Kaname pulled the pillow against her face, trying to block out the sunlight.

She hadn't slept a wink after Sousuke left. Now it was morning.

A day without Sousuke seemed like such a daunting thing. Just a couple of months ago, she hadn't even known he was on campus. But, she knew that now. He had become the focal point of her existence.

Mentally. Emotionally. And last night, physically.

They had been so close to consummating their love! Once again, totally against her will, she thought back to the final events of that previous evening. Still sitting naked with the covers pulled around her, she had looked up with sorrowful eyes when Sousuke came back into her bedroom, uniform on, and weapons bag slung over his shoulder. She had felt a chill, as if she had stepped wet out of shower into the cold of a winter's day.

Her emotions had stabbed at her. Worry. Frustration. Disappointment. Fear.

In a figurative sense, she had spent hours... no, days... building a house of cards in a room filled with painstakingly arranged dominoes. Just as she had been ready to realize the fruit of her labors, an errant card slipped out of her hand, and a foot nudged the wrong domino.

Everything had come crashing down.

"The van will be here within fifteen minutes," Sousuke had told her. "A helicopter will take me to Da Danaan. There is trouble brewing in Pakistan. A shadow organization has control of the new government. All signs suggest that they intend to distribute nuclear weapons to any and all terrorist groups with sufficient monetary resources."

Kaname realized now that Sousuke did not have any reason to go into that much detail. All he had really be obligated to say was 'Good bye. I'll be back when I'm able.' But, he trusted her.The explanation had been his way of offering her everything that he could. No doubt, he felt bad about leaving in the middle of such a special and intimate moment.

At the time, she had been too numb to care about that. With him standing there, on the verge of departure, it had been difficult being thankful for the moments of closeness that the two of them had just shared.

Sousuke was leaving her. Again. He was headed into a serious situation. Again. There had been no way to know whether or not this would be the last time she saw him.

"Please come back, Sousuke. This house will be too big without you. My life would be empty if... if you..." She had trembled when Sousuke walked over and pulled her to him.

"I have something to come back to now, Kaname." He had held her face in his hand. "And you should know, a Specialist does not leave a mission half done." He kissed her eyes, straightened up, and spoke again just as he was about to step out of her room. "We have unfinished business, you and I..."

The words 'I love you' froze on Kaname's lips as Sousuke left. She had been too shaken to speak. Laying in bed, she regretted not saying those words.

Sousuke had disappeared into the darkness beyond her door like a ghost merging with the shadows, but not before he had looked at her for a moment, bent over, and taken one of her stockings.

She had been left alone, glancing at the tapestries on her wall; her clothes on the floor; and the multitude of darkened candles strewn throughout the room. Why did that have to happen? Why did it have to happen then? Why did it have to happen to them? Was it too much to ask for her special night to go off without a hitch?

Tossing and turning throughout the early morning hours, she had remembered the feelings that felt when Sousuke walked away from her three years ago. Those thoughts mixed with the stark fresh emotions of her current situation. The more the shock had worn off, the more those thoughts and emotions had swarmed over her unmercifully.

One part of her was focusing on thoughts of abandonment. "I don't need him" she tried to convince herself, feeling withdrawn. That claim was sent down in flames. She realized that she was feeling bad because Sousuke was gone, not because he had done anything to hurt her. He was the reason that her life seemed so bright those days.

A different part of her was obsessed with thoughts of emotional engulfment . "I need him so much," she thought, on the verge of collapsing into a helpless heap on the floor. "What would I do without him?" That feeling couldn't take hold either. She was stronger than that. As distraught as she had been, she knew she that could get by, no matter what.

"If I can't be given a lesser burden, then I should just broaden my shoulders, right?" It was easier said than done, but it was something she had tried to do throughout her life. Adversity had proven to be a wonderful teacher.

A third and tiny voice spoke out with anger, feeling some need to reject Sousuke, since she could not reject the situation. "Fine, just go away. You've hurt me... you didn't do what I wanted you to do... so now I'm going to hurt you." She had felt that way once before. That's why she would never let herself feel that way again.

"Not this time," she had cried out, pounding on a pillow. She would make conscious good decisions this time, not mindless bad choices. In high school, she had been in love with the idea of being in love. Now, she was in love.

And, she could take strength from her feelings for Sousuke, just as she hoped that she had given him another reason to come home alive, just as he had said. There was a quote that she had read in one of Sousuke's essays:

'The soldier here his wasted store supplies,
Takes new valor from his lady's eyes.'

She would be a lady-in-waitingof sorts. No, not the type that waited hand and foot on some noblewoman. She would be waiting for Sousuke to make his way back to her. She would do that with as much faith, pride, and dignity as she could muster.

It struck her why Sousuke had taken her stocking. Realizing that he would probably tie it around himself... or some control lever in his Arm Slave... she smiled as her eyes welled up with tears. Big jerk! Riding off to battle in his giant metal charger. It was just her luck to fall in love with a hero!

As she took the pillow away from her face, Kaname blinked repeatedly... rubbed her eyes... then pulled her covers tight around her. Yawning long and deep, she tried to work up the gumption to get out of bed, get dressed, and head downstairs for something to eat.

No such luck. For the moment, she was content to simply lay there, pulling at one corner of the pillow she had been hugging tightly to her for the past few hours. It still had the faintest scent of Sousuke on it.

Somewhere... probably still in the air... he would be headed for that submarine. What was he thinking about? Would he be slipping into his combat persona, convincing himself that he was already dead? Might he be thinking about the time they had spent together? Would that big idiot go bragging to Kurz or Melissa?

