he asked, his voice a lighter baritone that, despite the circumstances, actually sounded tired, if not a little strained. As soon as she heard a few hissed profanities from inside the apartment, however, she understood why.

"Piper?" he prodded further and Lexi nodded as she approached him.

"Yes."

He let loose a long breath, flicking his head to indicate the open door to his right. "You don't have much time, but I'll let you see him."

Let me, she thought and nodded again, not asking for him to elaborate and instead walking past him briskly into the apartment.

Everything looked oddly tidy and normal save the mug of tea abandoned on the counter to her right. The biggest difference was the tension in the air and she followed that feeling to the closed bedroom door, Yzak's voice loud and yet inaudible save for a few curses. He was on the phone, she assumed, and tried to find somewhere to wait, though with the other man behind her, she felt strangely intrusive. And that feeling only escalated the moment he shut the door behind him and turned to lean his back against it.

"You don't seem surprised to see me," he said once he had settled, his hands slipping into his pockets casually. "Does that mean you know what's happened?" She didn't respond and he pressed further, more curiosity than threat in his questions. "How?"

"I'm a very informed person," she replied vaguely and would have gone on even more if Yzak hadn't opened the bedroom door. He didn't come out right away, his grip on the handle as he stood in the doorway, eyes averted and only partially dressed in his uniform, his jacket abandoned, but trousers and boots still remained.

"Yzak?" she said, her stable voice leaving her the moment he came into view and he looked up from the phone in his hand, his shoulders tensing when his attention shifted to her.

For the first time in her life, Lexi witnessed Yzak panic. He never panicked. He was scared—yes—angry—often—but never panicked and as his eyes grew wide, his skin visibly paled and she felt the blood drain from her own cheeks.

Was it true?

"I-I'm sorry I didn't reply—I-I can explain—it was when we fell to Earth—the 8th Lunar fleet—" he started, but she was already opening her mouth to speak.

"W-wait, were they right? O-Orb refugees?"

"I-I think it was after—"

"H-how could—"

"A-at the time I-I didn't know—"

"War crimes?"

He didn't say anything after that, his hands that he had been holding out in front of him dropping to his sides and he cursed, spun, cursed again, and grabbed the mug sitting on the bar, throwing it at the wall. The crash was sharp, the porcelain falling to the carpet in a muffled heap and the silence left afterwards deafening.

War crimes, she kept thinking, the word churning through her mind as Yzak steadied himself, but whatever techniques he was using, didn't seem to be working. His breath was quick and panicked and she wasn't even sure she knew how to calm him—wanted to calm him. It was impossible, right?

Yzak, a war criminal?

"I didn't know!" he finally shouted, any attempt at calming down gone in that statement alone. He didn't look at her, his fists beginning to shake at his sides as he stared at the new stain on his white walls.

The reality was beginning to sink in. A part of her had expected to come into the apartment and see him calm, explain to her that there was nothing to worry about, but his mannerisms told a completely different story. There was some truth to the story and a part of her did stutter, questioning his integrity for a split second.

"T-this is—This is—" she breathed, unable to finish the sentence. This type of thing was reserved for horrible people—people who enjoyed towering their power over innocents. Yzak wasn't like that—had never been like that. Impossible, she thought again, her resolve reigning anew as her fingers curled up into her palms.

Not her Yzak.

It was serious though, she knew, and watching him string together another sentence of curses, seeing him walk a shaky path from the counter to the tea stain and back, he knew it too. Of course he knows, she thought as she finally found her voice to say the thing they were both thinking.

"This is a death sentence!"

The hysteria in her statement most likely had been what caused him to finally look back at her, but it wasn't for long, his head dropping again in what she had assumed was shame. He refused to look at her—couldn't look at her. The words "Orb refugees" stuck out in her mind again and her strength finally left, the resolve falling from her limbs as she sunk to her knees.

"R-refugees? F-from Orb? Y-Yzak—"

"I-I didn't know—you have to believe me."

She heard his pleas, but he hadn't walked towards her. She, honestly, didn't know what she would do if he did. Despite everything, despite the fact the ones he had supposedly killed were from Orb, despite her connection to the current ruling family of Orb, despite the strain she would be putting on Cagalli, there was only one thing her brain couldn't comprehend. One thing she didn't want to ever have to deal with.

"I—" she started, falling backwards to sit on her heels, looking up at him still standing near the tea stain on the wall and still staring down at the floor. "I don't—I don't want you to die."

The comment had surprised him perhaps even more so than it had her and his eyes finally met hers, wide and for the very first time, his panic shifted to fear. Her breath slowed and he must have recognized her own distress because he rushed to her, kneeling in front of her and putting his hands on her shoulders.

