3/23/06

Disclaimer: The characters in this fic, such as Johnny, Shania, etc. don't belong to me; they are property of Aruze, so don't sue! ;.;

Dedications: God, my friends, my cousins, my readers, Aruze for gracing this magnificent RPG with yet another installment, and finally, X-SEED for bringing this game to us American fans.

Special dedication to: Sylin, for writing the only other Johnny x Shania fic. :)

Shadow Hearts III: Underneath The Surface

By Tiger5913

"…Why did I let you convince me to come here?"

The tall blonde woman turned to look at her companion in expectation of an answer, and at first, all he offered her was a cheeky grin.

"Because I promised not to bother you for the rest of the week if you went?"

She gave him a mild leveled glare in return, but continued to follow the young detective as he strolled down the sandy coastline with an obvious spring in his step. Releasing a small sigh of resignation, she reluctantly lifted her head and glanced around the area, trying not to appear too impressed with the beauty of nature. Her ally was already pleased enough with himself for getting her to the beach; he didn't need anymore encouragement in his strange desire of wanting to cheer her up. The private island that Al Capone owned was small and bare of public civilians, but it was quiet, to her preference, and also exotic, a unique setting full of wild plants and flowers.

The despondent woman had planned to spend the day in the same manner as she did the others, lounging around the secluded summerhouse, waiting for her allies to recover. The misfit group of journeying travelers was defeated and injured just a week ago in the ancient Chichen Itza ruins of Mexico by a dangerous trio, left weakened and vulnerable there. But thankfully, one member of the party had connections to a powerful mafia boss that was willing to help them out by giving all of them a safe place to stay while they each nursed their wounds. Everyone seemed to appreciate the break from the nonstop chase across America, and even considered it to be a little vacation, enjoying the time off to relax and rejuvenate.

Each and every group member had certainly received their fair share of bumps and bruises – although the American teenage boy did get an additional blow at the end. But none of them had been given a long-lasting effect like the female spiritualist was now burdened with: a dark and dangerous entity that presently lived inside her. At first, she hadn't noticed anything significantly different about herself, but as the days passed by, she was slowly becoming aware of an unfamiliar and unwanted presence in her mind. Without a doubt, vengeance was what had prompted her to begin the journey around the United States in search of the malice-tainted woman, but now… that and her hatred were borderline obsession.

"Hey, Shania!" came the sudden cry that disrupted her train of thought.

Snapping to attention, the blonde Native American jerked her head toward the direction of the speaker, and was surprised to see her companion already suited up in his swimwear. She was so used to the sight of him in his favorite trademark jacket and blue jeans that he almost looked odd and out-of-place with only a pair of dark, navy-colored trunks. His pale complexion suggested that he didn't spend too much of his leisure time outside, but otherwise, his appearance was… rather cute, in an innocent, boyish manner. He was a little more built than she would have thought, which she found just a little impressive for someone with his age and somewhat-sheltered background, but this boy had certainly proved himself to be quite unique…

Pink colored his cheeks when the sixteen-year-old noticed a faint hint of admiration in the cool blue eyes of his attractive female ally, although that could have been his own wishful thinking. A noise of embarrassment rumbled quietly deep in his throat, and that seemed to help Shania snap back to reality, for she quickly looked away, her expression suddenly very serious. The young detective awkwardly scratched the back of his head and silently wondered why she had been looking at him so intently; she couldn't possibly be interested in him, after all… right? He definitely had quite a big crush on her, but didn't think that feeling was mutual… and yet, even though he felt discouraged at times, he couldn't stop himself from liking her.

Obviously uncomfortable with the current situation, the Native American woman spoke with controlled calm, "Johnny, you're already dressed. …Where can I change?"

"Umm… I just changed over there, behind that big rock," he informed her, and then helpfully pointed to the large object in the rather bare environment.

"Thanks," she murmured softly and walked in the said direction with a small bundle of clothing tucked tightly under her arm. The sooner I get changed and swim with him, the sooner we can leave and return to the house.

