A/N: A quick one off. Not related to any of the other stories.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The inside of the tandem cockpit was filled with smoke.

The M10 lay twisted on its side, huge charred areas of steel alternating with huge punctures and deep discolored dents. Surrounding the Mithril Arm Slave, more than a dozen Savage, Shadow, and Spectre class A.S. bodies formed a burning ring of debris.

There was no sign of life in the enemy machines.

Sousuke finished bandaging Kaname's head wound. The splint on her leg would suffice for now. He would not use smelling salts. If the two of them were not rescued soon, it would be better if she simply slid away into death unknowing.

Why had he allowed her to watch Gunparade March with him? Naturally, she went for the romantic angle, failing to fully comprehend the severe life the male and female lead were forced to live. The boy...Atsushi... had told a different girl that he could not return her feelings because he was a pilot---he never knew if he was going to return from a mission.

It was his fault. It was all his fault!

Visiting the TDD-1 after another kidnapping attempt, Kaname had asked permission to use the M-10 simulator. She had surprised everyone with her enthusiasm, spending hours learning how to operate the fire control module. Kurz had made her blush when he asked if she was doing that just to be able to spend time with Sousuke in close quarters. Melissa had made some off color jokes.

Naturally, Kaname had taken it out Sousuke.

Looking at Kaname's reclining form, Sousuke had to admit that she had shown a surprising aptitude. For a civilian, she had a fine touch for target acquisition... mode switching... aim placement... and threat location. She had been understandably slow, but was still more thoroughly trained on the new unit than anyone else aboard ship.

She should have been sent home after the rescue. There was no real good reason for her to come back onto the submarine. It was not the proper place for a high school girl.

Why had Tessa agreed to have Kaname accompany him on this mission? True, the crisis had arisen suddenly, and was an emergency of staggering proportion. Yes, the firepower of the M10 was remarkable, more important on this mission than the Lambda Driver capability of the ARX-7. And, they had needed to strike fast... hard... and decisively. There were not enough M9s to handle all of the targets. The M10 should be able to handle the small enemy force at one of the contested areas.

It had been. But, the force had turned out to be much larger than initially anticipated.

"Ohhhhh.....whaaaaa...... Souuuus..... Sousuke." Kaname groaned and wriggled some, not opening her eyes. "It hurts. It all hurts."

Sousuke checked the readout of a number of medical electrodes he had attached to her bare skin. He had been sweating profusely, when he unzipped her A.S. body suit. She must have found a bra restrictive and uncomfortable. The EEG, EKG, and oxygenation levels all seemed within normal limits. But, that wouldn't matter if the fire grew larger or the secondary explosions at the captured ammunition facilities began again.

"Sousu.... Sous....kaaay...." Kaname blinked a bit, then went quiet again. Her fingers were twitching. The rise and fall of her chest became more regular.

He should have refused to let her use the trainer with him. He should have declined Lt. Cmdr. Kalinin's suggestion that Kaname was the most capable partner for him in the M10 at that given moment. He could have piloted the M10 alone. Its full capacity would have been untapped... he most likely would have died... but he could have completed the assignment without Kaname being harmed.

"Sousuke, are there Genjyu around us?" Kaname was mumbling, somewhat deliriously. She was referring to a scene from the second disc of the anime. "Did you drug me? How much longer will the filters last? How many more episodes before we go on our date?"

Sousuke swallowed hard. Date? She really was following that show too closely. Date? Was she just remembering the plot-line, or did she really want to have the two of them develop a romantic relationship? Why did that suddenly make him feel more edgy than their possible approaching doom? Date? The two of them? Together?


He needed to relax, stay in control, and keep his wits about him!!!

The radio was unable to receive, but he kept send S.O.S calls, hoping that the device was still capable of transmitting. Time was running out. The cockpit was too mangled to open. The ejector function for the tandem module wasn't functioning. The bullet-proof glass proved to difficult for him to break through with the tools at hand.

It was a race.

Would the growing concentration of smoke smother them? Would the fire char them or set off the remaining onboard ammunition stores? Would their minor wounds bleed enough to become something more than minor?

"They... never...ooooooh.... they.... ouuuuccchhh.... never kissed in that show. How could they.... owwwww.... never have..................... kissed......."