"I'm not gonna die," he said, but not even he believed the words. Yzak was such a poor liar.

"You're lying."

"I was talking to Mom—it's just a trial."

"Y-you're still lying."

"Lexi, I didn't know," he pleaded again and she thought he might actually cry, the fear so unmasked. "That has to mean something!"

This wasn't supposed to be happening. The war was supposed to be over. The repercussions were supposed to have been dealt with. Everything was supposed to be in the past and yet Yzak was being accused of war crimes, the penalty of which was death by firing squad. She couldn't stop it. What could she do against the rule of law? There was no one she could kill; nothing she could do to protect him. He had made a choice at some point and whether he understood his actions was something a military panel was going to decide.

Her eyes grew hot as even her body began accepting her helplessness.

"Lexi, it'll be fine."

"Please stop lying. It's not helping you or me," she pleaded, reaching forward and cupping his face when the fear peaked in his stare and she felt the heat leave his cheeks.

"T-then what do I do?"

She didn't know.

But luckily, someone did.

"You trust your lawyer," the gentleman said, having stepped away from his perch at the door, but Lexi was too distraught to be embarrassed about him seeing any emotion from them. "And you admit to everything that happened in the war, especially around that time," he continued, his eyes traversing from their pairing to land squarely on Lexi as her hands fell back to her sides. "Starting with explaining to me why your girlfriend has the same name as your former teammate and not the 'Piper' I had been given to look out for."

Lexi froze, her blood turning cold and her features changed automatically, her eyes narrowing and in a way that must have been effective because the lawyer did falter, his pocketed hands slipping out and his features jerking once in surprise before they settled into the trained neutrality he had perfected throughout his years. He was well informed indeed if he had been able to link "Lexi" with "Lunar Eclipse" and that was troubling. The redhead didn't like that vulnerability, and especially because this lawyer was meant to be helping Yzak, not digging into her sullied past.

Yzak was so frazzled he hadn't responded right away and when he finally registered the lawyer's words, he jumped instantly to anger, his feet under him and already walking at a heated pace to the doorway.

"She has nothing to do with this," he hissed, pointing at the older man and flicking his eyes to the door to make sure it was indeed shut.

"Teammates are good character witnesses," the lawyer went on calmly, "and if she was there at the time—"

"No."

"Mr. Joule, I don't think you need for me to repeat the seriousness of these allegations. There is only one teammate, Dearka Elsman, I can currently call upon and he is wrapped up in his own court martial. Athrun Zala has been missing since the end of the war and Nicol Amalfi was killed in action along with most of the Vesalius crew and pilots. Lunar Eclipse—"

"Is also KIA," Yzak finished and Lexi swallowed.

"Mr. Joule, no one wants you to face a firing squad, probably least of all—"

"KIA," he repeated.

They stared at each other for a long moment, the lawyer facing Yzak's anger with both the confidence and experience of someone who had been in that position multiple times. The man knew he was right—hell, everyone in the room knew he was right, but Yzak didn't falter, instead repeating "KIA" once more before the lawyer finally sighed and glanced at Lexi one more time before nodding.

"Yes, Lunar Eclipse was also killed in action. Sorry to trudge up poor memories. We will have to reinforce your case without any statements then."

"Yes, we will."

Helmaya's balls, he was being stupid. If Lexi could help, damned if she wasn't going to and she rose to her feet to declare such a thing, but Yzak's movement stopped her. Holding up a hand, he gestured towards her, but not to stop, merely to inform and he continued more calmly that time. "Piper is an Orb operative and is already of conflicting minds. Can we save any talk about my defense for later? If you don't mind, I'd rather not distress her further."

"Of course, Mr. Joule."

Distress her? Yzak was the one fucking distressing her and her cheeks grew hot with that thought, her glare now on the back of his head, but if he felt it, he gave no indication.

"Now, I'd like use the remainder of my privacy as I see fit. You and I will reconvene when I am escorted to the main estate."

"Of course, Mr. Joule," the lawyer repeated and stepped back through the door, closing it quietly behind him after reminding them he could only bargain for about 10 minutes.

"What are you doing?" Lexi hissed the moment they were alone again. "Are you mad?"

"Pip, I'm not letting you anywhere near this," he responded, his anger fading by the moment as she watched his shoulders slump, his face still away from her.

"But I can help you."

"No, the moment you come forward you'll be silenced, whisked away or something and then what, huh? Both of us in cells?" His voice faltered at the end of his statement, but he cleared it and held firm, growling out his conviction in the next line. "Nuh-uh, not happening. We'll make a case without you."

