Dazed and Confused
I took a deep breath, cracking my knuckles systematically and closing my eyes for a moment. Under extreme situations, especially when anxiety is prominent, it is best to remain calm at all costs. Failure to do so could result in injury and sometimes death.
When I sensed my pulse slowing back to a normal rate, I open my eyes and fixed a look of determination and relentlessness upon my target. Unfortunately, intimidation seemed to have no effect on the old red leather-bound book in front of me. With a sigh, I settled into my chair and heaved the book open, thumbing through the yellowed pages in search of one particular paragraph.
It had taken weeks to get myself here, in the library, at this table, with this book. The idea had occurred to me a while back while in a movie theater. A specific scene seemed to strike a chord with me, and since then I couldn't get the possibility out of my head. Yet uncertainty, no, fear, had kept me from seeking answers. What if my hypothesis was right? What if I did have such a condition?
I swallowed, clearing my thoughts. In battle there is no room for what-ifs. You must simply act. Any and all knowledge is useful, even if it is distressing or unsettling. Problems cannot be fixed until one is made aware of them.
I wiped my sweaty palms on the front of my pants and took one more deep breath before flipping the page. Slowly, I ran my finger down one of the columns until I found what I was looking for.
There, in bold print. I read slowly and carefully, I did not want to misunderstand.
I was in love with Kaname.
I stared blankly at the page in front of me for a long time, until the words blurred together and the shock subsided from my body. I waited a beat before re-reading the entry, checking each point one by one.
1. A deep, tender, ineffable feeling of affection and solicitude toward a person, such as that arising from kinship, recognition of attractive qualities, or a sense of underlying oneness.
After holding the page with one finger and looking up 'ineffable' just to be sure, I nodded affirmative. Yes, I did have strong and delicate feelings for Kaname, to an extent that I couldn't even begin to express… to the extent that I had to look them up in the dictionary. Yes, it came from friendship: close, stalker-esque friendship. I certainly recognized her attractive qualities. She has many visually aesthetic attributes, such as her long hair, her large eyes, her large…
Yes, when I was with Kaname, I did feel that we understood each other, that sometimes we did not need to speak to get our point across, even that sometimes it was better if we did not speak. I felt we were on the same playing field, I felt connected with her in a way that was foreign to me until I was assigned to protect her. I… suppose you could call that 'oneness.'
I took out a sheet of white-lined paper and made 2 columns. One I labeled 'yes,' and one I labeled 'no.' With grim resolution I placed one tally under the 'yes' column. Then, I looked back to the dictionary with renewed interest.
2. A feeling of intense desire and attraction toward a person with whom one is disposed to make a pair; the emotion of sex and romance.
Best to not break into a sweat over a line of printed words when I can run laps around the school and remain dry. I swallowed gently. Be honest. Be honest. Although I did not understand completely the nature of my impulses, I was not so ignorant or so naïve as to think I had no physical preferences for Kaname. These feelings would often flare up without warning, if the wind blew through her hair or she laughed in a certain way or even, strangely, when she was weak or vulnerable. Perhaps that was merely my protective instincts rising up, but I suspected there was something more going on. Then, of course, there were predictable instances such as when she was dressed up or dressed… down, or when I walked in on her when…
I shook my head. There were more than enough examples to warrant another check under the 'yes' column.
I skipped number three, as it was merely a more graphic description of number two, which certainly didn't need any reinforcing.
4. An intense emotional attachment, as for a pet or treasured object.
I checked 'yes' after little thought about this point, even though I would never classify Kaname as a pet or an object. She was a person, a very unique person, but one that, I had admitted to myself long ago, I cherished and valued above all others. As troublesome as it was to me, 'intense emotional attachment' was probably a fair description of my feelings.
I skipped a few more lines that were redundant. Then, I came upon the line that threatened me most, the words that had kept me from completing this research for so long.
7. To thrive on; need.
I bolted upright in my chair, slamming the dictionary shut and shoving my tally sheet underneath it, my heart careening against my ribcage as Kaname approached, intensely afraid that she might discover my… condition. We'll just call it a condition, for now.
"Miss Chidori," I acknowledged, standing from my seat, proud that my voice was level and normal.
Kaname rolled her eyes with a laugh, placing her hands on her hips. "Sousuke, you don't need to stand up every time I enter the room," she said, offering me a pitying smile. "You're so old-fashioned, you know that?"
But Kaname, everyone should stand up for you, everyone should show you respect, always.
I was careful to keep my stoic expression in place. "My apologies, Miss Chidori. I am still unaccustomed to the casualness with which women and superiors are treated in every day life."
Shaking her head, Kaname flopped down into the chair next to mine, and I also sat back down, though still remaining alert.
Leaning her elbows on the table, Kaname quirked an eyebrow at my choice of reading. "Only you, Sousuke, would spend your afternoons with the Merriam-Webster."
