He was gone before she woke up. She'd guessed he would be the night before when he'd rolled to the side so he wasn't crushing her. Yaone sighed and snuggled down a little further into her bed, inhaling lightly as she caught a faint trace of his scent on her pillows. The slightly salty smell of their mingled sweat, the deeper musk of sex and that one that was uniquely his. It reminded her a bit of a winter fire, a little smokey and exotic but promising warmth from the cold. She smiled at the analogy, hugging the pillow he'd slept on closer for a brief moment before she yawned and stretched her arms overhead. She'd slept in terribly later than she'd thought, if the amount of sunlight pouring in was any indication.

Yaone remained in bed a little longer, closing her eyes as a soft smile curved her lips. She felt nicely sore this morning, and it wasn't really a surprise considering the, ah... prior night's activites. Gods, was it normal for a man's mouth to be that searing hot against her skin? And she wasn't completely certain of it, but she could almost swear there was something about it being illegal for a man's hands to be so deliciously clever. She shivered as a scensory memory surfaced, one of him staring into her eyes as they moved together, shining with a dark light in the shadows cast by moonglow through the windows. He looked beautiful to her at that moment, thought usually she would never associate such a feminine word with the tall, solidly muscled swordsman. But, there was something about the silvery light playing off lightly tanned skin and the way his nearly black eyes somehow managed to catch that same light and transform into a burning well to trap her that made the adjective appropriate.

And then he'd held her afterward, turning them both on their sides so that they faced each other. He'd brought her arm up to curl around his neck, causing little ripples to wave down her spine as he pressed gentle kisses to bend of her albow, her shoulder, her neck. He kissed his way to her lips, being tender where their loving had been more wildly passionate. If she hadn't been in love with him before that moment, she would have been then. Dokugakuji... She loved him dearly. For Lord Kougaiji, she would give her life gladly out of duty. For Doku, she would fight to stay alive just so she could be in his arms. But... she supposed that really wasn't likely to happen.

Sighing, the breath tinted with a little sadness, Yaone sat up and began getting ready for the day. Last night most likely was the only time she would ever experience that kind of joy ever again. It had been completely impulsive for her to have started it, but she couldn't help herself. The stress, the worry, his arms comforting her as she'd cried into his chest... It had all been too much for her overworked emotions. She needed to release it somehow. That somehow was what brought her to this point. She was torn between the thrill of having finally had the man she loved for one night, and the aching pain of knowing it would only be for that one night.

They were friends, coworkers even. It would be inappropriate for them to continue any sort of relationship. Right at that time, their group needed to be solid in their loyalties to each other as well as their mission. If she and Dokugakuji were to pursue a more romantic relationship, and if that relationship turned sour, it would put unnecessary strain in their group dynamics. With all that was going on in Houtu Castle, any chink in their tightly knit group would mean their destruction. For everyone's sake, it would be disastrous to go any further than last night.

Of course, her logical brain decided to argue, she and Dokugakuji had never fought. Oh, yes she'd slapped him for spouting utter nonsense, but she'd never seen him so utterly despondant before. She needed the old, confident Dokugakuji back, not the hollow shell of him. So... she'd slapped him in hopes his sense of reasoning would return. But, that wasn't at all a fight. He'd never yelled at her for hitting him, merely held her while she had her turn to fall apart. In a way, one could say they had given the other what they'd most desperately needed at that time. She couldn't imagine that changing at all should they choose to expand on their relationship.

That is, of course, assuming he would want to, she added dryly, fastening the chains to her stockings before leaning closer to the small bedroom mirror to pull her hair back. Who was to say he was looking for anything commited? After all, he seemed to be quite popular with the women in Houtu Castle. The last was said with a jealousy she couldn't hide from even herself. Oh, how it had hurt to hear the women gossip about him, none of them even suspecting that she felt more for the handsome swordsman than a close friendship. They had always asked her questions about him. What's his favorite food? His favorite color? Does he prefer waif thin women or curvy?

In her opinion, if they couldn't answer those questions on their own then they didn't deserve him. They were only interested in a physical interaction with him. Yaone wanted everything. She loved their conversations, and the way he could always get her to smile no matter what was bothering her. She adored the devilish glint to his eyes that said he was plotting some mischief for the scientists. She appreciated his dependability, his loyalty, his genuine warmth and kindly nature. She just... loved him, probably almost from the day they'd first met.

It had been shortly after Lord Kougaiji had saved her from Hyakugen Maoh's clutches. She'd been very uncertain about her position in the prince's entourage, overwhelmed at finding herself living in a castle with a room that was bigger than her father's entire house, and still so unbelievably hurt by her family's betrayal that she was like a walking ghost in the hall ways. And then... she'd met Dokugakuji. He'd just offered his services to Lord Kougaiji about a week before she'd arrived, but she hadn't seen him before around the prince. They'd been seated next to each other at one of Gyokumen Koushu's lavish dinners, neither of them completely comfortable with the other royal retainers to socialize much.