Kaname sat upright, pillow squeezed mercilessly in her clutching hands. "Sous-kaaaaay..." He had better not! Especially since he had never completed the assignment! "Oooooh. If you..."

She collapsed back down on her other pillows. Even with all of his recent changes, Sousuke was not one to sing his own praises. That was fine by her. She didn't like the idea of too many people, women especially, knowing how wonderful he was. Though, if he wanted to tell Tessa, she wouldn't have any problem with that...

The mental image of Tessa reacting to Sousuke's big news made Kaname smile. Pulling her blanket up to her chin, she thought back to the time in Tessa's cabin where the young Captain had tried to convince Kaname that she had a personal relationship with a certain youthful sergeant.

Almost drifting off to sleep, she wriggled around some until she found the most comfortable way to lay. Her thoughts drifted back to Sousuke, focusing on more recent events. Out on the quad, she had turned around, startled by a high pitched yelp, wondering where her obnoxious suitor had gone. She saw a different young man walking away from the area, his back turned to her. There was something about his walk that was familiar, but she couldn't place it.

It had been Sousuke. Maybe if he had shot someone or blown something up, she could have come to that realization earlier. Moron!

Later, the Rugby Squad had begun calling out rude comments, threatening to start some choice rumors about her. Their game abruptly stopped, and they seemed to disappear. The same thing happened in the Library. Looking down an aisle, she saw a pair of shoes disappear into the stacks. From that angle, the vanishing person would have had to be sitting down and sliding backwards, or being pulled by someone else. Sousuke had been busy chastising her tormentors again.

It was heart warming to think that he had been protecting her, even after the way she had treated him when he had to leave high school.

Abruptly, her memory switched over to the instant of her startling discovery. She could remember her shock as she was roughly grabbed and thrown against the side of a college building. She shivered, recalling the feel of the cold muzzle of a pistol against her throat.

Baka! She still hadn't gotten him back for that one. The rough handling was bad enough. But, before she knew it, he was gone again. It seemed to be a recurring theme: Sousuke was there one moment, and then gone the next. She let out a long sigh.

That was not necessarily an uplifting thought.Neither was the memory of her somersaulting backward, skirt ending up over her head, after she pulled her foot out of a garbage can she had been kicking. The gathering crowd of amused passersby had all laughed, chuckled, or made snide comments. To make matters worse, her shoe had been terribly scuffed and scratched after she had wedged it in the garbage can in a fit of pique

That big stupid head of hers was the only person who could ever cause her to act that way.

Big stupid head of hers.


That made Kaname smile, even though she was suddenly worried about Sousuke. There really hadn't been any competition. She had merely needed to realize her own feelings, and then decide for him what his feelings would be.

Piece of cake! Uh huh. Sure. Those damn girls certainly had her tied in a bit of a knot for a little while. She remembered resorting to that cheap and demeaning trick. 'Sousuke, I need your help...' It had been a lie, but would prove true soon enough. 'I'm in danger.'

Despite the fact that she had gone on to treat him somewhat unfairly again, Sousuke showed up at her door, catching her off guard physically and emotionallyIf the big fool wasn't disappearing unexpectedly, he was showing up unannounced!

'Why? Have you been following me around? Am I your assignment again? Your duty and obligation?' She could remember the anger in her voice. Her emotions caused her to miss an opportunity to speak with him about her actions in the past. 'Sousuke, I did NOT want you gone... you had to go... I was really...'

She almost made her feelings known that time. But, a telephone rang. It had been Sousuke's, of course. And then he was gone.

But, she saw him again. Just like she would see him again later, after the current mission. Right? He always shows up again. Doesn't he? Couldn't she take comfort from that? He may go away a lot; but, he always manages to come back...

To her.

The next memory had her shaking her head. She should have learned to expect the unexpected, wherever Sousuke is concerned. She had been sitting in class, startled by the oral quiz she had forgotten about, thanks to her scrambled emotional state. 'Before I ask Miss Chidori her next question, does anyone have something constructive to add?' There had been a pause; then, the teacher said something that knocked her for a loop. 'Alright, Mr. Sagara.'

Sousuke had been in her class! How could she have missed it? Kaname felt somewhat embarrassed, even now.

Back then, she had begun to think more and more about him, wondering how he was different from the boy she last knew three years ago. Not wanting to go through certain feelings again, she had gone out on a date with someone else. That came close to being the biggest mistake she had made in her entire life. But, in her time of greatest need, Sousuke had been there.


'I'm sorry, Kaname. You should be safe from those boys in the future. I doubt they will act that way again.' Sousuke had saved her. Just like old times. He had also comforted her. That had been a revelation. It was something that he wouldn't have known how to do before. Even so, after she had done everything at the hospital she needed to do and had finished using the restroom, she discovered that Sousuke was gone.

She couldn't blame him that time, though. He had been convinced that she didn't want to see him ever again. After the way she had treated him before, she shouldn't have be surprised by that.

Her interest in him freshly rekindled, it had not been a simple task to tell him how she felt. Not paying attention as she walked from her seat in class, she had tripped over an umbrella someone had left in the aisle. She fell. She never hit the floor...

Kaname hugged her pillow tighter. He had saved her again. Moving ever so swiftly, he caught her, and provided her with a golden opportunity. 'You're my hero.' When she had whispered those words, he should have realized that she didn't hate him. Instead, he dropped her!

"Oooooh... that... that... mmmmmm..." Kaname felt her spirits rising some. Sousuke was certainly an acquired taste. He was low maintenance, but seemed to cause a lot of stress or work for the people who get close to him. Of course, she wasn't much better herself. Maybe that's why they were meant for each other.