Sousuke began to sweat again. It was not because of the growing heat. Some parts of the cockpit were growing warm to the touch. That did not distract him. He couldn't help but remember Kaname being somewhat grumpy at the end of the twelfth episode. Sure, the finale and the tender moment in the credits were sweet, but she said it needed more. Now he knew what she thought it needed.

In the distance, another bunker full of weapons exploded, an after effect of the tense and brutal battle. The sound had Sousuke thinking back to the recent fight, wondering if there had been something he could have done better.

"Sousuke, we have three enemy craft approaching from the rear and two to the side. I have missile lock on them. Fire." Kaname's voice was high pitched, but she was steadier than Sousuke would have expected.

"Roger." He had launched the second salvo of homing missiles, inflicting grievous damage on the enemy combatants.

"We have two...no three... no, I think it's four more... I...." Kaname had hesitated some before marking each new enemy with the cursor. It gave them a chance to fire repeatedly before the M10 volleyed and removed them from this plane of existence. The Mithril craft had taken heavy damage.

"Damn it! We do not have time for mistakes. You must concentrate." He had been furious, caught up in the fever of battle. He did not wish to rely on someone else if they couldn't keep up with him. He spoke words he shouldn't have. "I should have gone out alone. I cannot trust you."

"I'm sorry...."

Those had been Kaname's last words.

She had made a disappointed sound when he disconnected her from the system and took over fire control duties himself, but had said nothing more.

He sighed. It was a reversal from the anime. The girl had been angry and untrusting. The boy had a tendency to apologize. They had gone on to become a good team. He and Kaname likely wouldn't have that chance.

Mai Shibamura had been like him in other ways. She had lost someone she loved to the enemy. For her, it was a boy she had a crush on. For him, it had been his parents and siblings. Both had wanted to become fighters, needing to kill the things that had caused them so much pain, feeling it was what their loved ones would have wanted.

She had been used to fighting alone. She found out that she wanted something more.

"Ohhhh. What happened? Sousuke?" Kaname tried to sit up, grimacing in pain. She took off her head gear and rubbed her head. She shook hjer hair out some.

"You don't remember?" Sousuke asked.

Kaname sat still a moment, a faraway look in her eyes. She remembered the 'Danger' sign flashing on her control panel. There were a number of external explosions, jolting the vehicle and causing damage to her and the machine. She looked down at herself, seeing the splint and vacuum bandages. Her eyes widened. Her suit was unzipped fairly far. Electrodes were in private places.

"Are we surrounded by enemies still, Sousuke?" She thought about smacking him, but realized he had simply done what was medically necessary. Besides, it hurt too much to move that way.

"Yes, but they are neither intact nor alive. We are at risk of joining them." He did not believe in telling people fairy tales to keep them at peace. She had a right to know their true situation.

"How long do we have?" Kaname asked, sounding somewhat resigned to her fate.

"Perhaps three hours. Maybe four." Sousuke cringed some when he said that. That wasn't entirely true.

"I want a real answer, Sousuke.... Not an overly optimistic one." She leaned back, running her fingers through her hair.

"If the fire continues as it has, perhaps an hour at best." Sousuke looked at her face. He was impressed. She was not frantic or too depressed to act rationally. "If the stockpiled ordinance around us catches fire, we could go at any moment."

"Radio not working?" Kaname sighed when she saw Sousuke's nonverbal response. "Well then, why don't you tell me a funny story or something? But, nothing otaku! You big goof...."

Sousuke stared at Kaname. For some reason, he wished that he had stories to tell her. There was very little to talk about that did not have some military connection. The things that had happened to him lately fit her requirement, but those things had all been shared with her.

"You know all of my recent stories, Kaname. Those are the only ones you would approve of." He didn't sound apologetic. He couldn't help the life he had already lived.

"I see. Poor little soldier boy." Kaname bit her lip. She didn't want him to get the idea that she pitied him. He had made some progress since she met him. Maybe all he had needed was time... and the right opportunities. There was a good chance that he would not have any more of either. What a shame....

Sousuke was silent. He understood what she was saying. Part of him actually agreed with her. His life hadn't opened up any until he had been transferred to the school. He thought about standing in the jungles of Khanka, staring into Kaname's eyes. He remembered floating down from a high cliff, holding on to a balloon, Kaname in his arms. There had been a bicycle ride, with her grabbing at him, trying to get him to repeat that he had been frightened for her. Kaname had worn a kimono.

