I've tried to keep a bead on Kaname's random vulgarity, as it is less hers than mine, but she does have some errant thoughts today. Chapter alternately titled "The One Where Sousuke Loses His Shit".

I just realized I've been writing on this for eight years. Jesus.


The assumption that all was well and that I was miraculously saved was a stupid one, and I probably should have anticipated its imminent destruction in one of those Whispered moments.

I didn't.

I watched the Escape Plan That Was dissolve like salt in water. It was completely depressing, wholly discouraging, and yet, somehow, completely life-affirming.

"We're going to need a new exit strategy," Gauron said calmly.

"I noticed that," Sousuke gritted, backing us into a small room. "We only have a few minutes to get out."

"You only have a few minutes to get out," was the correction. "I only have a few minutes to grab a couple of things. At the moment. You know how this goes."

Sousuke stared at him. "You what?"

He shrugged. "Ah, you know. I figured, since I was here... I have paying customers, remember."

"You need time to grab a couple of things?" Sousuke repeated, his voice rising at an alarming rate. "And then – what? You expect me to believe you'll simply meet us at some indeterminate location afterward?"

"Kashim," he grinned wryly. "Why would I do that? If I walk out that front door with you, you're just going to slap a pair of handcuffs on me and turn me over like the good boy you are. And if you managed to get me out there, I'd shake your hand and congratulate you for pulling it off. And the cuff thing could be fun, don't get me wrong. We should try it sometime, actually."

"You –"

"No, baby, you. You didn't expect anything else from me. Do you really think I'm just going to turn myself in, when I have so much fun un-arrested?"

"I cannot simply let you waltz off," Sousuke gritted. "You know I can't."

"Well, and that's partially because I don't waltz. We weren't getting out of here as one big happy family anyway. You need a decoy. I need a few files that may not have been packed up yet. We solve each other's problems."

My silent spell broke.

"You can't!" I yelled, to much shushing. "Don't you get it? If you run, they'll think he let you go – and if they think he let you go, after all your stupid crap – you don't understand! They'll arrest him, or ship him off to Antarctica, or think of something worse –"

"Miss Chidori," Sousuke cut in, his tone gentler than it had been before, "Antarctica is very far down on my list of immediate concerns."

"Well, not mine!" I railed. "And you don't even care enough about him to give a shit, do you? You'll just waltz –" I raised my voice over the impending correction. " – that's right, waltz off and let whatever happens to him happen, all because you don't care, even though you've wasted all this time trying to convince everyone that you love him when you really don't!"

"Kaname –" Sousuke tried.

"No, dammit Sousuke – as freaking messed up as you two are, I almost believed it, because I am stupid, but you are stupider and I hope you –" and here, a violent poke "- get shot looking for your stupid files!"

He was grinning, wide and cannibalistic and probably the origin of children's nightmares. "Y' hear that, Kashim? She's defending your honor. You always did need a brother."

Sousuke punched him.

I sputtered. Gauron rubbed his jaw, still smiling wryly. "I probably deserved that. Definitely."

"Get out," he said coldly. "Go wherever it is you have to go - I will do the same. Arbalest is twenty meters away from our exit. In seven minutes, I am incinerating this complex up whether you are still in it or not. I will not wait for you."

He laughed. "You plan on nuking this place? With all the stuff they keep in here? Christ. It'll burn for a week."

"I hope so. Whether you're inside or not."

"I do love a man who's good with his explosives," he admitted.

I could hear Sousuke's teeth grinding. "Get out of here."

Silence hung for a beat. "Antarctica, huh?"

"Probably, yes."

"I'll come for you."

"You stay the hell away from me."

A shrug. "Have to make up for it at some point. I always do."

"I am not there yet." One hand twitched on his gun, waiting for the other man to beat his hasty retreat.

To my abject horror, he paused - like he was afraid Sousuke would turn away, or push for his abandonment more emphatically. "You know I do fucking love you."

Sousuke's face flushed all the way down to his collar. "Yes, I do," he spat.

He seemed satisfied, and slipped to the door. The rustle of fabric was like thunder in the silence.

Sousuke's hand trembled visibly on his gun. "Gauron –"

The other man spun to face him. "Something else?"

His jaw worked, and whatever he said seemed to die on his tongue. "Nothing. It's – I." His eyes lowered. "It's nothing you don't already know."

Retreat: abandoned.

"That's good enough for me," he rumbled. I guess it's an assassin thing to move so fast; he crossed the room in two long strides and grabbed him – scooped, really, swept him into his arms -

"Oh – God, you guys!" I wailed, hands covering my face like it might take away the oh my eyes of it all (but I did peek between two fingers after I thought enough time had passed, although I was so wrong and it hadn't).

Sousuke pulled back first, furiously red and breathless. "Go, before I decide to shoot you."

His face was still cradled in those hands, ones that hadn't looked so big until they were clutching Sousuke gently, motherfucking twilight zone today – maybe the drugs? I should be screaming and pouring bleach on my eyes. "I'll find you."

"You're cutting into your seven minutes."

A crooked grin, now. "Yeah. Gotta make it fun, right?"

"I will shoot you."

Another hard kiss. "I look forward to it."

And he ran.

Sousuke and I stood in dead silence for almost a minute. "Ready?" I asked him, like I was the one with the plan or something.

He nodded. "Yes. I – Miss Chidori, I…"

"I still hate him," I offered. "I know you can't."

He looked at me helplessly, his dark eyes bottomless and lost in the dim light.

I took his hand. "Let's just get out of here, okay? I know you'll shoot him again or something someday. I want to go home now and buy you a pint of ice cream."