Wanting to convince him that she cared, she had left him with just the opposite impression. 'It would seem that those words explain it all, Miss Chidori.' After class, she had tried to make her way to his side to explain. But, once again, he vanished without a trace or a trail.

Kaname chuckled, and then sat up. She had been driven to consider extreme measures. 'I know. That's why I won't get my hopes up to high. I'll still try to corner him anywhere I can. Pride be damned! If I have to throw myself on him in front of witnesses... wrap my arm and legs around him as tight as I can... and force him to hurt me to get free...' Aki had thought that she had been joking. She hadn't been! There was no telling if that method would have had any positive results; but, it certainly would have been less painful than the trouble she had found herself in.

She swallowed hard. Swinging her feet around, she got out of bed and walked over to pick up her robe. Standing in front of her mirror, she looked at the scar on her shoulder. Her thoughts went back to a rather hectic and frightful scene. She had wedged herself behind a large piece of equipment when bullets had started ricocheting off the wall close to her. She had had no idea what was going on, but the fighting had sounded somewhat fierce

When she had seen Sousuke in danger, she wanted to grab him and pull him to safety. She tripped on a dead terrorist. Slamming into Sousuke, she knocked him aside and took a bullet in the shoulder that had been meant for him. It had been a high price to pay, but she didn't regret things for a moment. Sousuke had carried her all of the way to the hospital in his arms, even though he was injured himself. He wouldn't let anyone else touch her. He sat with her through the night, even though he kept falling asleep.

She had certainly managed to get his attention.

After taking one more prolonged glance around the room, her gaze lingering on the side of the bed where Sousuke had slept, Kaname put her robe and slippers on and headed off for the stairs. Rubbing her hand back and forth over the smooth railing, she thought about the morning before. She sighed sadly. There would be no breakfast waiting for her today.

Each step took her further from her room, the place that she had last seen Sousuke. Every step reminded her of the anxiety and excitement she had felt the other day, before walking down these very stairs. I had turned out to be a wonderful day. The night had been special, too. But now she had the chore of getting through the morning after... and then the day after ... and finally the night after. Followed by who knows how man mornings, days, and nights after.


She considered whether or not she should spend some time with her friends. Maybe she ought to give her father or sister a call.

Putting together a simple meal, she came to the conclusion that she was in no mood to see or talk to anyone at the moment. She was very grateful that the University didn't have classes on Sunday. Sitting at the large dining table, she felt as if the room had swallowed her alive. It was so big. It needed something. Nodding her head, she knew just what it was. She would hang the tapestries in here, and find a few other classy pieces of artwork and furniture to help spruce things up.

After all, there were times when that building reminded her more of as fortification than a house. But, maybe that wasn't such a bad thing. After all, it was Sousuke's castle, so to speak. Yes, but it was far more than that. With every passing day, she had come to view it more and more as her home, not just the place she lived.

She would take care of it while Sousuke was away. She would do what she could to make things as nice as possible for his return.

Kaname avoided feeling self-absorbed, as she probably would have three years ago. It was true, she hurt. And yes, she was deeply saddened by the way things stood. But, she remembered something that Melissa had said to her while she was in the hospital. 'He hurt too. The difference was that when he was hurting, he was crawling through trenches... snorkeling through underwater minefields... piloting Arbalest against two, three, or even more enemy machines. He was putting other people first. And they weren't even people who had come to mean anything to him.'

Sgt. Major Mao was right. As hard as things had been for Kaname in high school, they had been that much harder for Sousuke. The same went for today, as well.

Her heart filled with pride, thinking of him. He still had such heavy burdens to carry, but he wouldn't have to bear them alone. All of the tragedies he had faced had not broken him. In fact, despite all that he had to deal with, he managed to continue growing as a person.

Part of her wanted Sousuke to be what she wanted him to be, right then and there. She shook her head. No doubt her impatience had been another thing that had doomed some of her past brief relationships. Tugging at her hair, she smiled, thinking of a Chinese proverb: 'You won't help shoots grow by pulling them up higher.' That made a lot of sense. Time has a way of changing things. And some things can't be rushed.

Kaname thought about some of the ways that Sousuke had changed. 'That's better. Now, when you walk into a girl's hospital room, what should you do?' She remembered her annoyance with him when he walked timidly into her hospital room. While he had still been the same in some ways, he had shown her something new, something that intrigued her. 'I apologize, Kaname. I should have checked the room. I assumed, that with Melissa here..." He had joked slyly with her. She had missed that fact at first.

He had matured in other ways, too. 'You have grown more beautiful, Kaname.' The words had come out in a rush, but they were not prompted by anything that she had said or done. There had been no need to save him from having to swim naked in the lake, this time. 'Although, to be honest, I prefer your mother's kimono to a beer-stained hospital robe.' He had even gone on to say 'I will acquiesce. I will tell you how you have matured over the years.'

But that damn phone rang again!

How she hated that phone. And the beeper. And the communications console. Maybe she could unplug it... detach a few parts... or pour a drink into it or something. Hmmm.Too bad she was only joking.

When Kaname finished eating, she went to clean the dishes, pots, and pans in a sink of sudsy water. She remembered standing at this sink with Sousuke, covering him with soap bubbles. He hadn't been too pleased about that, but his newfound urge to compete with her had led him to mention the shower. That had been fun. She still maintained that she had won that round, even though he did leave her roaming throughout the building looking for him.