When his friend went out of sight, Johnny Garland released a shaky sigh in visible relief, glad that his lame behavior hadn't changed her mind about going swimming with him. It wasn't easy to convince her in the first place, but he had seen her moping around the house for the entire week, and was determined to get her outside for at least one day. As soon as the young detective had healed up enough to walk, he had gone out exploring the small island, poking into every nook and cranny in hopes of finding something interesting. He didn't take very long to cover the entire area, but found the beach to be the best setting; although he wasn't really the nature type, even he had to admit that the scenery looked rather glamorous.

Well, Shania was certainly taking her time to change… and with the afternoon sun slowly slipping down past the mountains, the blond teenager suddenly felt eager to get in the water. With a mischievous grin, he set his towel down onto the sand before making a beeline for the shore, and soon, he was enveloped in the cool liquid and shivering from the slight chill. Paddling around for a few minutes, Johnny quickly grew accustomed to the cold and began to casually drift through the water, not yet daring to duck his face and hair into it. After warming up a bit, he leaned back until he was lying on the rippling surface and relaxed, feeling at complete ease as he continued to wait for the spiritual shaman to join him.

The only indication of her entry into the water was a light swish; barely catching the noise, the American boy lazily turned his head to look, and was promptly stunned by the sight. Shania was slowly walking toward him, her expression nonchalant and composed as usual, as if she had no idea how much she was affecting her young ally with her mere presence. However, that wasn't what had captured his interest – it was her swimsuit that had rendered him speechless, and when he closed his eyes, the small red bikini still remained in his view. And yet even with his blatant staring, she either wasn't offended, or didn't seem to notice, as he vaguely realized that she was gazing far off into the distance rather than in his direction.

With an awkward little cough, Johnny forced his eyes away from her assets and slowly stroked through the water toward his friend, trying to look as cool and casual as he could. When he reached her and lightly cleared his throat to get her attention, she jolted slightly as if startled, and turned to glance at him calmly, her eyes strangely blank and emotionless. The blond teenager noticed that and frowned a bit in concern and confusion – he knew that Shania usually wasn't terribly outgoing or overly friendly, but she was never this extremely excluded either. She seemed very aggravated lately, and whenever someone asked how she was doing, she would give a curt reply and walk away to end the conversation, letting the others know that something was definitely bothering her.

Johnny didn't want to pester her with that same question and irritate her, so he searched for a different topic to talk about, coming with a brilliant, "So, uh… the water's cold, huh?"

She couldn't help the smirk of amusement that flickered briefly over her lips, and then she answered tritely, "Yes, a little. But I'll get used to it."

He quickly nodded in agreement, and comfortably lied back on the water again, idly floating around as the Native American woman stayed put in her spot, distraction clearly in her expression. The young detective periodically glanced at her, wanting to offer comfort and lend an ear, but he didn't know how she would react to that in her current state. She seemed to be okay with making small talk and casual conversations, but he didn't think that she'd be willing to open up and tell him about her personal problems. Yet, even if she wouldn't confide in him, maybe there was something else he could do for her; he noticed her stiff posture, which suggested that she was feeling tense and needed to loosen up, blow off some steam…

With a simple, clever little idea in mind, Johnny thrashed his legs a bit and sent water splashing her way, and the spiritual woman reacted by glancing at him with mild shock on her face. "…What are you doing?"

"Ah, just having a little fun," he replied with a cheerful, harmless grin as he rose to a standing position, and then asked casually, "Hey, Shania, are you good at swimming?"

Surprised by such an unusual question, she shrugged aimlessly and responded, "I don't know. I've never measured that ability before."

"I bet you can't beat me," the boy declared, a hint of playful smugness in his voice, "Why don't we have a race? Just for fun."

Are fun and games the only things this boy thinks about? Shania wondered in slightly exasperation. I don't have time for this… "Thanks, but I'll pass."

"Aww, what's the matter? Are you afraid you'll lose?" he goaded her lightly.

She fought to urge to sigh and shake her head; she wasn't falling for his simple little trick. "Yeah, that's it."

Even though she had spoken evenly, Johnny could tell that his friend was starting to get irritated, and so he quickly switched antics, putting on his best pleading face. "C'mon, just a little race? We'll swim to that rock over there, and that's it."