She smiled as she adjusted her gloves and went to the door. It had been the soup course, she recalled. A rather ghastly cream soup that didn't do much for the palette. She'd been twirling her spoon through the thin white liquid, stirring up bits of the over cooked fish that bobbed obscenely to the surface. It had been his chuckle that had made her glance over at him in mild surprise. Before that, she'd obviously noted he was rather attractive but hadn't said a word to him.

"Look," he'd said, motioning with his head for her to glance between them at the floor. Somehow, one of Princess Lirin's kittens had found its way into the banquet room and was sniffing cautiously at a piece of fish Dokugakuji had slipped to it. The kitten backed away, fur standing from neck to tail as it let out an unheard hiss before disappearing beneath the table again. "That seals it. If the cat won't touch this crap, there's no way I'm gonna!"

That had broken the ice, so to speak. She'd found out that night that he was a rather wicked card player, and horrible at backgammon. He could drink her under the table any day, but give him a cooking pot and he couldn't boil water to save his life. He had been her first and only friend at a time where she had thought herself all alone. Yaone sighed again as she rounded the corner that brought her to the stairs leading down to her explosives lab. She knew that friendship didn't always mean love. She knew that lesson very well from her past, but she couldn't help but wonder if maybe he felt the same way, too.

He'd certainly seemed like he did last night. The raw intensity she'd seen in his eyes as they'd made love had her nearly convinced that he did. Dokugakuji was always so very open about his emotions. It had surprised her to learn he was an exceptionally sharp card player. Usually, it was obvious what he was thinking or feeling in his eyes. They were such a rich, dark shade of brown and looked best when they were glowing with mirth. She'd thought they were black until she'd seen them up close last night. His eyes had lighter flecks of brown to them, saving them from utter darkness and turning them the color of freshly ground coffee. And when he'd hit his climax... Again, beautiful was the only way to describe him then.

Yaone frowned to herself as she shut the door and pulled on the rubber-like protective apron she wore when dealing with chemicals. She had to stop thinking about all of that, especially him. It wouldn't do to blow the castle clean in half because of an erotic daydream, now would it? She doubted even Lord Kougaiji would forgive her for that, though she could never bring herself to explain the reason why to begin with. There was no way even the gods could get her to admit to the prince that she'd blown a hole in Houtu Castle because she'd been thinking about how wonderfully muscled Dokugakuji was. She rotated her neck and twisted her shoulders a bit to loosen herself up and prepare herself for getting lost in equations and measurements.

Time passed quickly in the lab as she continued to fit fuses and detonators to different bombs. Flash grenades, tear gas ball explosives, sulfur discs... All of these were churned out with the exacting precision of one who was used to handling the potentially dangerous chemicals. The one thing she found more relieving than staring at a rather impressive array of new bombs was the fact that it had effectively kept her mind off of Dokugakuji and the awkwardness her impulsive actions undoubtedly created. Yaone let out a huff of air, running her fingers back through her bangs as her lips twitched into a slight frown. It had to be talked about soon. She wasn't going to bother pretending that running straight for her lab first thing upon waking was anything more than her stalling the inevitable just a bit longer. For one night, she'd been allowed to live her dream of falling asleep and waking up with the man she loved. That was more than any one person could ever hope for, but it was now back to only being a dream.

An awed whistle made her snap around sharply, one hand already reaching for a fresh explosive should it be necessary. Yaone relaxed, closing her eyes with relief as she moved her hand away from the bomb she'd come within seconds of throwing. Dokugakuji gave her a sheepish little grin as he came forward, his eyes trained on the results of her trying not to think about him. "Sorry, but I did try knocking first."

"I didn't hear you. I was busy," she replied, her body tensing in an odd combination of longing and nervous anticipation. She wasn't sure if she wanted to run away from him to avoid the conversation or throw herself at him and hope to change his mind.

"Yeah, I can see that," he chuckled, moving so that he stood next to her, close enough she could feel the heat that always seemed to pour off his body. She quickly lowered her face to hide the blush that surfaced as she thought back on how hot that body could actually get when... motivated. "Damn, girl, are you planning to go to war all by yourself or what?"

Yaone couldn't help the smile or the trace of laughter in her voice as she said, "Well, you never know..." He laughed with her, placing one hand on the table top to lean against. Her eyes drifted down to it, just mere inches from her own hand. Her palm itched with the need to cover his hand with her own and wrap her fingers with his tightly.

The silence between them stretched on for a good while, neither of them doing anything more than shifting just slightly at the awkward tension to the air. Yaone carefully kept her face lowered and gaze averted, preparing herself for him telling her they should just forget it happened. He would apologize, followed quickly by him explaining that secrecy about them sleeping together was necessary, of course. She braced herself in anticipation as he cleared his throat and began to speak.