Stretching and yawning again, she decided that the shower sounded like a marvelous idea. She needed something to lift her spirits, and could use a fresh start to the day. When she eventually found herself luxuriating in the warm pulsing spray, her thoughts drifted off again.

Her shoulder had stopped hurting weeks ago. But, the wound she took had not been enough to get Sousuke to take note of the renewed feelings she had for him. 'Could you hold my hand, Sousuke?' Kaname smiled, remembering how that big idiot had stumbled when she asked that. Some Specialist he was! Then again, he was perfect just the way he was. The things he had gone on to tell her out there amongst the wind, leaves, and trees could still bring tears to her eyes, even in a shower. 'There is no one, Kaname. I... I have felt the need for companionship... and other things... often. The girls who congregate around me are very attractive... and their attention is flattering, and frightening... but...'

She hadn't been thrilled to hear about those damn girls again, but Sousuke's admission had her hopeful. Another statement had left her feeling somewhat dizzy and weak in the knees. 'None of them is as beautiful as you, Kaname...none of them were you...'

Important as those words had been, something else he had said gave her life back to her, in a manner of speaking. 'I forgive you, Kaname Chidori.' After that, she had finally been able to forgive herself. And, she had begun to hope. 'So... what do we do now?' Sousuke had later asked. 'We take it one step at a time,' she had replied. It had been good advice then, and better advice now.

'Enjoy when you can, and endure when you must.'Kaname couldn't recall the author responsible for those words, but they made sense too. She would work hard on the enduring part while Sousuke was gone. It would be his job to see to the enjoyment part when he got back.

If he knew what was good for him.


After getting dressed and tidying up her own room, Kaname spent a few moments deciding what she should do next.

While it might be easier to sit around moping and doing nothing, that wouldn't accomplish anything. She would clean each and every room that Sousuke used, and then move onto all of the rooms that she used alone, or the two of them had a habit of frequenting together. If she energy after that, she would try to think up some way to spruce up the building, giving it an even more homey feel.

One particular thought brought her up short. She was behaving like she was a newlywed or something, and they hadn't even fully consummated their relationshipBlushing, she felt warm inside. It was a good feeling, no matter what the circumstances. Not all that long ago, she had been scheming to get her hooks into him. If he wasn't truly secure in her net already, she would be certain to do everything possible to keep him from getting away.

Her earlier assessment had been right. This hadn't turned out to be some half-hearted attempt or a harmless short-lived flirtation. Sousuke had taken the bait, and the two of them had gradually allowed instinct to take over. She just wished he were there with her, so they could try out certain instincts again. She missed him so much it was almost painful.

Kaname thought back to one day in class, after she had finally gotten him to realize how she felt. 'So, did you miss me, Sousuke?' She asked out loud, scowling and remembering what Sousuke told her when she had asked him that in class. 'I was never aiming at you, Kaname.' Idiot! Maybe she didn't miss him so much after all...

Gathering the things she needed, Kaname pondered the vagaries of Fate and Destiny. It was hard to believe that there had been days when she just didn't want that scruffy freak around. She remembered asking him if he was following her. He said that it had all been coincidence. Time after time after time. Coincidence. Yes. In a way, those had been better days. She had known nothing of Mithril. She had never heard of the Whispered.

True, there had been exploding lockers. Yes, there had been busts for Art class mistaken for attackers. And he had been a clueless otaku with a penchant for bursting into the girl's dressing room and tackling teachers.

'Bad is never good until worse happens.' She chuckled. That saying certainly held true for those early days with Sousuke. And, it may very well hold true today. But, she didn't want to think that way. Sousuke was good at what he did. He would return.

Kaname took a moment to rub her temples, wondering how she would have reacted if someone told her back then that she would one day be madly in love with the same guy who called himself a sergeant when introduced to the class. She knew exactly how she would have reacted!

It was a strange world, wasn't it?

A rag and polish in one hand, and a kerchief tied around her hair, Kaname headed into Sousuke's study. He spent a lot of time in that room, so that would be the one she would be certain to clean up best. Gingerly, she set his essays aside as she dusted and polished his desk. She filed his loose books away and used a can of compressed air to clean out his computer keyboard.

With one eye on a floor in bad need of cleaning and shining, Kaname frowned when she eyed a tall stack of books. She decided to finish with her organizational efforts first. Trying to arrange the books more neatly, she felt her heart jump up into her throat. While certain books were titled inn English, she could still decipher them readily enough. 'Surviving Deployment.' That book had been written for military spouses and families. Kaname felt dizzy for as moment. That didn't mean that Sousuke was already considering marriage, did it? Almost flustered, she leafed through his handwritten notes, feeling guilty to be intruding into his private matters.

His intention was clear enough. He had been reading those texts to try and better understand how she would feel, whenever he was called away to duty. He had been taking notes to present to her later, in order to make her life easier.

Tears fell onto his notepad, smearing some of the ink there. Damn his big wonderful heart. He obviously cared a great deal about her, even more than she had come to hope for at that stage in their relationship.

'Military 101.' Kaname put aside her cleaning things and sat down on the floor, reading a few pages in that book. It captured the emotions and endeavors that many new wives and significant others face when they set aside their personal goals for the sake of their husband's and boyfriends. There was solid information, practical checklists, and personal stories from hundreds of families. Sousuke didn't have to take notes for her. She could read through enough of this to make sense of things.

'Today's Military Wife.' Although it was written for spouses of American servicemen in different branches of that country's armed forces, Kaname could see a number of practical points. Marrying a service member meant more than marrying the man. It also meant marrying into the military family and its way of life. She could extrapolate things to what it meant to fall in love with a young otaku who was prone to running off to combat. Sousuke may be called away infrequently now, but that would not make things easy when he wasaway on any given mission.

