While by no means graphic or dirty, some folks might find parts of this story to be somewhat off-color. Be forewarned. Don't read any further if you might be offended. We don't need any heroes here….

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The sound of the ocean was subtle and serene.

Waves rolled up upon the sandy beach, as the bright sun shone down unimpeded. Seabirds called out, circling on lazy air currents as they looked for signs of dropped food.

It was a beautiful day, the best that the summer had given them so far. Students from Jindai High School were out on their annual excursion to the beach, enjoying time away from books, studying, and exams. Boys were in swim trunks, some above their knees, and others hanging mid-calf. Girls wore bikinis and one piece suits. No one wore the hideous school swimwear.

"I don't know why I bother getting my hopes up." Kaname stood watching her friends. It was easy to see everyone now, since the smoke had finally cleared. "It's just like the last time. I'll probably need to be kidnapped for him to notice me." The 'him' was obvious. Sousuke stood a few yards away, vigilant, scrutinizing every unfamiliar person who walked past. "Big idiot."

Kaname was wearing a red, orange, and white bikini this time. Despite the sense of forlorn failure she had felt last summer, back when she had donned the infamous white swim outfit, she had gone out and shopped for just the right suit. Last time, she had hoped that Sousuke would notice, even though they had yet to admit their feelings for one another. But now… today… after all they had been through… neither one had any doubts. Or so she once thought.

"I wonder if that boy…." Kaname looked up at the top of the cliff. She couldn't remember the name of the sick boy she had shared tea with. Blushing, she remembered how bad she had felt, lying to him the way she did. Clencing her teeth, she remembered how Sousuke had defeated the 'gardener,' the 'cook,' and the 'butler,' before beating up the younger boy. Looking up at the sky, she shielded her eyes. There were no balloons anywhere to be seen. She swallowed hard, realizing just how far she and her soldier had floated down that day.

She watched as Kyouko and Shinji fought over whose turn it was to put on a blindfold and attack one of the few remaining watermelons. By popular vote, Sousuke had been barred from the game, even though he promised that he wouldn't use a shotgun this time.

"Moron." Kaname looked at Sousuke out of the corner of her eye. He should be the one sneaking looks at her! This bikini bordered on the risqué. Oooo-ooo-oo-o… stupid… idiotic… jerk. "But, of course, he brought grenades... again." She stiffened, forming her hands into fists. Maya and Ryo had said it was her fault. They said her choice of words left a lot to be desired. Why were the siding with the big buffoon? He was supposed to be getting better!

The tide was coming in. The water was leaving foamy peaks and ridges around the two heads sticking out of the sand. Both boys were shouting now. One was obviously worried about the encroaching waves. The other had a crab hanging from his nose. Naturally, the two beach bullies hadn't always been buried there. Before that, there had been a deep crater, devoid of prisoners. Then again, there hadn't been a crater to start with.

"Even Ren sided with Sousuke." Kaname made a face. "I can't understand how they would do that, after everything that happened." Thinking back to Amalgam's attack on Tokyo, she sought out Kyouko's form again. No scars were showing. She was thankful for that much. "Geeez!" She shook her hair, feeling a brief chill run down her back when the cool breeze caught that hair and blew it sideways like an azure banner. "When I asked him to blow up the beach ball, he should have known what I meant!" Instead of putting the rubber stem to his mouth and doing what any normal person would do, he had pulled out a round grenade… pulled the pin… and detonated the pristine plastic toy, fresh from its protective wrapper. But, as bad as that had been, it wasn't the foremost concern vying for space in her muddled and mixed-up mind.

She looked down at her bikini again, sighing. She really looked good in it, didn't she? Maybe she was showing a bit to much. That hadn't mattered when she first put it on, giddily dreaming about how she would have Sousuke saying 'Uhhh,' practically stumbling over himself in embarrassment. Now, she almost felt like a tart. No. Worse. She almost felt needy. Desperate.

"They liked it." Kaname looked over at the buried bullies. A number of small children had started building a large sand wall around them, even though the frantic boys kept begging for them to put those shovels to better use. There wasn't really any danger. Some of their fellow riff raff had aggregated, pointing at them and laughing. They'd help extricate them when the time was right. "And I really didn't want them too." That's not entirely true. She had wanted to be noticed by other boys, hoping to make Sousuke jealous. If he had acted out of jealousy, she actually would have enjoyed seeing him give the punks everything they so royally deserved.

