Kaname woke up.

What was going on?This wasn't her room! It was...

"You're in the hospital, Kaname." That voice was familiar. Where had she heard it?

Rubbing her eyes, she tried to figure out if she was dreaming or really awake. She remembered being the Advanced Reasearch lab for a seminar. Wait! Not just a seminar.

There had been a battle!

She sat up fast. She had a visitor. A rather attractive but very tough looking woman sat
in a chair, her foot up, a beer can in her hand. It was Melissa Mao!

"Melissa? What? Why are you here? Where is here?" Kaname grimaced, feeling a pain in her shoulder.

"The pain killers must be wearing off." The SRT soldier took a long pull of beer. "You were shot. It seems that you were somewhere that you didn't belong yesterday." Melissa looked at a pack of cigarettes, as if wondering what they would do to her if she broke the hospital rules. "You're in the University of Tokyo Hospital. How have you been, other than that?" Melissa laughed. She knew how ridiculous her question sounded.

Kaname looked around, staring at the doorway.

"Are you wondering if he is here?" Melissa smirked for a moment, before her face went stern.

"Y-Y-Yes..." Kaname's voice had Melissa nodding her head, giving her more information about the blue-haired girl and her feelings for a certain young man.

"Well, he's not. You don't have anything to worry about. He's in town; but, I told him to stay away. He better listen." Melissa knew finished her beer... crumpled the can... and tossed the refuse at a garbage can, missing by a few feet.

"But..." Kaname's face fell. She closed her eyes and fell back on the bed, causing another streak of pain to course down her arm from her shoulder. "I had hoped…"

"Well, Kurz will certainly be happy to know that a pretty young lady was disappointed that he didn't show up." Melissa fought hard to keep from laughing. She shrugged when a nurse looked into the room and saw the beer can.

"Kurz? I thought you meant..." Kaname bit her lip, and then clenched her fist. She was in no mood to be toyed with.

"Sousuke carried you all of the way here in his arms, even though he was injured himself. He wouldn't let anyone else take you. He sat with you through the night, even though he kept falling asleep.

"Then…" Kaname looked out through the door, wondering if Sousuke was there waiting.

He was called away for debriefing and asked me if I would stand guard. I shouldn't have agreed, since it's not reallyofficial business. But, I did it for his peace of mind." Melissa stood up, walked over to Kaname's bed, and then sat on the edge.

She was wearing a nurse's outfit.

Kaname had a flashback. She remembered being in a hospital, right after making it out of Khanka alive. Melissa had been sitting on the edge of the bed then, too.

She had so many questions to ask, but doubted that Melissa would talk about Mithril business. Kaname wasn't under Mithril protection any longer. And, there might even be a possibility that Melissa and Kurz thought poorly of her now, given the way she had treated Sousuke three years ago.

Would Sousuke come back to see her? Had he simply carried her here and watched after her because she had saved his life? Did he consider that to be a repayment of the debt she owed him from the park?

"So, what do you want to know more? What was going on, or how a certain soldier feels about you?" Melissa had Kaname nailed perfectly. Her voice sounded droll, but with a nasty edge.

"Hmmmpppfff!" Kaname's response was automatic. "I don't know if it matters. It's just another terrorist attack that I had the pleasure to get caught up in. And, why should I care about some migratory military malcontent?"

"Uh huh. Well, that's fine. If you don't want to know, it isn't any skin off of my teeth." Melissa opened another can of beer. "Damn. This shit's getting warm. I told that asshole to set me up with a cooler!" Melissa yawned. "Don't mind me. I figure you're safe enough here. I'm going to catch a little shut eye..."

Kaname sat back up again. One hand grabbed the bed rail, clenching hard. She tried to slow her breathing down some. She had spoken too quickly. She did want answers. Now, she was wrestling with her pride, trying to quell the urge to scream.

"Shamshir." Melissa said.

"Excuse me?" Kaname said. What, who, or where was Shamshir? And why would she care?

"That's the only time you will hear that word from me. It's a Middle Eastern equivalent of Mithril. Actually, to be accurate, it's an analog of Amalgam. They're not a bunch of good guys. Their funding comes from wealthy men in the region. Fusion is a financial risk to their benefactor's livelihoods. Small fusion reactors would prove beneficial in their own weapons systems." Melissa narrowed her eyes. "I suggest you don't repeat that to anyone." After that, the Arm Slave pilot was silent.