Having read enough to renew her spirit even more, Kaname worked to straighten up those books. As she did, a piece of paper fell out of Sousuke's note pad. Kaname stood rapt, reading it. It was an anonymous poem that he had printed out. It said more its few words than those books had in all of the paragraphs she had skimmed through.

When she was a girl, her dreams were bold

As bold as her fine, free gaze;
And every gift of grace and mind,
Were hers in her younger days.
When she was a girl, a golden girl
With a soul as fine as fire,
She could outshine the brightest jewel
The rich man's love could buy her.
Yes, hers could have been the glittering path,
Through a careless, carefree life,
But she fell in love with a soldier,
So she was a soldier's wife.

Away from the home of her childhood,
She marched at her husband's side,
For she chose a wide and winding road,
When she became a bride.
And sometimes the road was a hard one,
So different from what she had planned,
Sometimes she wept for the home she had left
As she lay in a foreign land;
And sometimes her steps would grow weary,
As she followed the drum and the fife;
But she set about making the world her home,
Because she was a soldier's wife.

She learned to build a hearth for them
Wherever her man was sent,
And she knelt to plant a garden
Every time he pitched their tent.
Yes, she would always plant a garden
Though she never saw it grow,
For she knew before the flowers came
That she would have to go.
But she left each garden gladly,
Though it cut her like a knife,
For she hoped to bring comfort,
To another soldier's wife.
To the hardships in her married life,
She brought one simple truth;
A promise that was spoken, in the ancient words of Ruth:
"Wherever you go, I will go
Where you lodge, I will lodge
Your people shall be my people
And your God shall be my God."
I'll share your joy and sorrows
As we make our way through life.
For I'm proud to love a soldier
And to be a soldier's wife.

She bore the weight of worrying
What fate might hold in store.
And the wordless fear of waiting
When her soldier went to war.
And the nights that she spent fearing,
That her wait was in vain;
And the pain of wanting someone
She might never hold again.
But she bore his children gladly
Through uncertainty and strife,
And they never heard her crying
For she was a soldier's wife.

She raised a soldier's family
With the faith her love had taught her,
And she gave the pride she had inside
To her son and her daughter.
She taught them to love freedom
And to know what is was worth,
As they helped her plant her gardens
In the corners of the earth.
And she never wished for better
Than the road they marched through life
For she was as much a soldier
As she was a soldier's wife.

Kaname sat with her head bowed for a few minutes after finishing that. To her, it was unbelievably poignant, almost too much so. It really brought the cold truth of reality raining down on her. Up until that point, her attitude had been one of 'I just have to make it through this until Sousuke comes home... this time...' But, things wouldn't magically be better forever if he came back unharmed from this mission. Who could say when the next mission would be? Months? Days?

She had a lot of respect for those women who married soldiers. By extension, she began to realize what it must be like to be a firefighter's wife, or a police officer's girl friend. If they let themselves, they could spend all of their days and nights worrying. That was the one way that mankind was different than everything else alive: man is the worrying animal.

This certainly was not going to be easy. 'Yes, hers could have been the glittering path... through a careless, carefree life...but she fell in love with a soldier... so she was a soldier's wife.' She had never had a careless and carefree life. She had never believed that she might some day she would be walking a glittering path. No one else had come close to capturing her heart the way Sousuke had. If she gave up on a relationship with him, what exactly would she be left with? What could she hope to look forward to?

'Yes, she would always plant a garden ... though she never saw it grow... for she knew before the flowers came...that she would have to go.' She wouldn't be faced with that, thanks to the concessions that Sousuke had wrangled from Mithril. But, it gave her an idea. There was something that she could do while Sousuke was gone.

A fair number of rooms throughout the building had good lighting. Many of the balconies that she and Sousuke had taken to frequenting had empty flower boxes. There was plenty of room near the main entryway for a number of large flower urns. She had always had a green thumb. It was time to prove that once again.

'Bread feeds the body, indeed, but flowers feed also the soul.'


Everything she planted would need to be watered. She was setting herself up for a lot of work. But, the idea that she could significantly beautify Sousuke's home filled her with enthusiasm. It would also be more fun than cleaning, so it was a reward of sorts that she could look forward to later.

'She bore the weight of worrying ... what fate might hold in store... and the wordless fear of waiting... when her soldier went to war. And the nights that she spent fearing... that her wait was in vain... and the pain of wanting someone... she might never hold again.' No. There was no way around that. The only way she could ease those fears would be to stop caring. She was not about to do that. She had already decided. She wanted to put her whole heart into things, seeing just how far the two of them could take their relationship.

It wasn't easy getting to sleep that night, but she still managed to get some rest. It was a good thing.

She would be busy the next day, too.


Kaname needed to take a break.

The apartment building was now spotless, and she was worn out.

With classes scheduled for only half a day, Kaname had decided to skip them altogether, consequences be damned. There were things she wanted to do. Those things seemed more important than lectures, books, and notes. Or, that was what she told herself.

It was more than that, however. She wasn't ready to sit in certain classrooms without Sousuke yet.

With time on her hands, Kaname had gone on a tear. Not certain which exact emotions or motivations were driving her at every given moment, she threw her heart and soul into her cleanup duties, singing and humming as she took to her tasks with a vengeance. If Sousuke fought with that much determination, he would be home safe in no time.

Anything that was dusty, got dusted. Everything that was out of place, got put away. If something was loose, it got tightened. When she came across items that were faded, frayed, or faulty, they were quickly painted, trimmed, or fixed.