"I can't believe you're even considering this. Do you want to die? Is that it? Rot in a cell the rest of your life?" Lexi asked, the snarl far more hideous than she had intended. Yzak took it with a surprising amount of patience, however, sighing and rubbing his palm across the back of his neck after he checked the door and returned to stand in front of her.

"I really don't want to have to explain this to you. In fact, I'd rather not argue about it at all."

"I can't bear the fact knowing I can do something and I'm not."

"Lexi, look," he began, him using her real name taking the edge off her frustration enough to let him come towards her. Both of his hands dropped onto her shoulders before they slipped down her arms to end at her hands. It was such a defeated gesture all fight left her completely, replaced by laughter in the back of her mind and panic in the pit of her stomach that she swallowed away. "I know you want to be there—that you want to do this for me, but I really need you to stay out of this. I—I don't know what's going to happen, but I'd feel 300 percent better at least knowing you're not within the curious sights of anyone from ZAFT. If I don't have to worry about you, I can worry about myself and—well—let's be honest, I kinda need to."

She opened her mouth instantly to argue—try to make him understand that she wanted to be there with him, but he didn't let her. He leaned forward quickly as she was about to speak, pressing his mouth against hers in what she could only assume was an attempt to keep her from continuing her defiance. It was brief, but effective, her words stolen until his phone went off and he had to pull his attention away from her and back to the device in his pocket. Sighing, he didn't look at her as he twisted and reached for it, staring at the screen, but making no move to answer.

Lexi watched him carefully, noting his exhaustion. He might have been a poor liar, but he was good at pushing through any distress and if she was seeing this much honesty from him, he was in a bad place. Defeated; it was the only word she had for him and her arms moved to cross against her front, curling her fists under the crook of her elbows. If he was feeling defeated already there was something about this case he wasn't telling her—some truth he was either not sharing or, perhaps, even more accurately, he just felt guilty.

She waited patiently as he stared at the call, waiting for him to either pick it up or ignore it. Instead, he did neither, just stared as a long sigh exited his lips.

"Okay," the redhead admitted before the buzzing eventually ended. Perhaps she could still help. Could still… do something. "I'll keep my distance."

The weight on his shoulders did seem to lessen after that statement and he looked up at her instead of the phone. "That includes the trial. You're not going to that either."

She pursed her lips, but, in the end, agreed and a light smile curved upwards for a moment before he breached the distance between them again, planting a soft kiss on her forehead.

"Thanks." His phone went off again and she caught the name of his mother that time, his fingers twitching around the device as he looked down to see the caller again.

"You gonna get that?" Lexi asked after another long moment of them watching it ring.

"I…" he trailed off and sighed, tossing the device over the back end of the sofa to land on the cushion. "I don't really want to."

"Then what do you want to do?" she asked and his eyes grew distant, watching the place where the phone had landed, but she waited for him to respond, not wanting to invade on his delicate thoughts.

"Nothing," he finally said, turning to her with that sad smile. "We don't have much time, but can we just do nothing?"

"Sure," she said, grabbing his hand as she pulled him into the living room, snatching his phone and tossing it further to the edge of the sofa as he sat first and she curled up next to him, arms hugging around his waist and his around her shoulders. Her cheek was against his chest and his chin on the top of her head as his phone stared buzzing again.


A/N: Hello all. So, we see the drama beginning and I'm sure some of you saw it coming just by paying attention to canon. I've had many a discussion with fellow friends about why the hell ZAFT would try their own and this is what I came up with. I'm not gonna lie, this is a pretty heavy and touchy subject as well, so I'm always happy to hear opinions and thoughts.

Other than that, hold on because there is more to come.

As a reminder, I have a running summary for this story and have posted it as a separate entry. I will not be adding chapters, per se, so the summary will not notify anyone when there is a new entry, but I plan on keeping it three chapters behind what has been posted. On that note, I will be getting as soon as I can.

Special thanks to my friend FearTheFedora who helped me with the international law bits of this segment. I will be needing more of his help later and I am so grateful he is both knowledgable and willing to share that knowledge with me. Also, big shoutout to my Beta, Death-Scimitar, who humors me through threats sometimes and I'm as grateful for that as I am for the law lectures (if not more, in a strange way).


Corrections to the Narrative:

None this chapter, but here's some backstory for the legal bits. Yzak is playing nice so he'll be put under house arrest. This is not normally done, so his family status is helping him here. There's a lot of other, little things that might not hold up in an actual war crimes case, but I am doing my best. I have to do a lot to make an interesting story and tie in with later events, but if there is anything jarring, please let me know.


Strata