She seemed to be undecided rather than wanting to refuse outright. "Well…"

"Please…?" His light green eyes were wide and full of adorable, boyish charm.

"…All right," Shania relented finally, reluctantly submitting to his pleas. …Why am I agreeing to this? "Just one race."

He beamed with pride and excitement. "Great! Okay then, do you need some time to warm up, or are you ready?"

"I'm ready," she assured him lightly, deciding to humor her young ally for the time being. Sometimes, when he had a one-track mind, it was nearly impossible to stop him.

His grin was hearty and enthusiastic; "We'll go on three then! Remember, we're racing to that rock over there," he paused to turn and point in the direction, "Let's get going now! One… two… three!"

A split second after he called that out, the two competitors immediately took off, both heading for the same goal with fervent effort, despite one's previous discontent. Johnny paddled through the water at a fast, but somewhat uneven pace, eager to impress the Native American woman by winning the race with his speedy style and powerful strokes. But when he glanced over to check on her progress, he was astonished to see her location and faltered in keeping his own rhythm, which consequently gave her the lead just then. Of course, it was also due to the fact that Shania was swimming flawlessly, gliding across the distance with liquid grace, and by her closed eyes and consistent pattern, she seemed to be completely at peace.

The blond detective began to slow down as he watched her in awe, amazed that she moved through the water so effortlessly, as if the action was one of her frequent pastimes. Not to mention she also looked incredible… her wet skin glistened in the paling sunlight and her wild bangs clung to her cheeks, drawing attention to her rigid, yet delicate facial features. And while Johnny rarely had the privilege of eye-contact with her – which he woefully blamed his height for – he knew that her irises were a brilliant shade of blue that blazed the hottest flame. Her body was long and sleek, with hard-earned muscles built in all the right places to execute her power in battle, allowing the female warrior to eliminate enemies in swift and rapid succession.

Too late the young American realized that his competitor had pulled rather far ahead, and she would reach the goal in a matter of minutes, apparently unaware of his recent stupor. With a quick gasp of air, he dove back into the water and pumped his arms and legs with vigorous effort, hopelessly trying to catch up, even though he secretly knew that it was unlikely. His attempt indeed proved futile when Shania emerged just then, her hand reached out to touch the rock as she relaxed and slowed down her frenzied breathing. She watched her companion swim furiously across the last few feet, and when his head popped up next to her position, he was panting frantically with a sulky, disappointed look on his face.

"Ohh, I lost…!" he grumbled unhappily, a frown beginning to mar his brows.

"It's all right, Johnny," she remarked in mild support, but she couldn't help the smirk that played about her lips. "You just can't keep up with me."

"Yes I can!" The blond teenager declared firmly, although his voice faltered a bit when he awkwardly tried to explain, "I was just, uh… distracted by something."

"Oh, I see… so that's the reason," she nodded agreeably, and then to his surprise, she suddenly pushed off from the rock and began to swim away, apparently already recharged.

"Huh? Hey, Shania-!"

He stared after her for a moment, but soon caught onto her silent challenge and followed the Native American woman, determined to measure up this time and not get distracted and lose again. He was still fairly fatigued from the previous race, but on the rare occasion that his friend initiated an event, he would never hesitate to obey her or follow and join her cause. Meanwhile, the pursued spiritualist chuckled on the inside when she heard furious splashing behind her, which indicated her ally's stubborn determination, and she found those qualities rather admirable. Whenever he was faced with defeat, he always got up and tried again; he was so enthusiastic and energetic in practically every situation that it seemed as if nothing could ever put him down permanently, not even a soul-threatening menace…

Deciding to let him win this time, Shania directed her path into a small alcove tucked away quite far from the shoreline, and after reaching the dead end, she turned around and awaited his arrival.

A few minutes later, Johnny swam in and stopped before her, breathlessly panting this triumph, "Hah! I… I got you!"

"Yes, you did. Not bad," she congratulated him generously, and with a slight smile, made a move to leave.