At one point, she had leaned up against the wall to catch her breath. She had just finished lugging a noisy whirring contraption with her through more than two dozen rooms. "Nature abhors a vacuum." She kicked the idle device at her feet. "And so do I"

After resting a bit, she found her second wind. Spurred on by a sudden burst of energy, she had gathered up every piece of clothing that Sousuke owned out of drawers, off of hangers, from beneath various beds, and from the bottom of baskets, hampers, and travel bags. Her sleeves rolled up, and her long skirt tied high, she got ready do a marathon laundry session.

She stopped in her rush onward, like a tornado that simply died out and vanished. There were others things she could do with her time, and the steam laundry would do a much finer job. She bundled everything up, planning on taking them in to be cleaned.

Before she got busy again, Kaname decided to have some fun. Feeling somewhat giddy, she ran to find a pen and pad of paper. She wrote short notes to Sousuke. Some were just silly. Others were romantic. A fair number were rather risqué, even scandalous. Feeling mischievous, she left them in any place that she thought Sousuke would have a good chance of finding them. She saved the sexiest ones for his school books and back pack.

He should have known better than to leave during that kind of moment. Lucky for him, she was the forgiving sort. She would find suitably demonstrative ways to express her forgiveness, just as she had that night in her apartment. 'You're so much more than a soldier. It's time you started seeing that. If you can't see it for yourself, just watch me. I'll find plenty of ways to show you. This is one...' She had kissed him after that. He had been shocked at first, but gradually came around. Sousuke had make great strides after that night. It was another sure sign of her green thumb.

She had grown since then, too. There wasn't anything that the two of them couldn't accomplish. Together.

Kaname couldn't help but feel content, thinking back to that night she and Sousuke had cooked together. She had surprised herself and come on pretty strong. But, that had paid big dividends. The two of them had begun opening up to each other, saying things they had never said before. There had been so much she wanted to know about Sousuke, and so much that she wanted to tell him. That night, she had tried to plant a very important seed in Sousuke's mind. 'There... is... more... to life... than just... surviving...'

Not only did she want to give him every reason to come home that she could, she also wanted to make his life as enjoyable as possible. She was determined to do her best to remain hopeful and optimistic, not only for her sake, but also for Sousuke's. The happier she seemed, the more confident he would be. The more confident he became, the further their relationship would grow.

She smiled, thinking about another saying. 'A pessimist is a man who thinks all women are bad. An optimist is a man who hopes they are.' It was up to her to show him the value of a woman who would be bad only for him.

'Please don't condemn me to a life alone. You are the only woman I have ever wanted to care about. I wouldn't have ever learned what it meant to care for someone if you hadn't given me a reason.' She sighed contentedly, remembering that. It was wonderful, caring for a man who didn't have a roving eye or an uncontrollable itch. She would make certain that he never had any reason to look elsewhere.

'I would rather live one month or one year with you and discover all the things I never had reason to discover before, than throw away those chances because I'm afraid of what happens when I let them go.' Those had been bold words at the time she spoke them. They may not have been entirely true at the time. But, they were true now.

Swinging the securely tied bundle of laundry over her shoulder, Kaname made her way into the lobby, through the door, and onto the sidewalk. After dodging less-encumbered passersby for a few blocks, she dropped off the clothing, took a receipt, and headed off towards her next stop.

Hearing sirens, she turned. An ambulance sped by, weaving its way carefully through the light traffic. That caused her to swallow hard, and wonder where Sousuke was. What was he doing at that moment? Was he awaiting launch? Was he in the middle of a pitched battle? Was he hurt?

She felt her heart racing, and her breathing quicken. "Calm down girl," she admonished herself. Sousuke was very good at what he did, at the top of his game. If anyone could do the job and make his way home safe, it would be him. 'She remembered something that he had said to her. 'I have skills. I am very good at what I do. Mithril has need of soldiers of my caliber, and pilots who can work the Lambda Driver system. Mithril works for the good of mankind as a whole, and had prevented a number of serious catastrophes. I have been instrumental in a number of those victories. That's an awesome thought, Kaname. A very powerful truth.'

It was all a matter of perspective. Sousuke's skills would take him away from her. That was bad. But, with any luck, they would keep him coming home safely. That was good. Likewise, his involvement with Mithril was a give and take affair. What it took from him was all too obvious. In return, he had gained admirable character traits, useful skills, and a positive attitude that would serve him well in other aspects of his life. He was also well paid, and had useful and practical connections.

'You deserve stability, Kaname. It would appear that you would wish for someone who is usually at home, even though you have done well on your own.' That was true. But, she had realized that she wanted someone that she could love with every fiber of her being for as longs as she was able. What was the sense of settling for someone who she had all the time, but loved half as much?

'I would like to find the right man. There is someone I'm interested in, but I still need to find out what he wants, and whether or not it makes sense taking a chance on him.' She had found her answer. It had been harder convincing him of that fact, but she was certain that Sousuke was coming around to her point of view. How many women were fortunate enough to find men who would enjoy them 'breath by breath... heartbeat to heartbeat... a miracle in everything they said and did' ?

Yes, he still had his own work to do. There were things that he needed to understand about himself, and about her. They both had a lot to do in their relationship. She was looking forward to it, and hoped that Sousuke felt the same way.

Kaname waited patiently for a number of workers to move bundles of topsoil out of the gardening store and into a customer's car. Entering the shop, she arranged for a sizeable delivery of potting soil, fertilizer, and a harness mounted watering system. Walking through the hothouses she placed tags on the flats of plants she wanted, sat smaller items in her cart, and ran through a number of other memories that had left an indelible mark on her.

