The sound of grocery bags hitting the floor was bad enough.
Sousuke closed his eyes and held his breath. The resounding crash and rustle of brown paper had been immediately followed by a quiet series of sodden impacts. That would be eggs splattering on the recently polished wooden floor.
"What… is… that…" Kaname seemed oblivious to the foodstuffs spread across her feet and floor. Her eyes were locked on something that shocked her sensibilities and artistic balance like nothing she had seen before.
"I presume you are talking about the curtains," Sousuke said. "I wished to move ahead and get things done. It was unpleasant arguing the way we did." He kept his voice calm and under control. He needed to make certain he didn't let on that his actions had a set purpose. Not yet. That would set her off. "You are the one that told me our relationship has to be built on compromise."
"I know what I told you, Sousuke." Kaname looked like she wanted to tear down the curtains and throw them out the window, along with the other items in the room that did not pass muster. "And I guess that I should be glad you finally listened to me." The two of them had been trying to settle into their first apartment together. It had not been the easiest of tasks. "But… pink and grey… in a camouflage pattern…" She frowned, stepping on the one egg that hadn't broken.
"You wanted pink," Sousuke said evenly. While he hadn't come across any reference yet, he was pretty certain that Specialists were not allowed to use pink. "I preferred gray." That was an acceptable military color. However, it did not seem to meet Kaname's aesthetic requirements. "You were not willing to go for blue or beige, even though those would have been examples of compromise."
"But…" Kaname clenched her fists. First the big idiot had commissioned a travesty of fabric design, throwing her own words back at her. Now, he was claiming that she was trying to skirt the concept of compromise that she had tried to beat into his thick military issue skull. "Are you trying to say I'm a hypocrite or something?"
"Negative," Sousuke said. He was not in the mood to fight, especially since 'fighting' meant that he remained resolute, while Kaname heaped all sorts of faults or criticisms on him. He hoped that kind of thing would stop. It might be acceptable in a relationship between an operative and the person he was assigned to protect; but, it did not seem like a good idea in something more personal.
"Then it seems I simply can't leave you on your own!" Kaname brought a hand to her forehead and sighed. "You're not some kind of baby, Sousuke. I shouldn't have to be picking up after all of your mistakes." She forced herself to calm down and take a couple of deep breaths. With Sousuke, she always had to look on the good side. "I guess I should be glad that you made an effort for me."
"Effort is not enough in battle," Sousuke said. "I doubt it will suffice in a relationship." He looked around the room. "I find that I am not willing to compromise. I made an attempt, but it turned out much the same way the curtains did."
"What are you saying?" Kaname couldn't ignore the spilled groceries any longer. She tried to scoop everything back into the torn paper bags. She frowned. That big stupid head knew that she didn't like military analogies, even if they were his beat way of expressing himself. She froze, dropping a small bin of tofu. Was he saying that he wanted to break up or something? She suddenly felt very frightened.
Her first response was to tell herself to do whatever Sousuke wanted, to make certain that he still cared about her. An instant later she scowled, thinking that she would rather shoot herself than change who and what she was.
"There have been numerous planning mistakes that have ruined potentially excellent weapons systems," Sousuke said. He noticed the way that Kaname grimaced, but was determined to push onward. "It is much like the saying: a camel is a horse designed by a committee."
"I don't understand what you're saying." Kaname sighed. It had been a long day. This was the last thing she needed when she got home.
"When too many people have features they wish to see on military hardware, and the various sides end up compromising, the result is often a system that can do many things, but does nothing well." Sousuke walked over and helped Kaname pick up the mess on the floor. "That is a waste of time and money, and puts soldiers' lives at risk."
"And?" Kaname made a face.
"All of your friends told you that compromise is necessary for a relationship to work." Sousuke walked over to a large piece of wooden furniture. "There is a place for compromise," he added, opening the doors to the huge cabinet. His communications gear had been secreted away inside. "Like this."
"I think that Maya and Ryo might know something more about relationships than you, Sousuke." Kaname fought to maintain her temper. "It's no fault of yours… I know how hard your life once was…" She would have to be an idiot not to understand how Sousuke's upbringing had left him the way he was. That had become obvious, early in his stay at Jindai High School. She narrowed her eyes. "This isn't something you heard from Tessa, is it?"
