Kaname sat listlessly by her telephone, resting her head against the back of the chair.

The figurine she had gotten for Sousuke was in her hands. Sighing, she stroked it absent-mindedly, turning it this way and that.

She had just gotten off of the phone with Kyouko. Her friend was worried about her since she had not gone to school since she had arrived back in Tokyo. Kaname had answered the telephone only because she had hoped to hear word about Sousuke, one way or another. Kyouko had said that she would stop by some time that evening, to bring her some food and see how she was doing.

The phone remained quiet after that. From time to time, Kaname would stare at it with an accusatory glare. She forced herself to stand up and walk over to one of the windows. Sighing, she pulled back the curtain. The sun looked so bright. The sky was so clear. For everyone else, this must be a beautiful day.

It had been hard leaving Ayame and her father. There had been tears in her eyes when she hugged Oichi. Stacy had gone along as well, offering support. A tear ran down her face. She shook her head.

"Moron." She was speaking about herself. She had dreaded going to New York. Latter, she had regretted her decision to come back here. "Big idiot." She was thinking of Sousuke now, staring down at the boy's face on the figurine. The plane flight had been horrible. She couldn't remember a thing that happened. A Mithril van picked her up at the airport, at Tessa's insistence. The driver reiterated what Lt. Kalinin's aide told her earlier that day. There was still no sign of Arbalest, or of Sousuke.

Nothing could have prepared her for the wall of feelings she ran into when she got back to her apartment. The card that Sousuke had given here was sitting on the center of her table. "I need the starshine of your heavenly eyes, after the day's great sun. And if I had a rose for every time I thought of you, I'd walk through a garden forever." Kaname repeated the words that Sousuke had written. They only brought her sadness at that moment.

Her stomach growled. Kaname wanted to ignore it, but couldn't. She hadn't eaten in two days. It was time she perked back up again. She had gotten past denial. She was still angry, but the feeling had died down. She had tried her hand at bargaining, but nothing that she did or promised had brought Sousuke back. Her depression held to her like a sopping wet sweater, but it no longer had her paralyzed.

As she filled a pot with water, she heard the doorbell ring. Kyouko. That was good timing. There wasn't much left to eat in her apartment.

"Coming, Ky!" She dried her hands on a dishrag and tossed it back in the direction of the kitchen. She didn't bother looking out of the peep hole before pulling the door open.

It wasn't Kyouko. It wasn't even a girl. A bedraggled looking young man stood there, his hair unkempt and his face covered with near a week's worth of stubble. His eyes were sunken and his mouth was trembling ever so slightly.

"Sousuke..." Kaname blinked repeatedly, wondering if she was seeing things.

The young man was staring back at her, his eyes taking in every inch of her, as if he had never seen her before, or this was the last he would be able to look at her.

"Kaname... I..."

Kaname felt like she was going to burst. It WAS him. But what was that big idiot doing, just standing there looking shy and undecided? She felt her muscles tighten. It took every ounce of strength not to fling herself on him. No. She would be dignified. That would teach him a good lesson. Hmmmpppfff!

"Sousuke, please come in. You're not a stranger, you know!" Kaname smiled, but her smile wilted somewhat when she saw Sousuk'e response. Something was bothering him.

"Thank you, Kaname..." His eyes went to the card. Both of his hands twitched. He looked into Kaname's eyes, then quickly looked away.

Kaname swallowed, hard. The moment she had been praying for was actually here, but she found herself worried, even disappointed. A slight surge of anger built up in her as well. This was NOT what she had hoped for. He had left her in the middle of a romantic crescendo, but returned quiet and subdued. Had he thought about the two of them? Was that it? Did he decide he couldn't care for her, or didn't want to?

"So... uh... Sousuke... where have you been" The words had come out so casually, as if she were asking about the weather. It didn't fool Sousuke, though. She saw him straighten his shoulders and look deeply into her eyes. He looked older somehow. Why?

"May I sit. I haven't eaten much. I am very weak."

"Sure. Here. Let me move this. It's something I got for you." Kaname bit her lip. She was mumbling like a young school girl at her first dance. She handed Sousuke the figurine.

"Thank you." Sousuke sat, looking at the gift. He closed his eyes for a few moments, breathing deeply. "You wished to know where I was."

"Yes. Please, Sousuke." Kaname had given in. She let down her tough exterior. Her heart was in her voice. Her eyes widened. Sousuke seemed to know that. She could just tell.

"I have been through so much..." He stopped, running his hand through his hair. "No. I will speak about all that when I can. For the past few days, I have been living in a peasant's hut, on the coastline in North Korea. I had left Arbalest under the waves, just out beyond the breakwater."