She had always believed that she was learning a great deal during her time at Tokyo University. Fingering one lovely cluster of orchids, she realized that she had learned so much more from her time with Sousuke. Her father as apt to complain about the cost of higher education now and again. But, there was no doubt that the most important things that she was learning didn't cost him a single yen.

Her happiness did not come free, but she was willing to pay whatever price she had to. Somewhere, a young man fought for the freedom of others. The people he saved would never even know his name. She would do what she could to thank him.

'You do want to change some for me, don't you Sousuke?' She had pouted and fluttered her eyebrows, capturing Sousuke's attention. 'Yes. Will you do the same, Kaname?' The question that he asked had been in all seriousness. Her answer had not. 'Maybe,' she had said impishly. 'For me, it's optional.'

Waiting in line to pay for her purchases, Kaname answered that question again.



Kaname had been so busy on Monday, that her mind never had much time for idle thought.

That had been a plus. It helped the day pass quickly.

Likewise, Tuesday went about as well as she could have expected. School hadn't startedoff well. Those annoying girls had commented on Sousuke's absence, and she found that rather petty. Why should anyone hold a grudge after being knocked down by the water from a fire hose?

Some of the troublesome guys had felt a little less timid as well, but soon found out that they had walked into the teeth of a buzz saw. Kaname had not been in the mood for any nonsense. Some of the things that she had come out and said surprised even her. It may not have been ladylike, but it was effective. Those who made a mistake by denigrating Sousuke in his absence received special treatment.

Her mood that day hadn't been helped by the fact that she was so very tired after all of her mental, emotional, and physical exertion. And, it was not a plus, having to sit through her least favorite classes and dullest lectures. Her neck was sore from nodding off so many times.

But, after school, things picked up considerably. Kaname took delivery of the items that she had ordered from the gardening shop, and busied herself with her one woman urban renewal project. Most of her planting and watering had been finished before bed time that evening.

While she still wasn't eating or sleeping much, she did eat and she did sleep. A number of times she woke up, expecting to feel Sousuke's hand on her breast or see him laying next to her. When she finally managed to fall back to sleep, the images she saw were those from the time she bared her heart to him. 'I do love you, Sousuke. Do you know that?" She had stood in front of him, backed up against him, and then pulled his arms around her. Very much.'

He hadn't told her that he loved her. That had been her greatest hope. But, what he said to her might well be the equivalent of that. 'The way things have been with you in this house... I would never want you to leave me...' Sousuke had not been acting or saying the things that he knew she wanted to hear. The truth had been in his eyes. He really did care as much for her as he was likely to ever care for anyone.

She had gone on to make her intentions clear. 'Sousuke... I would like you to spend the night with me.' He had accepted her offer. She could remember the feelings she experienced while he was undressing her, looking at her, and touching her.

And in her dreams, that beeper went off again. And again. And again.

Each time, she woke up.


Wednesday went much like Tuesday.

It was a day later, so she worried a few minutes more when she woke up that morning. But, she was a day older, a day wiser, and a day stronger, so the rest of the day went easier for her.

Class was far more enjoyable, as she had some of her favorite courses and teachers on that day. One particular lecture started her daydreaming about Sousuke again. 'The hypothalamus is one of the most important parts of the brain, involved in many kinds of motivation, among other functions. The hypothalamus controls the "Four F's": fighting, fleeing, feeding, and mating.'

She didn't spend too much time fantasizing about fighting, fleeing, or feeding. No. Her mind was squarely focused on something else.

That lecture was the high point of her day. Not only did it get her to think about the wonderful parts of Saturday night, but it also gave her a chance to walk by the harem girls and give them an infuriating and knowing smile. The joke that finished the lecture also had her smiling. 'A chicken and an egg are lying in bed. The chicken is smoking a cigarette with a satisfied smile on its face and the egg is frowning and looking put out. The egg mutters to no one in particular "I guess we answered that question".'

She would have to remember to tell it to Sousuke. Three years ago, he would have simply stared and given her a perplexed 'uh.' He better not do it now!

After classes, Kaname headed off to the grocery store, stocking up on less perishable items. She couldn't know what day or night Sousuke might get home, but she would fix him a great meal when he did, whatever the hour… and whether he was hungry or not!

He would need to get his strength up. She had plans for him. 'There is no sight on earth more appealing than the sight of a woman making dinner for someone she loves.' Kaname would make damn sure that Sousuke realized that.

She spent most of that evening catching up on her schoolwork.

Pen in hand, she fell asleep.


Thursday started rather poorly.

It was a terribly stormy day, with strong gusts of wind.

Her umbrella blew inside out, before a strong rush of wind carried it away altogether. Slipping on the stairs up to one building, she had broken her heel. When she sat down at her seat, dripping wet, she realized that she had forgotten her lunch.

Wonderful. Oh so wonderful.

Worst of all, she had forgotten her cellular phone. If Sousuke wanted to call her, she wouldn't know until she got back home and checked the answering machine.

When classes were finally over, she was pleased to see that the rains had stopped and that the sun had come out. She wouldn't be able to work on any more projects that night, since had a lot of studying to do. But that didn't mean she couldn't take time to go out for a nice stroll after she got home and changed her shoes.

Walking down the avenue in front of the college, she stopped. She swallowed hard and held her breath. There was no way she could run in those mismatched and mangled shoes, so she simply kicked them off, not caring how wet the roadway was or how she might look.

It was Sousuke!

