Note: Short experimental piece. (It's HET! Omg.) Could be PWP, depending on how you see it. Any critique would be appreciated.

- - -


Nasuti was three hours early to the airport, and found herself wishing she had arrived even earlier. She felt sick, unprepared, helpless, like the first time she stood to address the Security Council at the United Nations, except this time, she had only herself to rely on. She glanced at her watch again. Four thirty-five. It would be around time for dinner. No, breakfast. Shin was coming from Tokyo. She repeated it to herself several times to make sure she remembered.

Five years was an awfully long time.

She found a nice cozy café inside the airport and sat down with a warm cup of coffee, adding more sugar than usual just because she needed it. The novel she had brought with her remained untouched in her bag. Instead, she tried to picture Shin's round fourteen-year-old face, but all she could see were those hardened eyes, angular cheeks, and thin lips set between and grim smile and a gentle frown. She wondered what he looked like now, what he was doing on the plane, or if he was feeling the same way she did at the moment. Probably not. If anything, Shin was thrilled to see an old friend again.

The knot in her stomach loosened the slightest bit. In her mind, she could still hear his forever-lively voice over the phone, telling her his plans for the future. He was no longer interested in politics. It was too complex, too corrupt. At least the word 'diplomacy' made him feel cleaner, if it really wasn't much better in practice.

Nasuti unconsciously uncrossed and crossed her legs.

- - -

He had asked if he could come over to talk about their new armors and the story of Suzunagi, but they ended up talking about more personal things. That was how things were with Shin. She had to constantly remind herself that he was only eighteen, that he was just a boy. It was useless. Shin had that air to him, one that demanded equality and trust in his own soft-spoken way, as if he were undressing her thoughts, leaving her naked before him.

She told him almost everything, how she grew up with her parents in a small French town and came to Japan to continue her education, how she regretted entering university at such a young age, how much she appreciated and despised her grandfather for pushing her to her full potential. Shin remained motionless, listening, until she got to the part about how she still called the Troopers for help whenever she felt weak and alone, and she just kept going on and on as these fat tear drops rolled down her cheeks, realizing how ridiculous she probably looked but unable to stop. Then, he pressed his thumb over her lips to shush her and allowed her to cry into his chest.

He was so warm and strong and his sweater smelled of homemade pastries. For a moment, Nasuti had forgotten to remind herself, and that moment never came again. She had managed to convince herself long ago that, as an independent woman, she did not need any man to support her, not to mention five young boys she had known for years. They were the ones who needed her. She wasn't so sure anymore.

After what seemed like hours, Nasuti finally found the strength to pull away. "Sorry," she said. She laughed awkwardly, hoping to make the situation as ordinary as she possibly could at this stage. "I'm such a mess, and now you're a mess too. Oh, great, I even got my snot and drool all over your sweater."

Shin shrugged. "It's an old sweater anyway," he said, without bothering to glance down to see if Nasuti had been telling the truth.

It was an old sweater. In fact, it was the same light blue sweater he wore before he called his first armor for the last time.

When Nasuti looked up again, Shin still had his eyes fixed on her in one of those intense concerned gazes, the kind that could take your breath away if you thought too much about what was behind it, which was exactly what Nasuti found herself doing.

"So how have you been?" she asked him, a little more softly than she intended. "Now that I've told you everything you could possibly know about me."

To her relief, he laughed. "College, you know. It's not much work. Nothing compared to high school."

He sounded so familiar, so confident. She reached up and touched his face hesitantly, tracing the recently defined edges, marveling at how much he'd grown in the past year. His eyes had always been too large compared to the rest of his features, but they no longer stood out awkwardly as they did before. He was not particularly handsome. Instead, he was gentle, unthreatening, maybe just a little intimidating when he wanted to be.

"I know what you're going to say." He didn't move away when she touched him.

Nasuti smiled. "What?"

"You're going to tell me how much I've changed, how much we've all changed," he said. He was so close that it made her dizzy to look at him. "But look, I'm still a student. I'm still living off my father's money. I'm still where I was three years ago. Nothing's changed."

"Why are you telling me this?"

"Because I'm afraid." His voice was barely above a whisper. "I used to know myself: what I believed in, what I was capable of. And now here I am, in your house, sitting with alone with you on your couch. It's nothing that hasn't happened before, except my new self isn't as brave."

That was his warning, but she took it as an invitation, wrapping her arms around his shoulders and pulling him onto her. She felt his fingers brushing her hair behind her ears before he kissed her, his palm stroking her cheek softly until she parted her lips for him. "Take off your shirt," he murmured into her mouth, pleading, and she obeyed willingly. This was Shin. Her Shin. The same Shin whose large eyes were never quite innocent, whose hand was now on her breast.

He pushed her back into the couch and examined her. No, not examine. Shin didn't examine anything—he simply loved. She arched back as he leaned in to kiss her again, wondering how he could manage to make her feel so young. Until now, she had never realized how much she missed that feeling, the thrill of doing something reckless and dramatic for that single moment. She had almost forgotten how it felt, had left her childhood behind before it even began. He was breathing life into her, pressing himself tightly against her until she was forced to steal his air, quietly begging for her to take a piece of him. She stroked his hair to soothe him. Everything is just fine. Everything would be okay.

This seemed to aggravate him more as his hands found their way to her waistband, shaking, fumbling with her belt, eyes never leaving hers. She smiled. Tender. Reassuring. Don't stop. I love you. Want you so much. Make me feel like what I could have been.

The sound of the belt hitting the floor was answered with a soft moan. She touched the warm skin under his sweater. Felt the fabric's familiar texture. But never like this. Never like this. Lifted it as far as it would go.

Please, no more. Don't need this. Want this.

So gentle. So sweet. So impatient.

He tore away from her, gasping, crying, still flushed with his arousal. Or was it disgust and embarrassment. This was Shin. Compassionate Shin. Loving Shin. Wonderful Shin. She searched his eyes and found only disbelief, which was more than enough to break her heart.

Why? Why? Why?

"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." Finally looking away, face hidden behind trembling hands. "I don't know how I can… If you want me to leave…"

"Don't leave. Please." God, she must've sounded pathetic. She missed him already.

He helped her put her blouse back on, taking so much care with each button that it made her ache for him even more. Then, he kissed her cheek, as if he knew what she wanted and was helpless to give it to her, pulling her close. "I don't know, Nasuti. I don't know."

Somewhere in the back of her mind, she knew he had been waiting and waiting for her to stop him, hoping she might reestablish that invisible barrier and relieve him of his guilt and confusion, but it never happened.

- - -

Two more hours. Nasuti tapped her fingers against the café table. She still had half a cup of coffee left, but it was no longer warm. She suddenly felt very tired.

Had Shin found a girlfriend yet? Maybe he was thinking about marriage already. He probably wouldn't tell her about it on the phone. No jealousy, only sadness. Same with the others. They were adults now. They had grown apart. They didn't need her anymore. She sighed and stood, throwing her coffee away and heading for a gift shop. To take her mind of things.

A few hundred miles away, Shin held his breath and smiled. Just for her.