He had said that she was beautiful.

"I cannot help that I am a goof as you say, Kaname. I will say that I have grown to enjoy life in Tokyo. I wish that things had gone differently here today." Sousuke ran his hand across his face, wiping away some dried and caked blood. He thought a moment. "There is something I should say to you."

"Sousuke?" Kaname suddenly found herself blushing. Her heart began racing.

What did he intend to say?

She thought back to watching Gunparade March with him.

Mai had sat nervously, waiting for Atsushi to tell her how she felt. She kicked him, when all he did was say that he hoped they did well in the next day's training. She had blurted out to another girl that she saw more in Atsushi than other girls might. She had gone through a full spectrum of emotions when another girl developed a crush on him. She had been on pins and needles by a fountain, knowing that Atsushi was going to tell her that he loved her. Only that stupid grey-haired freak and that poor harassed girl had stopped that moment.

There were no other people anywhere to be seen now.

Sousuke did have masculine qualities, plenty of them. His were far more numerous and obvious than Atsushi's had been.

She had been upset when Mizuki had been training him for their fake date. That kiss had made her furious and landed Sousuke in the lake. The letters and presents that Souske found in his locker... at least the ones he didn't detonate... had all made her feel somewhat concerned....

She didn't even want to think about Tessa!!!

Kaname looked at one of the large hoses that traversed the cockpit. It was ruptured. Hydraulic fluid sprayed out of a jagged opening... just like a fountain!

The two of them probably would never see New Year's together. If Sousuke had something to say, he had to say it now.

"Kaname I....." Sousuke stammered some, looking somewhat uncomfortable.

Kaname 's eyes widened. She unbuckled her harness and leaned forward some.

"I... you...." Sousuke looked as if he were steeling himself to say something.

Kaname felt herself blushing again. She swallowed.

"We...." Sousuke was obviously trying to find the right words. No doubt he appreciated the gravity of the situation.

Kaname wondered if she should say something first, if Sousuke was having this much trouble.

"Miss Chidori.... I... uh...."

Kaname felt the blood pounding in her ears. She held her breath.

"I really do....." Sousuke stopped for a moment, confused by the look on Kaname's face. "I really do trust you."

Kaname knew there had to be more. That was just Sousuke's way of gaining enough courage to say what was really on his mind.

"Is there more, Sousuke?" He had to say yes. He had to say yes. He HAD to say yes.

"Yes, Kaname....." Sousuke's eyes softened.

Kaname's hands gripped the back of Sousuke's seat hard. Her lips parted. She knew she must be as red as a beet.

"Something I should say now, in case there is no chance to say it later...."

Kaname froze. She couldn't breath. Her chest was on fire. If he didn't say it now, she might pass out from anticipation.

"Please, Sousuke...." She closed her eyes, hating that she sounded so needy.

Sousuke paused. Kaname could have slapped him silly.

"Kaname.... you....I.... together.....I feel...." Sousuke obviously was wrestling with some admission.

"Yes?" Kaname opened her eyes, wanting to see the look on Sousuke's face. She was certain he was going to say what Atsushi told Mai at the turn of the Millenium.... 'I love you.' The big idiot!!!

"I feel we made a very good team. You are a good partner for me on the job. I would fight with you again, Kaname. It would be remiss of me to inform you of your shortcomings, however. In your last attack run, the repeated instances of hesitation and uncertainty led to our most significant battle damage. But, should you correct that tendency...."

x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x

Sparks flew like a shower of fire, stinging Kaname's skin. She watched with some fear as the blurry teeth of the monomolecular cutter did their work on the M10 canopy. It looked as if they were going to survive after all.

Two huge metal hands pulled off the top of the cockpit.

When Melissa Mao got down from her M9 and went to check on the two teenagers, she found Sousuke unconscious and Kaname awake, if somewhat in pain.

"Kaname, you're alive! What's wrong with Sousuke?" Melissa's eyes widened when she noted the broken halisen laying across Kaname's lap. "Is he...."

"Tactical error," Kaname replied. "Hopefully he will learn from his mistake. He's still alive. For now...."