"No," Sousuke replied. "It is not."
"Good!" Kaname said. While she knew that she was being petty, she couldn't help but resent the way that Sousuke seemed to admire the other Whispered girl's opinions and ideas. Tessa was very bright; but, she had no experience in relationships! But, to be fair, Kaname knew that she didn't either. And, she was very much aware that the young Captain still had a mighty crush on her subordinate.
"I do not wish to belabor this," Sousuke said. "You are probably tired. The curtains were no doubt a shock to you." He took a gun cleaning rag out of a small cupboard and used it to wipe some egg off of Kaname's shoe. "But, I think it is important to make my point."
"OK," Kaname said. She couldn't help but wonder where Sousuke was going with all this. "I'm listening."
"You are correct. I know nothing about relationships. That must be hard on you." He noticed the way that Kaname's eyes seemed to soften. "As a result, I searched the internet for clues. Even though the concept seemed inherently wrong, there were indeed many references that espoused compromise as the first order of battle."
"I doubt they put it in those terms," Kaname said, sitting down on a small love seat and taking of her shoes. She began massaging her feet.
"They did not," Sousuke answered in response. "However, I came across one particular site. I read what was written. It made sense to me."
"Then it has to be wrong!" Kaname smiled. She was merely making a joke. For the most part. She snuggled up against Sousuke when he sat down next to her.
"It is some experts' opinion that strict compromise has no place in a relationship built on love, truth, and respect." Sousuke took Kaname's hand in hers, an act that had her closing her eyes and smiling. "Since those are three things I wish to be paramount in my relationship with you, I paid very close attention."
"Good boy!" Kaname patted Sousuke on the cheek, and then gave him a quick kiss on the same spot.
"I should say that I first looked up the word 'compromise' in a dictionary." Sousuke rubbed the back of his neck. "As a noun, it describes a settlement of differences in which each side makes concessions; something that combines qualities or elements of different things; or a concession to something detrimental or pejorative"
"Thank you for that lesson, Sousuke." Kaname frowned. That big moron was well aware of how she felt about his being overly exact about things.
"You are welcome, Kaname." Sousuke was not so clueless that he missed her sarcasm. "As a verb, it means to settle by concessions. But, it also means to expose or make liable to danger, suspicion, or disrepute. For example, an embassy that was compromised by hidden listening devices." He paused. "I believe that too much compromise will compromise our relationship."
"That…" Kaname frowned. It gave her headache, just trying to follow that moody military maniac's train of thought when she was chipper and in a good mood. "Geee-ee-ez…"
"Before I continue…" Sousuke pointed over at something tall, hidden beneath a blanket. "That is another example of absolute compromise."
"I'm afraid to look." Kaname rubbed her eyes for a moment, yawned, and then stood up. Making her way across the room, she pulled off the blanket. What she saw left her speechless. It was supposed to be the floor lamp she wanted.
"The base is a M224 60mm Lightweight Company Mortar System," Sousuke said. "Still functional, it is ideally suited to support airborne, air assault, mountain, ranger, Special Forces and light infantry units, and can be drop fired or trigger fired." He kept a keen eye on Kaname's posture. "The lamp shade came from a Bonta-Kun table light."
Kaname stood silent and motionless for a few moments. She then turned and looked at Sousuke. "It's not loaded, is it?" She almost felt stupid asking that. But, with Sousuke, it never paid to assume anything.
"Of course not," Sousuke said. She should know he was a big believer in weapons safety. "The rounds for it are kept in the hope chest, underneath the spare sheets and blankets."
Kaname opened her mouth, but closed it again. She was too tired to go ballistic. It was an understatement to say that her boyfriend was unique. How many other girls had to worry about triggering a live round when they went to make up the bed?
She sighed, and slumped back down next to Sousuke. It certainly wasn't the first thing she'd had to deal with, once they had moved in together. Grenades in her sock drawer. Combat knives kept next to the silverware. A water-proofed handgun kept inside the top box of the toilet. Kevlar shower curtain and bed spread. Signal flares, radios, MREs, grapnel hooks, and so forth, and so on. The only saving grace had been Sousuke's reactions to her things. He almost keeled over when faced with bras and panties hanging from the shower pole, and feminine products placed next to his shaving gear.