Now confusion. "I do not follow."

"Let's just go now."

We ran, too.

Sousuke fiddled with his earpiece. "Major – now. We are exiting the premises, kill the ECS mode and prepare to depart."

Somewhere distantly behind us, there was a flurry of gunfire. I saw Sousuke throw a glance over his shoulder, pause like he should go back and help - I actually saw the urge to run into danger flash across his face.

We came to a pause at a pair of chained double doors, and Sousuke slapped something small and ominous-looking directly on it. "Take cover," he ordered, although he was already pulling me down and away.

A sharp blast, and daylight poured in where the door had been. I jerked away from it, but then he was pulling me into it again, even as I wavered.

And, sure enough, his gigantic AS was waiting patiently, Kurz and Melissa flanking it in their own.

I couldn't run as fast as he could, and stumbled more. He wrapped my arm around his shoulder and half-carried me the twenty meters, which ended up being way farther than it seemed like earlier. And then came the task of ascending his massive freaking AS, which oh my God.

"Can you do it?" he asked urgently. "We only have a few moments before they trace the explosion to us."

I bit my lip, but nodded firmly. "I can do it."

"Climb over the pilot's seat," he instructed, "there will be another compartment behind it where you can passenger comfortably. Make sure to buckle yourself in," he added, "it will ensure a safer experience."

"Are you going to give me a lecture next on how more people die in car crashes than Arm Slave accidents?" I grumbled.

Another blank stare. "Actually, the mortality rate among Arm Slaves operatives is about seventy percent."

"Jesus holy fuck, Sagara," Melissa's voice boomed from her machine. "Get her in there safely and let's get out of here, already!"

I couldn't believe how big Melissa's voice was; I also couldn't believe how her wanton vulgarity would be like a life raft to the drowning. I scrambled up the AS, my fingers finding purchase in places that should have been smooth, polished metal, and diving behind the driver's seat like it might take me home right then.

I was glad I settled when I did; I'm fairly sure my body broke promptly thereafter.

"Prepare assault launchers," Sousuke said grimly.

"Shouldn't Mel be telling you what to do?" I suggested meekly.

"I like how she thinks," Mao put in, her voice now filtered through speakers rather than blasted across the sun-baked dirt. "Why are you giving me directions, again?"

"Why aren't we just counting down?" countered Kurz.

The AS jerked, missiles arming themselves and rocking the whole boat in the process.

"Sousuke," I whispered.

"I mean, we have probably two minutes…" Kurz put in delicately. "We can hold off for a minute, if you want to. If you think we should, I mean."

"We're just blowing the shit out of some joint, Weber. Do you want to have some more fucking feelings first?" she demanded. "I can wait. I have all the time in the world."

"Could you pretend for, like, thirty seconds, that you're not dead inside?" he snapped back. "Jesus, have a heart for a minute."

"Oh my God, you're seriously still talking," she sighed noisily. "Should I get out and hold your hand?"

"You," he gritted, "were obviously drunk at the sensitivity seminar."

"I wish I was drunk now! I can't believe you're stalling!" Melissa all but shouted. "You think you're protecting Sousuke or something?- because you're not! The best thing any of us can do right now is blow that building sky-high, not waffle and emote and cry about this! No one wants to say it? Fine. If absolutely no one here will blow that goddamn place up, I will get out of my AS and shoot him myself - and yeah, that might be the hundredth time I've said that this week, but I swear to God I'm getting sick of this. Sagara, pull the goddamn trigger."

My stomach fell. Because despite exactly everything on the planet I'd encountered, this felt wrong. His hands were shaking around the controls, and he felt wrong.

He wasn't ready. Every other time it had come down to the wire, he'd fired without hesitation, but now he wasn't ready and it wasn't right, but it wasn't his fault that he hesitated now.

"Sousuke –" I tried again.

"Sagara," Melissa cut in. "Are we clear?"

"Yes, Major."

Things got brighter and more explosive after that. As in, the visible skyline went up in flames.

And despite the last year-plus, I leaned over to the cockpit and dropped my voice, in the hope that Melissa and Kurz wouldn't hear me. "Sousuke."

"Miss Chidori," he allowed finally. His knuckles were white on the control board.

"Do you think he was out yet?" I asked softly.

"I hope not," was his savage reply.

I touched his hand gently. "Sousuke."

"And if he wasn't," he continued, "I will remedy my fatal mistake."

I squeezed. "We don't have to talk about it yet."

"There is nothing do discuss!" he exploded. "I was – stupid, and desperate, and I do not need positive affirmation from –"

"Dude," Kurz's voice crackled.

His fist slammed down on the controls. "I do not want to hear anyone's opinion on anything, ever. Not on this. I despise your contrived silences, I despise your delicate maneuvers around it – all of it. I do not want to hear his name again, or speak of his crimes, because I am so familiar with both that I – "

"Sagara-" Melissa failed there.

"Major! I have just consigned myself to Antarctica, regardless of all efforts to the contrary," he raged, and I couldn't be mad at him.

"Sousuke, you'll have an appeal –" Kurz began.

"Kurz, shut up!" His head dropped back and he closed his eyes, jaw working silently until he found words. "You asked me to have a personal life. You used all means necessary to facilitate my integration into normal society to achieve this, and… I'm sorry. This is all I know. And it was always going to end like this. I do not wish to discuss it at this time. At which point I am brought up on charges, I will have to talk about little else."

"Leave him alone," I put in quietly, a sorry attempt at support.

We were all sorry, really.