I would have to agree with you, Kaname. Only I would study the dictionary instead of spending time with the girl I… I…
"I find it fascinating, actually, Miss Chidori."
Kaname groaned. "You really need to get out more."
We both looked up when an over-enthusiastic Kyouko approached the table, bright orange fliers in hand. "Kaname!" She grinned, pulling up a third chair. I sighed, realizing that my quest for information would have to be set aside for the time being.
Kaname perked up, recrossing her legs. "What is it, Kyouko?"
Thrusting the fliers across the table, Kyouko smiled. "Hayashimizu asked me to give these to you when he saw me in the hallway. They're fliers for the senior semi-formal!"
Kaname seemed irritated, but accepted the fliers. "Great," she muttered. "Just one more thing to worry about. I'm guessing he wants me to distribute these?"
"Yep," Kyouko confirmed, nodding and clasping her hands in front of her. "Aren't you excited? It's the last big event before we graduate! And everyone gets to dress up…"
Kaname studied the fliers for a moment before slamming them down on the table with a frustrated exhalation. "Oh please, you've got to be kidding me! The dance is in two weeks? What is he thinking letting people know so late!"
I entered the conversation hesitantly. "Excuse me, but is two weeks not a long time? It seems an adequate preparation period to me…"
"Oh no, Sousuke," Kyouko insisted, shaking her head. "Girls need to find a dress, make a hair appointment…"
Kaname added to the list, "Get our nails done, buy shoes, figure our makeup out, find a matching hand-bag…"
Kyouko smiled mischievously. "Find a date…"
Ah, girls did seem rather uptight about that. "Well, two weeks should not be an issue, there," I said firmly. "In such a situation, it is important to notify the best potential ally of your proposition early before they are requested by another faction. So really, two weeks …"
"Sousuke," Kaname said exasperatedly. "Sometimes it takes a while to work up the guts to ask someone."
"If I may say so, Miss Chidori," I replied, "that seems very foolish. Matters one considers serious should be dealt with immediately." Wait, who am I kidding? How long did I put off looking up this love thing, again?
"Is that so?" Kaname asked craftily. Whenever she used that tone it made me nervous. "So is it safe to assume that if there were anyone you wanted to ask, you'd ask them right away?"
Again, I speak without forethought. "Yes," I said with a decisive nod. Whaaat? I swear, the connection between my brain and mouth has been very unreliable lately. "Undoubtedly."
Kaname looked at me pointedly, raising both eyebrows. What was that for? Wait, what had she tricked me into? I clapped my hands down over the dictionary. Was she catching on? Did she know about my condition? Did she know that if I were to ask anyone, it would certainly be her? Was she expecting me to ask her here? I don't even know how to dance! I opened and closed my mouth a few times, trying to think of something to say, but to no avail.
Apparently I faltered for too long, because Kaname stood up with a sigh, gathering her things. "You're hopeless, Sousuke. It's getting late, I better get home."
I stood up with her, still trying to think of something to say.
Kaname, excuse me, but I think I may have fallen in love with you. It's caught me a little off guard, and I am having a difficult time stringing words together. Anyway, would you like to find a dark corner somewhere? A park bench? Your apartment? Or hey, would you like to go to the semi-formal with me?
"I'll walk you home," I offered, picking my own bag up off the floor beside my chair.
Kaname waved me away, motioning for her friend to follow as she turned to exit the library. "Nah, it's Friday; Kyouko is sleeping over, so she'll walk with me. We'll be fine."
Whatever you say, I'm just going to follow you in the shadows, anyway.
"Of course." I nodded.
I remained standing until the girls left the library, then quickly snatched the paper out from underneath the dictionary, scanning its contents one last time. Then I carefully tore the paper up into tiny pieces, throwing half into the recycle bin and half out the nearby window, suppressing the urge to just swallow them. I had been making a sincere effort to assimilate into Kaname's local environment, and I had learned early on that swallowing evidence was not considered normal.
Whether the paper was scattered across the world or swallowed by a whale, its message was burned into my mind, an affirmation of my inevitable fate.
Was I in love with Kaname?
I returned the dictionary to its place on the shelves mechanically and slung my messenger bag over my shoulder, pushing in my chair. Now that I had this information, I was at a complete loss about what I should do. Was this good news? Bad news? Should I be nurturing it or trying to find a cure? Was it permanent? Would it get in the way of my protecting Kaname? Should I tell her? What would she think? What did people in love do? I decided to think about this on the way home. I would have to catch up with the girls; I didn't like the idea of them walking through the streets unescorted.
When I was sure the girls were safely secure in Kaname's apartment and unaware that I had followed them, I slouched back against the exterior wall of Kaname's building, glancing out at the sun setting over the city. It reminded me of the scene in the film that had started this whole crazy investigation. It was between a soldier and his supposed girlfriend. They were standing on a hill against the sunset, like in so many other poorly made military films I had seen in my short stay in Tokyo. The woman was afraid of what could happen to the man at war, and the man proceeded to detail a list of risks he would take in order to ensure that he returned to his girlfriend.