In a fit of pique, she had forced him to keep his stuff in a large metal storage box, padlocked and kept in the far corner of the balcony. Covered with a large table cloth, it almost looked presentable.
"Perhaps I am incorrect," Sousuke said, trying to get back on track. "Doesn't large scale compromise in relationship mean that someone is choosing to become someone he or she isn't, simply for the sake of the relationship?"
"I guess so," Kaname said. She pulled at her lip. She had compromised in certain ways, mostly in the interruption of her old daily routine. But, most of the changes had been forced on Sousuke.
"It took me a long time to understand who I really am," Sousuke remarked, fully aware that Kaname was the one who had helped him the most in that regard. "Before I came to Tokyo, the topic had no meaning to me." He reached out and gently touched her face. He was getting better at expressing his feelings through words and physical gestures. "I do not wish to give up who I am, in order to try and guarantee your love."
"You don't…" Kaname bit her lip and looked down in her lap. Consciously, she would never want Sousuke to change who he is. She had fallen in love with the boy that drove her crazy, despite his differences. But, deep inside, she had the urge to shape him into whatever suited her best. "I'm sorry… please go on…"
She had always assumed that she would be the one who knew what was best for them, given Sousuke's clueless nature and past track record with interpersonal relations. Maybe it was time for her to open her eyes to the truth.
"Looking at things logically…" Sousuke continued. "It would seem that someone would give in to compromise only if he was afraid that there could be no love without it. I may not be very experienced in such matters; but, that does not make much sense to me."
"I guess it doesn't make to much sense to me either, Sousuke." Kaname felt her throat grow thick for a moment. Sousuke had never made any effort to make her change the way she acted. She knew exactly how she might feel if he did. Especially since she had worked so hard to reinvent her world after her mother died and her father and sister moved to America for good.
"I do not wish any other woman," Sousuke said, wanting to make that point clear. He watched as tears came to Kaname's eyes. He moved to find a comfortable way to sit when she placed her head on his shoulder. "But, I do not wish to be some other man." He let that hang in the air for a moment, like a mortar round biding its time. "I think that I would end up resenting someone who expected me to change. That would not strengthen a relationship. It would weaken it."
"Yes," Kaname said, taking a deep breath, smelling Sousuke's scent. She smiled and wriggled against him, soothed by the familiar smell.
"If I was assigned to build a fortification," Sousuke said, "I would wish to do so on solid ground. It would make no sense to build on sand, if the waves would wash that sand away." He shook his head. That was something that he would never do. Poor planning and preparations had been the undoing of countless armies and generals throughout history. He gently turned Kaname's face towards his own.
"What?" Kaname sat up a little straighter.
"There is a question I need the answer too." Sousuke sounded very serious. "Do you think that I am not good enough… useful enough… or lovable enough… for you to care about me as I am?" Rough and tough soldier that he was, he found himself dreading that answer. After seeing how different he was from everyone else, he did not have the greatest confidence in his role as a non-combatant.
"Of course you're good enough, you big idiot!" Kaname asserted. "You're just a little rough around the edges." She pursed her lips. "Well, a lot…" She sighed. "But so am I." There was no other explanation for the fact that so many people had admired her, but so few had ever asked her out. She wrapped her hair around one finger. "What do you think we should do, if not compromise?"
"I think I want to do what I did before, when I was first learning to fight." Sousuke held up his hand when Kaname made another sour face. "At first, I tried to do what the seasoned warriors amongst the mujahideen did. It almost got me killed. If someone had not told me to find my own style, I would have been left bleeding to death on the battlefield before I was ten years old." He ran his fingers across his scalp. "I want to choose."
"Choose?" Kaname looked into Sousuke's eyes. "Choose what? Who you want to date?" She swallowed hard. Why did she ask that? At least she got it out in the open.
"Negative," Sousuke replied. "I have already done that. I want to choose who I will be. I wish to make that choice solely for myself, not for anyone else." He needed to make his final point clear. "Not even for you." He didn't say that he wanted to be someone she could be proud of, and could love. If he couldn't be that kind of person without changing who he was, he would need to move on.