Kaname waited, to see if Melissa would say anything about Sousuke. The silence seemed deafening. The loud ticking of the clock on the wall seemed a personal affront.

She would have to ask.

"Sousuke?" Kaname let her breath out. Ok, now it was done.

Melissa remained quiet. Kaname balled up her cover sheet, frowning. This wasn't right. She was wounded. And she had saved a Mithril soldier. She had saved Sousuke!

"Not getting upset, are you?" Melissa asked. "That might suggest that you care something about Sousuke." She paused, taking out a cigarette and lighting it. "Not sure I'd be too happy with that, if you want to know the truth."

Kaname's anger flared up again. "Why? Does he still need somebody to baby sit him? Have you taken him on as your property? Or did Tessa?" Twitching, she caused her bedrail to rattle.

Melissa opened her eyes. "Whether or not he has someone to care about is none of your business," she said with some acerbity. "I'm certainly not going to tell you either way. I wish he would find someone in Mithril. We're not in the habit of leaving the wounded behind."

Those words hit Kaname hard. Her mouth hung open. Then her eyes narrowed. "No. Of course not. You just cause wounds. People don't matter. Missions do." Kaname wished there was something within reach to throw. "My heart broke the day he left. Do they even bother to issue hearts to Arm Slave pilots?"

Melissa stood up, looking down at Kaname. "Did you ever tell him that? Even once?" Her voice was eerily quiet.

"I... I tried..." Kaname's anger faded away. Tears came to her eyes.

"I tried..." Melissa mimicked. "Those words don't mean a lot to people in our line of work. We do, or we don't do. Simple." She poked Kaname's chest with her finger. "Can you imagine how he felt, not hearing anything? We had to watch him struggle with that. He wouldn't talk to anyone about." Melissa cursed and began to walk away. She stopped and spoke with her back turned to Kaname. "I'm glad to hear that you actually cared about him." Her voice softened some. "But there is something you should never forget."

Kaname swallowed. What?"

"You hurt a lot, right? But you got to hurt safe at home." Melissa turned and looked at Kaname. There was pain in her eyes. Kaname had never seen that look on her before. "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."

Kaname hung her head. She felt as if the whole world was sitting on her chest, making it hard to breathe. One hand gripped her hospital gown. "I…" Tears spilled out of her eyes. "I've thought about that recently. I had been hurt by so many things before... I just... I wasn't able to see it then."

There was a prolonged period of silence.

Melissa put her hand on Kaname's good shoulder and squeezed. It was a peace gesture of sorts. "I'm sorry. I guess Ijust did the same thing myself, didn't I?" She took her hand away and pushed aside her hair from her eyes.

Kaname looked up at the other woman. "I don't know what to do."

Melissa's face softened some. "I was going to tell you to leave him alone. No, actually I was gong to threaten you. It was painful to watch him the last time." She clenched her hands."But, I shouldn't forget the changes he had started to go through at that school. I think hey helped him grow into the man he is today."

"And?" Kaname loosened her hold on her gown.

"It's up to the two of you, right? He may not want anything to do with you… even though I think he still cares. But, he might actually need a chance at a relationship. He has so few opportunities to experience the things that many people take for granted." Melissa offered Kaname a beer.

"The doctors probably wouldn't like it if I..."

"F-ck'em." Vintage Mao. She opened the can and tossed it to Kaname.

"Uhhh... why not..." Kaname took a long sip of beer, sputtering when she was done. "I think Sousuke has more opportunities than you think." Kaname face looked sour. It wasn't from the beer.

"Oh? Fill me in!" Melissa sat down and flung a leg over her chair.

Kaname explained about Souske's growing harem. Melissa slapped her knee and broke out laughing.

"Kurz will want to hear that. I can probably coax a couple of cases out of him!" Melissa's laughter went up a number of decibels when she saw the look on Kaname's face. "Worried, huh?"

"NO!" Kaname said too quickly. Melissa laughed even more. "Well..."