"But why so long? Were there soldiers everywhere? Why didn't Mithril come and retrieve you?" Kaname was clearly confused.

"I did not call them. I had disabled my signal beacon. I crawled the ARX- 7 along the seabed until we reached land. I lived on what I could, staying any place that proved safe." There was more that Sousuke hadn't said. Kaname was eager to hear everything.

"Why, Sousuke?"

"I did not want them to find me yet."

Those words filled Kaname with dread. What had gone wrong? Had Kurz or Melissa been killed? Had Sousuke made a larger mistake than before? Did the Lambda Driver malfunction again, just when he needed it? "Why? What happened?"

Sosuke gave Kaname a brief capsular summary of his treatment, the results, and the mission. He didn't go into too much detail, and did not mention his various thoughts about her.

"But, it wasn't your fault! You must know that, you big idiot!" Kaname walked over and kneeled by Souske's side. She took his hand in hers and squeezed it. "It was brave to take those medicines. And you were a hero. You saved us all."

Sousuke looked at her, his eyes watering. "No, Kaname. 'We.' We saved everyone."

Kaname looked up at him, baffled. Was he OK? Did things somehow damage his memory? Was he suffering psychological problems? Could that explain his behavior? "Me? I wasn't even there. My father called me back to New York with him and my sister. I have stories to tell you, too."

Sousuke's gaze became intense. He set his jaw. It looked as if he had come to some kind of a conclusion. "I did not want to leave you Kaname. I thought a lot about that kiss."

Kaname blushed. She wished the big jerk would lean over and kiss her again. Now!

"I agreed to undergo the procedure because there really was no other choice. I was the only one who could do the job. But, I also did it because you were in danger."

Kaname stood up and walked behind Sousuke. She wrapped her arms around him and put her head on his shoulder.

"Yes. I remembered that feeling too," he said quietly. "Your hair smelled different, then. Cleaner."

Kaname frowned. So my hair smells dirty now or something?

"When I was going through the changes, I thought about you as well. Uh...I...should not speak about that..." Sosuke blushed. Kaname could not see that from her angle. She did feel his entire body jerk, however.

"Really? What were you thinking?" Kaname spoke directly into Sousuke's ear.

"Uh...I should move on... there are more things to mention. I was not myself, at one point. Or maybe I was myself, more than I had ever been before." Sousuke paused. Kaname stood up, wanting to see his face.

"It's OK, Sousuke. You can tell me anything. I want you to tell me everything. Now, or whenever you feel able." Kaname smiled. It was amazing, standing here and seeing him. He was alive. "So, how did I save the world?"

"When I was on the edge, and could go either way, something kept calling me back." He reached his hand out, then pulled it back. "It was you."

Tears came to Kaname's eyes. She had dreamed about him opening up to her like this.

"Your image stopped me from killing Kurz and Melissa..." His eyes looked haunted. Kaname knew he would have some major things to work through. Her heart went out to him.

"When the part of me in control wanted to fight rather than destroy the missiles, thoughts of you made the difference. You saved the day, Kaname. I am very grateful." Sousuke's mouth formed a thin tight line.

He was struggling with something. What? Kaname read between the words. She smiled. Sousuke was weak and tired. This would be a good time to get a confession out of him. She told herself it was OK to be ruthless with the one you care for. "But Sousuke, I wasn't there. What about me won the battle?"

"I... uh... have attempted to explain. I heard your voice. I saw your image..."

"I know that, mister! I'm not deaf. Was it your feelings for me?" Kaname kept from grinning.

"Uh..."

Bingo. "Sousuke?" It felt good to be playing this game again.

"I... well..."

"Hmmm..." Kananme put her hand on Souske's knee as she sat by his side. She purposefully looked away, thinking that would make him feel less pressured.

"Yes, Kaname."

Kaname waited silently. Soon the pressure to speak was just too great. "Well?" She began tapping her foot. Sousuke stared at it and began to sweat.

"Kaname?"

"What ABOUT your feelings, soldier?" Kaname took off one shoe and began tossing it up in the air, catching it. Sousuke watched the shoe go up. He watched it come down. He watched it go up again..." "SOUSUKE!"

Sousuke's legs twitched. He fought the urge to stand at attention and salute. "Kaname. I thought a lot about you. I thought that I might..." He stopped. He ran his hand through his hair again. He bowed his head.

It was driving Kaname crazy. She caught herself. Moments ago she had been depressed. Now, she was excited. Because of this no good clueless otaku goofball! Of course, she couldn't think of any place she'd rather be. "Sousuke, I am tired of tossing the shoe. Do you have any suggestions for what I might do while I wait for you to find your tongue?" Oops, the old fire was coming back.