He was striding towards her in a decidedly calm manner, his large bag slung over one shoulder. He moved with a slight limp. He hadn't stopped back at the apartment building. He had obviously come here, aware of her daily schedule.

Why wasn't he waving? No, why wasn't he running? The big idiot should rush over to her, speak his undying love, then pick her up in his arms and swing her around. Well, she could be dignified too. Not to mention demure. If someone was going to break down first, it would be him.

She stood, letting him close the distance between them.

Yes. She had done altogether too much chasing of Sousuke. It was time to just relax and enjoy her efforts. It was his turn to make the big effort. Kaname's resolve lasted all of fifteen seconds. "Souuusss-kaaaaaaaaaaaaay..." She sprinted at full speed, a locomotive just barely staying on the tracks. There was no way that the brakes would stop her in time.

She didn't care.

Just a step closer than four feet from him, she launched herself into the air. No doubt her weight would carry him to the ground. That was just fine. He would break her fall. She was correct. With one arm, Sousuke grabbed her when she landed hard against him. His feet slid a bit on the wet pavement, but he didn't stumble or fall. After holding her for a few moments, he spoke. "I'm back," he said, with the same tone of voice and sincerity he might use to say 'Look, the rain has stopped.'

Kaname didn't say anything. She just put her arms around him and squeezed him with all her might. Tears came to her eyes, and her throat felt like it was swollen. When Sousuke gasped, Kaname stood back to see what was wrong. She didn't have to ask anything. Her face made her question clear.

"I am slightly injured," Sousuke said.

"Sousuke..." Kaname felt guilty, having treated him so roughly, even if it was all an expression of her love for him. "Was your Arm Slave damaged?"

"No, Kaname. It was Kurz and Melissa. When I arrived on Da Danaan, they had noticed a change in me. They also noticed that I was in a particularly foul mood. Kurz, of course, guessed the same thing he always does. This time he was right. My reaction gave me away."

"I see," Kaname said, furrowing her brow. "Besmirching my reputation, were you?" She couldn't help but smile. Sousuke was back. He was safe. She could forgive him anything.

"Uh... no... not really." Sousuke looked guilty. "I did my best to protect your honor. It was my duty. You did wish to be my Lady, did you not?"

"Yes." Kaname blushed, then smiled again. She couldn't wait until Sousuke saw all the work she had done in his demesne while he was gone. She gave him a look that he could pour on a waffle. "So, what happened?"

"Kurz had decided to broadcast his suspicions over the ship intercom. I was able to diffuse that situation easily enough, without any long lasting injury to Sgt. Weber. Then, things got dangerous." Sousuke sighed. Kurz should have known better.

"Dangerous?" Kaname raised an eyebrow.

"Kurz decided that we should celebrate, using Melissa's 'hidden' stash of beer. Sgt. Major Mao's response was predictable. She was aiming for him. She hit me."

Kaname hid a smile behind her hand. The big idiot goes off to fight some fierce and deadly enemy, but gets injured by his squad mates.

"Despite his antics, Sgt. Weber has earned my respect. He is much tougher than he looks. He would have to be, to take the kind of beating he does from Mao." Sousuke explained that he had a rather nasty bruise on his thigh. Kaname promised that she would give it special attention later.

She didn't want it getting in their way.

"Feeling bad, they took up a collection for me." Sousuke looked a little sheepish when he said that. That immediately caught Kaname's attention.

"Collection?" Kaname wondered how many people knew about Sousuke and her now. She might have to find some dastardly way to repay Kurz. "Did they collect money for you? Did someone buy you a nice present, or some kind of gag gift?"

"Uhhh... no." Sousuke didn't elaborate. His eyes looked a little wild.

"Well..." Kaname had to find out what had him acting strange.

"Kaname?" Sousuke tried his old standby, but playing dumb wouldn't work any more.

Kaname just stood there tapping her foot. Faster and faster. She began to scowl. "Did you know that when our fellow countrymen mend broken objects, they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold." Kaname grinned an evil grin. "They believe that when something's suffered damage, and has a history, it becomes more beautiful."

Running his hand through his hair, Sousuke gave Kaname a befuddled look. "Broken? What is broken, Kaname"

Kaname just stared at Sousuke, rubbing her hands together. Sousuke straightened his shoulders and stood his ground. He too had been learning things over the past month. Kaname put both hands on her hips. Her eyes narrowed. Sousuke looked up at the few leaves still clinging vainly to the ginko trees.

"Sousuke!" Kaname gave in. She was the first one to break the silence. It was OK. Her feet were getting cold, and she didn't want to get sick. "Either tell me what they got for you, or go fetch my shoes over there." She pointed.

Smiling, Sousuke headed off for the shoes. Kaname stamped her foot, realizing too late that she would be stamping the hard black top. Sousuke won back some of her favor, by getting down on one knee and helping her on with her shoes.

"They didn't collect money, Kaname." Sousuke wisely understood that the game had gone on long enough. He put his bag on the ground and unzipped it. He nodded towards it, then coughed. Kaname bent over, making certain that she brushed back against Sousuke. Her eyes went wide when she saw what was in the bag.

It was filled near the brim with condoms.

At first she was too shocked for words. Then, she smiled, her eyes taking on a rather mischievous look. "Sousuke, I want to know the name and address for everyone who contributed to your special fund." She tossed her hair, feeling free and easy for the first time in days.

"Kaname?" Sousuke couldn't quite fathom her request.

"It looks like I have a lot of 'Thank You' notes to write!"

With that, she wrapped her arms around Sousuke and gave him a long deep kiss.