"Kind of makes it more of a challenge, doesn't it. I should just let you stew like that..." Melissa tossed her empty can in the direction of the trash can. She missed again.

"What?" Kaname wasn't certain what Melissa meant.

"Well... I can't say that our young sergeant might not give in to his baser urges..." Melissa left it hanging there for a while, enjoying the play of emotions across Kaname's face. "Especially if those girls are hanging all over him... soft... curvaceous... cuddly... sweetly perfumed... eager to do aneeeeeeething for him..."

Kaname choked on her beer.

"But, he's pretty strong. And he has his heart set on a girl he shouldn't have." Melissa looked both ways before speaking.

"Who?" Kaname hoped it was her, but was far from certain when she saw Melissa's actions.

"Tessa. They've been secretly married for a year and a half now. The shit will hit the fan if anyone in the High Command catches words of that. They will, soon enough. She's pregnant." Melissa nonchalantly tipped her can back.

Kaname crushed her beer can. Amber colored liquid shot upward. Before she knew it, her hospital gown was soaked.

"Just kidding..." Melissa said.

"You... you..." Kaname's embarrassment gave way to laughter. She was way too easy...

"If you promise not to tell anyone, I'll let you in on a story you might like. Will you give me your word?" Melissa raised one eyebrow.

"I swear."

"Tessa wasn't entirely pleased with the decision to pull Sousuke out of Tokyo. If anything, she thought she was in a fair competition with a certain girl who will remain nameless." The soldier winked. "But, when Sousuke was back onboard Da Danaan full time, she decided that she was willing to flaunt some rules." Melissa smiled.

"That... uh... go on..."

"She arranged to have Sousuke assigned to clean some parts taken off of Arbalest. It had taken heavy damage, in part because he wasn't fighting like his old self." Melissa didn't need to explain why. "She pretended to be very upset. She told him it might teach him a lesson, if he had to do some of the repair work himself. When he went to the soaking tub… the one that you, Tessa, and I shared that time… he found it filled with bubble bath. Tessa was there waiting for him… in a bikini." Melissa licked her lips.

"What color?" Kaname found herself asking, automatically.

"White." Melissa said. "It was very skimpy..." She held her thumb and forefinger close together.

"Oooooh…" Kaname's eyes flashed. A white bikini! She thought back to a certain day at the beach. A white bikini featured prominently in her memory.

"She had neglected to tie her string very well... accidentally of course..." Melissa chuckled, seeing the look in Kaname's eyes.

"It fell off... right?" Kaname scowled.

"Of course. And being as clumsy as she is, she tripped and fell into Sousuke's arms." Melissa wrapped her arms around herself.

"Of course."

"Sousuke helped her up, blushing up a storm. He asked her what parts were defective." Melissa fell out of her chair laughing. "He meant Arbalest, of course. But, the timing was perfect. You can imagine how Tessa took it."

Kaname looked as if she had swallowed her tongue. Then her eyes closed as a huge smile filled her face. "No matter what happens, I think Sousuke deserves a kiss for that!" Kaname gave Melissa a 'V'-sign.

Melissa's cellular phone rang. "Mao."

Kaname wondered who that was. Could it be Sousuke?

"Yes, she's awake. Uh huh, I'm hanging in there… barely. I'm out of beer. In fact, I was about to leave. She'll be alright without any protection. If no one is after her when she's walking around unguarded on campus, why would they be looking to make a move on her in the hospital?"

"Is that Sousuke?" Kaname asked. "If it is, could I talk to him?"

Melissa continued speaking. "Have you gotten your own wounds tended to by someone other than yourself? Good. There's hope for you yet. I'm heading out." Melissa closed her phone.

"Was that Sousuke?" Kaname looked intense.

"Yes." Melissa smiled. "He hung up. Sorry." Turned away from Kaname, the other girl could not see her grin. "I'll be leaving now. Take care of yourself. Later."

Kaname's heart fell a she watched Melissa walk away. She had hoped that Sousuke would stop by and see her. After she had taken a bullet for him, he still kept away from her? That ingrate. That bastard!

That heatless unfeeling cowardly jerk!

Kaname was still fuming when there was a knock at her doorframe. She looked up.

It was Sousuke.