And to her utter amazement, she only took a few steps before she was suddenly blocked by the young detective drifting in front of her and then placing both of his hands against the stone wall behind her head.

The blonde woman was surprised that he had her surrounded and boxed in, and lifted a slender eyebrow in question as she turned to gaze at him. "Johnny, what is this for?"

His grin was mischievous, but lighthearted as he answered, still a bit winded, "Can't… can't have you getting away again…"

"Oh really?" she calmly challenged, intrigued and slightly impressed with his new resolve.

"Yeah…" Johnny nodded faintly and then glided forward a little.

Shania coolly glanced his way, and when he lifted his chin and met her eyes, she clearly saw his feelings reflected on his face: fatigue, relief, bewilderment, and a strange glimmer of hope. Although he was recovering from the previously arduous swimming, his breathing was still oddly rapid and sounded erratic as he fanned her cheeks with his heated vitality. She noted with mild discomfort that they were quite close together… and she was startled to suddenly feel one of his hands move down from the wall to gently clasp her bare shoulder. Just then, an unexpected gust of wind swept by, making her shiver, and she subconsciously drifted toward her young companion; their noses accidentally bumped from her slight shift and Johnny blushed faintly.

While the woman felt a bit uncomfortable during that period, the blond detective had nervousness, shock, and excitement all melding together within him from the present new experience. For as long as he'd been admiring and crushing on Shania, he never had the opportunity to be alone with her, let alone share such a close proximity together… Unsure of when, how, or even if he should tell her about his feelings, Johnny just tried to show his support and help her in every situation that he could, but it was getting increasingly harder to keep restraining himself. With a mental jolt, he realized that perhaps this was his chance to admit his affections for her… but instead of speaking, he found himself moving forward, inching closer to her as their breaths intertwined and became one rasped sigh…

Shania knew that he was going to kiss her, and maybe she was caught up in the moment and lightheaded with confusion or compassionate to the yearning in his shy and vulnerable expression, but she was going to let him…

Before their lips could meet, his eyes fluttered to a close, and in that instant, the blonde spiritualist caught a glimpse of desire in his twin depths, and his heat flashed red in her mind. Dark red like his lust and passion for her; dark red like her anger and vengeance for…

Malice…

With that bitterly cold reminder suddenly stabbing and embedding into her mentality, she immediately raised her arms to place her hands over the damp chest of her companion and thrust him away from her. The force of her shove sent the teenager feeling back with shock clearly evident on his face, along with a flicker of hurt, and seeing that, guilt pricked her conscience, but knew that her reaction was necessary. Maybe the crimson she had glimpsed wasn't in his eyes; maybe they had just reflected what was in hers… and if that was the case, then she couldn't let Johnny get close to her, no matter how he felt about that. She remembered how the evil presence had gotten transferred into her, and she would not corrupt his fragile innocence…

"I-I'm sorry…" was all she could manage to tell him before she dove under the water and speedily swam out of the alcove without waiting for his reply.

The blond detective stared after Shania as she left, utterly confused about what had just happened. Was it something he did that chased her away? Or maybe this was simply a form of rejection… Whatever the reason, he was sure that he had disgusted her somehow. And yet, she had apologized before taking off, suggesting that it could have been a different problem bothering her. He didn't want to jump to conclusions so quickly; he had to first investigate and get more information – that was his specialty, after all – but Johnny knew that he would have to be patient and careful with the subject in question. Most importantly, she was a private, sensitive person and he didn't want to anger her by being too nosy… so he had to show her respect by stepping back and giving her personal space, and wait until she was willing to talk to him.

"Back to square one…" he sighed to the empty space.

The End

Author's Note: A romance story of mine without a happy ending: shock! Trust me, as I was writing this, I wanted to change the ending to a happy and fluffy one, but I finally decided to stick with the original. Gotta make things harder and more challenging for our poor boy Johnny here, right? If he wants to get the girl, he's got to earn it… Well anyway, I'm glad to have finished another SH3 fic, and can't wait to get started on my next one. Everyone, thank you for reading, and please leave a review and tell me what you think!

With love for my fans,

Tiger5913