"That sounds kind of crazy, Sousuke." Kaname said. "It's kind of selfish. If everyone thought only about themselves and nobody else, the world would be a horrible place." She shivered, thinking about Gauron, Leonard, and men like that.
"Not if everyone chose to be honest, respectful, dependable, generous, protective, and loving." Sousuke folded his arms over his chest. He was still a child at heart in some things; but, the words made sense to him. "Especially if they did that because they wanted to be the best they could be, instead of being concerned about winning or losing someone."
"So… basically… you're saying I have to let you be who you want to be…" Kaname didn't add 'And hope that my home stays in one piece.' She didn't have to. That message was in her eyes and her tone of voice. "I have to take your guns… technical manuals… military bagpipe music… and everything else… along with you…"
"Yes," Sousuke said. "I will do the same in return." He was wise enough not to add 'As I have always done, despite your actions.'
"You almost had me, Sousuke." Kaname stood up. "I was just about to say 'Fine, let's try things that way.' If only you had given up on the bagpipe music." She grinned, seeing the look on his face. "I was only joking, silly!" She blinked rapidly for a moment. "But I am going to get you a pair of headphones…"
"That kind of compromise is acceptable and makes sense," Sousuke said seriously. He was not saying there should be no meeting halfway on things. He was merely saying that people should not try to make themselves something they are not. "It works well in the military arena, in alliances between nations and mercenary forces." He actually grinned when he saw Kaname put her face in her hands in dramatic fashion. If she was unwilling to deal with his so-called otaku side, then she wasn't really willing to deal with him. But, he knew that she was playing. "If armies need to compromise greatly in order to find common ground, the alliance will inevitably drift apart. But, small concessions are key."
"I need an aspirin," Kaname said. " A whole bottle of Tylenol." She took her hands away from her face and looked into Sousuke's eyes again. He was just being his usual honest and forthright self. He was speaking what he thought was right, since he never tried to do anything that brought him an unfair advantage, except in battle, and when he was doing something to keep her safe. "I guess it will save me a lot of work…" She meant that she would not need to make such a huge effort trying to change how he behaved.
"Indeed," Sousuke said, misinterpreting her meaning. "Since there are many things you could do to change, were you determined to be perfect yourself."
"What!" Kaname suddenly stood very rigidly. "What did you just say?"
"In your eyes, there are numerous things that I need to change, to become acceptable in general terms." Sousuke kept going, despite the fact that Kaname was getting 'that' look in her eyes. "Similarly, you appear to behave in a fashion greatly different from other young women."
"Sousuke…" Kaname was not in the mood for any criticism. Especially not from Sousuke. It had always been her job to keep him in line, not the other way around.
"You are very easily angered," Sousuke said. "Other people seem to have a much higher threshold for such things." He nodded his head. "You express your anger in a violent manner, very different from other girls." While he failed to make any mention of Tessa, that did not mean that Kaname wouldn't automatically make a connection.
"Sous-kaaa-aa-ay…" Kaname clenched her fists. The nerve of that jerk telling her that she was violent! She was violent to only one person. Shouldn't that tell him something? You bet it should! And, how dare he criticize her level of violence. She had seen one of the tally sheets that the school principal submitted to Mithril. Not only that, but Leonard had once mentioned that Sousuke was responsible for close to one hundred deaths. Of course, Sousuke's actions against Leonard didn't count. That bastard had deserved what he got.
"I will admit that it is not pleasant, being struck on the head or elsewhere." Sousuke rubbed his scalp. To be truthful, he hadn't been struck there very often recently. Kaname's days of peppering him with the halisen were pretty much in the past. At times, however, she must feel nostalgic. "But, there are other forms of discomfort. While I have grown accustomed to the loud noises within the launch bay of Da Danaan, that does not mean that I enjoy shouting." He shook his head. If need be, he could where sound dampeners around the aircraft on the submarine. He had no such luxury around his girlfriend. "You have a tendency to get very loud. It would be interesting to see how you register on a decibel meter."
Kaname stood still, making a sour face again. She had just proven that big lug's point for him. Idiot. Jerk. Moron. Big stupid head.