"Do you have any dirty laundry, Kaname?" His voice had been the same as it had been so many times in the past.

Kaname started to shout, until she caught sight of his eyes and mouth. He was making fun of himself. She was sure of it! "I'm looking at it!" She put her hands on her hips. "So, I'm not worth talking to am I?" That ought to work. Sousuke looked up at her. His face went blank. She wasn't fooled. "Then your feelings must not be very strong..." Kaname would bait him with that one. He'd be worried that she might doubt him or be hurt. He'd answer now.

There was movement on his face. He looked sad for a second, then looked away. What was wrong? Kaname started to worry. This wasn't a game any more. "Sousuke..." her voice was close to a whisper. "What's wrong?"

He looked up at her. He put the figurine down on the table. Standing, he walked over to the window. "I care very much for you, Kaname. I shouldn't, because I am assigned to protect you..."

Kaname's fingers dug into her palms. Was that what this was all about? He cared about her, but refused to follow through on his feelings because of duty and obligation? No! That big idiot! Jerk. Moron. You were so close. We were so close.

"But, I cannot stop the way that I feel for you. And, I do not want to..." Kaname held her breath. Would he say it? Could he say that he was in love with her? Was he? "It...I..." He rubbed his eyes with hands, going silent. Oooh! If he was doing this on purpose, Kaname would kill him. She would mourn his loss, but so help her God she would kill him! "I know that I am not like other men. That can not be helped, not with my past." Sousuke sounded wistful, as if he were Pinnochio wishing to be a human boy.

"I know, Sousuke. But that's not a bad thing. It's why I... it's why I care about you. Very very much." Kaname stood up and walked over to him. "I missed you so much. I was so very scared." He'd better take the cue. She needed to be hugged.

Sousuke reached out and cupped one side of her face with his hand and stared at her. He knew what she wanted. He wanted it too. But, he needed to finish what he was saying. "It's more than my past though, Kaname. The medicines. They removed all of the boundaries. I saw things about myself. I did things I shouldn't have done." His defenses fell. He looked grief stricken. "I cannot be certain the boundaries will hold. I am not certain who or what I am."

Kaname took matters into her own hands. She lowered Sousuke's arm. She stepped up and grabbed him in a fierce hug. "You are Sousuke Sagara, sergeant of Mithril. You are also a foolish and clueless otaku. Not to mention moron, jerk, big idiot, and stupid head." She made a small happy sound. "That is good enough for me."

"But..."

Kaname stomped on Sousuke's foot. "No buts, Sousuke. I understand what you are saying. I trust you. I want to help you learn to trust yourself. I've been there..."

"Kaname..."

"Sousuke, we can do this together. We are going to do this together. I am not giving you a choice, do you understand? I will take the risk. Aren't you willing to do the same? She pushed back and looked up at him. Her eyes were impossibly large. Sousuke felt as if he was falling down into them, with no hope of catching himself. Those lips. They looked the same as in his memories. He closed his eyes. He couldn't watch them.

"But..."

"Are you trying to be noble, Sousuke?" Kaname sounded angry.

"Uh..."

"You're trying to protect me, right?" She clenched her hands.

"Uh..."

"You're going to make a big sacrifice for my sake?" The look on her face said 'Big mistake!'

"Uh..."

Kaname frowned. Her eyes flashed. She pulled back her lips and showed her teeth "I don't want noble." She poked him hard in the chest. "I don't need protecting." She put her finger on his nose. "You do your sacrificing for your own sake." She kicked him lightly in the shin. "I... want... you!" her each word was punctuated by a shake of his body. After catching her breath, she added something in a quiet voice. "And, I want to be kissed."

Sousuke just looked down at her, his face awash in conflicting emotions. It was one thing to do a lot of thinking. It was another thing altogether to be faced with the object of your desires. The mind was willing, but the flesh was weak. Kaname was right.

"Well, Sousuke?" Kaname eyes pleaded with him.

"I should be headed back to my apartment now..." Sousuke's words hit Kaname like the blunt end of an axe. She suddenly felt numb. "There is something I should do first." Sousuke lifted her chin, bent over, and gave Kaname a soft kiss on the lips.

He tried to pull away. Kaname came to life. That bastard! Where had he learned to be so sneaky! Tease her will he? She threw her arms around his neck. "That was pitiful, sergeant. Really bad. We have a lot of work to do!" She couldn't keep a straight face. Her smile said it all.

"Affirmative."