I found the list to be ordinary, life-threatening things. I glanced quickly at Kaname to see if she was equally unimpressed by the soldier's promises, but her eyes had a particular sparkle in them, and she appeared every bit enamored by the soldier's speech.
Confused, I elbowed Kaname and asked her if those things weren't tasks one would undertake for any of their friends, and she harshly replied in the negative and told me that clearly the soldier was in love with the woman.
That remark made me think. The more I turned the idea over in my mind, the more I realized that I would do anything on that list and worse to keep Kaname safe. The thought occurred to me that that could be just because it was my mission as part of Mithril and Kaname's bodyguard. It didn't take me long to cast that rationalization aside, however.
I had consistently disobeyed Mithril orders to keep Kaname safe, and I knew that even if it ceased to be a military priority to keep her protected, I would still make it a personal priority. Was that because, as Kaname said, I was in love?
Now I knew that was indeed the reason.
I was about to consider a plan of action when I heard a rather sinister snicker and turned to see a man in black standing a few feet away, wearing a pretty conspicuous skeleton mask.
I must have made a very strange face. I was used to hunting down suspicious people, but it was rare I saw someone so suspicious. I reached my hand to my pocket, where a handgun was safely stashed. "Excuse me," I announced. "Why are you-"
But before I could finish, the figure turned on its heel and ran down an alleyway. I was quick to pursue, but when I rounded the corner I saw no one. I pulled out my gun and looked in every doorway, fire escape, dumpster, and windowsill until I reached a dead end… nothing. I didn't even see any footprints. Cautiously, I made my way back out of the alleyway and retuned to Kaname's building. She would have to be warned that such a suspicious character was lurking about her proximity. It was too much to think that it was a coincidence; whoever this creep was obviously wanted something from her.
Taking the stairs two at a time, I arrived at Kaname's door shortly and knocked several times. There was no answer. I could hear the redundant bass of one of the pop songs Kaname adored blaring within; it was likely she could not hear me over the din. Growing anxious, I tried again, harder this time.
Damn it, Kaname, let me in. There's a weirdo out to get you, and frankly I'd like to ask you to the dance before some guy with a skeleton mask does.
"Miss Chidori," I shouted through the door. "It is extremely important that you allow me to enter."
Still, no answer. After pounding as hard as I could without breaking the door down, shouting at the top of my lungs, and firing a warning shot got me nowhere, I braced myself. This was for Kaname's safety, after all. Getting a running start from the opposite end of the hallway, I assaulted the door, sending it flying open from the force of my shoulder.
I landed with a well-executed roll in Kaname's living room, scrambling to my feet to see Kaname and Kyouko in their panties and nightshirts that reached barely below their backsides, dancing about and singing into the handles of their hairbrushes. Upon spotting me they stopped, and Kaname assumed what appeared to be a battle stance.
"Sousuke!" She shouted, and I backed up a few steps, hands in the air.
"Before you misunderstand, Miss Chidori…" I began, but I don't think she heard me over her own shouting.
"It's called knocking!" Her anger was impressive, one of my favorite things about her, actually. Not that she got mad at me so much, but that she was not afraid to get angry. That's something that's very rare in women around here, it seems, and to me it is admirable.
"Forgive me, I did knock," I continued in a calm tone. "I can only assume you were unable to hear me because of the volume of the music. The important thing is that there's a man in a skeleton mask outside-"
I was cut off when Kaname's hairbrush collided with my forehead. That smarted just a little. I had to hand it to Kaname, she had good aim.
"Get out, get out!" She gesticulated wildly at the doorway with one hand, while pushing me along with the other. "This is a girls' sleepover!"
"But Miss Chidori-"
"Don't 'Miss Chidori' me, you nutcase!"
"But the man with the skeleton mask-"
"-is not as threatening as you are!"
"Have a nice weekend!"
With that I was thrown out into the hallway, the door slammed in my face. For a moment I just stared at it, debating whether to reenter or not. In the end, I chose instead to slide down the wall and take a seat on the floor, my handgun at the ready. Chidori works hard during the week; she deserved to have fun with her friend, and I could protect her near the entrance and be here in case she needed me. Granted, the cold tile floor was not very comfortable, but I'd been in far less pleasant situations before and made it out satisfactorily.
The stereo that Kyouko had turned off upon seeing me in the room resumed its blaring, this time playing a particularly irritating song with extremely fast, high vocals and questionable lyrics. The only good such an annoying song could do is distract my thoughts from their tendency to dwell on the glimpse I had of Kaname less than fully-dressed.
Ah, what I do in the name of duty.
Or, should I say, in the name of love?
This is going to take some getting used to.
I'm new to the fandom, so any comments or notes of constructive criticism are greatly appreciated. I hope everyone has fun with my story, thanks for reading it!