The two malcontents had wandered over, each holding a beer they were too young to drink. They made it a point to ogle Kaname as she lay back on her beach towel, propped up on her elbows. Both of them had more defined bodies than Sousuke did, complete with six packs and well-earned tans. Maybe that's why they made the serious error of kicking sand on the quiet and unassuming soldier, much the way people did in the movies and cartoons Kaname had seen while living in America. As one might expect, Sousuke proceded to deal his special form of justice in swift and brutal fashion. He had battered the boys and buried them in the pit, but not until Ono-D and a couple of Jindai students had stripped them of their denim bathing trunks.

Kaname picked up a handful of sand and threw it in Sousuke's direction. He had told her how Ono-D had reacted, back when she had gone off with Leonard, and he had told their classmates who and what he really was. He had worried that the other boy would never accept him again. Now, those airheads all considered the prodigal pilot to be the reigning king of the beach!

"He didn't even know why they were picking on him," Kaname groused. She had asked Sousuke that a number of times, after he had left buff and sculpted miscreants beaten and buried. He had answered in the usual infuriating way, his logic skewed all over the map. "He didn't know why they were staring at me. Anyone one else would have." She sighed again. She cared about Sousuke. He cared about her. She had asked him to rescue her, no matter what it took. He had suffered more than she cared to know and made terrible sacrifices, prying her free from the clutches of Amalgam. But, was it enough to simply care about one another? Was it wrong of her to want him to see her as a pretty girl? Could he? It took all of her pride and strength of will to keep from shouting 'Look at me damn it!'

A strong gust of wind threatened to tear the brightly colored beach umbrella out of the sand. Kaname put a hand up, securing the bonnet she had donned to keep the sun off of her face. Frowning, she watched as Sousuke quickly moved to secure the rented contrivance. Jerk. She watched the way his body moved as he rushed into action. She took close notice of his face… his hair… his bathing suit… everything. She blinked. The wind had blown a spray of sea water into her eyes.

"Kaname, are you alright?" Sousuke firmly sank the umbrella deeper into the sand. "Are you crying?" He had seen water run down from her stinging eyes. He tensed up, looking to see if the troublemakers had escaped their moist and sodden prison. "Did someone hurt you?"

"No… I'm not crying…." Kaname suddenly felt irritated. It was nice that he cared. But, maybe he should care more. No. Care differently! "But… well… maybe I should be…." The last was said under her breath. "It's OK. Don't worry about me, soldier. You can go back and guard something, if that's all you came to the beach for. Make sure that little girl over there isn't a terrorist. Wait. That old lady. Maybe... could she be..." She gasped. "...Gauron's mother."

"You sound upset," Sousuke noted. "And I doubt that Gauron ever had a mother." His eyes softened. "Is it something that I did?" He looked over to where the two louts had been pulled up out of their impromptu holding cell. Sand clung to them like the powder on a jelly donut. Seeing that the mercenary was glancing their way, they trembled and took off running, their laughing compadres only a few steps behind them.

"Maybe it's something you didn't do," Kaname blurted out. "Did you ever think of that?" She quickly clamped her hand over her mouth; but it was too late. She had no intention of spelling things out for that clueless otaku. Just like Classical Japanese, there were some things that he had to learn on his own. She sought a workable cover story. "Here…." She rummaged inside of the large tote bag she had brought, spilling out her street clothes and sundry other items. "See this…." She showed him a bottle of suntan lotion. "A gentleman would have offered…."

"Offered?" Sousuke had a puzzled look. He reached into his bulging back pocket and pulled out a small olive-drab colored flask. "But… you have your own ointment…." She ran a hand through his head. "This is military strength. It is also good at repelling insects, and can withstand up to three hours in ocean conditions." He didn't add that it smelled awful. "Because it is made for a Specialist… I thought you would have been angry if I suggested you wear any…."

"Weren't you in line when they handed out brains?" Kaname wrinkled up her nose. "You should have offered to rub this…" She held the bottle by the top, swinging it back and forth like a pink plastic pendulum. She coughed, and almost broke out in that famous laugh of hers, the one that she unconsciously used to hide or disguise her feelings. "On me…." She tossed it to Sousuke, who deftly snagged it out of the air with two fingers, never taking his eyes away from Kaname's.

"On…." Sousuke swallowed hard. He fumbled the bottle, and then quickly bent to retrieve it. If it had been a live grenade, he would be in serious trouble. "You…." His eyes practically bulged. On. Her. That would mean looking closer. Looking and touching. He stood very stiff, like a flagpole. "Uhhh…."