"Actually... I did come here for a reason, Yaone," he said with something that sounded almost like embarassment. Dear gods, as if it weren't enough to be having this talk, now he was embarassed about them sleeping together! Was it really so shameful to him that they did share a bed? She hoped not. That would move it from uncomfortable to painful for her. "See, it's like this. Somehow, I got some food sent up to my room. It's about the right portion for two, and seeing as you missed dinner... I was wondering if you might wanna help me with it?"

Yaone blinked. She had to replay his words several times before they finally sank in and made her look into his eyes with a good dose of confusion on her part. "Are you asking me... to have dinner with you, Dokugakuji?" she asked incredulously.

"Well... yeah," Dokugakuji replied with a faint tinting of pink to his cheeks. He shifted a little, either to get closer to her (which thrilled her) or because he was suddenly uncertain about his question. "That was kinda the idea." The last part was nearly mumbled, which told her that the latter was why he'd moved ever so slightly. He was nervous about this.

A slow, shakey breath finally managed to squeeze its way through her tight chest and into her lungs. He was asking her to have dinner with him. Like a couple. Or maybe he's simply asking to try and ease the tension between them? Dokugakuji would do something like that, if only to save their friendship. Another wavering breath was taken and it took her a couple tries with nothing coming out before she could finally speak. "I... You don't have to do this, Doku. I'm fine with... everything going back to normal. Really. I'm fine with it only being a one night occurance."

"You are, huh?" The tone he used made her look up at him with wide, confused eyes. He sounded... amused? No, he shouldn't be amused by this at all! But, there he was grinning from ear to ear and looking very much like a boy caught raiding in the cookie jar before dinner. He looked positively smug as he leaned down a little toward her. Her heart literally stopped for a couple seconds, her eyes drifting partially closed as his lips came closer. Oh, gods... His breath tickled against her mouth, teasing her with the heat she desperately wanted to taste. "I'm not."

Yaone drew back sharply, arching her back away from him as those two words were whispered against her mouth. Wait... did he just say... "Excuse me?" she asked, her voice shaking as badly as the rest of her was. She was fairly certain she'd heard him correctly, but she had to ask again just to make sure. After all, him moving in to kiss her was not condusive to any sort of intellectual thought.

Dokugakuji's smirk was positively full of smug triumph as he repeated himself for her. "I'm not fine with that. In fact, I'm not fine at all that it took three damn years to realize what I did last night."

"O-Oh... and what did you, um... realize?" She shouldn't be so hopeful. He wasn't going where she thought he was. Gods, what if he was? What if all this was because... no, how could he know? She'd never said anything to anyone about loving him. He wouldn't know that... would he?

The smile was gone, a look of intense seriousness on his face as he used the hand that wasn't resting on the table to tip her head back and force her to meet his eyes. Yaone remained very still, barely breathing, as she tried to rationalize away the softness in those deep brown eyes, or the little flare of love she could see. Eyes were the windows to the soul, as they said, and this soul seemed to very much be in love with her. Her very rational brain was scrambling for an explaination other than love to explain the look.

It didn't get the chance though. Dokugakuji's next words pretty much killed any logical thought she could have had. "I realized... that I liked it. Us, I mean. I liked us together, and there's really no reason why we can't have that. So... I have dinner for two, and there really isn't another woman I'd rather share it with, but if you're not interested..." The last part was said with a teasing little quirk of his lips as he tried to cut through the uncertain air between them.

More than any teasing he could have done, more than any reason why she shouldn't that her brain came up with, more even than the affection she saw in his eyes, it was his words that slammed the fact home to her. Dokugakuji loved her. He wanted them to be together, as lovers not as friends. He... loved her. As before when the those words had been thought from her about him, those three words now continued to circle and swim through her thoughts, trying to tattoo themselves everywhere in her mind at once. He loved her...

Slowly, Yaone reached across the table, covering his hand with her own as she'd wanted to do since he first came into her lab. Dokugakuji reversed his hand so that their palms touched, fingers gently playing together, and it felt... right. This was right. She was surprised she had voice enough to whisper, "I'd like that."

She blushed when she saw the naked joy and relief he revealed in a slowly growing smile. "Okay then," he said, using the hand he was holding to pull her away from the table and all her bombs. "Okay," he repeated as he opened the door and they walked down the hall, still holding hands

People stared as they walked, but not for very long before they returned to whatever they'd been doing before. The only people who seemed surprised and very put out about this change were the women Yaone noticed glaring daggers at where their fingers were entwined. Was it wrong to feel so smugly triumphant that he was hers? She really didn't think so, considering how much it had bothered her to have them asking her for information about him. And was she ever glad that she'd fed them the wrong information to begin with! She smiled at those enraged women and let all the triumph she felt over them show through. Just as he was now hers to call her own, she belonged to him. More than likely, they'd belonged to each other for years and not even known it. Well, now they did know and they weren't going to waste the opportunity to seize it.

And that was all that was important now. They loved each other. It had only taken three years to figure it out.