The bushes rustled.

Only the most capable operative would have noticed the nervous breathing coming from inside the shrub.

A number of people made their way to the door. They were inconsequential. The primary target was not in sight. None of the secondary concerns were anywhere within range. The skulking figure listened carefully, sniffing the air when no worrisome sounds were heard. The chill air caused exhaled gases to be visible. Only the greatest act of will prevented the knocking of knees or explosive coughing.

It was time. The coast was clear. The route had been mapped out long in advance.

The shadowy form practically burst forth from the azaleas in front of Jindai High School. The expected window was indeed open. The room was unoccupied. Initial insertion took place without a hitch. The training session had been well worth the time.

A quick dash across the main hallway went unnoticed. The target was alone, back turned the door. The figure reached inside of a full length winter coat and took out a closely guarded item. It was too easy. But, the hardest part lay ahead. Only an unfeeling cad would be able to go through with this and not feel any emotion.

Quiet. There must be complete silence. The target was exceedingly skilled, and could not be allowed any chance of escape. And, there could be no witnesses.

One step. Sweat began to form in small beads. Another step, with the item held in a raised arm. The beads of sweat coalesced, forming larger drops. Breath was held. Courage was wavering. Resolve was tested like never before. A third step. Sweat fell to the floor, breaking into infinitesimal fragments. Almost there! It would soon be over. A foot was raised off the floor, preparing for the next step.

The vagaries of fate took over.

"Ah! There you are, Kaname!" Kyouko's cheerful voice froze Kaname dead in her tracks, a few feet away from Sousuke, a fancy engraved card in her hand.

Kaname jumped, as if she had stepped barefoot on a live wire. "O, Kyouko. So nice to...uh...see you here…now..."

Sousuke turned around. "Your approach was somewhat noisy, but remarkably quiet for an untrained girl with large feet. Were you testing me?"

"Ummm...errrr...testing...yes! That's exactly what I was doing. AH HA HAH HAH HAH HA HAHHH..." Kaname quickly tucked the card back inside her coat. She turned to scowl at her friend, mentally daring her to take out her camera.

"Are you feeling good, Kaname? You look upset... or nervous?" Kyouko smiled when she saw Kaname's hands clench. "Was it something to do with Sousuke?"

"I just said that, didn't I?" Kaname came close to growling. She felt like a wolf at that moment, and Kyouko looked an awful lot like a lamb chop.

"Hey guys, what's up? Why does Kaname look so upset?" Ryo walked over next to Kyouko. "Did Sousuke do something again?"

"I... am... not... upset!" Kaname looked as if she was ready to go ballistic. Ryo joined the figurative food chain.

"What's all the commotion about?" Maya strode into the room, holding a large box. It was filled with kurisumasu kehki, strawberry festooned Christmas cakes. "Is Kaname obsessing with Sousuke's otaku habits again?"

Ryo looked at Kyouko and smiled. Sousuke put down the cleaning manual for the Squad Automatic Weapon, his one eyebrow raised in curiosity.

"Me? Obsessed with Sousuke? You have got to be kidding. AH HA HAH HAH HA HAH!" Kaname picked up a Christmas cake, trying hard to keep her hand from shaking. "Are these from a bakery, or did you buy them from the ladies on the sidewalk down town?"

"Wow! Maya's got the cakes. Hey, everybody, in here. The more the merrier!" Shinji walked in, a scarf around his neck and a large grin on his face. Mizuki came in shortly thereafter.

"So, what was everybody talking about?" Mizuki asked, looking at Kaname's feigned look of angelic calm. "Does it start with an 'S'?"

"Kaname was doing something with Sousuke." Kyouko answered, camera ready. "I think it was supposed to be a secret."

"Kaname?" Sousuke asked. If there were any secrets involving Chidori, he should make certain there was no reason for concern.

"Please. Why would I be doing anything with Sousuke that was secret? By definition, nothing the Misguided Military Mutant does is secret for long. Remember the upgrade to the sprinkler system that had the gym under water? Or, the X-ray machine he installed at the school entrance, and how the music club used it to take see-through pictures of all the girls?"

"Yes," Sousuke answered. "They said they wanted to see what had mrrrfffbbbfflll mrpphhhlll mrphhh"

Kaname knew exactly what the club members had said. 'We just wanted to know what crawled up Kaname's ass and died.' She had been mortified. The jokes had been continuous for a week. Sousuke had needed sutures after he asked why she hadn't told him about the animal infestation.

"Of course. You're absolutely right." Maya winked at Ryo. Kaname caught the exchange, ready to strangle someone.

"Actually, there was no animal..." Sousuke ended up flying over a series of desks. Kaname picked up a cake and shoved it in his mouth. She quickly tried to hide the halisen behind her back.

"Uh oh. Is this a bad time?" Ren walked into the room with a large paper bag. "I brought some small gifts for everyone. But, if this is a Kaname and Sousuke moment, I can wait."

"When is it a good time?" Shinji asked. Everyone except Kaname and Sousuke laughed.

"So, Kaname..." Kyouko had a devilish look on her face. She pushed her friend closer to Sousuke, whowa busy cleaning a patina of icing off of his face. "Have you made any plans for Christmas Eve?"

All of the other girls looked intently at Kaname, holding their breaths. Christmas Eve was a time boys often took their girlfriends out for a romantic dinner or a night at a hotel.

"Something... ro-man-tic…… hmmmm?" Mizuki's grin was inflammatory.

Kaname looked as if she had turned to stone. But, she was made of strong stuff. Nothing would knock her down for long. "Romantic? Me? AH HAH HAH HA HAH!"

"Yes. I believe Kaname is correct. Why would the night before a commercial holiday be of any significance? There would be absolutely no reason to risk going out on such an occasion." Sousuke did not like the idea of crowds or overly festive occasions, particularly not where Kaname's safety was concerned.

Sousuke's words seemed to have an immediate electric effect on Kaname. Her mouth went flat. Her shoulders quivered momentarily. Her eyes went blank. "I should hurry. I believe there are duties I must perform as Class Representative." She walked forcefully from the room, chin held high and arms swinging wildly. Something dropped out of her coat and slid across the floor. It was a card. The card had Sousuke's name on it. It was closed by a stamped bit of wax on a fanciful ribbon. There was a slight hint of perfume about it.

Sousuke picked up the card and placed it in his satchel. Could this be the reason Kaname was acting somewhat strangely?

He would need to investigate.