"It is enough that I remain an operative outside of this room," Sousuke said, seeing a shy smile form on Kaname's lips. After her initial rush of self-righteousness, she always tried to see things from a wider perspective. "I had to pretend to be something I was not… and had to hide what I truly was… when I first entered school."
"That went over well," Kaname said, walking over to stand closer to him. "Big dufus." The only thing that kept everyone from knowing that the boy with guns and grenades was a mercenary soldier was the fact that no one would ever think that a secret organization would have infiltrated their school. "But you did eventually start being a student…"
"Affirmative," Sousuke agreed. "Changes do take place over time. It was within me to become a student. I merely had been denied the opportunity up until that time."
"So… I guess what you're trying to say in your long-winded and strange Sousuke style is…" Kaname took Sousuke's arm and placed it around herself. "Love has something to do with freedom. We have to love ourselves first. If we do, we have the freedom to be loved by others. Is that it?"
"Freedom is very important, Kaname." Sousuke sounded stern again. "I have fought against many regimes that denied such things to the people they ruled." He relaxed his muscles when Kaname began running her hands over his back. "If someone is not free to be who he is, then he is merely an imposter." He closed his eyes when Kaname found just the right spot. "In the past…"
"I know," Kaname said, resting her cheek against him. "I know, Sousuke. You've had to deal with a large number of imposters and such." She thought back to her first time aboard the TDD-1. Two mean had actually been traitors. They came very close to helping Gauron succeed in his mission. "But I don't want to be an imposter either." He would have to take her, thorns and all.
"It is not a problem," Sousuke said, his catch phrase causing Kaname to give him a quick fierce hug. He looked around the room, while running his hand down along her hair. "I will get rid of the curtains tonight. The mortar as well."
"There's no rush," Kaname said, smiling. "I can think of better things to do with our time, right?" She gave him a peck on the lips.
"Yes," Sousuke said. He knew what Kaname was making reference too. Just the same, he had noticed a stack of DVDs over on an end table flanking the couch. "Tonight is movie night." He kept from grinning. "Since we are waiting until tomorrow to change our compromising, you will be sitting with me to watch a film of my choice."
"But…" Kaname caught herself. She knew that Sousuke must have picked up on her hint. Hadn't he? With him, it was difficult to be certain.
After hearing his thoughts on compromise, she began to view one of her previous pronouncements in a different light. She had been insistent in her decree that they watch movies together or not at all. She had also been adamant that they take turns. That seemed kind of foolish to her now.
"I have narrowed things down to five movies," Sousuke said. "Because I upset you with the curtains, I will allow you to select one out of those five." He knew how well the word 'allow' would sit with Kaname. Gently slipping her arms off of him, he strode over to the DVDs. "Zulu. A small regiment of Wale's finest making a stand at Rourke's Drift in 1879, against four thousand Zulus warriors."
"Baka," Kaname said under her breath.
"The Killing Fields," Sousuke said, holding up another DVD case. "The story of an American journalist who remained in Cambodia after the Communist Khmer Rough takeover."
"Otaku loser," Kaname grumbled.
"All Quiet On The Western Front," Sousuke added. "The story of a group of idealist young German soldiers getting destroyed by the barbaric conflict of the First World War. There are few movies better at commenting on the horrors of war."
"I'm living with one of the horrors or war," Kaname said just loudly enough to be overheard.
"Henry V," Sousuke said. "The 1944 version, with Laurence Olivier. It's the story of the medieval English King's famous victory over the French on the battlefield of Agincourt."
"Like I care," Kaname muttered.
"The Longest Day," Sousuke held up the last of his choices, taken from his ever growing collection of DVDs. "The movie depicts the D-Day landings at Normandy from both the Allied and German perspectives. The scope of the film is remarkable."
"Someone is going to have a very long night…" Kaname put her hands on her hips, scowling.
"So, I leave the decision up to you." Sousuke put the last movie box down. He judged the angle to Kaname, and then stood in front of the couch. "Your choice…"
Without saying a word, Kaname charged. She jumped on Sousuke, knocking him onto the couch, pinning him beneath her.
"Good choice," Sousuke said, reaching up to turn off the mortar light.