Sousuke felt as if he had been sent in to defuse a bomb, only to find that all of the wires were the same color and there were only three or four ticks left on the timer. Although he and Kaname had shared chaste and coy kisses since their return to Japan, this was a mission of an entirely different sort! He almost dropped the bottle again. Eyes drawn to the waiting girl like moths to a flame, he gulped again. It had taken a great deal of work, but throughout the day he had respected her privacy and kept from staring.

"Like this, you big idiot." Kaname stood up, pulled the fabric of her bikini briefs out from between her buttocks, and grabbed the lotion. Squeezing out the banana-scented cream, she frowned when the bottle spat out far too much lotion. She took about half of his and dropped it unceremoniously on Sousuke's hand. Then, in a business like manner, she rubbed the cream up along one arm and then down the other. "A child could do it." She pointed. Sure enough, the little girl she had singled out was rubbing some on her mother's back. "Then again… it might be a bit much for an Arm Slave pilot…."

"It…. uhhh…." Sousuke blinked rapidly. "I can… it isn't… where would you like me to place it…." The last words came out in a great rush. Nonplussed by the beefy hunks earlier, he was actually trembling now.

"Start with my back." Kaname's eyes widened. The big idiot was actually trembling! That had her smiling, and then quickly forcing the smile away. She tried to look bored. "It would help if you finish before the sun actually goes down."

"Yes… of course…. I understand!" Sousuke watched as Kaname turned around on her beach blanket, leaving an area of the checkerboard fabric open for him. For some reason, he needed to look to see if anyone was watching him, before he knelt directly behind her, his knees pushing the blanket deep into the dry sand. "I will do my best, as quickly as I can!" He began moving his had in a quick circular motion, as if he were cleaning a view screen.

"Ouch!" Kaname hadn't really felt any pain. "Slow down, you big jerk. You have to rub it in slow-ly." She felt her face grow warm when he touched her again. "You do want to make sure I'm protected, don't you?" Saying that, she knew he would pay attention to his actions.

"Like this?" he had picked up the bottle where Kaname had let it fall. Since the container had been kept out of the sun, the liquid was chill at first. When he put his hands on Kaname's back, it was her turn to shiver slightly. "Let me know if it's too rough." He stopped. "All of our friends… they are watching us…."

"Really?" Kaname turned her neck. She couldn't see unless she swung her body around more. "That's alright. They know how we feel about each other, don't they." She nodded and closed her eyes when Sousuke resumed his careful rubbing. The wind on her face. The sound of the surf. The sense of warmth from the merciless sun. She took a deep breath in, let it out, and felt totally at peace.

"Uhhh…." Sousuke stopped. When he stayed still, Kaname opened her eyes and turned to see what was wrong. Sousuke said 'no' when she asked if he had run out of ointment. "It's… I… to be complete in my task…." He swallowed hard again. "Should I…. is it necessary to… does one need to coat areas under clothing that might move…." He coughed. "Leaving uncoated skin exposed to the sun…." he coughed again.

"What are you babbling about now, mister?" Kaname looked somewhat cross. Was that otaku numbskull going to ruin her moment?

"The strap connecting… uhhh…." He sat up straighter, looking in any direction that did not include Kaname's back. "The back portion of your… uhhh… top…." He forced himself to continue, his lips numb. "Should I reach under it…."

"Ohhh…." Kaname smirked. So that was what was bothering him. "I see…." She thought of something a bit bold and immediately squelched the idea. She was by no meas a tease at heart. And, their expectant classmates were hovering around. But, since the notion wouldn't let go, she smiled and gave in. She'd do it. Sousuke deserved it, the big stupid head! "That's one way." She lay down on the blanket. "But, if you are worried you might stretch it… I can undo the snap…." She felt so wicked. "….And you can rub it on my… na-ked… skin…."

"That…." Sousuke's hand twitched. He squeezed much too hard, shooting out a thick stream of lotion onto Kaname's back.

"So…." Kaname placed her hands behind her neck and wiggled them. "Should I…."

"This will do fine!" Sousuke began pushing a cresting mound of liquid under Kaname's bikini strap. "It is not a problem!" His voice had gone up an octave.

Kaname had to fight to keep from chuckling. But, her buoyant mood quickly changed. She almost bounced off the blanket when she heard Misuke call out 'Don't forget the front, too!' Nosy girl! That would probably scare Sousuke off or leave him catatonic. Damn. She was enjoying this. While it might not be a private and intimate moment, like the night she had given him a haircut, it was still a pleasant step. For someone who had his hands on a control stick or weapon much too often for her liking, Sousuke had soft hands and a gentle touch. And, if this helped him get over his physical shyness around her, it would be a good thing. If Mizuke spoiled that, she would give her rougher treatment than Sousuke had given Shirai!

"Uhhh… I suppose that Mizuke might be right for once…." Sousuke's comment had everyone laughing except for the girl in question. When he turned to look at them, they quickly started to find other things to busy themselves with. For now. "The sunlight will hit your front and back, unless it is your intention to remain on your stomach until we leave."

Kaname stiffened out of reflex. But, soon enough, she relaxed. It had felt very nice, Sousuke rubbing her back. She wouldn't mind it one bit, if he kept tending to her like this until it was time to head back to the buses. Yes, the notion of Sousuke rubbing lotion on her upper body and abdomen actually had her feeling embarrassed for a moment, like a young girl at her first dance. But, she wasn't a little girl any more. What should she do? It was all platonic, after all. But.

"OK. I hate to agree with anything she says." Kaname rolled over onto her back. Sun behind him, Sousuke looked like a dark outline until her eyes focused. "But… ummm… even a blind dog finds a bone sometimes…." She tried to sound nonchalant. "Alright. Fine. Go ahead." From that angle, Sousuke looked like some kind of celestial being. "I mean… if you want to…."

"Affirmative." Sousuke squared his shoulders, trying to set his mind in a familiar mode, just like he did when he was about to launch from the deck of the TDD-1, or before he kicked in the door on a room filled with known enemies. "I will not fail you. I take your safety very seriously." He wondered why Kaname's eyes went very wide and her lips trembled. Was it heatstroke? If it was, she needed water and shade, not lotion. To himself, he thought 'I can do this.' Feeling as if the word was swirling around him, he reached out his hand, brought it close to Kaname's shoulder, and then brought it back. He took a deep breath and decided to work on her legs first.

"Harder, Sousuke!" That was Ono-D, imitating Kaname's voice. "Faster! Oh! Ah! Do it faster!" When the meddlesome boy put his hands on Shinji's arms and shook him roughly, the bespectacled boy did his best to imitate moans of passion until he was close to overheated.

"Sousuke…." Kaname clenched her teeth when the soldier jerked away from his duty. She spoke much louder than she needed. "Later. When we get off the buses. Before they have a chance to run home. I want you to teach Ono and Shinji better manners." She pointed over in the direction of loud chanting and shouting. "I'm sure your buddies in the Rugby Club would be glad to help." That had the color draining from Ono-D's and Shinji's faces. Both decided that a Popsicle might be in order.

With a little coaxing, the blue-haired girl convinced Sousuke to start up where he had left off. Actually she had to do it twice, after Kyouko's ubiquitous camera flash went off. The sweating Mithril sergeant resumed his task. His perspiration grew in volume. His muscles became more and more tense. His breathing quickened. When he was smoothing lotion down from one of Kaname's shoulder areas, he suddenly stopped.

"I am afraid that I cannot complete this mission!" Sousuke was looking straight ahead, face pale. Eyes catching sight of a splash of color, he grabbed the red voluminous blouse that Kaname had worn over her swim suit. "But… without sufficient coverage… you will be at serious risk…." He quickly thrust the shirt in front of him, draping it over the girl's shoulders and covering her chest. He then quickly swung around so that he was facing the opposite direction. He grabbed Kaname's discarded hat and held it in his lap.

"Sousuke?" Kaname looked perplexed. She reached out and took the bottle. She upended it, expecting to find the contents empty. Lotion came out and formed a mall coiled mound on the blanket. "There's still some lotion left."

"Uhhh… I see…. it is clever of you to find it…." Their friends were returning. No. Not now. This was the worst possible time! "Hurry and complete the application before you start to burn."

"What?" Kaname frowned. Why had the big idiot stopped? And why had he covered up her bikini top? Did he think it was ugly? Did she have to buy camouflage swimwear or something. Her temper began to flare. "Why? Am I that ugly to look at? You don't like my bathing suit?" Thoughtless jerk. Big idiot.

"Negative. You are not difficult to look at…." That had Sousuke going stiffer, and sweating even more than before. It was as if someone had opened a thousand little faucets all over his face. That very moisture had Kaname thinking that her thoughts were dead on target. She tried to turn him around to look at her, but he dug in his ankles and would not budge. "And… your choice of swim clothes is excellent… they almost cover you well…." He swallowed hard. "I mean… it looks good where you are covered…." He never got this flummoxed during battle! "What I am trying to say….."

"Huh?" Kaname raised one eyebrow. She then narrowed her eyes. "Are you saying I should have covered up more? I see. Poor Kaname Chidori. She's such a hideous girl!" She stood up, hand on her hips, bending over some. She turned Sousuke's head to look at her, not realizing just how much cleavage she gave him view of. "I'm sorry to have put you through such a terrible ordeal. I didn't know it would bother you that much. I won't ever do it again."

"They…." Poor Sousuke. His eyes were practically building. He closed his eyes and covered them with his hands. That only supported the Whispered girls opinion even further. "No… not they… it…."

"I'm not going to let you off that easy, mister!" Kaname stomped her foot. Her eyes were practically spitting sparks now. Things had gone from 'so wonderful' to 'so awful' in record time. How many other ways could her life shatter today? "Why don't you just come out and say it. You don't find me attractive. Maybe I should have bought a Kevlar suit. Maybe I should have sewn on some fins, so I look like that stupid Arm Slave. Maybe I should just accept the fact that I am never going to get you to notice me the way I want you to."

"But… Kaname…." Sousuke held up his hands in supplication, but quickly put them back on the bonnet's rim when the wind kicked up. "I did notice you… that was the problem…."

"…" Kaname felt hurt. Sorrow and anger coursed through her veins. "Thank you so very much, Sousuke. Thank you for telling me how repulsive I am!"

"I did not mean that," Sousuke stated firmly. He froze. He had actually admitted too much already. If she probed his responses to the utmost… the way she usually did… he might be in very big trouble.

"Oh…." Kaname put her hand to her chest. Her heart was palpating. "Then… go ahead, Sousuke…. Explain it to me." It felt as if she stood on the very edge of a precipice, the ground below to far to see.

"Uhhh…." Sousuke was sweating heavier than ever before. "I do not think that is wise. Not now. Not with them here." He waved his arm, the encompassing motion indicating the large crowd of students milling around. A number of children had headed over too, wondering just what was going on.

"What's the matter? Afraid that someone will catch you in your big lie?" Kaname sounded stern and angry, but she felt on the verge of tears. She wanted so badly for Sousuke to say something that would give her hope. "I dare you. Give me your word. On your honor as a soldier." She bent over again. "Let's hear the truth, Sousuke!"

"I… but…." Sousuke looked straight ahead, but tried hard not to focus on anything in front of him. "I will only speak the truth. But… you should trust me as the professional… it would be better if I tell you later…."

"Now!" Kaname kicked the hat out of Souske's grasp. Not really paying attention, he didn't see him grab her tote bag and use that the take the place of her sailing chapeau.

"I…." Sousuke set his jaw. If he waited, Kaname's anger would fade. Telling her the truth now would only earn him a world of pain, right? Who knows what she might think of him. He would rather die before he gave her reason to question his behavior.

"Is he hiding something?" A young girl had wondered why Sousuke kept covering up his lap. Maybe he had a lollipop there. Maybe a kitten. Something fascinating. The imagination of a child is an amazing thing.

"Let's see!" A boy reached over and pulled on the bag handle. He fell face first and hit the sand when Sousuke pulled back. Startled, the child began crying loudly.

"Sousuke!" Kaname watched as a woman began comforting the boy. "Give me that. Now. If you have a gun or knife under there, you will be in big trouble." She yanked, but Sousuke would not let go his death grip. Furious, she tried again, with all her strength. The tough fabric tore. She fell backward, somersaulting, sand filling every conceivable orifice. "Ooo-oo-oh…."

"It's better than a movie," Maya said to Ryo.

"Do you think they'd wait a minute if we ask?" Ryo grinned. "I could go get some popcorn."

"Just… you… wait…." Kaname stomped towards Sousuke, arms flailing in robotic fashion. Just before she reached him, she stage a fake fall. "Help…." When Sousuke reached out to catch her, she grabbed the remnant of her tortured bag. Feeling victorious, she looked down, expecting to find some forbidden military item. Her face immediately felt as if she had placed it flat on a frying pan. Her mouth fell open.

"Hah!" Ono-D's voice rang out like a cannon shot. "Sagara's got a stiffy!" Everyone immediately began gossiping.

Kaname had wanted Sosuke to notice her. She had wanted to know if he thought she was attractive. Well, sure enough, she had found out. In a big way.

So to speak.